Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SFFD Cost to Air Meetings From City Hall?

My schedule didn't allow me to attend the December 16 meeting of the San Francisco fire commission and participate in the discussion about finally televising their meetings on SFGov TV. Thanks to commission secretary Maureen Conefrey, who has shared the transcript of this item along with the PowerPoint slides used by SFGov TV technician Jack Chin, I learned much info.

First, the price-tag for simply moving the fire commission meetings from their not-so-easy to get to location at the department's headquarters on Second Street near Townsend to City Hall and one of the many hearing room tech-ready for broadcasting is about $33,000 annually.

If the commission opts to keep meeting at headquarters, the annual cost is just over $49,000. This option is more convenient for fire department brass than taxpayers and the transcript shows commissioner Michael Hardeman toeing the SFFD party line.

Hardeman claims that 25 or 30 SFFD folks would have the burden of traveling from headquarters and finding parking at City Hall. He's not the least bit concerned with making the meetings more accessible for the general public at a much more convenient location, especially for those of us dependent upon on Muni to get to meetings.

On the other hand, commissioner Frances Covington urged her colleagues to consider the challenges for many ordinary folks to get to the current meeting location and does not want the City Hall option ruled out. I hope her voice will prevail when a final decision is made about from where to broadcast the meetings.

I again laud commissioner Ken Cleaveland for his push in the past few months to have these meetings on SFGov TV and his comments at the December 16 meeting.

SFGov TV's Chin also said airings from City Hall could begin in one month, versus four-to-six months before they could start televising from SFFD headquarters.

So, we can have fire commission meetings begin sooner, at a lower cost to taxpayer and in a more accessible location at City Hall, or the commissioners and brass can remain where they are for meetings and run up a larger bill in a location difficult to access via public transportation.

Good to know it's really a matter of when not if the fire commission meetings with be broadcast on TV and available on the web. That alone is a giant step forward and all this is happening without a single member of the Board of Supervisors paying attention to expanding government transparency, never mind using their soap boxes to bring the SFFD into the tech and TV age.

Let's lobby the commissioners to go with the City Hall option.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

DPW Hearing Cancelled Over Sunshine Complaint

It surprised me recently that the Department of Public Works without proper advance public notice scheduled a hearing at City Hall for an obscure panel with tremendous power over street furniture on our sidewalks. My complaint to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, which is proving more effective every week and has an impact just accepting complaints as this episode demonstrates, forced cancellation of a hearing. 

This letter is from DPW's custodian of records Frank W. Lee, and was received this week:

"Upon discovering that the agenda for the December 16, 2014 News Rack Advisory Committee Meeting was not posted on our department’s website, we cancelled the scheduled December 16 meeting.  Attached are photos of the cancellation notice in front of City Hall, Room 416, where the meeting was scheduled to be held.

"Our department will also update the News Rack Advisory Committee webpage with the December 16 agenda and the notice cancelling the December 16 meeting.

"Cynthia Hoe is aware of the posting requirements for meeting agendas and simply missed posting the agenda on the webpage.  Since the omission was brought to my attention, I reminded Ms. Hoe of the posting requirements and referred her to this City Attorney’s webpage for reference:http://www.sfcityattorney.org/index.aspx?page=7.

"At this time, a new date for the meeting has not been determined; it may not occur until next month, near the end of January 2015."

I've long advocated consolidating the many empty rack cluttering our sidewalks citywide and particularly in the Castro business district, and consolidation was the agenda of the cancelled meeting. How the committee, which is comprised primarily of publishing and media enterprises, thought it could get away with a consolidation discussion without the public is a head-scratcher.

A letter was sent to DPW boss Mohammed Nuru, outlining my desire for the next meeting to be properly noticed and the start time of it moved to the early evening so more stakeholders in the general public can participate in the discussion. Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, December 26, 2014

PrEP Plan at DPH After Supes' Truvada Hearings?

Gilead reaped a bounty of free and favorable publicity for its Truvada drug in the fall thanks to Supervisor David Campos, in the heat of a tight race for a state Assembly seat, introducing a resolution and holding hearings about the drug's use to stop HIV transmission. Here's what Liz Highleyman wrote in the Bay Area Reporter:

"The resolution, co-sponsored by gay Supervisor Scott Wiener and Supervisor Eric Mar, states that the city "supports the expanded use of PrEP as an important means for ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic," and asks the health department to submit by December 1 a plan to increase the use of PrEP that addresses educational and affordability issues."

I emailed Campos' office for copies of any emails about that deadline and DPH delivering a PrEP plan and his aide Nate Allbee replied that they had no such emails, and didn't respond to my question if the plan was otherwise sent to Campos.

DPH's director planning and policy, Colleen Chawla, shared this info after I contacted the department about the plan called for in the Supervisors' resolution:

"As you may know, Supervisor Campos’s supplemental budget request is to be used to hire navigators to help individuals access PrEP. Our plan is to contract out for these services, which requires a competitive bidding process. Because the timeline for this process takes us into the next fiscal year, this supplemental allocation will be rolled over into our budget for next year. Additionally, we understand that the Getting to Zero Consortium is also working on a more comprehensive proposal.  

