Friday, December 24, 2010

Long-time Zenger's contributor Rocky Neptun just sent me this e-mail. I'm reposting it here because I think it's so important. Bradley Manning, who may or may not have acted bravely and made available to the American and world's people some of the information released by WikiLeaks, is being held under conditions so inhumane they amount to torture. His friend David House, one of the few people who's been allowed to see him during nearly a year of incarceration, reports that Manning is gradually losing his mental abilities under these conditions. Bradley Manning has not been convicted of any crime, but he's being punished anyway. Whether he is the source of the WikiLeaks information or not, we owe him our support to the max.

-- Mark Gabrish Conlan


•••••

Help end the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning!

Bradley Manning Support Network. December 22, 2010


The Marine Brig at Quantico, Virginia is using “injury prevention” as a vehicle to inflict extreme pre-trial punishment on accused Wikileaks whistleblower Army PFC Bradley Manning (photo right). These “maximum conditions” are not unheard-of during an inmate’s first week at a military confinement facility, but when applied continuously for months and with no end in sight they amount to a form of torture. Bradley, who just turned 23-years-old last week, has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in late May. We’re now turning to Bradley’s supporters worldwide to directly protest, and help bring a halt to, the extremely punitive conditions of Bradley’s pre-trial detention.

We need your help in pressing the following demands:

End the inhumane, degrading conditions of pre-trial confinement and respect Bradley’s human rights. Specifically, lift the “Prevention of Injury (POI) watch order”. This would allow Bradley meaningful physical exercise, uninterrupted sleep during the night, and a release from isolation. We are not asking for “special treatment”. In fact, we are demanding an immediate end to the special treatment.

Quantico Base Commander
Colonel Daniel Choike
3250 Catlin Ave, Quantico VA 22134
+1-703-784-2707 (phone)

Quantico Brig Commanding Officer
CWO4 James Averhart
3247 Elrod Ave, Quantico VA 22134
+1-703-784-4242 (fax)

Background

In the wake of an investigative report last week by Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com giving evidence that Bradley Manning was subject to “detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries”, Bradley’s attorney, David Coombs, published an article at his website on Saturday entitled “A Typical Day for PFC Bradley Manning”. Mr. Coombs details the maximum custody conditions that Bradley is subject to at the Quantico Confinement Facility and highlights an additional set of restrictions imposed upon him under a Prevention of Injury (POI) watch order.

Usually enforced only through a detainee’s first week at a confinement facility, or in cases of violent and/or suicidal inmates, the standing POI order has severely limited Manning's access to exercise, daylight and human contact for the past five months. The military’s own psychologists assigned to Quantico have recommended that the POI order and the extra restrictions imposed on Bradley be lifted.

Despite not having been convicted of any crime or even yet formally indicted, the confinement regime Bradley lives under includes pronounced social isolation and a complete lack of opportunities for meaningful exercise. Additionally, Bradley’s sleep is regularly interrupted. Coombs writes: “The guards are required to check on Manning every five minutes [...] At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.”

Denver Nicks writes in The Daily Beast that “[Bradley Manning’s] attorney […] says the extended isolation — now more than seven months of solitary confinement — is weighing on his client’s psyche. […] Both Coombs and Manning’s psychologist, Coombs says, are sure Manning is mentally healthy, that there is no evidence he’s a threat to himself, and shouldn’t be held in such severe conditions under the artifice of his own protection.”

In an article to be published at Firedoglake.com later today, David House, a friend of Bradley’s who visits him regularly at Quantico, says that Bradley “has not been outside or into the brig yard for either recreation or exercise in four full weeks. He related that visits to the outdoors have been infrequent and sporadic for the past several months.”

In an average military court martial situation, a defense attorney would be able to bring these issues of pre-trial punishment to the military judge assigned to the case (known as an Article 13 hearing). However, the military is unlikely to assign a judge to Bradley’s case until the pre-trial Article 32 hearing is held (similar to an arraignment in civilian court), and that is not expected until February, March, or later—followed by the actual court martial trial months after that. In short, you are Bradley’s best and most immediate hope.
What can you do?

Contact the Marine Corps officers above and respectfully, but firmly, ask that they lift the extreme pre-trial confinement conditions against Army PFC Bradley Manning.
Forward this urgent appeal for action widely.

Sign the “Stand with Brad” public petition and letter campaign at www.standwithbrad.org – Sign online, and we’ll mail out two letters on your behalf to Army officials.

Donate to Bradley’s defense fund at www.couragetoresist.org/bradley

References:

“The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention”, by Glenn Greenwald for Salon.com, 15 December 2010

“A Typical Day for PFC Bradley Manning”, by attorney David E. Coombs, 18 December 2010

“Bradley Manning’s Life Behind Bars”, by Denver Nicks for the Daily Beast, 17 December 2010
Bradley Manning Support Network

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Three-Judge Appeals Court Panel Hears Prop. 8 Challenge

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“The United States Supreme Court has determined that intimate sexual relations between people of the same sex is constitutionally protected, and that marriage is a fundamental right,” said attorney Theodore Olson before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, December 6. “So how can a constitutionally protected right be taken away because of a constitutionally protected activity?”

Olson was arguing the appeal of the case he and fellow attorney David Boies filed in federal court shortly after the passage of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure which amended the California constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The hearing was scheduled for two hours but actually ran considerably longer than that. It was divided in two parts. The first, argued by Boies versus attorneys Charles Cooper and Robert Tyler, dealt with the question of standing — legal-speak for the right to sue. The second, argued by Olson and San Francisco deputy city attorney Therese Stewart against Prop. 8 and Cooper defending it, was about the merits of the case and whether Prop. 8 violated the constitutional rights of Gay and Lesbian Californians by denying them the right to marry partners of their choice.

The judges hearing the case were Stephen Reinhardt, appointed by President Jimmy Carter; Michael Hawkins, appointed by Bill Clinton; and N. Randy Smith, appointed by George W. Bush. Smith was expected to be the least sympathetic to the arguments against Prop. 8, but some of Reinhardt’s questions to Olson were at least as tough as Smith’s.

Defending Prop. 8, Cooper said, “Americans are engaged in a very profound debate on the nature of marriage. The fundamental question is whether the definition of marriage is for the people to decide, or whether the Constitution takes that issue out of their hands.” Cooper’s assertion that the voters of California had the right to define marriage any way they liked prompted Judge Hawkins to ask if they would likewise be able to re-impose racial segregation in public education — and Cooper had to concede that the U.S. Supreme Court had long since decided that was unconstitutional.

Much of the argument on the merits turned on the 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Romer v. Evans, in which the high court overturned a Colorado initiative that essentially prohibited all branches of the state government from protecting or advancing the civil rights of Queer people. Olson argued that by taking away the right of marriage from California same-sex couples after they had already had it for four months, Proposition 8 essentially did the same thing as the Colorado initiative thrown out in Romer: it deprived people of a constitutional right they already had.

Cooper argued that the law in Romer was “far more sweeping than the definition of marriage that has existed since time immemorial.” He added that “if there is any rational basis for the traditional definition of marriage, then [Prop. 8] must be upheld” — but, as he had in the original trial before District Judge Vaughn Walker, he scrambled to find any rational basis for limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“If you take away a right from a class [of people] in a manner that’s biased — and you can sometimes derive that view of bias from the action itself — then you cannot do it,” said Judge Reinhardt. He pointed out that under California’s domestic partnership law, Gay and Lesbian couples “have all the aspects of marriage except the title. What is the reason to take away the title?”

“The people of California needed no reason beyond the fact that their state supreme court had invalidated the traditional definition of marriage,” Cooper replied.

