Volume 40 Number 47

August 23 – August 29, 2006

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Don’t call the feds


EDITORIAL It’s bad enough that the federal government is aggressively infringing on the rights of three Bay Area journalists, the sovereignty of California, and the freedom of San Franciscans to choose — through the elections of our district attorney, sheriff, and mayor — how laws should be enforced in this city. It’s even worse that the San Francisco Police Department has actively invited the feds in to abuse the city’s citizens.
Now is the time for Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief Heather Fong to strongly, clearly, and publicly spell out when the officers under their control are permitted to federalize investigations rather than turning them over to the District Attorney’s Office. Particularly during this dark period when the Bush administration has shown a flagrant disregard for the rule of law, those in positions of public trust within San Francisco must safeguard the rights and liberties that generations of Americans have fought hard to win.
Specifically, Newsom and Fong should join the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in calling for a federal shield law similar to the one enshrined in the California Constitution, which allows journalists to protect their sources and unpublished notes and other materials. Until that happens, it should be the policy of San Francisco to refuse to cooperate with federal prosecutions of journalists, an action that would be similar to existing police policies of refusing to take part in raids on marijuana dispensaries or in operations targeting those suspected of vioutf8g immigration laws.
Instead, in the case of videographer Josh Wolf — who has been jailed for refusing to turn over his work to a federal grand jury — it appears that the SFPD was the agency that used a dubious interpretation of the law to bring in the feds for this unconscionable witch hunt. This is a disgrace and an affront to local control and basic American values.
As Sarah Phelan reports in this issue (“The SFPD’s Punt,” page 10), the cowboys who run the SFPD have been so intent on nailing those responsible for injuring an officer during a protest last year that they have deceptively morphed the investigation into one involving a broken taillight on a police cruiser. The idea was to argue that because some federal funds helped purchase the cruiser, then it was legitimate to turn this case over to the feds — which was simply a ruse to get around the California shield law. Perhaps even scarier is that it was done under the guise of fighting terrorism, even though the cops knew they were talking about homegrown anarchists who have legitimate concerns about US trade policies.
Over and over — in openly defying local beliefs about drug and sex laws and the death penalty — SFPD officers have shown contempt for San Francisco values. Even Newsom and Fong said as much during last year’s police video scandal, when they chastised officers for making videos that mocked Bayview residents, the homeless, Asians, and transgender people.
Yet that incident wasn’t as obscene as the decision by the SFPD to turn the murder investigations of Bayview gangs over to the feds rather than allow them to be prosecuted by District Attorney Kamala Harris, with whom the SFPD has feuded. The still-high murder rate in this city is a problem that will only be solved when we come together to address it as a community, rather than simply calling in heavy-handed outsiders.
It’s no wonder that communities of color in this city don’t trust the SFPD, which bypasses the black woman we’ve elected as our district attorney in favor of the US Justice Department and its facilitator of empire, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.
Newsom has already demonstrated that he’s willing to stand up to unjust state and federal laws, as he did on same-sex marriage, pot clubs, and illegal wiretapping by the Bush administration. Now it’s time for him to say that we’re not going to invite unjust federal prosecutions into this proudly progressive city. SFBG
PS We also must strongly condemn the federal prosecution of Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. They are facing jail time for refusing to reveal how they obtained grand jury information that indicated San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds knowingly took steroids. Journalists must be allowed to fully investigate important stories, particularly those involving public figures, without fearing they will be jailed for their work. Again, this case strongly begs for a federal shield law.
PPS Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition summed up the argument well in a commentary now posted on the Guardian’s Web site, www.sfbg.com, calling the prosecutions “a wholesale usurpation of state sovereignty. The Bush administration, which has been justly criticized for attempting to enhance executive power at the expense of Congress, is now eviscerating states’ rights in order to expand the power of the federal government. William Rehnquist, the conservative former chief justice of the US Supreme Court and intellectual champion of American ‘federalism,’ is no doubt turning over in his grave.”