"In the interim, we have committed general fund to support three staff positions which were scheduled to end due to the expiration of grant funding.  Those staff positions also support individuals in accessing PrEP."

My reply to Chawla:

"So the $301,000 allocation to come out of Campos' efforts will be spent after Jan. 1, if I understand you correctly. 

"What I'm trying to figure out is what exactly the Campos hearings and allocation accomplished this year, or will soon accomplish.

"Really thinking Campos parachuted in on PREP, then got scooped by Wiener disclosing he's on Truvada, a lot of good p.r. was generated by community groups for Gilead, a reso was passed with a small chunk of change attached and no major changes occurred.

"Meanwhile, as I wrote in my op-ed recently in the BAR, the Supes have not addressed the matter of Gilead greed on Truvada and hep C drugs.

"Why do I get the feeling that what Campos and Wiener did was more about them grandstanding, while Campos was in the midst of a tight race and Wiener is always out for self-promotion, but the DPH detailed work of dealing with at-risk folks, starting them on drugs then keeping them accessing them, and tackling pricing with drug wholesalers, was barely touched at the hearings?"

Back to Chawla for her final response in this thread:

"Certainly, the hearings raised awareness and, as you know, PrEP is just one component of getting to zero.  The allocation will be used in the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1, 2015.  The original subsidy program for PrEP envisioned by Supervisor Campos was not included in the final supplemental.  Affordability of PrEP will be enhanced by navigators and DPH staff who will maximize the use of Gilead’s patient assistance and co-pay assistance programs."

What came out of the fall hearings was great PR for the two gay Supervisors and Gilead, a huge amount of educational value from the mainstream and social media attention, and a few more bucks were kicked over to DPH. I approve of the allocation but not all the hoopla surrounding it.

As a longtime and loud critic of the DPH, I am going on the record lauding the department's various deputies and staffers for doing all in their power to get individuals insurance coverage to pay for their Truvada prescriptions or have access to it through Gilead's patient assistance program.

To be clear, DPH was and is doing an exemplary job on providing Truvada as PrEP to all who desire using it for HIV prevention reasons, while the Supervisors' grandstanding has had minimal impact and the direct, tangible outcome of their resolution won't start until the middle of 2015.

The Supervisors would do us all a huge favor if they scheduled hearings on the cost to the City coffers from the high price of Truvada and hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, and use the anti drug price gouging ballot measure Prop D passed in 2013 as an integral component to treatment and prevention affordability issues.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mike + Mike Ape 'The Interview's' Franco + Rogen 

Merry Christmas and greetings of the season to one and all, however you celebrate and mark the end of December. 

Mike and I are having a quiet day and getting ready to watch "The Interview" with James Franco and Seth Rogen.

We snapped this photo of us aping Franco and Rogen in a scene from the movie, with their mugs on our computer monitor.

Yes, on 12/25 we're enjoying a wee bit o' the 420 and will soon be laffing our queer asses off seeing "The Interview". Cheers!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

KTVU, Sing Tao: Sony = Censors Protest Coverage
Our trio of free expression and movie-loving activists staged a picket yesterday at the Metreon cineplex at Mission and 4th Streets. It's where "The Interview" was scheduled to open on Christmas Day, before Sony and Hollywood bowed to pressure from North Korea.

Ken Pritchett of KTVU News and a cameraman stopped by to chat with us and we were included in the station's 10 pm story about North Korea losing its limited web access and the whole Sony Hack mess. 

We taped the story off our TV monitor because not every story aired by KTVU is available on their web site and sure enough, this one isn't. Thank you, Ken Hodnett and Tate Swindell, for picketing with me, and to Pritchett and KTUV for their coverage. 

On Saturday, we spoke with conservative radio host Ethan Berman on KGO-AM and he agreed that Sony needed to find a way to exhibit "The Interview" in theatres or on the web.</
The Chinese-American newspaper Sing Tao sent reporter Flora Xu to our action and she asked terrific questions. Her story appeared today and she snapped a photo of it in the print edition which included a picture of us with our signs.


Longtime progressive political activist and photo documentarian Steve Rhodes was also there and snapped the great black and white photo above.
A round of gratitude to these media folks for giving us a platform to speak out for free expression
NYC PBA's Pat Lynch's Pay is How High?

Shock. That was my reaction after reading the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's IRS 990 filing for 2013 and learning the president of the group was paid only $98,100.

For a charity whose revenue figure was $23,100,000 and had assets of $50,000,000 at the end of its last fiscal year, I would expect the president to earn a robust six-figure salary.

NYC PBA president Patrick J. Lynch, pictured, is demagoguing the recent killings of two NYPD officers in uniform, been spouting lies for years and garnering fast-rising column inches and video footage from bloggers, social critics and the mainstream media.
Maybe New Yorkers can fill us in on whether Lynch's only income is his compensation from the NYC PBA. Read the current and full IRS 990 for this group here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cost of SFPD Cops to Attend NYPD Funeral?