The judges appeared mixed on the merits of the issue but skeptical of the decision by Judge Walker that since the California state officials responsible for enforcing the law, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, had refused to defend Prop. 8 in the courts, the initiative’s proponents had no standing to do so.

DARNELLE WILLIAMS:

San Diego Urban Pride Reaches Beyond African-American Queers


by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Once upon a time there was an organization in San Diego called Ebony Pride, which was primarily aimed at African-American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. It produced an annual Ebony Pride event — until one year, when problems with the venue caused the show to be canceled at the last minute. Ebony Pride pretty much dropped off the community radar after that, but last September it made a dramatic re-emergence under the new name San Diego Urban Pride, with a much broader outreach and mostly new people. Zenger’s interviewed Darnelle Williams, Urban Pride board member and chair of the group’s activities committee, on the group’s purposes, functions and future plans.

San Diego Urban Pride meets the second Tuesday of every month, 6 p.m. The location varies but the meeting in November took place at the Christ Chapel of North Park church, 3094 El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. They don’t have their own Web site yet but they’re accessible through Facebook at www.facebook.com/urbanpride


Zenger’s: Just tell me a little bit about San Diego Urban Pride, how it got started and how you got involved.


Darnelle Williams:
O.K. Urban Pride basically took off where Ebony Pride left off. Ebony Pride had been around – it would be 10 years next year – and over the years some of the membership and participation had declined. An associate of ours called us and said he was going to be the new director of Ebony Pride and asked if we wanted to get involved. So we welcomed an opportunity to do that. During the first meeting we suggested a name change, because there’s a lot in a name, and we were able to get the name changed from Ebony Pride to Urban Pride to be more inclusive of different groups within the community.

Zenger’s: So, in the proverbial nutshell, what is the purpose of Urban Pride?


Williams: The purpose of Urban Pride is to promote awareness of different issues affecting the Black and Brown community, and the Gay community as a whole. We don’t want to be known as an organization that just has events or activities. We really want to be a force to be reckoned with in the Gay community, and really have a voice to create change and to promote positivity within the Gay and Lesbian culture, and to put a new face on the urban Gay community.

We want to raise awareness and promote greater understanding about health and social issues affecting our community, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, breast and prostate cancer. Those are some of the things we’re going to target, in addition to a whole array of issues that we want to tackle. That’s why we’re building a board of intelligent and competent individuals that can tackle all these different issues, and really create an organization that people look to for support and change.

Zenger’s: Is part of your agenda also combating racism in the Gay community and homophobia in the communities of color?


Williams: Yes. I think any time you deal with any minority groups, combating some of the stereotypes of the different ethnic groups, and promote the positive aspects of different ethnicities, needs to be part of the foundation of the group. One thing we really want to do is reach out to other groups, not only the Black and Brown communities but the white and Asian communities as well. Getting assistance or guidance from Urban Pride doesn’t mean that you have to be Black or Hispanic. It just means that you want to be part of diversity, and that’s what we really want to embrace. Within the Gay culture, it’s really important that we as Gay men and women promote diversity and tolerance, and educate those that don’t know much about our community.

Zenger’s: You have the stats from Proposition 8 that voters of color were more likely to vote for it than white voters. Why do you think that is, and how can your group help change that?


Williams: I think it really starts at home with the people we know, educating them one at a time about Gay marriage, and that we all deserve the right to marry whoever we want, and to really drive home that equality is not negotiable.

Zenger’s:
There was an early report that 70 percent of African-American voters had voted for Proposition 8, which turned out not to be true. The corrected figure was more like 57 percent, but that was still a substantially greater margin than it passed by in the electorate as a whole, which was 52 percent. A lot of that was actually attributed to the strong support being given by African-American churches. How does the influence of the church in the African-American community affect both you as an individual Black Gay man and what your organization is trying to do?


Williams: I’m glad you asked that question, because a lot of times I see the Black churches hold the same mentality as our military. It’s almost a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Growing up in church, where there are a majority of African-American attendees, there were always Gay individuals within the church that were obviously Gay, but just not “out.”

Basically, the Black church is a very conservative church. I’ve noticed that on the West Coast it is more liberal than it is in the South. So with respect to African-American churches, there’s not much you can do. I think basically the tide is changing. We are having new blood and new understanding, and a new wave of tolerance coming in, that wasn’t there even a decade ago.

Zenger’s:
The other side of that is racism in the Gay community. It’s been a long time since I heard the kinds of horror stories I regularly got in the 1980’s: Black people showing up at Gay bars and being asked for four or five ID’s. That kind of stuff, and one bathhouse, when the manager decided that there were too many Black people, he would put on country music and hope that would drive them out. I haven’t heard stories like that in a while, but I’m also not so naïve to think that the racial prejudices of white Gay people have disappeared altogether. So what is the status of the Gay community in terms of making people of color feel equal?


Williams: I think you would have to break it down as to which community. I know that when I first came out, back in the late 1990’s, there used to be a lot more of the club and bar scene that would cater to the urban community more. I’ve seen the bar and club scene kind of stray away from that, and lean a little bit more towards the Brown community. Organizations like Urban Pride are now becoming a face for the urban community and letting their members be known that we want a little bit more diversity in the clubs. And we’re getting a lot of great responses.

Basically, for a business owner money is all the same color, so race doesn’t matter in terms of where it’s coming from. And we’re really pleased that we’re getting a lot of support from all the clubs here in San Diego. But, again, San Diego is less urban than L.A. L.A. is less urban than Atlanta. It just depends on what area of the country you’re talking about, because when it comes to the urban community, it’s not very large in San Diego compared to other areas in the country.

Zenger’s: So when you talk about outreach to the clubs, what specifically do you want them to do?

Williams: In order to bring in the urban community, it’s not about having a night set aside for Black people, or another night set aside for people who are Latino or Hispanic. It’s more than that. What we talk about is you can bring about an urban feeling through music. You can bring it about through the different facets of saying that tonight’s going to be “urban night.” There are different ways to create that.

As far as what the clubs can do, basically open the doors and give Urban Pride a chance. We’ll bring people into the club. We have not experienced anything negative with any of the venues in San Diego. They all have welcomed us with open arms.

Zenger’s: So essentially you’re telling the club owners, “Let us put on an event in your place, and we’ll draw people who, if you treat them right, will decide that they like it and will come back.”

Williams: Absolutely, absolutely. And we’re getting great responses from different places. We’re pleased by the support we’re getting from the community. If you attend an Urban Pride event, you’ll note it’s not just one ethnic group that’s there. It’s different ethnic groups that attend.

Zenger’s: You also said that one of your organization’s priorities was outreach on health issues. What have you been doing so far on that front?

Williams: We’re really still coming out of the gate. It’s been approximately four months that I’ve been on the board, and we’ve had all new people on the board. We started out with our September meet-and-greet at the Center, our after-party at the Redwing, and we’re now planning monthly activities and quarterly events within the community. With regard to raising money for, or assisting in, certain health issues right now, we’re still at the grass-roots level.

We want to be an organization known for helping out charitable organizations. We are a non-profit organization, but we want to be known for raising money. We want to be known for putting on great events. We want to be known for our activities on a monthly basis, whether it’s walking for AIDS, whether it’s walking for literacy, it’s walking for breast cancer: anything we can do to show that there’s — and it doesn’t matter if it’s a straight charity, a Gay charity, a Lesbian charity. We just want to be involved and know that there’s another group within San Diego that wants to help. And that’s what we want to do.

Next year we have a lot of things planned to really make ourselves known, but right now we’re just starting to build membership back up, because when we took up where Ebony Pride left off, membership was basically nonexistent. There were a lot of negative feelings in the community about Ebony Pride, and right now we’re getting great feedback on all the changes that we’re making, starting with the name. People are more inclined to be part of Urban Pride than they were of Ebony Pride, because they felt that that was so divisive. It actually wasn’t, but there are a lot of things in a name that can be perceived that way.

