I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Morrison Institute: Less Prison, More Probation.

This from an unexpected place: The Morrison Institute. Thank you folks, for speaking up. Please do more work on this issue in the coming year in the community - don't just keep it to your academic newsletters and blogs.

Bill Hart: Time to open the prison gates?

Dec. 23, 2009
bill_hart.jpgBill Hart, Senior Policy Analyst

Another fine mess. That’s one way of describing Arizona’s overcrowded, billion-dollar prison system, so many of whose graduates — apparently uncorrected — go on to commit more crimes. “Train wreck” is another useful phrase. But it’s worth keeping in mind the one thing Arizona’s prison crisis is not: It’s not a mystery.

Nor is its solution.

Consider the twin basics of Arizona’s prison policy over the past 30 years: First, pass a bunch of laws requiring lots more convicted criminals to be sent to prison (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences); second, pass other laws making most prisoners stay inside longer (e.g. “truth-in-sentencing”).

What did we think would happen?

Arizona for years has ranked among the top 10 states in its incarceration rate, measured as the number of people locked up per 100,000 state residents. Meanwhile, in the past 30 years corrections has run up a larger percentage increase in operating spending than any other Arizona agency. Since just fiscal year 2004 we have added more than 11,000 inmates at a cost of more than $400 million.

Why the rush to lock everybody up? Some say Arizonans simply have a lust for punishment. Fans of incarceration, however, are quick to point out that crime in Arizona has declined since the 1990s. They are less quick to note that America’s leading criminal justice scholars do not agree that incarceration deserves all or even most of the credit for the crime drop. Or that crime has gone down in both states with harsher justice systems and those with milder ones. Or that Arizona continues to hold down first place among states in the rate of property crime as measured by the FBI.

In any case, we’re left with two unpleasant alternatives: Either let substantial numbers of prisoners out early, or continue to struggle through the budget mess hobbled by this billion-dollar ball and chain.

Like it or not, it’s time to open the gates. 

What about the nightmare of wanton violence that opponents warn of? Most inmates in Arizona prisons are locked up for non-violent crimes (though they might be repetitive offenders). Their most common offense by far is drug crimes, which accounted for 8,388 inmates in November, or about one-fifth of all prisoners. Next in frequency come the expected categories: assault (4,976), robbery (3,485), burglary (2,959), and murder (2,606). Then, however, comes aggravated DUI, which requires 2,188 prisoners to serve a total of four months behind bars.

 Which raises another question: Why are we going to all the trouble and expense of sending thousands of drunk drivers to prison (as opposed to jail or home arrest) for only four months? 

In fact, 39% of the total FY2008 inmate population was locked up for less than six months. Most of these are convicts who were granted probation or parole — that is, they were deemed low-risk enough to remain free or be released. Many of most were then locked up for “technical” violations, meaning they didn’t commit a new crime but perhaps missed a meeting with their probation officer or otherwise broke the rules.

It’s hard to see how releasing some of them early — and diverting many more incoming inmates to probation or jail — would pose a threat to the survival of civilization. It’s easier to see the upside: Keeping an inmate in an Arizona prison for a year averages out to around $22,000. Keeping someone on probation for a year runs slightly more than $1,000. 

No mystery here.

Appeals Court Limits Taser Use

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
(12-30) 11:28 PST San Francisco (AP) --
A federal appeals court has set down strict guidelines for when police officers may use Tasers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a Coronado, Calif., police officer used excessive force when he used his Taser on an unarmed, nonviolent suspect. The unanimous three-judge panel upheld a trial court's decision allowing the suspect, Carl Bryan, to pursue his lawsuit against the city, police department and officer.
The appeals court says police should use a Taser only in threatening situations because it inflicts more pain than other so-called nonlethal weapons at an officer's disposal.
Experts expect some police departments will have to change their Taser policies if the decision stands.

Pedophiles and Abolitionists

May we all get a little more in touch with our humanity in the coming year.


Here's the latest about Ladwig's indictment. It’s not a pleasant thing to talk about – to even acknowledge it happened – but it’s out there. Looks like there were signs he was having trouble well before this happened, but I'm not sure that wearing women's lingerie in and of itself is considered criminal or indicative of a child molester in-the-making. But I’m no expert on pedophiles, and welcome any corrections that can be sourced.

I guess it should come as no surprise that three days after Ladwig's Christmas molestation of that little girl, a 47-year-old prisoner at ASPC-Eyeman, Monte McCarty, who was doing life for sex offenses against children, was found dead in his cell, the result of an apparent suicide. One can’t help but wonder if he was trying to escape the evil some such men feel courses through their veins when he took his life, or if he knew that he would be the target of a lot of men’s rage who would now be stigmatized and punished by the rest of us for Ladwig’s actions. 

First, what happened to that child is a whole lot worse than losing a little good time - no one is minimizing that. There are other places where her voice is being heard and her trauma is being attended to, so I don't feel a need to do that more here. The guys inside would not only be thinking about their own daughters or sisters being victimized in such a way - they have the same visceral reactions - but must have also considered the same potential fallout from this that I did, and more. No early release program; no compassionate releases; longer sentences for methamphetamine possession (and the presumption that one must be a sexual deviant); and the stink of a pedophile on all of them when they walk out the door and try to get on with their lives as 40-something men from Arizona’s state prison on parole. Who’s going to want to give them a job, much less a place to live, whether or not they can prove they aren’t sex offenders? Ladwig wasn’t classified as a sex offender before this, it appears. How will they ever be able to support their families again?

I know that the life of the pedophile must be a pretty wretched existence. They are the most hated among all of us – their crimes are most appalling, and they are thus most readily dehumanized. The rape, assault, torture, abuse, neglect, humiliation, and mental torment they end up suffering when incarcerated is what we all have come to expect to happen to them, and we let it. Never mind whether or not such violations make up the substance of what sickened his soul to begin with. 

Unfortunately, our silence about the safety and rights of prisoners is not indifference - it's condemnation. On some level we rationalize that “justice” is being done, and turn away from reports that suggest otherwise.  That’s why prisons are so far away from towns: it's not just to keep the villager safe in case of escapes - it's so we don’t have to hear the people inside scream. We don't want to hear it; that's what perpetuates rape and violence in prison - and to a certain degree out here, too.

I realize that not all the bad guys are just "victims" – they don’t all even have perpetrators in their own memories. Sociopaths and psychopaths - whether they’re pedophiles, batterers, or corporate executives, appear to simply derive sadistic pleasure from inflicting suffering on others, even if they’ve had perfect childhoods. Even people like me have an impulse that makes us want to see them get caught and watch as they suffer – which is why they suffer so much when they’re caught. As long as they don’t go after children, most sociopaths can hurt scores of people, though – millions at a time, even - and still get cut some slack when it comes to whether or not they should be tortured. Not child molesters. We'd still be lynching them if we could.

Once they’ve been identified as the personification of evil, it doesn’t matter what degree of rehabilitation or behavior management a pedophile may achieve, or what the specifics ever were of the case (is the one in your neighborhood the 55-year old who did 20 years for repeatedly raping his daughter, or is it the 17-year old kid who impregnated his 16 year old girlfriend? They should both be registered…). However apt or misapplied, the label pedophile or child molester immediately disqualifies them as human – even among other sex offenders.

And so, the real truth in sentencing for child molesters should account for what will probably happen to them once inside, and what their life opportunities will be reduced to if they survive incarceration intact and regain their freedom. Prisons should be tracking the victimization of such offenders while incarcerated, how they deal with it, and what kind of suicide, “success”, and recidivism rates they’re seeing among that population after release in light of the realities of their previous prison experiences.

Those perpetrators who were once victims themselves - especially the men, among whom childhood sexual abuse is vastly under-reported - have mutilated and killed themselves enough that I have no doubt that somewhere inside some “monsters” is a soul who desperately doesn't want to make another human being go through the same hell they experienced - especially not at their hands. Because their obsessions and compulsions run so deep and their “cure” is so elusive, some see no alternative to deal with their pathology but to spend a life in exile or prison - a place worse than hell for them - or to destroy the predator within by destroying themselves. Are any such souls worth redemption, or are all deserving of the same fate?