(Image credit: SF Appeal.)

It's never too early to ask the San Francisco Police Department about expenses related to travel. Today, I wrote to Chief Greg Suhr requesting the following info:

"I wish to learn by the close of business today if the San Francisco Police Department has plans to send any officers of the force to the funeral of the two New York Police Department cops killed over the weekend.

"Also, please inform me of any plans you have to spend taxpayer dollars to send SFPD representatives to New York City, if it's decided to have you or your officers travel to the East Coast.

"And if that is the case, let me know the approximate amount of any travel, lodging and related expenses for sending SFPD officers to the funeral.

"In closing, allow me to express my condolences to the families of the dead NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, and I deplore their killings. I also condemn the deaths of Alex Nieto, Mike Brown and Eric Garner and sympathize with their families too."

By the close of business today, Briseida Banuelos, legal assistant to the department, responded:

"The SFPD has not determined how many officers will be attending the funerals at this time. Members that wish to attend the service may request to attend.

"However, once approved, officers must fund their own travel as the City and County of San Francisco does not pay for these expenses.

"Once the funeral arrangements are received by the New York City Police Department, the San Francisco Police Officers Association will determine the number of officers, if any, will be sponsored to attend the services."

There clarifications are most welcomed. Good to know San Francisco taxpayers are not footing the bills for members of our police force heading to New York City.

I fully expect hundreds of local police officers and other law enforcement agents will from around the nation will attend the funeral of the two NYPD officers Ramos and Liu, and that is their privilege.

Let's just keep an eye on who's paying for them to be at the funeral.
'Sony = Censors' Signs for Today's Protest at AMC Metreon

We've got a few signs ready for use at today's speak out against Sony pulling "The Interview" and theatre owners refusing to show it.

Our group, Cineastes Against Censorship, will be at the AMC Metreon cineplex starting at 5 pm and we have signs to display conveying a simple, yet powerful message. This cineplex located at Mission and 4th Streets, was chosen for the picket because it was where "The Interview" was supposed to open this week.

In addition to large signage, we also have several smaller versions of the Sony = Censors placards. We will ask movie-goers to boycott the theatre chains that pulled "The Interview" just over the holiday season, as a form of protest against Hollywood's censorship.

Let's stop North Korea's dictator Kim Jung un from deciding what films we get to see. Please join our picket today!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Woof #94: Beefy Boys and Friends

It's been more than a month since I last posted new photos of assorted dudes who appeal to my queer eye, and have snapped several shots of beefy boys and friends. All of the fellas have something worth capturing in a photo, but the first guy is my fave among this batch.

This is Javier at work last week and I realized he was someone who had graced the lens of my camera in the recent past. He was using an unopened box with heavy contents as a barbell when I walked into the Walgreens where he works. Nice sight to see!

Here's Javier two years ago and it's clear in the two-years since I last took his photo and enjoyed a short chat with this friendly young man, he's been lifting weights. This beefy boy would delight many patrons of the Lone Star Saloon.

At UCSF recently for a blood draw and other medical business, my friend Mike was also there and came over to say hello. His smile and sweetness sure made the visit to UCSF more pleasant than I expected. He's moving to the East Bay so I won't run into him much and I'll miss that.

Say hello Cemo, a co-owner of the Gyro Xpress at Castro and 18th Street. He's originally from Turkey and is Kurdish. Stop in at his restaurant for delicious and healthy Mediterranean food, and tell him I sent you. His business is also a great location to watch the gay world go by.

What a fab haircut this young dude was sporting on Polk Street recently waiting for a Muni bus. The warm weather sure gave him reason to show off his beefiness in a white tee shirt.

A group of union construction workers earlier this month milled about their headquarters at Fillmore and Hermann, with a lotta beef on display.

Drunk at noon and riding the 6 Parnassus bus last week was this biker, who said he was from Canada enjoying his vacation. He's straight, he claimed, and just hit the Big 6-0 and the present he gave himself was a week in San Francisco. 

Merry holiday wishes to all the guys and thanks for appearing in this series.

BART Omits All Public Comment from Minutes

Back on November 8, the Coalition on Homelessness staged a headline-grabbing action at BART's Powell Street station to protest the agency's policy of preventing homeless folks from stretching out, laying down or sleeping on the concourse level.

Curious as to whether the COH also attended any BART board meetings to effect change and not just get press attention, I emailed their executive director Jennifer Friedenback and asked about followup work after the action. She has not replied.

(Homeless folks and their advocates sit on the public walkway of the Powell Street BART station on Nov. 8. Credit: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle.)

I'm supportive of the action but feel it's crucial to ask the COH and BART what impact it had on changing the transit agency's homeless and security policies.

Reading over minutes of recent board meetings, I didn't see any names of COH folks in attendance and it was a glaring omission that the minutes merely reported the names of public speakers and which item they opined on, but an actual written public record of what the public said could not be located. There's also the matter of inconsistent advance agenda availability and no minutes at all for BART's various committees.