Zenger’s: That’s a criticism I remember hearing, not only about Ebony Pride but also Latino Pride. It seemed to make perfect sense to me that the concept of Pride is big enough that people who shared a certain ethnicity would want an event of their own. It didn’t seem to detract from the main Pride celebrations, and the whole concept that a lot of people really did get rankled by: “Why do they need their own Pride?”

Williams:
Yes, it seems that, based on the different changes in society, there’s really no need for an Ebony Pride anymore, or a Latino Pride. I think if the two groups had come together and embraced the other groups – the Black, Brown, Yellow, white communities, everyone – that would fall more in line with the values of the Gay community embracing diversity. If they could join forces and become one, that could really strengthen their voice. That’s what Urban Pride really want to do: become more inclusive and make sure everyone really wants to be part of it and understands that we want to promote diversity and change within the Gay community.

Miriam Raftery: Taking It to the Web

Local Reporter Creates Outlet for Journalism Print Papers No Longer Want

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The wildfires that swept through San Diego’s East County in 2007 didn’t just burn through swaths of rustic environment and cost people their homes; they also dramatically cut back Miriam Raftery’s career in print journalism. “I had been a reporter out there for some time for some of the local papers, but they were all print weeklies,” she explained in a recent interview with Zenger’s. “During the 2007 wildfires I started to get e-mails, literally at night, from people in these back-country towns, saying, ‘Miriam, our phone line has burned down. I can’t call in or out. There’s smoke everywhere. We’ve tried getting out this road or that road, and it was blocked. We don’t know where to go, where there’s shelter or in what direction the fire is burning. There’s nothing on TV. There’s nothing on the radio. Can you help us find out what’s going on?”

When you’re getting phone calls from people facing imminent danger to their lives and their property from wildfires stretching over hundreds of acres and fueled by 100-mile-per-hour winds, Raftery explained, the last thing you want to tell them is they can read about it in next week’s issue of their local paper. This was one reason why, in September 2008, she started East County Magazine, a local Web site (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org) that could give East County residents up-to-the-minute information about wildfires and other natural disasters threatening their communities. “We started the Wildfire Alerts and started posting them so they would actively alert readers that this was coming and they might want to be packing,” Raftery said.

But reporting on emergencies wasn’t the only reason Raftery launched her site. She was also tired of being censored by the publishers she was free-lancing for, and the final straw came on the attempts of Blackwater, the private military-services company now known as Xe, to set up a training center in the small Potrero neighborhood in South County. The local planning committee voted 6-1 to allow Blackwater to build their camp, and community opponents organized a recall campaign to oust the pro-Blackwater committee members from office.

Raftery had been writing about the controversy until one week before the recall election, when the owner of the paper she was writing for “fired the editor and hired a new editor, and I was told, ‘We don’t want any more stories about Blackwater,’ I said, ‘How can this not be considered news? We’re just writing the same-old, same-old and they’re having a recall election over this issue. I think we should be reporting on Blackwater.’” While Raftery never found out the reason that particular publication wasn’t interested in any more stories about Blackwater, she learned that another local paper was so stridently pro-Blackwater they wouldn’t even publish any letters to the editor attacking the company. “The reason was that Blackwater had bought up all their advertising space, and they were not going to go up against their biggest advertiser,” Raftery recalled.

That’s just one example she has about stories the mainstream media don’t cover — and why. “The media are very consolidated, the ownership is very corporate, and there’s a very limited amount of viewpoints that are allowed,” Raftery explained. “If you read most papers, not just here but all across America, you see the same top five stories you would see on every TV station. They just parrot the same stories and don’t add any depth.” Raftery criticized other media outlets for lackluster coverage of political campaigns: “They give you a paragraph, maybe, about each candidate, and what kind of reporting is that? You can get that off the ballot statement. If you read the candidates’ Web sites you’ll be better off than if you read some of the major news sites in town.”

It’s not just political voices that are silenced by the mainstream media, she said; it’s women’s and ethnic voices as well. According to Raftery, San Diego East County has 40,000 refugees from Iraq — “the highest number … in the world” — and large communities of immigrants from Burma and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. East County is also home to 18 Native American tribes, “the most of any county in America, and how often do you see Native American stories, unless it’s about a casino?” She wanted to write about the struggles of people of color in her region, including local Native American culture and the efforts of the tribes “to re-educate their youth about their cultural heritage, teaching them the traditions of the birds singing and stories like that.”

Though she’s honest about her own political point of view, Raftery attempts to be as objective and balanced in her coverage of government and elections as she can. “All sides are entitled to have their views heard, but nobody’s entitled to make up the facts,” Raftery said. “We did a fact-check on the 52nd Congressional District debate between Republican incumbent Duncan D. Hunter and challengers Ray Lutz [Democrat] and Mike Benoît [Libertarian], because most of our readers were voting in that race in East County. We fact-checked statements by all three candidates, and we found some inaccuracies in all of them — one more than the other two, in fact. We feel that that’s important.”

Raftery also noted that some candidates, once caught in a lie, simply repeat it. Her example came from the last U.S. Senate campaign in California between incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, in which Fiorina said over and over that during her 18 years in the Senate, Boxer had only introduced four trivial bills and had never authored any significant legislation. “That’s completely not true,” Raftery said. “You can go to congress.gov or any Congressional Web site and find that Boxer has authored or co-authored over 100 bills, many of them major. If you want to argue that they were bad bills, that’s a legitimate stand. If they were pro-environmental and you think they were too hard on developers, you can make that argument. But don’t just lie and say she didn’t introduce major bills, because she did.”

One of Raftery’s concerns is that she doesn’t want the site to seem too progressive for conservative East County. The site is organized under the Heartland Coalition, a 501 © (3) nonprofit corporation, which means she can’t endorse candidates in elections — but she doesn’t seem to mind; she believes that not taking sides for one party or another gives the site more credibility. But her convictions came out dramatically after the November 2 election, when she and East County Magazine reporter Mary Paulet published a story about a physical confrontation on the floor of Election Central at Golden Hall between Democratic Congressmember Bob Filner and his Republican challenger, Nick Popaditch.

“Multiple credible news sites have reported that after … Filner was declared the winner by a 20-point margin, a mob of Popaditch supporters, including Tea Party and white supremacist members, cornered and spat on Popaditch’s opponent, Filner. Video by the Chula Vista Star-News reveals that Popaditch cursed at Filner, called him a liar, and made no efforts to calm down an increasingly virulent mob that forced Filner out of Golden Hall … and into the lobby. Filner told CityBeat that he was shoved by Popaditch. … Mayor Jerry Sanders’ security detail ultimately rescued the Congressmember from the mob, CityBeat reported.”

Raftery wasn’t just relying on second-hand news reports and on-the-scene videos; her co-author Paulet had interviewed a live witness, Robin Buse, who said she’d not only witnessed Popaditch’s attack on Filner but had herself called the police. Their article quoted two other witnesses who chose to remain anonymous. It also noted that a white supremacist who had endorsed Popaditch published his own video of the incident, intercut with images of violent revolution, on a well-known racist site, www.stormfront.org, under the name “Aurick the Great White Elf.” His post also included an introduction that was a thinly veiled call for “total war” against the Jews who, he alleged, “secretly control the world.” Filner is Jewish.

In her article, Raftery wrote, “Popaditch, who uses the nickname ‘Gunny Pop’ on Facebook, thus far has said nothing to disavow the violent and threatening actions of his followers — and instead has acted like the leader of the pack. His Web site claims he is ready to ‘charge the Hill for our country and protect what the Founding Fathers fought for.’ He appears to have forgotten that our founding fathers fought a war of independence to create a democracy. When that democratic process proved Filner the winner … Popaditch could have opted to concede defeat graciously. … Instead, Popaditch demonstrated support for anarchy, violence and mob rule.”