I've asked the ADC for data they may have gathered on rates of criminal behavior, convictions, and violent crimes by people who are classified as victims – or histories of victimization among the people they have classified as criminals. I just don't believe that the criminal/victim categories are mutually exclusive; designing our justice systems, programs, funding streams, and social rewards and punishments as if they aren't intimately overlapping categories is a mistake. 

Data about which criminals are victimized, and which victims end up criminalized, could have some far-reaching implications for how we deal with crime prevention and build communities around more restorative models of justice. It could also help us get at data on the crimes that so often go unreported precisely because the victim is engaged in criminal activity at the time: like a 16 year old runaway being exploited by a pimp who could end up in detention facing charges herself (or returned to the home where she was being sexually abused). Or a 15-year old silenced by the fear that the drug transaction which made her so vulnerable would be used to prosecute her if she reported the dealer who raped her - assuming she survived the consequences of being identified in the drug community as a narc. 

We can’t not talk about guys like Ladwig, as uncomfortable as they make us. What happened with Ladwig is going to be a big deal when the legislature starts talking sentencing reform again. Most people I talk about prison abolition with get a lot of the arguments for changes in criminal codes, drug laws, sentencing recommendations, post-sentence sanctions, and other reforms that would inch us closer to abolition – but they always want to know what we’re going to do with the sociopaths and child molesters if we don't have prisons. 

So do I. 

I may not have the answer to that just yet, but I’m starting to do more research, because I think we need to be doing something different with these guys at some point in their lives. Throwing the convicted child molesters to the wolves in the end not only condemns the innocent among them to the same brutal fate we hand to the despised, it strips the guilty of what humanity may have been left within them that could help prevent them from hurting others again. It also diminishes the humanity in us in the process.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christ On Crime: The Power of Soft. No Early Prisoner Release.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.

I fell asleep Christmas Eve wishing I'd organized some anarchists to go caroling out at Perryville prison this week; just something to let them know they aren't alone out there. The mothers out there in particular have been on my mind lately, as have their heartbroken parents and children. Because of the tracking mechanisms on my blogs I can tap into what people are Googling for, which - as the holidays have approached - has with increasing urgency been "early prisoner release." I had all sorts of stuff up from other states, but all they kept coming up with from me on Arizona was some sidewalk chalking, pleading with legislators, and quite a bit of after-the-fact chastising of Director Ryan.

When I woke up Christmas morning they were still on my mind: all those families that had been holding their breath as states across the country began early release programs for low-risk prisoners, only to have our legislature and governor, in the end, release non-citizens so they can be deported. Our state and prisoners' families are being crushed by the cost of their incarceration - we're even taking money from education and children's health care in order to keep filling up the prisons - and that's the most creative solution anyone could come up with? Deporting a few hundred immigrants that they gave Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas all sorts of money to chase down and prosecute for smuggling themselves?

Cowards. They won't even release the dying. Even we (prisoners and advocates) would allow that not every ADC officer is so malicious or callous that they would be complicit in Marcia's death just because 16 on one shift were (that must be worse than the criminality of most people requesting compassionate releases). The Department of Corrections seems to think that was an isolated incident that shouldn't reflect on the rest of the gang. In light of that, our legislators should at least grant that not every dying prisoner is a Maurice Clemmons or Baseline Killer just waiting for their final spree. Nor are they molesters-in-waiting, like the latest Arizona parolee disaster, apparently. I wonder how much of the monster in him was made by prison. Most of the terminally ill - the healthy, for that matter, as well - really just want to make amends and die in peace. You never hear about them. They should not be punished for his crimes.

But they probably will be. We all will. Since they'd sooner spend our grandchildren's inheritance to make even low-risk prisoners die on mandatory minimums than take the risk of sending them home in a wheelchair to their families, why would I think our elected officials would have the courage to support an early release program for people who aren't even dying? It has nothing to do with statistics or real crime or even economics, since dying prisoners can cost the state the most. It's all about covering their own seats - which are coming up for re-election. Everyone wants to be "tough on crime,"  which always translates into criminalizing and incarcerating more of the poor and does nothing meaningful to address the roots of crime. That's not tough - that's just thick-headed. It's the smart-on-crime people we need to be electing here, not the ones exploiting fear at the expense of future victims...we need to stop this here.

I think we need to hammer the AG and gubernatorial candidates about compassionate release this year - and it should be coming from the cancer survivor and hospice community, too, not just the families and advocates of prisoners. Victims' rights advocates should get on board, too, if they consider how many victims are criminalized and how many criminals are victimized by the system we call justice in this state. Every prisoner dying inside who should be eligible for compassionate release is a story that needs to be told - otherwise the only story that speaks for them is the one about Clemmons - or Ladwig - and that one will be retold every election year unless we drown it out with the truth: there is more than one narrative on crime and punishment - there are better ways to prevent evil than perpetrating it.

Anyway, having failed to do anything meaningful for the state's prisoners for Christmas, I turned again to the symbolic, and decided to deliver a big Christmas card and some flowers to the women at Perryville yesterday. That place is huge. According to one of the officers, it's getting bigger: those are the great plans our legislature has made for Arizona's future - more women in prison. I drove around for awhile trying to figure out who and where to deliver it to - finally decided to take a picture of it by the prison sign, on the outside chance that no one would let me deliver to anyone there at all.

I was right - I couldn't even leave it there if I was leaving it for the warden, much less for the prisoners - I'd have to come back during regular business hours. Their supervisor even came out to see what this thing with the Friends of Marcia Powell was all about. He took down my name and gave me the phone number of someone I could call next week who would direct me to the right person to give the card to. I thought "warden" should be designation enough to get it to the person who would decide what to do with it, if I wrote it on the card instead of "prisoners". But it wasn't. What was I thinking?

I don't know how many people have tried to pull off a Christmas Day surprise like that, but "the next business day" just doesn't work. I took my card and got back into my car, stopping by my friend's place on my way home to give her the bouquet. She was out at Perryville for a couple of years; she appreciated what I tried to do.

The card, by the way, was a great big copy of the letter that the Sex Workers' Outreach Project had written to Director Ryan about improving protections for prisoner rights, among other things. A bunch of us signed it at the demonstration, and I figured that since he already got his copy (and apparently ignored it) we should give one to the prisoners so they knew they had some support out here.

I was hoping to get it onto Lumley - the maximum security unit where Marcia was last at, where the women who set their mattresses on fire were from, and where the officer worked who suicided last June. I guess I'm just lucky I got in and out of the front lobby myself without provoking anyone, though. I should probably apologize to the officers on duty last night for showing up and being a distraction. I mean, it seemed like they would be posted at the front door specifically to deal with the public - which includes me - so I didn't think it would be problematic to ask them if there was someone I could leave the card and flowers with. But I could have just taken a couple of photos outside and gone without disturbing them, so, my apologies, Lt. Farr and crew.  I really wasn't there just to play with you. I hoped someone would take our card (though I admit I suspected that solidarity and encouragement from the outside might be considered contraband, even on Christmas).
I guess it's probably a good thing I didn't show up singing with a bunch of anarchists instead.

Anyway, families and friends will just have to spread the word among the prisoners that Perryville had a Christmas visitor bringing tidings of goodwill and human rights, but they wouldn't let her in. You can print up the letter to Ryan from the free marcia powell archives here, though, and mail it in. Here is the report of the actual demonstration, with photos, in case you missed it. You could also print up the photo I took of the card, here:

Dear Director Ryan: Protect Human Rights.

(Since you insist on keeping your prisoners, please keep them safe.)

Since this post will probably sit here for a couple of days at the top of the page now as my holiday message, I don't want to close it on an angry or cynical note. So, I'll turn my attention to the ADC staff I don't speak much of. Just about every story I've heard from Perryville  - even Marcia's - has with it the name of an officer or staff member who was the exception to the rule of mocking, ridiculing, ignoring women, and "waiting them out" until they stopped resisting or finally died. The good guys know who they are, as do all the prisoners and their families. Everyone else does, too, and I imagine some of you take a hit for being too soft sometimes. I would hope you also get promoted (though we do aim to put you out of that particular line of business). Even little things - like a smile - expose the Light in you. We need that light to see through all this - in that way, soft has more power than a lot of people give it credit for. Gentle can be more strong than tough.