A few days ago, I corresponded with Kenneth Duron, BART's district secretary about all this and his reply dances around the matter of no public comments are included in the minutes. He says the videos of the meetings can be watched to learn what public speakers said, but the same could be said about the remarks of the BART board members.

BART needs to simply write down the comments of public speakers at its meetings, so a written record of respect for what the public has to say is created. Here's Duron's reply to my questions:

I can address your inquiries regarding our Board meeting minutes. 

Q: Did anyone from the general public or the Coalition on Homelessness address the board at that meeting? 

A: Ms. Lisa Marie Alatorre, Coalition On Homelessness San Francisco, attended the December 4, 2014 Board Meeting. She completed a request to address the Board but was unable to stay. She provided a letter addressed to the Board of Directors. The letter was distributed to the Board and District staff. 

Q: There are no comments included from any member of the public and if they were present representing an organization, that info is also omitted. Are BART minutes usually lacking any remarks from the public? 

A: The District minutes record actions taken by the Board of Directors and the names of individuals addressing the Board on a particular topic or under general public comment (for items not on the agenda). The District makes video/audio record of the Board Meeting, including public comment, available on our website via live streaming and on demand recording (http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/multimedia). The website design enables the reviewer to go to a particular agenda item to expedite review. The balance of your questions have been referred to our Communications Department for review and response. 

These are the other questions I asked of BART that I hope are answered this week: Did the action in any way persuade BART to reconsider or change its policy about moving the homeless folks out of the station for security reasons? What impact on BART did the action have?

When I receive answers from either the COH or BART, they'll be posted here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CHP's Berkeley Protest Emails to be Released January 5?

The California Highway Patrol may need until January 5, 2015, before it potentially releases all emails sent or received by the Golden Gate Division Chief Avery Brown's addy and emails of the addy for the division's public information office during the recently Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley.

Yesterday, CHP special counsel Jonathan S. Rothman responded to my two public records requests for the emails. He said the agency is invoking its right to take 14 days to search and review the public documents in question, before responding to me and hopefully releasing the emails.

(A white CHP officer points his gun at a crowd as his black colleague subdues a demonstrator on Dec. 10 in Berkeley, CA. Credit: Michael Short, SF Chronicle.)

There was a lot of bad and possibly illegal policing taking place the week of December 7 in the East Bay on the part of the CHP, including putting armed undercover officers on the streets and not informing the local police departments about the officers.

If the Golden Gate division chief Avery Brown, his superiors and colleagues, want to show citizen protesters, civil libertarians, California taxpayers and the media and blogosphere that they are serious about accountability and transparency, they'll waste no more time regarding my records requests.

We need to see the emails and soon too. Here is the CHP reply:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sony Censorship Prompts Xmas Theatre Boycott

Several San Francisco film-lovers have created an ad hoc group, Cineastes Against Censorship, in response to Sony pulling release of "The Interview" because of hacking and threats by North Korea.

We are calling for a boycott from December 25 through January 4, of movie chains refusing to show "The Interview": AMC Theatres, Regal Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, Cineplex Movies and Carmike Cinemas.

Cineastes Against Censorship plans the following event:

What: Press conference and picket
When: Monday, December 22
Time: 5:00 pm
Where: Metreon cineplex
Location: Mission & 4th Streets, San Francisco

During the boycott, we urge everyone to catch a movie at their local art house, film archive or indie chain. Support alternative venues for movie-going year-round, as one form of protest against Hollywood's capitulation to North Korea and trampling free expression.

(A billboard in Los Angeles for "The Interview" was removed this week. Public domain photo.)

All movie-goers upset with Sony's decision to pull "The Interview", Comcast refusing to show it on-demand if Sony allowed such availability, Paramount Pictures banning screenings of "Team America" and the cowardice of the movie chains, are invited to join our protest.

Please leave a comment, or email me directly at MPetrelis@aol.com, if you can attend the presser on December 22.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gilead's Greed Makes Weinstein an HIV Hero

Philadelphia is the leading municipality tackling price-gouging by drug giant Gilead over its hepatitis C drug Sovaldi.

The City of Brotherly Love's transit agency SEPTA last week filed a federallawsuit, which according to a release from the law firm handling the case, explains the pricing problem:

"Gilead's exorbitant pricing scheme has the potential to bankrupt segments of the U.S. health care system ... [which has] also had the effect of pricing certain consumers and government programs out of the Sovaldi market, thus preventing sick patients from obtaining this critical drug. ... Meanwhile, Gilead has recorded an astounding $8.5 billion in Sovaldi sales through the first three quarters of 2014 alone."

Many HIV-positive San Franciscans are co-infected with hepatitis and the cost of their AIDS cocktails is exorbitant enough, so for them adding Sovaldi to the mix is a heavy fiscal burden.

The City That Knows How needs to catch up with Philadelphia's leadership holding Gilead to account for outrageous pricing, to protect the wellness of patients and the public health budget.