Raftery predictably got flamed in the comments section on her article. Aside from making claims that “a Filner thug” was the first one to start the violence and defending Popaditch’s statement that Filner was a liar (based on a campaign ad in which Filner noted that Popaditch had missed voting in several elections but ignored that Popaditch had voted in elections after that), they claimed that Raftery was relying on an edited version of the Star-News’s video published on YouTube, called her site a “liberal rag,” compared her to progressive MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann and, in one particularly scurrilous post, said George Soros and the Mexican Mafia were funding her. (That person later recanted the post and said it had been meant as a “joke.”)

Defending her site, Raftery posted her own comment which noted that East County Magazine has won 32 journalism awards in its two years of existence, “including several for political reporting. Clearly, the pros in the journalism profession disagree with your assessment. ‘Liberal rags,’ or conservative ones, don’t rack up those sorts of professional journalism honors. Incidentally, the contests are judged blind by professional journalists in other cities who are not familiar with the publications and judge each article entered on its merits for adhering to the standards of the journalism profession — something you apparently know little about.”

ALERT: Miriam Raftery has requested the following changes in the above post [the above has been altered accordingly but the mistakes remain in the print version]:

Hi - Thanks for the story on East County Magazine! The reporter did a good
job - though I'm hoping you can make two corrections.

I was misquoted about the refugees. East County has 40,000 Iraqis (not
Africans). Most of the Iraqis came here as refugees and we are the largest
haven for Iraq War refugees in the world. It's extremely important that this
be corrected as we are applying for a major grant on a refugee project and
don't want any misinformation out there attributed to us. We've quoted the
40,000 Iraqis many times in other media.

The other inaccuracy is in the lead. I have not ended my print journalism
career, since I still freelance occasionally for other print publications.
I have rather expanded beyond just print media, into electronic forums.

Miriam Raftery


Entrepreneurs Present Plan for Progressive Radio Station to Club

Magallanez, Bonilla Plan to Revive Air America S.D. as “Liberty One Radio”

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Sal Magallanez, Hector Bonilla

Entrepreneurs Sal Magallanez and Hector Bonilla presented their plan to start “Liberty One Radio,” a progressive talk-radio station that will broadcast from Mexico to most of San Diego County, at an unusual October 28 meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club. The club usually doesn’t meet just five days before a major election, but it did this year to hear the Liberty One presentation and to vote on proposed changes to the club’s bylaws — though because there weren’t enough members present to form a quorum, largely because many members were campaigning or attending candidate events, the bylaws vote had to be delayed.

Magallanez and Bonilla said their project came about as a response to the closure of KLSD, the former progressive Air America network’s outlet in San Diego, in 2007. Magallanez said that Air America was actually designed to fail, sabotaged from the get-go by Clear Channel Communications, the owner not only of many Air America stations but also of stations broadcasting Right-wing talk shows. “Clear Channel wanted to prove there wasn’t a market for progressive talk, so they gave it the weakest signals they had,” Magallanez said. Then, surprised by the audience appeal of progressive talk — Magallanez quoted data from Arbitron, the standard ratings service for radio, that KLSD’s ratings shot up when they put Air America’s hosts on the air, then collapsed again when Clear Channel shifted the station’s format to talk shows about sports — they pulled the plug on the whole Air America project. “They were making money, but they didn’t care,” Magallanez said. “They wanted to get rid of that voice in San Diego.”

Bonilla added that one of their inspirations for starting Liberty One Radio was the reaction among progressive San Diegans when Clear Channel closed down KLSD — including major rallies outside Clear Channel’s local headquarters — proving that there was not only a market, but a dedicated core of listeners, eager to hear progressive talk on San Diego radio. “I’ve been in San Diego all my life, and San Diego has always been known as a conservative community,” Bonilla said. “In 2008 San Diego turned from red to blue. There are now more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. When they took KLSD off the air, our voice went silent. ... Who is reporting the important things in San Diego? Nobody. [Congressmember] Bob Filner and others can’t get on the air.”

Magallanez and Bonilla presented a series of PowerPoint slides, including one that starkly illustrated the Right-wing monopoly of San Diego’s airwaves. It was a pie chart showing a giant orange dot, representing the percentage of San Diego talk radio that is politically conservative: 100 percent. “There are five conservative talk stations: KOGO, KFMB, KCEO, KCBQ and KPRZ,” Magallanez explained. “That’s 840 hours of conservative talk in San Diego per week, and zero hours of progressive talk.” Bonilla added that Clear Channel pulled Air America’s programming off the air in San Diego just before the 2008 elections, hinting that they did it on purpose to silence the progressive voice on the eve of a major election the Democrats were favored to win.

They’ve already made a deal with a company called Mount Wilson Broadcasting to lease a station in Mexico that broadcasts at 540 on the AM dial. They plan to least it on a year-by-year basis. They estimate the budget at $2 to $2.5 million per year and estimate the cost of getting on the air at $1.5 million. Asked how they plan to finance it, they say they’re looking for investors, though because of restrictions imposed by the laws governing sales of securities they can’t now answer specific questions about where the money is coming from. They’ve talked to former Air America personalities Randy Rhodes, Ed Schultz and Mike Malloy and are also in negotiations with Stacy Taylor and former Congressional candidate Mike Copass to do San Diego-based shows. They’re also looking for people to host shows specifically targeting African-Americans, women and labor, and said they have a host provisionally lined up for a show aimed at the LGBT community. Another show they have on the drawing boards is a nonpolitical program aimed at military families to give them information on how to obtain benefits due them.

Magallanez and Bonilla did a side trip from presenting their radio proposal to mention a story they helped break about the San Diego Sheriff’s Department purchasing a number of so-called Long-Range Acoustical Devices (LRAD’s) and installing these on light poles in public areas. Magallanez said the LRAD is “designed for crowd control,” specifically breaking up peaceful protests by sending signals that will “damage your ears and internal organs.” He said he and Bonilla took a photo of one already installed publicly, went to the Sheriff’s Department and asked them what the device was and why it was there. They also brought the photo to Congressmember Susan Davis’s town-hall meeting in Spring Valley in the summer of 2009 and offered the story to Miriam Raftery, editor/publisher of the East County Magazine Web site.

“We released the story on September 11, 2009, and by 6:30 there were six links to the story,” Magallanez recalled. “After five days we had 80 to 82 links, and ABC and the Washington Times picked it up.” It also won one of several awards given to stories on Raftery’s site and it became the hot topic at a sheriff’s candidates’ debate on September 12. “They almost lost control,” Magallanez said. “It didn’t matter whether they were progressive or conservative. Nobody wanted it. Then the Sheriff’s Department gave their own press conference saying that they were disabling the lethal capabilities of the device — which still left open what else they were planning to do with it.” Those interested in more information on Liberty One Radio can visit their Web site at www.libertyoneradio.com


D.A. Had to Lie to Win on Proposition 19

story and photos by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTOS: Last-minute Election Day campaigning for Prop. 19

District attorney Bonnie Dumanis led the successful campaign to defeat Proposition 19; the ballot initiative to tax, regulate and control cannabis. But the “honorable” Dumanis had to lie to do it.

In a published statement in the San Diego Union-Tribune, she made seven blatant lies, from claiming Proposition 19 would mean zero revenue to state and local governments, to falsely saying passengers in a vehicle on the freeway could smoke marijuana.

Official state estimates revealed that Proposition 19 would have brought nearly two billion dollars in new revenues to local and state governments, when they are all burdened by huge deficits.