In fact, for the more resilient prisoners your simple daily acts of grace and kindness can do more good than all the cruelty that goes on there can do them harm.  For the respect, encouragement, insight, hope, and humanity you have shared with the most disparaged among us - whatever your position or reason for working there may be - thank you. Your presence may well have saved a loved one from another endless day of their own despair, or even from suicide. I'm sorry there clearly aren't enough of you, though. The damaged souls and successful suicides who roll out of prison are evidence of that.

Some of you have taken a hit by placing yourselves between our loved ones and violence - both state and interpersonal. You aren't afraid to speak of things like human rights, and you treat imprisoned women with basic dignity regardless of what kind of deviance they've been convicted of. You may not call it by the name I do, but you recognize the monster that feeds your family for what it is, and as law-and-order as you may be, you - like me - long for the day it outlives its apparent need. You may even be the first to help slay it then.

Those of you I speak of here are real public servants, far more committed to justice than the people who pull it out for campaigns, lynch a few bad guys, and ride fear into office so they can make new laws to better suit themselves - all the while gutting your unions with parallel (not competitive) privatization, and reducing your relative incomes and benefits to subsistence levels so you can't rise up against them once everyone finally catches on. I'm shocked at how many law enforcement unions have endorsed Pearce for that reason - he's all about busting the unions - he just thinks he doesn't have to worry about cops because they've been co-opted by his pandering and posturing. I hope you all end up proving him wrong.

It's odd that politicians so often invoke biblical references in the discourse about law and order: whatever one may think about Christ, his most beloved were the convicted and condemned, and his version of justice is the new and revised one. He embraced robbers and prostitutes and thieves irrelevant of their crimes: he recognized that the far greater danger was the injustice doled out to the powerless by the entitled than that posed by the few criminals who rose from the masses in resistance to civil society. It was the moneylenders' tables he upended, after all - he wasn't off chasing immigrants. Boy, would he have a few things to say about that today. Actually, I'm sure he already said them. Considering how many people in this state consider themselves Christians,  I don't understand why we have so many prisons. I guess people call themselves Christians for different reasons. Claiming such a faith seems to have a political advantage, even if there's no evidence one really lives it.

Christ was incorrigible - a classic repeat offender, all the more "dangerous" to the state because he acted out of a politic of liberation, not self-interest or greed (thus he could not be tortured or bribed into submission). He may not be executed today, but he would be locked down tighter than a Black Panther, in total isolation so as not to spread his message to other people yearning for freedom. We'd bury him alive and alone - for sixty or seventy years if need be - in a cell that serves much like a tomb. That's what we do to our political prisoners in America. Think about it: if he was in for crimes of self-interest he'd be out in half the time. What does that say about us?

Anyway, those of you who use your power to truly help rather than hurt prisoners have paid it forward, and many people down the road will have your backs. You have done more than just your prisoners a service - the community benefits as well if they come out more intact than shattered. I hope you become the model for ADC - for as long as the beast is around - instead of the exception you appear to be. To you and your families I sincerely wish a safe and happy holiday season, a sentiment shared, I suspect, by many.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Environmentlist Jeff Luers finally Free.

For those who missed the story, Jeff Free Leurs is home in time for the holidays.

Welcome home, comrade. 

Welcome home.

from the Democracy Now! intro:

  "In June 2001, Jeff “Free” Luers was sentenced to twenty-three years and eight months in prison. His crime? Setting fire to three vehicles in a car dealership to protest global warming. No one was hurt in the fire. In 2007, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned Jeff’s sentence and reduced it to ten years."

Healtth Care Reform: Jim Ridgeway

Jim Ridgeway's take. This is kind of what I suspected.

By James Ridgeway, CounterPunch. Posted December 23, 2009.

'Moderation' has come to mean weighing the interests of campaign contributors -- Big Pharma vs. the insurance companies -- with little concern for the American people.

Plenty of countries have created excellent health care systems largely through regulation -- so why can’t we do the same? The French and Japanese health care systems, for example, do not exclude private industry. They are not socialist in any sense of the word, and even retain a role for private insurance companies. What each system consists of is a regulatory apparatus that serves as the instrument for carrying out national policy -- which is providing high quality health care for all the country’s citizens, at a reasonable cost. The regulation works because you can’t get around it, and because it was designed -- and actually operates -- in the public interest.

To achieve anything similar in the United States, however, would require a virtual revolution in how our government operates. Our system of government regulations isn’t really what we think of as regulation at all. Rather, it throws up a facade of rules, which corporations walk right through. And no wonder, since although the regulations are supposed to be arrived at independently and designed for the public good, corporations have long had a hand in writing them, as well, thanks to the power of lobbying, campaign contributions, and the revolving door between business and government.

Rather than being enacted to protect the public from the limitless greed of private industry, many regulations are actually passed in support of corporations. The worst example is probably the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is just a clubhouse for Wall Street. Another top contender is the Food and Drug Administration. The basic legislation passed by Congress in the 1930s and updated in the early 1960s set policy governing the sale and use of drugs, which demanded that companies demonstrate the proposed product is safe and efficacious. But that policy directive was quickly abandoned. Today the drug manufacturers breeze through the FDA, setting their own rules for use, establishing their own prices, and exercising their monopoly rights within the patent system which in the case of pharmaceuticals is maintained for their benefit.

An excellent article in the December Harpers, “Understanding Obamacare” by Luke Mitchell, provides a better understanding of how the American system of regulation in the corporate interest works. “The idea that there is a competitive ‘private sector’ in America is appealing, but generally false,” writes Mitchell. He continues:
No one hates competition more than the managers of corporations. Competition does not enhance shareholder value, and smart managers know they must forsake whatever personal beliefs they may hold about the redemptive power of creative destruction for the more immediate balm of government intervention. This wisdom is expressed most precisely in an underutilized phrase from economics: regulatory capture.
In the case of health care, Mitchell argues, “The health-care industry has captured the regulatory process, and it has used that capture to eliminate any real competition, whether from the government, in the form of a single-payer system, or from new and more efficient competitors in the private sector who might have the audacity to offer a better product at a better price.”

What’s really sharp about Mitchell’s analysis, though, is his recognition that “the polite word for regulatory capture in Washington is ‘moderation.’” As he explains it:
Normally we understand moderation to be a process whereby we balance the conservative-right-red preference for “free markets” with the liberal-left-blue preference for “big government.” Determining the correct level of market intervention means splitting the difference….The contemporary form of moderation, however, simply assumes government growth (i.e., intervention), which occurs under both parties, and instead concerns itself with balancing the regulatory interests of various campaign contributors. The interests of the insurance companies are moderated by the interests of the drug manufacturers, which in turn are moderated by the interests of the trial lawyers and perhaps even by the interests of organized labor, and in this way the locus of competition is transported from the marketplace to the legislature. The result is that mediocre trusts secure the blessing of government sanction even as they avoid any obligation to serve the public good. Prices stay high, producers fail to innovate, and social inequities remain in place.
This seems to me an extremely accurate depiction of the forces that have governed our current health care reform -- from the start, when Big Pharma struck a secret deal with the White House, right up to the present moment, when Big Insurance’s bag man Joe Lieberman is deciding the fate of hundreds of millions of Americans.

And no wonder, since as Mitchell points out, the “moderation” formula has been perfected not by Republicans, but by Democrats: “The triangulating work that began two decades ago under Bill Clinton,” he writes, ”is reaching its apogee under the politically astute guidance of Barack Obama.”

This is exactly how health care reform could have turned out so screwed up despite (or, as the case may be, because of) Democratic control of the White House and Congress.

Senate Health Care reform: Representative Slaughter

Well, today the Senate is celebrating the passage of historic health care line votes, no public payer option - actually, I don't really know what's left. There are a few sources I trust on the issues who may not be heard on msot other media, so I'll see what they have to say:


Powerful House Rep. Slaughter: Senate Went off the Rails and Passed a Weak Health Care Bill

By Rep. Louise Slaughter, AlterNet
Posted on December 24, 2009, Printed on December 24, 2009

Editor's note: Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat, represents the 28th Congressional District of New York. Slaughter is the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee and the only microbiologist in Congress. 