The company reaped millions of dollars of favorable publicity, when the two gay members of the Board of Supervisors, David Campos and Scott Wiener, recently spoke at City Hall rallies and held hearings about getting more at-risk individuals on Truvada as part of an HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis effort. Little was said regarding Truvada's price tag.

Proposition D, a 2013 advisory statement on the city ballot, asked, "Shall it be city policy to use all available opportunities to reduce the cost of prescription drugs?" and 80 percent of voters said yes.

The Board of Supervisors earmarked funds for the Department of Public Health to hire navigators to process the paperwork of getting insurance to cover the cost of a person's Truvada or receive it through Gilead's patient assistance program. All well and good, in my opinion.

But secondly, Prop D wasn't used by the supervisors as a foundation to invite Gilead representatives to testify about pricing, which is the key reason why DPH needs additional navigators.

There's no reason why the supervisors can't schedule several hearings in 2015 about all of Gilead's pharmaceuticals.

Since Sovaldi, at $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment, is so expensive and providing it to one inmate of San Francisco's jail system, where hepatitis is rampant, would eat up one-tenth of the jail's entire annual health budget, the price keeps Sovaldi from the inmate population.

All city residents in need of this hepatitis drug must have access to it without worrying about going bankrupt to afford it.

Who's been a hero in terms of attacking Gilead from several angles over pricing?

None other than Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and devil to all PrEP advocates because of his irrational opposition to using Truvada to stop new HIV infections.

As a longtime AIDS accountability advocate and after years of loud criticism against Weinstein for failing to post AHF's IRS 990s on his group's site, and deploring his attacks on the sexual health choices of erotic performers, not to mention his war on Truvada, which led me to organize a picket at its Castro pharmacy, it pains me to say this.

Weinstein is an HIV hero for biting the Gilead hand that used to feed him. I broke the news in April that from 2005 through 2011, AHF accepted more than $10 million from the company, so I'm very aware of how much money he took from the company before attacking it.

It's a great benefit that AHF owns enough shares in Gilead so that it could submit a corporate resolution at this year's annual shareholders meeting tying the CEO's hefty bonus to greater patient access to their popular AIDS and hepatitis drugs. The resolution failed, but the black eye of bad publicity sent Gilead a message about its greed.

Weinstein was also behind Prop D and has run attack ads over Gilead's pricing. Labeling him a hero over affordability doesn't negate his un-scientific advocacy against PrEP.

Other AIDS nonprofits, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York, receive enormous grants from Gilead for general operating expenses and just happen to also engage in community education about Truvada as PrEP.

Gilead money is going into the coffers of AIDS charities, which is a fact of life, but there needs to be full and easy-to-locate transparency from the charities about the pharma grants on their sites.

Equally important is to have the nonprofits receiving Gilead grants deplore Gilead's sky-high pricing and demand serious and immediate reduction of what patients pay for their products.

Silence from SFAF, GMHC, and other Gilead grant recipients about pricing is potentially deadly for thousands of us living with either HIV or hepatitis, or both. James Loduca, the foundation's current vice president for philanthropy and public affairs, was Gilead's spokesman before joining the nonprofit, an example of the incestuous relationship between Big Pharma and AIDS Inc.

The coalition of AIDS nonprofits, supervisors, and gays on Truvada behind the City Hall rallies need to reactivate their network for hearings on Prop D and using all levers of city government to curb Gilead's price-gouging on their lines of HIV and hepatitis medicines.

San Francisco nonprofits, public health and elected officials must also consider emulating Philadelphia's legal battle to force Gilead to put people before profits. The wellness of many LGBT people depends on it.

[This essay originally appeared in the Dec. 18 edition of the Bay Area Reporter and I say thanks to the editor Cynthia Laird for giving my views a platform in San Francisco's weekly LGBT paper.]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conway's Emails to Chiu Released

My public records request to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisor, Angela Calvillo, earlier this week has produced all of the emails sent by tech mogul and BFF to Mayor Ed Lee, Ron Conway to anyone in Sup. David Chiu's office since the start of 2014.

Yes, all two of the emails were released today and they're about supporting state Sen. Mark Leno's effort in the spring to amend the Ellis Act. Conway's emails were eblasts to lots of folks, including Chiu's top aide Judson True.

I asked the Clerk's Records Manager Wilson L. Ng, if there were only two emails to or from Conway and none that mentioned him or Chiu's political consultant Nicole Derse even if emails weren't sent or received by the them. Ng replied:

"Confirming that the emails provided were the only responsive communications sent between Ron Conway and Supervisor Chiu or his staff between January 1, 2014 through November 30, 2014.

"Upon searching through Supervisor Chiu and his staff’s emails, there were no communications between him and his staff where Ron Conway or Nicole Derse were the subject."

I'd like to see all of Chiu's emails from this year released and posted on the web, and I feel a new public records request coming on!

This was Chiu's last year as president of the Board of Supervisor, during which he waged a nasty battle battle with Sup. David Campos for the Assembly District 17 seat and a lot of controversial measures came before the body.