But now the “honorable” Dumanis can continue to put people in prison for having only one joint, and can fill her bloated budget with money to fight her totally failed “War on Drugs.”

Proposition 19 would have provided “hundreds of millions” in new revenues to San Diego and Sac-ramento for teachers, police, firefighters and libraries; according to state officials.

It would not have grandly “legalized” all use of marijuana, but permitted it only in the limited privacy of your home.

The D.A. had to lie to win!

Beauty from Garbage: The Mountain Thief at Asian Film Festival

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Imagine trying to survive while living atop a mountain of garbage, three times higher than our municipal landfills, and rummaging through the trash for recyclable tin cans and anything else useful. People live that way today on the Philippine Islands.

Next imagine a movie of those living in those incredibly squalid conditions, and using those unskilled locals exclusively as all the actors. It almost sounds impossible, but “The Mount Hope Project” produced that film, called The Mountain Thief.

It was one of the best of about 66 films screened at the recent Asian Film Festival of San Diego (AFFSD), produced by operations director Phillip Luque and an army of mostly young volunteers.

In The Mountain Thief, writer/director Gerry Balasta used real-life Filipino, garbage scavengers to tell the harsh story of a man trying to provide food and scarce medicine for his sick nine-year-old son (Richard), afflicted with a serious visual impairment.

Richard also had balancing problems and needed help navigating while walking. Despite all this, he was able to live amazingly independently in his daily struggle for survival.

“It took us a very long time to cast an unskilled, visually impaired boy who could learn his lines, and to a point where he also knew everyone else’s lines as well,” explained director Balasta.

“Richard dreams of being able to read and write someday.”

The Mountain Thief has 14 scavenger actors and 10 scavenger extras in the movie.

In addition to telling the story of scavengers in “The Promised Land in the Philippines,” Balasta also created the Mount Hope Project, which can be found on Google; and which is helping the lives of those literally living atop a mountain of garbage. The film was co-sponsored by the Miramar College Filipino-American Student Association.

The Asian Film Festival was produced at the Ultra-Star Cinemas in the Hazard Center in Mission Valley, also the venue for the Latino Film Festival each spring. But it’s scheduled to be torn down and replaced by a parking building. Its equipment is in bad shape.

For opening night, the projector in the main screen overheated and the major movie had to be moved to another screen that had only half as many seats. It was one of several major hassles resulting from seriously inadequate operations at the old movie complex, but somehow the AFFSD staff worked around the problems.

Set during World War II, the opening night film, Legend of the Fist, used cutting-edge visuals and was loaded with martial arts, which always wins over any gun. Much too much “Hollywood” violence, however.

The same UltraStar Cinema “technical difficulties” plagued Standing Queer, which were Gay shorts with Asian themes. In the audience, I noticed two deaf patrons who were able to silently communicate using sign language even while the Gay movies were running.

One of the most powerful films in the festival was from Pakistan: Ramchand Pakistani. It starred Ramchand, a mischievous, little boy living in a mud, thatched hut in a very poor, Hindu village in Pakistan on the border of India.

The sheep-herding boy spent his days ditching school and wandering over the surrounding country-side, until one day he strayed a few yards into India. Even today, that can be extremely dangerous.

Because he was carrying a small slingshot, an Indian soldier arrested him for “carrying a weapon to liberate Kashmir.” When his father goes looking for him, he too is captured by Indian soldiers.

Both remain imprisoned for several years with very little food and sleeping on dirt floors in an overcrowded prison. Hatred between India and Pakistan is rampant, even today.

Another powerful movie, Hiroshima Nagasaki Download, focused on the cruel psychological trauma left by the vast destruction resulting from our atom-bomb raids in World War II.

A soldier who survived revealed the intense smell of burning flesh that permeated the air all the time. He saw people walking with skin hanging down from their faces and walking like ghosts. He ate horse meat — when it could be found, and found people dying on the ground begging, “Soldier, please give me water.”

Black rain fell while he tried to help survivors.

During the week-long AFFSD, “we had about 19,000 guests at films and off-site events,” reported Daniel Mathews, media coordinator.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or leopowerhere@msn.com

Photo Caption:

Justin Vancho, 28, wears wings made from real bird feathers from America’s Next Top Model TV show. They were auctioned at the Asian Film Festival. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

California Ballet Does “Nutcracker” for 43rd Season

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Even professional football players use the ballet, “an art form started as a classical court dance in Europe during the Renaissance in Europe and was originally performed in palace ballrooms,” says Joseph Shumate, 31, executive assistance of the professional California Ballet Company of San Diego.

For its 42nd season, the company will perform the famous Tchaikovsky Nutcracker ballet from Chula Vista to Poway in December.

“The heart of ballet is movement and grace,” Shumate explained in an exclusive interview.

“Classical, romantic and contemporary ballet each have slightly different styles. Our company has a focus on the classics, but we can absolutely use contemporary music and dance — even jazz. Most ballets today are pulled largely from the romantic era.

“France’s King Louis XIV transformed ballet from a court dance for everybody in the palace ball-room to the performance art on stage that we know today.” Shumate said. The king was a nimble ballet dancer for 18 years and established the Academie Royale de Danse. Ballet terminology today remains in the French language.

He discovered ballet at the age of five while watching The Nutcracker starring Soviet expatriate Mikhail Baryshnikov. “Ballet dancers have a short lifespan as dancers. Most retire before ago 40.”

Contrary to the popular stereotype, many male ballet dancers (danseurs) are not Gay. Indeed, “Many professional, football players from the NFL actually take ballet classes in order to get the agility, to be as nimble as possible and get some of their muscles built up for their games,” Shumate re-ported.

On stage during a ballet performance, dancers often walk with their toe first. “When you think of grace, you think of ballet,” says Shumate.

“By walking (across the stage) toe to heel, the dancer conveys that special sense of grace and lightness; being able to almost float across the stage,” he explained.

“Walking (ordinarily) heel-to-toe is a heavier feel. Walking toe to heel gives the impression that the dancer is gliding across the stage.”

Male dancers had historically dominated Western theatrical ballet dancing until the 19th century. Then the ballerina has become the undisputed star of the ballet stage. George Balanchine, one of the most famous 20th century choreographers, famously said, “Ballet is woman.” But male dancers increasingly claim their fair share of attention from both choreographers and audience.

“The ballet is a discipline that makes me feel beautiful as a man,” says California Ballet professional dancer Mauricio Vergara, 22, of San Diego. “It’s something that not everyone can do.”

In the future, ballet companies are expected to enlarge their repertories and expand the technical possibilities of their dancers, both male and female, coming a long way from the early days as royal entertainment in the court of Louis XIV of France.

The Nutcracker (1872)


“The Nutcracker is probably the most famous ballet” in America, says Regisseur Denice Dabrowski (choreography). “It’s a classical ballet about Christmastime and has been done (by California Ballet) for 43 years. Over 100 dancers are involved, from professionals to children.”

It cost $200,000 to $350,000 to produce in all countywide venues, with over 400 performances be-fore more than 600,000 in the past. Much of the California Ballet Company’s annual expenses are covered by income from the Nutcracker shows each year, due to its enormous popularity, especially among children and the military.

The Nutcracker story starts at a Christmas Eve party where one of the guests, Uncle Drosselmeyer, gives his niece, Clara, a wooden nutcracker he had carved. Jealous, her brother, Fritz, grabs it and breaks it.

Suddenly, the room is filled with mice and toy soldiers led by her nutcracker. A terrible battle occurs but Clara saves the nutcracker, who is really a handsome prince.

He takes her on a journey through Snowflake Forest where they are greeted by the Sugarplum Fairy.

Some of ballet’s most famous variations are then performed, including Russian, Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances and the beautiful Waltz of the Flowers.