Washington -- The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago.
Even though the House version is far from perfect, it at least represents a step toward our goal of giving 36 million Americans decent health coverage.

But under the Senate plan, millions of Americans will be forced into private insurance company plans, which will be subsidized by taxpayers. That alternative will do almost nothing to reform health care but will be a windfall for insurance companies. Is it any surprise that stock prices for some of those insurers are up recently?

I do not want to subsidize the private insurance market; the whole point of creating a government option is to bring prices down. Insisting on a government mandate to have insurance without a better alternative to the status quo is not true reform.

By eliminating the public option, the government program that could spark competition within the health insurance industry, the Senate has ended up with a bill that isn't worthy of its support.

The public option is the part of our reform effort that will lower costs, improve the delivery of health care services and force insurance companies to offer rates and services that are reasonable.

Although the art of legislating involves compromise, I believe the Senate went off the rails when it agreed with the Obama Administration to water down the reform bill and no longer include the public option.

But that's not the only thing wrong with the Senate's version of the health care bill.

Under that plan, insurance companies can punish older people, charging them much higher rates than the House bill would allow.

In the House, we fought hard to repeal McCarran-Ferguson, the antitrust exemption that insurance companies have enjoyed for years. We did that because we believed firmly that those Fortune 500 corporations should not enjoy special treatment.

Yet the Senate bill does not include that provision -- despite assurances from some members that they will seek to add it. By ending that protection, we will be able to go after insurance companies with federal penalties for misleading advertising or dishonest business practices.

The House bill would cover 96 percent of legal residents, while the Senate covers 94 percent. Compared with the House bill, the Senate's bill makes it much easier for employers to avoid the responsibility of providing insurance for their workers.

And of course, the Senate bill did not remove the onerous choice language intended to appeal to anti-abortion forces.

Now don't get me wrong; the current House and Senate bills are a significant improvement over the status quo. Given the hard path to reform and the political realities of next year, there is a sizable group within Congress that wants to simply cut any deal that works and call it a success. Many previous efforts have failed, and the path to reform is littered with unsuccessful efforts championed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.

Supporters of the weak Senate bill say "just pass it -- any bill is better than no bill."

I strongly disagree -- a conference report is unlikely to sufficiently bridge the gap between these two very different bills.

It's time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board. The American people deserve at least that.

Elected to Congress in 1986, Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY serves as the ranking Democrat on the prestigious House Rules Committee.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Arnold v Sarn: No Crisis in Mental Health Care here!

Excuse me, but the governor's aide just said that she doesn't think the public mental health system in this state is in crisis - it just needs a little improving. It appears as if she may think the judge overseeing the Arnold v- Sarn litigation (of 20+ years ago now?) is over-reacting. I wonder if she heard about what happened to Marcia Powell?

Really: "Not in Crisis???"

Mental-health plan rejected

The judge in a long-running legal battle over mental-health care said Gov. Jan Brewer's plan doesn't offer the relief needed for most of the mentally ill in Maricopa County. 

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen O'Connor also indicated she isn't ready to embrace a proposal from mental-health advocates to recommend changes to the mental-health system.

Instead, O'Connor issued a series of questions for the advocates and gave them until next Wednesday to answer them.

In a ruling filed Wednesday, O'Connor said Brewer's proposal to create a pilot program won't work because it would only affect a fraction of the mentally-ill population - about 3 percent.

Earlier this year, O'Connor declared the system in crisis in the wake of a highly critical audit and called for proposals to remedy it.

O'Connor did say Brewer's pilot-program plan might be considered as part of a longer-range overhaul of the system but that it doesn't reach far enough to address the current crisis.

The judge also said she was disappointed that the governor did not talk with the mental-health advocates who brought the lawsuit before coming up with her pilot plan.

Joe Kanefield, the governor's legal counsel, said the judge acknowledged Brewer's concern that the state's fiscal crisis could hamper efforts to do a systemwide overhaul.

But he said the governor differs with the judge's perception that the system is in emergency mode.

"The governor's position is that the system is not in crisis, but definitely can be improved," he said.

Any improvement, however, must come from the Legislature, which sets state policy, and not from the courts, Kanefield added.

Walt Staton's Latest Sentence.

Activist who left water jugs in desert avoids jail

GREEN VALLEY - A border activist has decided he would rather comply with an order to complete 300 hours of community service than go to jail.

Walt Staton had vowed not to comply with his sentence for leaving water jugs on a southern Arizona wildlife preserve last year. The area is a popular route for illegal immigrants entering the U.S., and many have died from lack of water while crossing the desert.

The 28-year-old Tucson resident has one year to complete the hours.

Staton was convicted of littering in June after being cited in December 2008 by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent for leaving water jugs in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge west of Arivaca.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Guerin gave Staton until Monday's hearing to reconsider his decision or face 25 days in jail.

Thomas a threat to the CJ System.

From KPHO 5, a synopsis of the protest and the letter Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk wrote to the AZ Republic (find the complete letter here: Arpaio, Thomas are abusing power).


Arpaio, Thomas 'Threat To The Entire Criminal-Justice System,' Judge Sheila Polk Says

POSTED: 11:12 am MST December 22, 2009
The Yavapai County Attorney is accusing Maricopa County's top law enforcers of abusing their power. In a letter to The Arizona Republic on Tuesday, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk accused Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of being a "threat to the entire criminal-justice system."

Like Thomas and Arpaio, Polk is a Republican. She spent six months working on the alleged public corruption cases against Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, eventually returning the cases to Thomas' office."I am conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes," she wrote to the Republic. "The actions of Arpaio and Thomas are a disservice to the hundreds of dedicated men and women who work in their offices."

 Maricopa County Chief Deputy David Hendershott fired back at Polk, accusing her of mishandling the cases and trying to curry favor with attorneys and politicians for a future judgeship. He also said he notified the FBI about his concerns about her handling of the investigation.Polk declined to comment on Hendershott's accusations, saying her letter to the Republic speaks for itself.

Polk is not the first member of the legal community to criticize Thomas and Arpaio for their investigations into Maricopa County leadership.On Monday, more than 300 attorneys gathered in front of the downtown courthouse to protest Thomas' filing of criminal charges against Judge Gary Donahoe.

"(Thomas) has engaged in an intentional and systematic effort to … harass and intimidate the good men and women who serve on our Superior Court," attorney Tom Ryan said at the protest. The attorneys who organized Monday's rally said they intend to campaign statewide against Thomas if he runs for Attorney General and work with the State Bar of Arizona if any action is brought against the prosecutor. Protestors also claimed Thomas consistently violates the oath of his office and routinely tramples on the Constitution....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Fire Andy Thomas" Protest

I didn't go to this rally, but here's their news - lots of lawyers in suits, by the looks of the New Times slideshow (link at bottom). I figured they already had plenty of support - but check out this solidarity action! "Fire Andy Thomas". Wonder if the rally-organizers did that? Saw this somewhere after 8am Monday, heading west on the 202 towards 7th, I think...

Anti-Thomas rally draws more than 250 people in Phoenix

Discontent with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's legal battles with county officials moved to a public forum Monday and received a boost from an unexpected source with inside knowledge of their cases.

Hundreds of attorneys gathered on the courthouse steps in downtown Phoenix to protest Thomas and Arpaio's public campaign against public corruption. And, in a scathing letter to The Arizona Republic, the Yavapai County attorney, who previously handled some of Thomas' cases against county officials, blasted the prosecutor and sheriff as "a threat to the entire criminal-justice system."

Sheila Polk, a Republican and career prosecutor, spent six months working on two of the cases sought by Thomas and Arpaio in their ongoing battle against county officials and the courts. Her office handled the first criminal case against Supervisor Don Stapley
and the investigation into the disputed Superior Court tower project....

(back to the Republic article)

Here is also a slideshow from the Phoenix News Times.

Words of wisdom: Rep. Cecil Ash on Sentencing Reform.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year. 


This would have been more timely if posted sooner, but the committee has only just gotten underway and will continue to accept public comment by mail, as indicated below, so get your voices heard and ask to be on a mailing list for future committee meeting announcements. Maybe you can get them to send you copois of the previous meetings minutes, too.