We, the taxpayers, should pore over Chiu's electronic communications from 2014 and keep close tabs on him, now that he's been elected to Sacramento.

Excepts from the two Conway emails are below.

Fire Commission to Debate Airing Meetings on TV

The secretary for San Francisco's fire commission, Maureen Conefrey, made me aware of the agenda for Dec. 16 because it includes this item about bringing transparency to the body:

"Presentation from SFGOV TV and Support Services pertaining to\logistics and cost associated with televising Fire Commission Meetings."

I've been advocating for years to have this commission be more accountable for the department's $86 million budget, through broadcasting of their meetings on government TV.

In August 2012, I asked then-commission member London Breed, now a member of the Board of Supervisors, if she supported televising the meetings. She merely backed exploring that possibility and promptly did nothing to make the commission fully transparent.

To his credit, openly gay commission member Ken Cleaveland, pictured, has been advocating from the inside for airing the meetings on Channel 26, which would also make videos available on-demand for viewing online.

The full agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 16 meeting is here.
Harold Norse Reading Celebrates His Beat Poetry

My dear queer friend Todd Swindell has published a new book of poems by Harold Norse, the late great Beat poet and writer, entitled "I Am Going to Fly Through Glass".

Copies are available for purchase in San Francisco at Bird and Beckett in Glen Park, Books Inc at their Castro and Opera Plaza stores, and Alley Cat Books and the Dog Eared Bookstore in the Mission. To buy a copy of "I Am Going to Fly Through Glass" online, click this link.

Here's Todd reading a poem by Harold at the reading and book-signing he organized at Bird and Beckett earlier this month. On the little stage is a great black and white photo of Harold with his best buddy, when they weren't arguing about writing or fighting over potential boyfriends, Neeli Cherkovski, from the 1960s.

The crowd at the reading was entertained by Neeli who told a few amusing tales about his times with Harold, and how they acted up during the 1950s in Europe. Neeli also read some of his own beautiful poetry.

This is literary critic and fan and friend of Harold's, Jim Nawrocki ,explaining how he came to meet him when he lived on Albion Street in the Mission. Jim closed out the event reading his favorite poems by Harold and saluting the Beats.

A segment of the crowd listening to Todd talk about his time spent with Harold and the joy they found together. Like everyone who came out in a rain storm for the reading, it was a tremendous pleasure hearing Harold's works read aloud, being with good friends, inhaling the delicious smell of books and the paper they're printed on.

For updates about Harold related happenings be sure to check out the HaroldNorse.com site regularly, and share info about it on social media.

Thank you, Todd, for publishing this book and bringing us all together for the reading!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DA Denies Emails Exist About His Unethical Fundraiser

George Gascon is San Francisco's district attorney and at his core, he's a politician with ambitions and must be closely monitored in how he runs this office.

In response to my public records request for copies of emails about a Nov. 13 fundraiser to reelect Gascon, held just a stone's throw from the DA's office at the Hall of Justice, the DA claims he "does not have any non-privileged records responsive" to my request.

There may be privileged records about the fundraiser but we're just going to have trust a single source, the DA, that the DA himself and top staffers didn't create any public records about the questionable event to solicit donations. Just one more example of how there should be an independent body with oversight powers keeping tabs on Gascon and this office.

On Nov. 24, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Gascon's fundraiser raised ethical questions: (http://tinyurl.com/SFChron-DA-fundraiser):

"Seventeen prosecutors — mostly misdemeanor deputies — lent their names to the party invitation that was circulated to the rest of the office. From what we’re told, a number of attendees felt they had no choice but to give or risk damaging their careers. The event reportedly brought in about $10,000 for Gascón’s 2015 re-election campaign. [...] Gascón himself was on hand at the event, and after the money pitch from a homicide deputy, he thanked the crowd for showing up to support him. [...] Lawyers with the city attorney’s office declined to comment."

According to Gascon's political consultant running his reelection campaign, Dan Newman, the DA returned the money donated and his supporters were full of good intentions.

Here we have a top law enforcement official potentially violating several good government laws and well, he's basically said he was sorry and folks should just move along, there's nothing to see here. 

Gosh, what if everyone accused of wrong-doing were allowed to just say "I'm sorry" and no investigation initiated when evidence exists that a law or two were broken?

To top it all off, the City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is supposed to watchdog other elected officials through his Public Integrity Unit, had nothing to say to the Chronicle. Pardon my mixing of animal metaphors, but when it comes to ambitious politicians Gascon and Herrera, they're birds of feather sticking together.

In January, Herrera made an announcement regarding a new hire for his office (http://tinyurl.com/CA-public-integrity-unit): 

"[V]eteran prosecutor David Pfeifer will join the San Francisco City Attorney's Office as Chief of the Public Integrity Unit, where he will oversee all of the office's civil litigation and investigations involving government ethics, contracting fraud, employee misconduct, false claims and similar cases. Pfeifer served in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office for more than 23 years, where he rose to serve as chief assistant, first under former District Attorney Kamala D. Harris and later under current District Attorney George Gascón."