The Sugarplum and her Cavalier dance a pas de deux (dance for two) for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. In California Ballet’s version, the entire Kingdom wish Clara and the Prince well as they go on to other adventures.

Countywide Ballet Venues

The California Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker at the Poway Center for the Arts on Dec. 11 and 12; and at the San Diego Civic Theatre on Dec. 18, 19, 20, accompanied by the San Diego Symphony. The 8 p.m. show on Dec. 18th will be especially dedicated to active-duty military.

Discounted tickets are available. Go on-line at www.californiaballet.org, or e-mail at: tick-ets@californiaballet.org, or call the box office at (858) 560-6741.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or leopowerhere@msn.com

Photo caption:

Professional ballet dancer Mauricio Vergara, 22, performs a split en l’air while rehearsing at the California Ballet Company facility in San Diego. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

Sunday, December 05, 2010





Over 100 San Diegans Demonstrate for Marriage Equality

Action Comes Two Days Before Appeals Court Hearing on Prop. 8


by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: “Queer Revolution,” Adrienne Bracciale, Chuck Stemke, Charlie Pratt

Over 100 San Diego supporters of marriage equality took to the streets in Hillcrest Saturday evening, December 4, two days before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was scheduled to hear the appeal of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriages. The event was part of a statewide mobilization called “Unite to Make It Right,” which was originally planned as a big statewide rally in San Francisco but soon evolved into a series of smaller actions throughout the state. The hearing itself is scheduled to be broadcast Monday, December 6, 10 a.m. to noon on C-SPAN (Cox cable channel 21).

The action took place in three phases: an opening rally at the assembly point on Sixth and University, a march to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center on Centre Street, and a longer rally outside the Center. Exactly four months before, on August 4, a much larger event had followed the same route in celebration of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that Proposition 8, the voter-approved initiative redefining marriage in California as the union of one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who emerged as an unexpected hero of the marriage equality movement when he endorsed the legal challenge to Proposition 8 and testified before Judge Walker, had spoken on August 4 and a number of elected officials had attended. This time, the only elected official was openly Gay San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who showed up long enough to speak at the opening rally.

The event was sponsored by the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME), two of whose members, Lisa Kove and José Medina, co-MC’d both rallies. Kove also filmed as much of the event as she could for a volunteer community media project called That’s So Gay Live. At both rallies she had to introduce herself as being with SAME, That’s So Gay Live and DOD FedGlobe (www.dodfedglobe.com), a Web site devoted to protecting the rights of Queer servicemembers and civilian Defense Department employees. “I have to say for legal reasons that I’m … not here to reflect the views of my employer, the Department of Defense,” Kove said. “I know you love that.”

One of the few speakers whose remarks focused on the upcoming court case rather than marriage equality in general was law student and SAME member Adrienne Bracciale, who mentioned some of the loonier arguments put forward by Proposition 8’s supporters in Judge Walker’s courtroom and how he’d answered them in his decision. One of the judge’s 80 findings of fact in his opinion, Bracciale said, was that “marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for Gay and Lesbian individuals” — which might seem obvious, except that one of the pro-8 arguments was that the initiative didn’t bar Gay and Lesbian people from marrying as long as they “met the qualifications” and married someone other than the people with whom they were likely to fall in love and want to share their lives.

Bracciale also said that Judge Walker had found that “permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage, or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages” — despite the recurring statements of marriage equality opponents that allowing same-sex couples to marry somehow threatens, or even destroys, marriage as an institution. She expressed many of the protesters’ disappointment in President Obama and his administration, who she said are “not at all living up to their claim of being our fierce advocates,” and called on the Queer movement to do more direct confrontation and civil disobedience to force the White House to be more aggressive on our issues.

“We need a movement,” agreed Chuck Stemke of SAME and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), who spoke at the closing rally and also called on the Queer rights movement to be more aggressive and confrontational in its dealings with politicians. He cited public-opinion polls that Americans are becoming more supportive of same-sex marriage, want to see the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military repealed, and oppose the war in Afghanistan — but “it doesn’t matter a single bit … as long as we’re not out there fighting, as long as we’re not visible.”

Stemke said of the Queer community’s so-called political “allies” that “if they don’t have any kind of pressure for us, if they don’t feel like we’re not going to vote for them [if they don’t deliver on Queer issues] or we’re going to protest them, it’s so much easier for them to say, ‘The hell with it. We’re not going to pick this political fight right now … over Gay rights.’ That’s exactly what’s happening now, isn’t it? All our issues are completely stalled. What’s the only way out? The only way out is for us to have a big movement.”

“I never thought I would be here doing this,” said attorney Charlie Pratt, who began his speech by mentioning that he is 70 years old and could remember when whites couldn’t marry people of color anywhere in the U.S. “I never thought I would see this progress in my country. … One thing I’ve learned is that we have to fight for our rights; and when we fight for our rights, we advance the cause for other folks as well. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and there’ll be folks standing on your shoulders, looking back at 2010: ‘Remember? That’s when we got our rights! That’s when we could marry!’”

Organizer and co-MC Lisa Kove spoke several times during the event, including making a pitch for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and recalling her experiences in the official campaign against Proposition 8 — which lost, she said, because it wasn’t aggressive enough in reaching out to voters. “We were given canned speeches and specific instructions, and we were told only to speak to people who were on the fence,” she recalled. “I thought that was a mistake. … I kept saying to these folks, ‘We need to bring this to places that oppose us, because I actually know the people that oppose us. I’ve been working with them for 30 years. I think they’re persuadable.’ And they told me that if we did that, it would be my fault that we lost.”

Kove said that, as a New Yorker who’d only recently moved to California when Proposition 8 was on the ballot, she didn’t push her objections to the strategy. But once the measure passed, she, Pratt and others “immediately went to speak in places that opposed us. The first time we did that was at a town council in the North County area. Most of the folks there were either former military people or people associated with the Department of Defense. They were of various races, and they were all religious. And when we told them our story and our truth, they felt really bad. One man followed Charlie and I out of the meeting and said, ‘My preacher needs to get out of politics.’ He was crying because he knew the pain he had caused this community, and he knew he was wrong. He was a man of color, and he felt like he had betrayed the civil rights movement Dr. King and others had brought to his community. He understood. He got it.”

Friday, December 03, 2010

“Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis”: Big Pharma's Latest AIDS Drug Marketing Strategy

commentary by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine * All rights reserved

“Pill Is Found to Cut Risk of HIV,” read a headline in the November 23 Los Angeles Times that reported on a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that claimed giving an anti-HIV medication called Truvada (actually a pill containing two drugs, emtricitabine and tenofovir), reduced the risk of so-called “HIV transmission” between Gay men leading “high-risk” sexual lifestyles. The study, conducted by an international team headed by Dr. Robert M. Grant of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology at UC San Francisco and Dr. Javier R. Lama of Investigaciones Medicas en Salud in Lima, Peru, enrolled 2,499 Gay men and male-to-female Transgender people and gave half of them a once-a-day dose of Truvada and half of them a harmless placebo.


The results, observed over 14 months, were that 36 people in the Truvada group “seroconverted” – went from testing HIV antibody-negative to antibody-positive – versus 64 in the control group. The Los Angeles Times article noted that the difference between 36 and 64 was 43.8 percent, and that “the reduction in risk … was very sensitive to how regularly the subjects took the medication.” For those who took their daily dose more than 50 percent of the time, the article reported, the seroconversion rate fell by 50.2 percent. For those who took the drug more than 90 percent of the time, the rate fell by 72.8 percent.

Notice that the Times report was framed in a way that completely ignored another fact shown by those numbers: how unlikely it is, even for Gay and Transgender people picked specifically for their “high-risk” sexual practices and therefore their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases, to become “HIV positive” in the first place. Of the total number of people in the study, just 100 seroconverted – 4 percent. Assuming that both the Truvada and the control group were of equal size, which is the standard practice, the conversion rate among the people taking the drug was 2.9 percent and among the people on placebo was 5.1 percent.