From the East Valley Tribune
December 8, 2009

Sentencing reform needed for Arizona

By Cecil Ash

In 1990, a 31-year-old man went into a Fry's grocery store. When no one was looking, he picked up a carton of cigarettes and walked quickly to the exit. All of this was captured on the store video, and he was apprehended in the parking lot with the cartoon of cigarettes and no receipt.

This offense could have been prosecuted as a misdemeanor, given the value of the cigarettes ($16.95). A misdemeanor may carry up to six months in jail. However, the prosecutor at the time elected to charge it as a felony, since he entered the store for the purpose of committing a crime. Because the defendant had two previous, nonrelated convictions, he was sentenced to prison for 8.3 years.

Question No. 1: Do taxpayers of the state want to pay $20,000-plus per year to incarcerate people for this kind of a crime?

Question No. 2: In this case, who had the greatest say in what the time served would be? The prosecutor or the judge? The apparent answer is the prosecutor. But ultimately the fate of this defendant was sealed by members of the Legislature who set up the mandatory sentencing parameters of our current criminal code.

In 2008, Arizona spent $951 million incarcerating felons, many of whom posed no danger to the general public. A recent Pew Center report indicates that in 2008, one in 33 adults in Arizona was under correctional control, which includes jail, prison, parole and probation. Twenty-five years ago, this number was one in 79. What has changed so much is not human nature, but the offenses for which we incarcerate and the imposition of mandatory sentences.

In these times when budget deficits are mushrooming, it is time to take a fresh look at the sentencing structure of the state's criminal code. For this reason, House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, has appointed an Interim Committee on Sentencing Reform to evaluate the effectiveness of our current criminal code.

All of us agree that the public must be protected from dangerous and repetitive offenders. But it is time to acknowledge that with new technologies and evidence-based sentencing, the state may be able to have a more effective criminal justice system at lower cost. And everyone agrees that there are plenty of other places in the state budget where the savings can be used.

The House Interim Committee on Sentencing Reform will hold its first meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Public comment is invited by testimony, mail or e-mail. The committee will consider who needs to be incarcerated as a matter of public safety, and what evidence-based sentencing alternatives can reduce recidivism and rehabilitate, rather than simply warehouse offenders.

Mail may be sent to the Committee on Sentencing Reform, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ 85007. E-mail should be directed to the committee members: Reps. Cecil Ash (chairman), Kyrsten Sinema, Bill Konopnicki, Doris Goodale, Laurin Hendrix, and Anna Tovar.

With input from the public, the judiciary, and criminal justice agencies, this bipartisan effort will yield savings to Arizona, as well as in some cases redirecting inmates' misspent years into more productive use.

Rep. Cecil Ash is a Republican who represents District 18, which covers western Mesa.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sex Workers' Rights are Human Rights. SWOP Rally, Phoenix.

Wow. Arizona has got to be one of the most punitive, misogynistic, homophobic, right-wing states in the country, and I just spent the past couple of days hanging out with the handful of women here brave enough to publicly take on the state legislature and the director of the Department of Corrections. Friends of Marcia Powell and the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project demonstrated Friday at the ADC, calling Ryan out on his own turf to take a stand against violence against sex workers. He had a week to respond to their letter before the rally. In the end it appears as if he’s too much of a coward to face - or to defend - the women in red.

Okay, so maybe I’m baiting him now. His decision to ignore them wasn’t cowardice so much as it was really cold strategy, an evasive maneuver by someone who could take us out in a heartbeat. He’s not afraid, and knows full well he can hurt us more than we can hurt him - it’s cowardice of another kind. Which is still not good news for the good guys. I don’t know why I kept thinking that if Ryan was one of those 16 guards who passed through Lumley yard the day Marcia died, he would have been the one to stop and offer her the assistance that could have saved her life. I want to believe that somewhere in there is a spark of humanity and compassion that we could connect on. I’ve given him more benefit of the doubt that perhaps I should have. If he is not the man I hope he is – and is instead the man I think he is, the alternatives to my fantasy mean that more prisoners will suffer and die until he’s gone - and who knows if the person who replaces him will be any better?

I thought of all the lawmen in this state, Ryan might be one who would take the women from SWOP seriously, and treat them with respect. He did stop not long ago when I sent word that I needed help with something, and he responded professionally (albeit a bit gruffly – I think that’s just him), but I think that was a fleeting connection. I guess he’s as much a politician as the rest of them, though. That’s the kind of prostitution that should really be criminalized, because it damages people and destroys lives. He’s been there so long, and dug in so deep, that nothing new or different may ever come out of him than what we got from Stewart – in which case we just need to seize the legislature, the governorship, local jurisdictions, and the economic system we have in order to take over and dismantle the whole prison industrial complex…which is why I wanted to believe there was something decent in him to work with. Now we’re back to looking at this whole beast again, not sure which part to start hacking away at first. I think since no one but the families seem to be on Ryan for prisoner rights – and Arpaio and Thomas already have strong constituencies of people opposing them - we’ll stick with Ryan and the ADC for awhile.

I know I’ve been too soft on him thus far, but cut me a break – he reminds me of my old man. Besides, I’m an abolitionist – I think we should give cops the same consideration we give criminals who want to redeem themselves; most people have the capacity to change for the better, given the right conditions and support network. If a convicted felon can do it, so can Ryan. If he wants to – that’s the key. But we’re running out of time before the next state prisoner is neglected, abused, suicides, or is murdered.

It looks like for now Ryan’s prisoners will have to try to outlast and outlive his tenure before there’s another opening for real change. Ryan personally quashed the idea of an early prisoner release this year for non-violent offenders, and legislators are now afraid to put their name on a bill that would give people more good time they can earn, with his adamant assertion to the media that the public would be at risk with an early release program. His lack of response to the letter from SWOP also strongly suggests that he doesn’t – and never really did – care much about the women ending up there – either why they’re there to begin with, or what happens to them once they become his prisoner. I’d retract it all happily if he proves me wrong, but I’m not expecting much anymore.

Ryan even provided a legislative committee this week with the “evidence” for the argument (via some guy speaking for prosecutors) that “mandatory minimum sentences” and mass incarceration are what’s brought down violent crime in this state. Never mind that our rates of violent crime are still among the highest in the nation – kind of makes you want to see what others did to bring their rates down, since most states are deciding now that mass incarceration doesn’t really pay off. And the information from ADC that was presented in the Committee on Sentencing this week included an estimate that only 2% of Arizona’s state prisoners are first-time non-violent offenders. That’s hard to believe, given the number of people I personally know who went to prison as first time, non-violent offenders.

What’s minimum security for, anyway – aren’t all those folks low-risk/non-violent? Why do we even have minimum security if we can do a better job helping addicts and alcoholics clean up in community-based settings – where they can work and pay off fines and restitution a whole lot faster than in prison? And what about the mentally ill folks who we all know don’t belong in prison? It seems as if the Director of the Department of Corrections would want to mount a public campaign bringing attention to the inappropriate incarceration of the mentally ill (since they take up a lot of space and staff time in his prisons, and are so often victimized or put into isolation), and try to have their cases reviewed for transfer from criminal courts to probate (or mental health court, whatever folks call it here) – or for clemency, even. I consider many of them among the wrongly-convicted, too.

So Ryan’s putting his stuff out there for prosecutors to throw around, scaring everyone about the possibility of an early prisoner release endangering the community, and I can’t even get him to tell me who – of the 10,000 people he has working for him – I can talk to about how many prisoners are qualified for compassionate release, and why they keep dying in prison for non-violent crimes. I think we need to make sure they’re getting home in time enough to live a little and love their family before they die.

As for the community: you don’t know what you missed Friday because your media didn’t think it was “news”. They must still be pondering the significance of Tiger’s affair; what a revelation. It’s not as if we weren’t juicy enough, either - signs proclaiming “My ass is mine”, Coca-cola-style t-shirts reading WHORE, women in tight red dresses, bisexuals, ex-felons, anarchist men and women decked out in black, and men and women of all ages armed with chalk parading about on the ADC’s patio for an afternoon, waving to passersby and shouting “sex worker rights are human rights!” - that isn’t news in this state?