What a lousy racket. The head of the City Attorney's unit to investigate ethical violations of elected officials spent more than two-decades working for the District Attorney. Quite a conflict of interest when the CA may have to look at a fundraiser of questionable legality and ethics held by the DA.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Does the FBI Have A File on Randy Shilts?
(Cross-posted from my Petrelis 4 Mayor page at Facebook)

From the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, to the AIDS epidemic, various forms of social and political homo-hatred and the ban on gays in the U.S. military, the late San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts covered plenty of sensitive or controversial issues.

All that, and the fact he was gay and contracted HIV, were a few reasons why I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI to see if they maintained a file on Shilts.

The agency says:

"Based on information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to your FOIA."

The FBI doesn't possess a file on Shilts, which is something of a disappointment but in the end it's good to know the feds didn't waste time and money keeping tabs on him.

SF Pride & Manning Critic Faces Sexual Assault Charges
(Cross-posted from my Petrelis 4 Mayor page at Facebook)

After it was announced in April 2013 that WikiLeaks hero Chelsea Manning would be honored by San Francisco Pride as a grand marshal of the annual LGBT parade, gay soldier Josh Seefried took to social media deploring the decision. 

Months of raw emotions and controversy erupted when SF Pride rescinded the honor for Manning, leading to major upheavals at the organizations and lingering resentments between LGBT peace and justice advocates and gay soldiers in league with Seefried.

Longtime reporter Lou Chibbaro of the Washington Blade today broke this news:

"Gay Air Force Lt. Joshua Seefried, a prominent advocate for the rights of gays in the military, is tentatively scheduled to go on trial in a court-martial next month on sexual assault charges at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

"In a development that until now has gone unreported in the media, Seefried was charged in April with wrongful sexual contact and forcible sodomy. In October, his commanding officer at Fort Meade in Maryland, where he’s currently stationed, added an additional charge of abusive sexual contact.

"Statements made by military prosecutors at a pre-trial motions hearing at Andrews on Monday revealed that the three charges stem from an accusation by U.S. Marine Lt. Edgar Luna, who’s gay, that Seefried allegedly performed sexual acts on him in a hotel room in New York City in May 2012 at a time when Luna says he was intoxicated and unable to give consent. [...]

"The officer, Air Force Col. Robert Preston, presided over an Article 32 hearing on the case in September. Article 32 hearings in the military are similar to civilian grand jury proceedings. At the conclusion of the hearing Preston recommended in his report that the case against Seefried should not proceed to trial by court-martial because there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction and that Seefried would most likely be acquitted. 

Chibbaro also noted that a hearing before a military version of a civilian grand jury was held in September and the presiding officer advised dropping the charges and not pursuing a court martial against Seefried.

It's crucial to remember he's not been convicted of any crime at this point and more facts about the charges and persons involved are sure to be released to the public in coming weeks. We'll see how this legal story unfolds and what happens to Seefried.

I salute Chibbaro for breaking this story and presenting many known facts to us. Many of us will follow his future coverage in the Washington Blade of Seefried's troubles.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Did Sup. Campos Push Gilead to Lower Truvada Price? 

(Campos at microphone during a PrEP rally at City Hall in September. Public domain image.)

The voters of San Francisco in November 2013 overwhelmingly passed the advisory measure Prop D by a margin of 80% to 20%, which stated the following:

"Shall it be city policy to use all available opportunities to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and to ask state and federal representatives to sponsor legislation to reduce drug prices paid by the government?"

Because of the "all available opportunities" clause, I filed a public records request with Sup. David Campos' office for all of their emails about Truvada and PrEP since he lead the City Hall charge to secure special funds for the Department of Public Health to hire navigators to assist individuals who want the drug to prevent acquiring HIV but lack the funds or insurance to pay for it.

I received and pored over hundreds of Campos office emails and didn't read any that discussed the price of Truvada or using this high-profile opportunity to reduce the cost of prescription medicines. It was good to read the notes with Gilead representatives about obtaining all the necessary research about Truvada's effectiveness at stop HIV transmissions, and that Campos' staff advocated for expanding Gilead's PAP (patient assistance program) for lower income or uninsured or undocumented immigrants.

Wanting to be sure I didn't overlook such Campos correspondence, I contacted his aide Carolyn Goossen asking if there indeed were records showing Campos in any way advocated for lowering Truvada's cost. She replied:

"Our office has submitted to you all emails that are responsive to your request for all emails received or sent by you or or anyone in your office related in any way to the HIV drug Truvada, its manufacturer Gilead or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)…for the period from May 1, 2014, through November 17, 2014.'

"If you are looking for further records previous to this set of dates, please let me know."

This non-response leads me to the sad conclusion that Campos and his aides didn't use Prop D's passage or otherwise pressure Gilead to reduce Truvada's price.

Here we had a gay San Francisco elected official and leading local progressive giving Gilead several million dollars of free publicity, not to mention a special appropriation creating new clients for its Truvada drug, and the email trail fails to show advocacy on Campos' part to use the opportunity to lobby for lower pricing or even raise the cost issue during the months of publicity.