For decades sexually active Gay men have been fed a steady diet of propaganda about how supposedly easy it is to get HIV – to the point where it's backfired, convincing a lot of people that it doesn't pay to use condoms or otherwise reduce sexual risks because seroconversion isn't a matter of “if,” but “when” – yet here is hard evidence from an establishment source of just how difficult it is to become “HIV positive” from sex. But that isn't stopping the AIDS establishment from declaring yet another “victory.”

The initial Los Angeles Times report was followed up by two additional articles. The first came out November 24, the day after the initial piece, and was by the same author, science reporter Thomas Maugh II. It was called “Anti-HIV Pill's Trial Success Rekindles Hope” and quoted researcher Grant as saying that they had “tried all the easy things” to prevent HIV seroconversion, and now, “We had to embolden ourselves to consider something like a pill a day, even though it is expensive and requires medical monitoring.” When he said the pills were expensive, he wasn't kidding; later in the article Maugh reported that Truvada costs $7,000 to $10,000 per year, and like most anti-HIV medications it's not available in a cheaper generic form. What's more, Maugh reported, it probably won't be covered by health insurance because Truvada is currently approved only for anti-HIV treatment, not prevention – and a lot of people might not want the drug anyway because it will mean “outing” themselves in their medical records as Gay men leading “high-risk” sexual lifestyles.

A third Times story, a November 29 op-ed by International AIDS Vaccine Initiative CEO Seth Berkley, both added to the myth-making and offered some fascinating clues as to why the long talked-about strategy of “pre-exposure prophylaxis” – giving anti-HIV drugs to HIV antibody-negative people in hopes of keeping them from seroconverting – is suddenly being pushed now, 17 years after it was first broached at the 1993 international AIDS conference in Berlin. “Thanks largely to AIDS activists who demanded expedited research and approvals, today there are more drugs licensed to treat HIV than there are for all other viruses combined,” Berkley wrote. “Generous donors and innovative pricing mechanisms have made these antiretroviral drugs available to about 36 percent of those in the developing world who [allegedly] need them to stay alive and healthy.”

But even with those so-called “innovative pricing mechanisms” – basically discounts that reduce the drug companies' profits on them from obscene to merely swollen – it's getting harder for the AIDS establishment to persuade governments, international agencies and private donors to keep coming up with the huge levels of funding needed to buy anti-HIV medications for all the people the establishment says “need” them. According to Berkley, this year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria committed $12 billion to buy these drugs – “$1 billion less than the minimum amount … needed.” In the face of a global economic downturn and the election victories of austerity-minded Right-wing parties in the U.S. and western Europe's three largest countries – Britain, France and Germany – Berkley and other AIDS establishmentarians worry that donors won't “continue making the enormous investment required to provide access to treatment to all those living with HIV” without “reasonable assurance that one day the bill will be paid in full. This will require having ways to reliably prevent new infections.”

Throughout its quarter-century existence, the AIDS establishment's number one priority has been the development, merchandising and selling of high-priced anti-HIV “treatments.” In the 1980's drug companies were actually unwilling to invest money in creating and marketing AIDS drugs because they didn't think there'd ever be enough people with full-blown AIDS to make them profitable. That changed in 1989, when the Burroughs-Wellcome company (now part of GlaxoSmithKline) got its first anti-AIDS drug, AZT, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not only for people actually sick from AIDS but for otherwise completely healthy people who tested “HIV positive.” The market for AIDS drugs zoomed upward – though the high toxicity of AZT and other early AIDS drugs killed off a lot of their customers – and it zoomed up again after 1996, when doses of AZT and other first-generation drugs were reduced and they were combined with protease inhibitors and other sorts of drugs that were less toxic.

But the markets for anti-HIV medications in the U.S. and other developed countries started flatlining in the late 1990's, as fewer Gay and Bisexual men took the HIV antibody test – the gateway to being declared “sick” and in need of such “treatment” – and as fewer of them died of AIDS. AIDS moved from epidemic to endemic, and in the process many Gay and Bisexual men either lost their fear of it or, in the case of young people just entering sexual activity, never got deathly afraid of AIDS in the first place. The AIDS establishment needed new markets for their drugs, and they found them first among people of color in the developed countries, then among people of color in their home countries. The U.N. AIDS program obediently created mountains out of molehills of statistical data to proclaim that Africa, and later Asia, were inundated with “HIV positive” people who didn't know it and this threatened the very survival of countries in those regions.

Since these nations and their people didn't have the money to pay for anti-HIV drugs themselves, the AIDS establishment started a campaign of shaming the people who did – governments and rich people in developed countries – to cover the cost. “Helping” the Third World by providing their people anti-HIV drugs (for medical conditions that could have been addressed far more effectively through clean water, sanitation, adequate diet and simple antibiotics and other drugs to use against genuine health threats like malaria and TB) became a personal charitable priority of the two richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as well as plenty of politicians and officials in non-governmental organizations (NGO's) looking at what sorts of health-care projects to fund in the less-developed world. But, as Berkley admitted in his article, the recession is drying up that gravy train and forcing the drug companies to turn away from the Third World and look again for customers who actually have money.

Hence the turn towards “pre-exposure prophylaxis” that can be sold to Gay men in developed countries as a way of not needing to worry about AIDS – even though that will mean condemning themselves to a lifetime of medical monitoring and will essentially redefine being Gay itself as a “disease” needing “treatment.” It will also mean confronting the adverse (so-called “side”) effects of these drugs, including nausea, serum creatinine increases (which in the normal medical world is often a sign of kidney failure) and “unintentional weight loss.” (A little-noticed paper read at the 2004 international AIDS conference in Barcelona said that the number one cause of death among people diagnosed “HIV positive” today is liver failure from the toxicities of anti-HIV drugs.) Quite a few much-ballyhooed AIDS drug regimens in the past have turned out to have had devastating “side” effects that weren't discovered until well after the drugs were mass-marketed because the AIDS establishment has a way of stopping their trials early before all the adverse effects are known – though, to their credit, Grant and Lama are keeping their study going for another 18 months to assess long-term risks.

My thought is that not very many developed-world Gay men are going to fall for the lure of “pre-exposure prophylaxis.” Had this been announced 15 or even 10 years ago, while the AIDS scare was at its height, Gay men might have rushed to their doctors and asked to be prescribed these regimens. Now that AIDS has long since ceased to be either a consuming emotional issue in the Queer community or a particularly trendy charity – the “in” cause among Queer philanthropists and organizations right now is reaching out to Queer teenagers and keeping them from committing suicide or ending up homeless – it's likely that the thought of spending thousands of dollars on anti-HIV drugs before you've even seroconverted is going to go over like a family-planning convention inside Vatican City. But I've been proven wrong before about the AIDS establishment and its ability to make money and maintain prestige despite the patent absurdity of most of their “science” and their inability to deliver either a “cure” or a workable “vaccine” against an elusive “virus” that doesn't behave anything like an ordinary sexually transmitted microbe.
The Fox News Election

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine * All rights reserved

“We have lived through bubble after bubble; endured waves of accounting fraud so open they might be called fads; seen political entrepreneurship work its wonders on Washington's K Street; tasted the spoiled fruits of deregulation; watched the destruction of American manufacturing, the sinking of the middle class, the show demise of labor unions, and so on. But the myths of the magic market persist as though nothing had happened to shake our faith in all those intervening years.”