I can’t help but wonder what else is going unreported here - there’s a whole world out here that folks don’t know exists. We even created a little commotion with the legislature’s pages and security staff when we decided to deliver copies of SWOP’s letter to Ryan to them. No one (all white men) knew what to do or say; they certainly couldn’t take their eyes off us. The capitol police even tailed us until we left the grounds – and we were only a group of four, all of us over 40, I think. It was clear that we were asking something extraordinary when we asked that they deliver copies of the letter to a few mailboxes; the term “sex worker” kept distracting them, I think. And all the red, I’m sure. We certainly livened up their day, at least – one Republican aide was almost asleep on the couch when we first walked in. Good to see our tax dollars hard at work.

Anyway, the past few days with the SWOP folks have been amazing but exhausting – I’m just beginning to recover. I’m still sorting out and writing up what transpired, and where I think we'll go from here, so bear with me as I think out loud (I’m about to piss a lot of people off, but it’s not my intent to hurt anyone, so hold on…):

First, don't stress about the media blackout, really - the Phoenix New Times was a disappointment, but it made visible an elusive element in the structure of Arizona's liberal elite that seems to be deeply threatened by women's resistance: the patriarchy. Not many people ever talks about it here, do they? I bet when they do no one really pays attention. I think it’s the lack of support from the supposedly "feminist" men out here - not oppression by the sexist pigs - that most impedes progress on issues of great pertinence to women. The anarchist men are an exception as are a number in the anti-war movement. SWOP was prepared for a media blackout (so, New Times, I guess you are just like everyone else), and took their own footage, including interviews and the walk through the capitol buildings. It should be edited and posted after the first of the year – I’ll set up a link when it’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll also be posting this on AZ Indymedia, and wherever else I can. I expect we’ll be on our own for media now.

Trivializing things that are important to women is perhaps one of the few ways “liberal” white men can retain power. Since we would otherwise not put up with it, who but criminalized women will they be able to have power over if everyone else is free? They aren’t going back to the top of the hierarchy for a good long time once they fall, that’s for sure, whether they’re liberal or not. If I had it my way, it wouldn’t be a hierarchy – which is probably why I hang with anarchists. Perhaps I should be more understanding and patient with liberal white men, because they have so much to lose in some respects, and still commit themselves to our liberation movements – but we pay the greater price for lost time.

So, they can catch up with the revolution again when they stop whining about being unappreciated. We appreciate you for what you do if you do anything, not just because you’re white men who are willing to be counted on our side. Some men will sign up for anyone’s side if they think they’ll get the goodies in the end – and women happen to be the goodies for most of you. Ultimately, though, those who would deny us liberation and basic human rights can’t possibly really win, so whatever your motives, you’re better of with us anyway.

In any event, since this past week was all about remembering the dead and bringing the living out of the closet of shame, SWOP didn't stage either the memorial or rally as a mainstream “media event”, and were pretty low-key in their own promotions (though high enough profile in the demonstration, to be sure). I think most of their outreach was to their own constituency – they really weren’t expecting anyone else to care about Marcia or any of them, and were thrilled that Marcia has friends now where she seemed to have none before – except for a few other prisoners. I was the only one who seemed surprised not to see more familiar faces from Phoenix; the women from SWOP were pretty happy with the turnout, though, and their friends came up from Tucson to join us. Both events were intimate gatherings as a result -one just more public than the other. Between the two, this has been the most moving, powerful, and educational demonstration that I've ever been a part of - and I’ve done plenty in my years of activism. This even tops the Cronkite thing, and we had just a handful of people.

"No Human Involved" is the classification of homicide victims once used for murdered prostitutes, by the way - the other two options were "male" or "female". That's where the real story is that the media completely missed: Marcia just wasn't considered human by some guards when she was left out to die: she was, by one corrections officer's account after she died, a "biological serial killer." The pink underwear in Tent City, the cages in the state prisons, the police brutality in the streets, sexual and physical abuse by guards, assaults by other prisoners (the real criminals you put us with), the mandatory minimums for prostitution, the requirement that women convicted of prostitution register as sex offenders (do the johns have to so as well?) – it’s all about disempowering and discrediting women – one way of which is demeaning what is feminine when found in men (one of many kinds of misogyny practiced by Joe Arpaio).

I also think maintaining prostitution laws are about enabling the extra thrill that men get from “illicit” sex with brazen and defiant women. Really - what would all these cowboys do if we were no longer outlaws? Tie up their Rotary Club wives? Go after kids? C’mon, guys. Grow up. Some of you are just criminalizing and killing us for kicks – you’re the kind of people who need to be stopped before you contaminate the rest of the community...

The women of SWOP know exactly what the label the prison guards gave Marcia meant, by the way, and what the implications of such a characterization are. I knew when I heard it, too. That was her death sentence, and it was given to her long before she was even dragged into court and sent to prison – it just took awhile to pass it on and carry it out. It was handed down by the good people of this state in the name of “protecting families,” not just a few bad guards having fun. I doubt any of them even meant to kill her.

It's unfortunate that the community members who cared so much about how Marcia lived and died that they made a place for her ashes didn't pick up on any of this, support the SWOP demonstration, and learn what they could from these amazingly perceptive, independent, and fierce women. They may help us keep the same kind of thing from happening again. My life has been blessed by their presence, and I’ve made friends and allies that I know I’ll be working with down the road. I'm certainly more clear about who I can count on to stand with us the next time we position ourselves in public opposition to the state's top cop - who isn't Sheriff Joe. Ryan's the real cop, with far more authority, durability, and credibility among law enforcement officers on policy issues than Arpaio - and he has the keys to all the prisons.

Phoenix New Times loves to hate Ryan, and will thus probably help keep him around - they sure didn't want to let the rest of the Left know that SWOP was even going to be here, and it wasn't for lack of information. Sheriff Joe’s the money-maker these days - he’s just a clown with a badge and dying career now, but he’s still a big seller. Thomas too – I suspect a good many folks will turn out for the protest against him today – certainly the Phx New Times will be there – they saw the dollar signs and promoted the event. I don’t know why I expected that the New Times would have a different bottom line than the Republic – maybe just because they present themselves that way. White men sitting behind desks should not be trusted – much less anointed - to amplify the voices of the voiceless: they just make a production of the BS they think will sell to their audience (indicating that their function is to entertain us), and ignore the rest.

The Phoenix Anarchists aren't shy or afraid when it comes to pushing a social justice agenda, though, and they showed up in force Friday. They always bring a spirit of creativity, revolution, and solidarity to such events: they do whatever they can to stop people from being exploited and abused, without apology. Stan was good to see - he represents the Food Not Bombs connection with Marcia, the people who knew her from something other than her criminal record. There was also overlap among us with Copwatchers (all undercover), the anti-war movement, and even labor. I'm beginning to think that what I see most out here, however, are the exceptional individuals and small groups of comrades (Marcia's Friends, all along) who support numerous liberation movements – I don’t know how much actual cross-movement organizing is really going on, though I still think there’s some cross-fertilization at least from the overlap of activists who all go to each other’s events.

But I'm still new here, and feel like I'm on the outside looking in much of the time, so I may be missing something. The Anti-Sheriff Joe coalition is indeed an authentic amalgamation of different movements drawn together for a common cause; that's where I drew a lot of my initial impressions about cross-movement organizing happening here, which I think in that particular case are still valid. People have done a lot of good work together to end his racist reign on power (though I don't hear much about his misogyny and homophobia, as glaring as they are). Beyond the entertainment value, protesting Sheriff Joe has united members of the community, bringing forth a collective vision for a better Arizona. Still, it's a mistake to think that he's the source of the problem here that has us locking away so many unruly women and people of color in this state.

The rapidly rising rate of incarceration of women hasn't really even been on the anti-Joe agenda, though, so far as I can tell, nor has there been much feminist analysis of what's at the source of Arpaio's popular appeal - it's not just his racism. It's the other -isms that we are blind to, not what we and the world can see so well, that will prevent us from moving forward with a truly progressive agenda, leaving us circling the wagons in hopes that we just outlive the Right wing - we sure don't out-gun them here. Because of our blindness to our own biases and prejudice, and our investment in our own self-interest, too many people settle for compromises which allow them at the expense of our comrades. That’s been a problem for a long time. Covering white middle class liberal ass certainly won’t produce the magic formula that will liberate us all. Our collective chances are much better if we throw our lot in with the sex workers than if we hang with the people who “love” them who are secure enough in their own position with the status quo.