There is a crying need for LGBT health advocates and HIV prevention folks to speak loudly urging Gilead to lower the price of Truvada and all of their HIV and hepatitis drugs.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Consolidate Castro's News Racks?

For a number of years, I've called for either deleting or consolidating all the empty news racks cluttering the Castro's public sidewalks. These pieces of street furniture are the domain of the Department of Public Works and its News Rack Program.

Now that the sidewalk expansion project is finally over, I've been in touch with DPW spokeswomen Rachel Gordon about the news rack that used to be on 17th Street between the Twin Peaks Bar and Jane Warner Plaza, pictured. It was serious impediment to pedestrians and public safety, so I was glad when it was deleted due to redesigning the plaza.

This photo was sent to Gordon, to her and DPW folks a clear idea of how improved the 17th Street sidewalk is now for pedestrians. Gordon replied:

I want to update you on status of news racks on Castro. No news racks will be reinstalled in the area until the issue has been discussed at a public meeting of the news rack advisory committee. 

Please contact program manager Cynthia Hoe directly to be added to the meeting notification list. I believe a meeting is coming up later this month. cynthia.hoe@sfdpw.org 

At Public Works, we want to make sure that any news racks that go back in will be properly maintained and used for publications. There may be an opportunity to consolidate the racks in the area; that is likely to be a topic of discussion at the advisory committee meeting.

I've emailed Hoe asking for info about her next meeting and I'll share the details once I receive them from DPW. Let's reduce the street furniture clutter on all of San Francisco's sidewalks to better meet the needs of citizens who walk, instead of putting corporations first and having them encroach on public space.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Shepard Murder, Media Matters, Focus on Family & Transparency

As a death penalty abolitionist, I traveled with my friend and colleague Bill Dobbs on behalf of Queer Watch to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the trial of Matthew Shepard's killers. I've long believed the tragic murder of this young gay student was not the black-and-white anti-homosexual hate crime portrayed by the media, politicians and Gay Inc groups pushing a law-and-order agenda to enact a federal hate crime law.

That said, I've skimmed Steve Jimenez's controversial and exhaustively researched book "The Book of Matt" and don't subscribe to the notion that he's a sloppy reporter twisting facts or omitting them to suit an agenda.

But the pile-on against the book from, for lack of a better term, Matthew Shepard Inc, the complex of liberal nonprofits with a vested interest in maintaining the narrative that Shepard's murder contains no gray areas, reinforced my conviction that the many legitimate questions about the case needed a public airing.

Jimenez recently penned a take-down of Media Matters For America for Out magazine and the last paragraph stood out:

The media reported the story of Matthew’s murder inaccurately from the beginning, and an overly simplistic narrative got set in stone. One would think a 501 (c) (3) media watchdog group that enjoys tax exempt status such as Media Matters would be in the business of supporting independent journalists who uncover and document cases of media malfeasance. Apparently, Media Matters has a different agenda.

(Actual empty white space screen-grab from the Media Matters About page.)

Jimenez jogged memory of my unsuccessful August 2011 effort to persuade the group to become transparent and post their IRS 990s on their site. Three years on, still no online transparency at Media Matters's About page. In response to my request for an electronic edition of their most current tax filing, which was submitted to the Treasury Department in early November, their spokeswoman Laura Keiter said:

Thank you for sending a formal request Media Matters For America’s 2013 [IRS 990]. The IRS allows for a tax exempt organization to charge a reasonable fee for both copying costs and actual cost of postage. As laid out in the fee schedule, non-commercial requesters will be charged $.20 per page. Please find the costs below. [...] Copies will be mailed upon receipt of payment. Please provide a mailing address where you would like the documents mailed to.

I replied it behooved Media Matters to simply post their three most current 990s on their site and pointed to the Focus on the Family web site as an example of nonprofit transparency, and included this explanation, pictured, from the conservative anti-gay nonprofit:

At Focus on the Family, we recognize that our finances are donations sent by loving people who have sacrificed to make their gifts possible. [...] Part of that obligation is openness and accountability in our financial practices. In accordance with standards established by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) and the Internal Revenue Service, our annual financial information is freely available for public review [here].

No need to make a written request or send payment. Just a few clicks and you get transparency from the conservatives. By the way, the 2013 tax filing for Focus on the Family reveals a $90.5 million budget and the CEO James Daly earned $250,000.

The filings from the liberal Media Matters shows that in 2010 their budget was $13.2 million and their top executive, David Brock, took home $266,291.

For 2011, Brock earned $270,914 and his deputy, longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton cheerleader, Richard Socarides, was paid $254,250 and the budget was $8.3 million. This was the only year Socarides worked for the group. In 2012, the revenue was at $9.6 million and Brock was compensated $284,925.

Media Matters can and should just post their 2013 filing, get with the online transparency program and also agree to debate Jimenez about his Shepard book and give the LGBT community a public discussion about a tragic murder, and the circumstances that led to it and what happened afterward.