— Thomas Frank, Harper's, December 2010

It's probably just as well that I didn't publish this issue of Zenger's when I had originally planned to – a bizarre series of computer malfunctions delayed me from early November to early December – because it's taken me a long time to process the results of the 2010 midterm elections and the stunning defeat they represent, not only for the Democratic Party but the entire spirit of progressive activism and the hopes I've lived with all my life for a more just, fair and equal society. The midterms were a defeat not only for President Obama and his weak, pro-corporate responses to the economy and health care but the very idea that anything other than lassiez-faire capitalism and the rule of “The Market” in its most wide-open, uncontrolled and brutal form should determine our nation's and our world's future.

The first important thing about the midterms is that the “shellacking” Obama and the Democrats got was delivered by a much smaller electorate than the one that voted them into power in 2008. As Hendrik Hertzberg noted in the November 15 New Yorker, 130 million Americans voted in November 2008 and only 75 million Americans voted in November 2010 – a drop-off of more than 40 percent. What's more, as Hertzberg wrote, “The members of this year's electorate were also whiter, markedly older, and more habitually Republican” than the voters of 2008; “if the franchise had been limited to them two years ago … John McCain would be President today.”

The second important thing is that the voters weren't necessarily endorsing the Republican platform – such as it is, since the Republicans weren't really standing for much of anything other than the usual Right-wing nostrums that government is too big, too intrusive, should leave the private sector alone and lower taxes. They were voting the way the late political scientist V. O. Key said Americans usually do: “retrospectively and negatively.” They were voting against the party that had promised to deliver millions of new jobs and instead had struggled merely to slow down the rate at which the American economy is bleeding jobs. The unemployment rate was 6.3 percent on September 15, 2008 – when the dramatic collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the crisis phase of the current economic downturn and turned the election around for Obama and the Democrats. Two years later, it had risen to 9.6 percent.

So millions of American voters – including the much-prized “independents” whom the Democrats have been courting for at least 30 years now, often to the detriment of their own base – decided that Obama's economic medicine hadn't worked, so they'd try something else. And the “something else” they were being offered was a stew of phony prescriptions that have somehow remained indelibly part of American (and, indeed, global) economic orthodoxy even though they have never actually worked. The new Congress and the Republican state governments also elected in the 2010 sweep are likely to stop granting unemployment insurance extensions to long-jobless workers, drastically cut back on government payrolls (the feckless Obama has already tried to appease them with a two-year wage freeze on federal workers) and vote new tax breaks for the rich – all programs that are likely to worsen, not heal, America's continuing economic woes.

What's amazing about the Republicans' all-purpose economic policy – the trickle-down concept that throwing money at the rich in hopes that some of it will trickle down to the rest of us – is that it has managed to maintain its support among a large number of people even though it's been shown over and over again not to work. Trickle-down economics were tried in the 1880's and generated the devastating economic “panics” (19th-century speak for “depressions”) of 1893 and 1897. They were tried in the 1920's and generated the Great Depression of the 1930's. They were tried by the Reagan administration in the early 1980's and would have generated yet another depression if it hadn't been for Reagan's massive buildup of the U.S. military, which acted as a classic Keynesian stimulus and undid all the damage done by the ruinous tax giveaways of Reagan's first two years in office.

The basic problem is that when you enrich the rich – when you either allow or actively pursue giving the people at the top a greater and greater share of a nation's wealth and income – you don't encourage economic growth at all. Instead you take money out of the hands of people who will spend it, thereby generating investment and production of useful goods and services, and deliver it to people who will hoard it, speculate with it (making themselves money without producing any useful products or contributing to economic growth), export it overseas or simply indulge themselves with it, buying expensive toys in what 19th century economist Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption.” The result is what Karl Marx – whose diagnoses of capitalism's ills continue to be astonishingly accurate no matter how bad were his calls on what would, could or should replace it – called a “crisis of overproduction,” in which workers are able to produce fantastic amounts of stuff – but don't have the money to buy it.

America's capitalists have been on a sustained war against their working class since at least the early 1970's, when they unilaterally broke the truce in the class war begun during the Depression and World War II. Real wages for working people in the U.S. have fallen every year but two (1999 and 2000) since 1971. America's working people tried to maintain the so-called “middle-class lifestyle” first by putting the women in their families to work – 1960's feminists demanded jobs for women as a way of getting them out of economic dependence on men, then most families found they needed two wage-earners just to survive and maintain their standard of living – and then by borrowing. The current economic collapse was the result of an overheated housing market collapsing of its own weight after a decade during which many working-class Americans had been convinced that they could safely borrow on their homes to finance current consumption since “houses never go down in value” – until they do.

The American working class has repeatedly been sold the myth of the “middle class” – often with a not-too-thinly veiled strain of racism by which white working people have been told that they are the real bulwark of America and people of color are lazy bums who refuse to work hard and earn the rewards of the American Dream. As the ruling class generally has become more and more hard-line in redistributing Americans' wealth and income upward, America's corporate media have become more aggressive selling the ideology of “The Market” as a means of convincing working people, especially white and/or male working people, that their true class allies are the people above them and their true class enemies are the people below them – people of color, so-called “illegal” immigrants, Queers and other cultural rebels and anyone on the ever-growing lists of scapegoats de jour.

In his November 15 New Yorker article, Hertzberg complains about “public ignorance” as one of the reasons for the Republicans' election sweep. He cites a Bloomberg poll taken a week before the election that found “some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up [they have gone down], the economy has shrunk [it's been growing, albeit anemically, since May 2009], and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP] are gone, never to be recovered. [In fact, a recent report has shown that the government has been or will be repaid all but $25 billion of the nearly $800 billion TARP bailout money.] One might add to that list the public's apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing [it's actually declining, largely because as the U.S. unemployment rate rises our country's power as an economic lure declines] and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher [the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it will shrink it].”

Hertzberg says the American people believe these myths because Obama and the Democrats haven't worked hard or effectively enough to convince them otherwise. But there's another, more powerful reason. Millions of Americans believe those falsehoods about the U.S. economy because in the last quarter-century, alongside the traditional corporate media that proclaimed “objectivity” as dogma and subtly propagandized for capitalism in general but without openly taking sides between the capitalist parties, there has come into existence another corporate media party, an openly and unashamedly Right-wing propaganda operation designed to convince the American people that lassiez-faire capitalism is the only workable and moral economic system; that all government regulation of the economy and all social-welfare programs take money away from the true “producers” and give it to the intellectually, physically and morally unworthy; and that the problems facing the white American working class are the fault of those below them, not those above.

This Right-wing corporate media party – the party of Fox News and talk radio – was the real winner of this November's election. The entire “Tea Party” movement that galvanized the rank-and-file American Right into dedicated activism against Obama and the Democrats, and generated the so-called “enthusiasm gap” that spurred Right-wing voters to the polls while progressive voters largely stayed at home, actually began with a rant by a commentator on a Right-wing media outlet, Rick Santelli on CNBC. It was mobilized, promoted and actually organized by hosts on talk radio and Fox News, who used their media power not only to get the troops to show up for Tea Party rallies but also to, shall we say, be generous in their estimates of the numbers who actually turned out. The Tea Party movement was certainly a genuine grass-roots phenomenon, but it was the torchbearers on talk radio and Fox News that ignited their prairie fires.

Before the election, I wrote an editorial in this space saying that the number one priority of what's left of the American Left should be to use economic boycotts and all other legal means available to drive talk radio and Fox News off the air, and scare the corporate media back to their old position of promoting capitalism in general without pushing the interests of one capitalist party over the other. Without that, no progressive revival will be possible in the U.S. – or, indeed, in the rest of the world, where ruthless Right-wing media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi are exporting the propaganda tactics that have swung American politics so far Right-ward and remaking western Europe and the rest of the world in our Right's image of vicious, exploitative, anti-human, anti-survival lassiez-faire capitalism.