I think Arpaio is becoming more the distraction that keeps us from getting to the real thing than he is the problem himself; we are more at the source of the problem than he is now, because we know better. Our problem is in the silence that we greeted the sex workers with when they asserted that their rights are human rights, too. It's in the permission that male liberals - regardless of ethnicity - give each other to denigrate women's resistance and leadership while slapping each other on the back about how anti-racist they are. It's in the feminists who fail to see how critical they are to ending violence against sex workers - male, female, and transgendered - and how central to all other feminist struggles that particular task is.

The activist community here didn't respond with much more than a memorial service and calls for a softer, gentler prison when Marcia died, which troubles me. Perhaps no one knew what to do. The women at Perryville have been calling us for help ever since then, and we're the ones who have been ignoring them. The population of women in Arizona’s prisons is exploding – where are Arizona's women's rights' groups now? Over 50% of women prisoners in America are mothers - where are the family-centered organizations out here? Most women in prison have been physically or sexually abused - where are the victims' rights organizations out here? Ironically, their collective narrow-minded advocacy has helped brutalize many survivors of trauma and abuse, which doesn't tend to result in anyone’s "rehabilitation." If anything, it further traumatizes and marginalizes victims, transforming their pain into rage that will in turn victimize others. And why are none of them speaking out about state violence - who speaks for the victims of the state?

We need to reframe this whole "victim-perpetrator" analysis of crime to embrace the complexities of oppression, exploitation, racism, misogyny, classism, and other manifestations of fear and of hate as we try to identify the real crimes and criminals in our social landscapes. At present, we're putting victims in prison with their perpetrators, knowing full well that a certain number of them – particularly the most effeminate and vulnerable among the men - will be raped, beaten, and even killed...yes, misogyny kills men, too. If every judge was required to calculate the brutality with which some of the people they sentence to prison will be greeted, or the likelihood that they’ll develop a terminal illness and die there for having shoplifted, perhaps they would think twice about what they consider “just” punishment for violating norms that the privileged few have written into their laws. Maybe they would then elevate their duty to protect the innocent over their satisfaction with punishing who they think is “guilty.” They all need to spend a few days in prison without their robes on before they hand down another sentence like Marcia’s.

When liberation movements try to appeal to the mainstream, these are the first folks to get cut out of the deals - bottom line, even the Left doesn't like deviants who might make them "look bad". Emboldened by mainstream "allies" who are appalled by injustice, revel in the glory of rescuing the downtrodden, and enjoy hearing the sounds of their own protests, these sex workers are some of the most courageous fighters we have, and deserve respect. Once we distance ourselves from their red dresses and umbrellas, however – because we think they’re too in-your-face about it, or that their resistance doesn’t matter to anyone else - we isolate them and make it clear that no one will rise to their defense - or even notice if they're attacked. We are the ones who permit violence – we could stop a lot of it too. Instead we turn away, and let the full force of state and social repression come down on them.

We did that to our revolutionaries a generation ago – they are now our elders, and we have left them to die in prison. Our comrades with SWOP around the world face being targeted, beaten, arrested, imprisoned and killed for demanding that they be treated with respect and dignity, and only their fellow sex workers and a few good souls will honor them and remember their names - much less record their own names and faces publicly beside them in opposition to their treatment. That’s a sad commentary for a liberation movement to leave behind. I think we can expect to see folks from Puente the next time around, though – it seems they didn’t get the word in time to support us (that would be my responsibility – I guess I didn’t confirm with anyone there), but when we ran into a couple of their activists downtown after the demo, they were with us all the way. We’ll be counting on that – and they know we’re there with them, too.

I think the anarchists understand the phenomenon of the Left’s rejection and abandonment better than anyone because they've been hung out to dry a few times - which is why they are such reliable comrades to those of us whom even the progressives reject when the going gets tough. Women as “victims” are useful tools to garner sympathy for a movement or cause of any kind, left or right: our cries galvanize our men to come to our rescue, while the outrage that our suffering elicits prompts other women to assert their own critique. But when women who have been victimized (as well as gay and transgendered people among us) take up arms and lead the charge - especially prostitutes, who represent the secrets and sinful pleasures of so many - we defy progressive norms, too. We fail to be appropriately ashamed and vulnerable, which must emasculate some of the men who would otherwise come to our aid, and appears to threaten some of the women.

Along those lines, I think that the biggest challenge the Sex Workers Outreach Project posed to the community in Phoenix was to the progressives, not to Ryan. He conducted himself in perfect harmony with his title, position, and career trajectory. He consulted on Iraqi prisons, so even a gesture from him would carry more water with me than a gesture from the Left – I can guess what that gesture will be when you’re all done reading this, and I don’t think it will be an embrace. There certainly should be no confusion as to why so many of Ryan’s employees ignored Marcia as she called for help last May, anyway. He doesn't need to listen to what a bunch of whores have to say to him about the law, his leadership, or his prisons - especially not the ones who have behaved so badly as to become his prisoner. He doesn't even have to acknowledge our voice or presence except to do head counts - he can just pretend that we’re invisible and our objections to mistreatment are irrelevant; from there it's remarkable who follows his lead – everyone from the front-line guards to the Phoenix New Times.

A common enemy and collective strategy to defeat it doesn't necessarily make allies or friends, of course, and doesn’t substitute for cross-movement organizing. Not that I’m a great organizer, personally. The folks I’ve seen bridge the gaps most between groups are actually the anarchists (who comprise a large part of the anti-war movement, and wear a multitude of colors) – and they aren’t organizing, per se - they’re being. That’s kind of how I want to be. I don’t know enough yet about anarchy to declare it as my own political creed, but the anarchists here support liberation movements without much prejudice. Whether they're explicitly invited to or not, if they hear about an action against state oppression, they’re on it with their own artistic flair. That’s their tradition. As expected, Friday they were there.

In doing as they have, anarchists have built extensive networks across communities of resistance and can be counted on to vehemently and persistently, individually and collectively, register their opposition to racism, sexism, state violence, fascism, imperialism, war, exploitation of labor, environmental degradation, and just about every other evil thing perpetrated by the state, corporations and individuals in power on this planet. They’ve never forgotten about those we allowed to be taken prisoner, either – whole the rest of the left still clung to Clinton, they were all but abandoned. We should all be grateful to our anarchists for saying and doing all the things that the rest of us are afraid to, but that cannot be left untouched if we are to get anywhere. We may express our shock at anarchists’ brashness and lack of proper respect for authority (thank god for their example, frankly), but we’d all be toast without them; they put themselves between us and violence all the time, yet we are so quick to discount or disparage them as not being “realistic” in their actions or their vision. I happen to think they’re among the few people here with a real clue, and I’m glad someone has their eye on a better future than the rest of us seem willing to settle for.

With that I should stop offending everyone that isn’t an anarchist or criminal and put up my pictures – this is probably a sufficient drubbing for my friends on both the Left and the Right, assuming I have any remaining who will speak to me now.

Those of you who missed the SWOP letter to ADC Director Ryan, by the way, it’s not too late to catch up - read it and take notes - this begins here, it doesn’t end here. They told the truth, which has a lot of power no matter how much people try to render it invisible. They really gave us a lot to build on, and I’m not all that hostile once I settle down again - folks are welcome to drop in any time and tell me what they think. Just keep in mind that I’m much more the agitator than the organizer these days, so don’t expect diplomacy from me. I’ve lost my patience and temper with age, so if you have some ideas about how to do this better, get to work, because we could use a little more help out here. We aren’t exactly the most popular cause in town to begin with (unless we’re dead or not resisting), and I’ve probably just set myself up to be hit from all sides now, so if you don’t step up or get out of the way you’ll probably get hit by cross-fire.

You know how to find me.