› steve@sfbg.com
There’s an intriguing confluence of anniversaries coming up that together offer an opportunity for societal awakening.
This week I’ll be among thousands of Bay Area residents leaving for Burning Man and the 20th birthday of the most significant countercultural event of our times. Five years ago, right after my first Burning Man, the Sept. 11 attacks ushered in radical changes to US foreign policy and political dialogue. And last year during the festival, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, another event of international significance, which New Orleans writer Jason Berry explores in this week’s cover story commissioned by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
Burning Man, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina — aside from the timing of their 20th, 5th, and 1st anniversaries, what’s the connection? Before I answer that, let me layer on a more personal anniversary: this summer marks my 15th year working as a reporter and editor for various California newspapers.
I got into the business mainly because I felt like the American people were being duped, at the time about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, a war used by the first President Bush as a pretext for establishing permanent US military bases in the oil-rich Middle East.
American bases in Saudi Arabia caused Osama bin Laden to threaten a terrorist war against the United States unless we withdrew — a threat that we seemed to ignore while he carried through with a series of attacks that culminated in Sept. 11. Rather than reevaluating our relationships with oil and the Islamic world, this Bush administration upped the ante: invading and occupying two more Islamic nations, adopting energy policies that increased our oil dependence, and withdrawing the United States from international accords on global climate change and human rights.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit, opening up a second front of attack on the choices this country is making. I was already at Burning Man, in an isolated bubble of ignorant bliss that was eventually popped by the news. As we left the playa, burners gave significant money, supplies, and people to the relief effort. An eight-month cleanup and rebuilding encampment turned into a movement dubbed Burners Without Borders, which is still developing ambitious goals for good works and greening the event.
I believe Burning Man will be using its 20th birthday as a transition point. We’ve built our community and allowed it to mature, and now we’re talking about where we go from here. Most of those discussions are happening right here in San Francisco, where Burning Man was born and is headquartered. There is tremendous will to use our creation as a force for good.
Progressives will use the anniversaries of Sept. 11 and Katrina to urge our government to reevaluate its relationships with oil, other countries, and its own cities and poor people. Unfortunately, San Francisco isn’t where those decisions will be made.
But if there is a will to change this country’s direction, what better place to launch that movement than here? And what better army than Burning Man’s attendees, expected to number more than 35,000 — people known for their resourceful ability to build a city from scratch, clean it up, and leave no trace?
We’ll be back in a couple weeks, ready for what’s next. SFBG

A sister fears Halloween in the Castro


OPINION Any attempt to organize an official Halloween in the Castro is a terrible idea, maybe even a deadly one. But before I rant, let me give a little history. In the wake of the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake, a BBC story reported that “a massive rescue effort is now underway in what experts believe is the second biggest earthquake ever to hit the United States.”
More than 3,500 people were injured and 100,000 buildings damaged. For this reason, a few members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made a spontaneous decision to stand in the Castro among the drag queens and costumed folk that Halloween to put on street theater and collect donations for the mayor’s relief fund for the victims of the earthquake. A brilliant move. We collected thousands.
This put a bee in our bonnets … er … wimples to use Halloween as a fun fundraiser the next year. A tremendous success. Each year the caliber of entertainment drew more people and brought in more donations, enabling us to entertain the otherwise unruly crowds while collecting donations for AIDS charities. The events were a hit, until we saw attendees getting hit — with bottles, bats, and other deadly weapons — by drunken gay-bashers out to get their kicks. The next year we saw that police checking for weapons had collected garbage cans full of baseball bats, hammers, knives, axes (none of these were the rubber kind), and many blunt instruments that could harm people. I saw someone with a mask running a gas-powered chain saw. But when police told us that among other weapons they had confiscated an AK-47 assault rifle, that was the year the Sisters were through with Halloween in the Castro, frightened that an event we had sponsored might bring about death.
So we tried something different. Luring people away from the Castro and into a private club, we turned the Pleasuredome in SoMa into a Halloween-themed party space with ornate All Hallows Eve–oriented backdrops and props. We had stellar entertainment, and the door charge went to AIDS and cancer charities. There was only one rule: you had to be in costume. The event was called HallowQueen, with the slogan “Evolve with the Sisters as Halloween moves to the next level.” It was successful in getting people out of the Castro and into a safe space, but we couldn’t afford to do it again on our meager budget.
The attempt to move the party to the Civic Center did not work because of poor planning and insufficient advance public relations. And since the Castro was still gated off, the queer-bashers thought that was the better locale in which to be violent. There were several stabbings that year.
There should be no official gathering in the Castro. No gates set up to make it look like an event. Police should infiltrate the area to keep peace but not harass the costumed folk. And something must be scheduled by the city outside the Castro and managed well to draw the crowd away to safety. Then perhaps the Sisters will get involved again. Then maybe the Sisters will MC and run a stage. But as it is now, the cordoned-off section of the “official” Halloween will end at Market and Castro. That is potentially deadly — inviting bashers and spoilers to assemble right at the very entrance of the Castro. Boo! SFBG
Sister Dana Van Iquity
Sister Dana Van Iquity is a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.



A freelance documentary filmmaker is in jail in Dublin, CA, for refusing to comply with a subpoena to turn over to federal prosecutors the out-takes of his filming of a 2005 street demonstration that turned violent. And two San Francisco Chronicle reporters are packing their bags for jail while they appeal contempt judgments for refusing to reveal to federal prosecutors their sources for evidence given the grand jury in the BALCO investigation.

If I were Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or California Chief Justice Ronald George, I would be deeply troubled by these developments—not only because of the First Amendment issues at stake, which are huge, but because these federal actions against journalists in California represent a wholesale usurpation of state sovereignty. The Bush administration, which has been justly criticized for attempting to enhance executive power at the expense of Congress, is now eviscerating states’ rights in order to expand the power of the federal government.

William Rehnquist, the conservative former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court–and intellectual champion of American “federalism”—is no doubt turning over in his grave.

California, like the District of Columbia and every other state except Wyoming, has enacted a “Shield Law” to protect the news media’s independence from government and to assure public access to information about wrongdoing in high places. (Memo to media: stay the hell out of Wyoming.) California’s Shield Law, enacted both as a statute and constitutional amendment, protects the press from subpoenas demanding access to confidential news sources and unpublished information. State shield laws, however, don’t apply in federal proceedings–and the feds have no shield law of their own.