Back in a bit with photos (running to the Disbar Andy Thomas rally now). Thanks again to all who showed up to support us – I knew I could at least count on the anarchists, my roomies, and Food-Not-Bombers to be there; they really haven’t missed a beat this whole time. And of course, thanks to my partner in crime, Linda, who has gone out on a limb to make sure real justice is finally at home here. I think we’re all in for a long, hard ride if we’re going to make that happen

Thom Hartmann: Sex Workers Outreach Project

Slipping this on e under the post on the rally - this a the link to the December 18 Thom  Hartmann radio show that covered the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, interviewing one of the organizers right before the rally Friday. I just can't figure out how to listen to it once I get there.

7th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Thom is joined by Deevi Danes, Project Manager with Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), sex worker for over ten years and advocates for prisoners and sex worker rights, There is a rally today to remember Marcia Powell, a sex worker who died after being left in an uncovered outdoor cage in 107-degree heat at Arizona's Perryville women's prison.

Time to Fire Thomas and Arpaio.

Sheriff Arpaio Incites Widespread Anger for Indicting Judges In Alleged Conspiracy

Dawn Teo for Huffington Post
December 21, 2009

PHOENIX, AZ -- On Monday at a quarter past noon, local lawyers will convene on the Central Courthouse steps to demonstrate against Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the chief prosecutor of the fourth most populous county in the country.

Thomas, along with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, filed a suit against nearly all of his political foes and indicted a handful on criminal charges. Arpaio is the famous Arizona sheriff known as "America's Toughest Sheriff" for his hard-nosed stance against immigration lawbreakers and his tent-based jails. He and Thomas have worked hand-in-hand to curb illegal immigration and human trafficking, which has earned them staunch enemies and allies.

Thomas and Arpaio allege that much of the county government, including the judiciary system, is mired in corruption and conspiracy. The inclusion of local judges in the RICO suit, criminal investigations, and indictments made national headlines and earned sharp rebukes from many usual allies of Thomas and Arpaio.
Lawyers coordinating Monday's demonstration want to be clear, "We are not a group of political opponents." The protest was sparked, they say, by the persecution of local judges. Shawn Aiken, a lawyer helping coordinate the demonstration, explains in an email to HuffPost that many in the legal community believe the sanctity and independence of the judiciary is at stake:
The issue has become this: may the county attorney file a criminal complaint against a judge for having issued routine, conventional rulings? We have seen attacks against judges before, over many years, in this country -- Judge Carl Muecke, for example, and others have been targets here in Arizona -- for nothing more than having done their (important) job. But Mr. Thomas has now taken (as far as I know) an unprecedented step in filing this felony complaint against Judge Donahoe.
The Arizona Republic Editorial Board, who has penned several editorials on the situation, wrote this week, "If Thomas and Arpaio are wrong about the existence of such a massive conspiracy, they are themselves guilty of an assault on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Maricopa County."

Defense lawyers have begun filing motions to disqualify the Maricopa County Attorney's Office from prosecuting cases on the grounds that a conflict of interest exists when a judge hearing a case could be under investigation by the office prosecuting the case. Defense attorneys argue that judges could be afraid to rule against Thomas for fear they, too, could be implicated. Some legal observers fear convictions could later be overturned based on the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"Some judges are afraid," Denise Quinterri, a local defense attorney who is in the process of filing charges against Thomas with the Bar, told HuffPost, "Let's face it, who wouldn't be? This adds an entirely unfair burden to their already difficult job. The public smearing of the judiciary causes a lack of faith in the system which hurts the entire county, the state, and perhaps this country."

According to the Quinterri, Aiken, and other lawyers organizing the protest, Thomas has violated legal ethical rules when he included Judge Gary Donahoe and Judge Barbara Mundell in the RICO suit and filed felony charges against Donahoe.

Under the bleating headline, "Is there no one who will stand up to Thomas, Arpaio?" the Arizona Republic Editorial Board pleaded this week for the governor and attorney general to step in, calling Arpaio "the Toughest Backwater Sheriff in America" and calling the pair "bullies with badges." The Board opined that Arpaio and Thomas "have decided to leverage their political popularity - which is to say, Joe Arpaio's electoral popularity - against the institutional strength of their opponents."

Lawyers coordinating the protest contend that Thomas should have followed protocol by filing appeals through the judicial system or filing a conduct complaint and waiting for the result, "If he is unsuccessful, then he should either accept that or investigate further and prepare better pleadings or charges," says Quinterri, "Thomas instead continues to escalate matters in the press, which is contrary to his ethical requirements and driven solely by his political ambitions."

Aiken contends Thomas's actions have serious implications for the judiciary,
There seems little need to overstate the case: the independence of the judiciary in Maricopa County is at stake here. Judges cannot defend their rulings, themselves, or the system in the public forum. Lawyers have always come to the defense of the judiciary and our court system. We took an oath to do so. We must do it now. No one else will.
"Justice cannot function in this chaos," Quinterri says, "for one practical example, the condoning of the deputy sheriffs not bringing the prisoners into court, calling in sick, etc., causes breakdowns in a system already burdened by the economy. The attacks and 'strikes' on various judges causes shifting around inside the court and re-calendaring and delay."

Arpaio and Thomas have not been deterred by the growing clamor of criticism within the local community or the legal community. Last weekend, Arpaio's deputies showed up at the homes of low- and mid-level county and court employees to interrogate them. Tuesday, they showed up at the homes of Superior Court judges' assistants, which one judge characterized as "pure intimidation." The Maricopa County Civil Litigation Department spokesperson, Cari Gerchick called the deputies "goons" and told county employees they do not have to cooperate with deputies.

Even attorneys hired to represent those under suspicion are finding themselves caught in the dragnet. When recently indicted Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox hired Colin Campbell, the retired presiding judge of the Superior Court, as her attorney, investigators demanded an interview with Campbell to determine whether he could be part of the alleged conspiracy. Investigators also wanted to know whether Campbell was working with the State Bar of Arizona to file charges against Thomas.

Campbell called the questions "unheard of and unethical" saying that investigators are infringing on Wilcox's right to counsel and attorney-client privilege. Maricopa County Chief Deputy David Hendershott fired back, "Regardless whether Colin Campbell likes it or not, at the very least, he is a witness to the ongoing racketeering investigation and currently ongoing criminal investigations."

On Friday, the Arizona Republic Editorial Board once again opined on the matter, saying,
Think of it: Within hours of launching his defense of Wilcox, the supervisor's lawyer is forced to defend himself against the daunting power of Joe Arpaio's badge. This is not the rule of law. It is the rule of brash thuggery.
The Republic's editorial board went on to say, "There is no higher form of corruption among American officeholders than this. In fact, there is but one behavior more contemptible than this: The timid unwillingness of Arizona's political "leaders'" to utter a word against it."

Legal blogs across the country have been discussing Maricopa County's sheriff and county attorney, some even asking why the citizens and legal community here are inactive or complicit. Mark Bennett, a lawyer from Texas, writes in his blog,
Students of the Constitution have always realized that our tripartite government relies on the good will of the executive (which controls the use of violence) and the legislative (which controls the money) to do what the judiciary (which controls bupkus) says. When the guys with all of the guns stop listening to the guys in black robes, they stop participating in our Constitutionally-formed government and become no better than warlords.
Michael Manning, a prominent Phoenix attorney, wrote in a Sunday editorial,
Charging a highly respected jurist with a "crime" for failing to agree with the sheriff and his county attorney should be the alarm that provokes business leaders, civic leaders, professionals, and religious leaders, to urge our Bar Association and/or Supreme Court to exercise their authority and stop this assault on our community, our culture, and our economy.
Quinterri told HuffPost that people are scared, including those in the legal community, but she wants people to see that lawyers in Maricopa County are not complicit,
I have noticed lately that blogs across the country are despairing that we are doing nothing. I disagree that lawyers in this country are doing nothing as individuals, but I think the practical difficulty has been how to organize as a group. We practice all over a huge county and there are thousands of lawyers here. This demonstration is a first step in seeking like-minded lawyers and allowing them a forum.
Monday's noon rally is being coordinated via email and on Facebook. Jim Belanger, who was the first to ask his fellow lawyers to join him on the steps of the Central Court building, says, "I do not consider myself an organizer of a rally. I consider myself as someone who has an idea for people who choose to do so to publicly and civilly express their sentiments."

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