The U.S. Justice Department, in these two California cases and others, had a choice to make: It could defer to the nearly unanimous judgment of the states, or it could decide–states’ rights be damned–that the federal government would insist on enforcement of subpoenas that would be void or illegal in nearly all state courts. It chose the latter.

And so Josh Wolf, the freelance filmmaker whose unused digital film California voters clearly meant to protect from compulsory judicial disclosure, is in jail. And Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance
Williams, the Chronicle reporters who wrote about the BALCO case, will soon be in federal detention unless the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit can be persuaded to change course.

The Justice Department’s enforcement proceedings don’t just undermine a valid state policy, they completely nullify it. This is so because reporters and their sources have no way of knowing, at the time of an interview with a source or the filming of a news event, whether a subpoena will issue from a California state court–in which case it can be safely ignored–or from a federal court, in which case it will be enforced through fines, jail, or other sanctions. Since the only safe strategy is to assume that one could end up in front of a federal judge, the state shield law is effectively voided.

To appreciate the extent of federal usurpation of state authority, imagine that the feds were disregarding, not state shield laws, but the attorney-client privilege (which is also a creature of state law). The reason for the privilege, which is recognized in all states, is to encourage people to seek legal advice and to fully disclose relevant information to their lawyers, who are bound to secrecy.

If the U.S. Justice Department took the position that the attorney-client privilege did not apply in federal proceedings, most legal clients, not being able to predict where and how their communications with their lawyer might be sought, would behave as though the states’ attorney-client privilege did not exist. They would not seek legal advice. They would not speak openly with their lawyer.

The feds’ takeover of state sovereignty is especially egregious in the Wolf case. The street demonstration that was caught on Wolf’s video camera involved self-styled anarchists who, in a July 8, 2005 rampage through downtown San Francisco, destroyed property, resisted arrest, and assaulted and injured at least one San Francisco police officer. The persons responsible most certainly should be prosecuted–in state court by state prosecutors and under state law (including the shield law).

How did this quintessentially state law matter become a big federal case? According to their pleadings in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors assert federal criminal jurisdiction based on damage to a police car, which had been purchased partly with federal assistance. I’m not joking. And the damage to the police car, which is disputed, may have been limited to a broken taillight!

Bad enough that California’s authority is neutered by the feds. Far worse that it is neutered in a case in which a genuine federal interest is nonexistent–indeed, where the putative federal interest is, patently, a pretext for an end-run around California’s shield law.

It’s time that the federal courts wised up and put an end to this. The current appeals of the Wolf and Chronicle cases to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provide an opportunity for the federal judiciary to rein in the Bush Justice Department, reassert the primacy of state law in the area of evidentiary privilege, and highlight the importance of a news media that is–and is seen as–independent of government investigators.
Peter Scheer, a journalist and lawyer, is executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition,

Best of the Bay 2006 Pixs


A friend feeds a banana to Anthony Riley of Gooferman, winner of Best Band Name
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Amber Kvietys of the Primitive Screwheads, Best Goofy Gore
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Howard Dillon of Wild Irish Productions, the Best Bloomin’ Thespians
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Maurice Lee of Wasteland, Best Vintage Clothing Store
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Members of the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), winner of Best Six-Week Superhero Lessons
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Indira, Luis, Adrian, and Tyson of Mission Art and Performance Project, winner of Best Art All Over the Hood
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Shawn and Skyler from the Transfer, Best Bar to Hop Aboard the Party Train
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Blakely Bass of Residents Apparel Gallery, winner of Best Clothing Store for Women and Men
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Jenny and Jason of Acro Yoga, the Best Way to Down Your Date’s Dog
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Trixxie Carr of Smash Up Derby, winner of Best Tori Amos Meets Slayer
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Monte, Cindy, and Vittoria of Pan Theater, winner of Best Prep for Your State of the Union Speech
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Michael and Shannon of the Vau de Vire Society, the Best Falmin’ Hot Circus Freaks
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Aaron Sweeney and his Transjanimals, the Best Fuzzy Substitutes for a Lover
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Demetri and Andy of Folsom Street Fair, winner of Best Street Fair
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

John Segura and friends from the Knockout, winner of Best Beer-Soaked Bingo
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Chris of the Fruit Guys (with friends), the Best Banana in Your Inbox
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Best of Bay Guests and Winners
Guardian photo by Neil Motteram

Living Dead Girls, the Best Proof That the Dead Can Dance
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Erase Errata
Guardian photo by Neil Motteram

Extra Action Marching Band
Guardian photo by Neil Motteram

Extra Action Marching Band
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Kid Beyond Best Oral in the Bay
Guardian photo by Matthew Hughes Boyko and Amy Rose Sampson

Guardian Editor and Publisher Bruce B. Brugmann with Kielbasia, the Best Drag Queen with an Accordion
Photo courtesy of Kielbasia

Scissors for Lefty
Guardian photo by Neil Motteram

Scissors for Lefty
Guardian photo by Neil Motteram