Saturday, December 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Friday, December 19, 2014

Sony Censorship Prompts Xmas Theatre Boycott

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

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

Cineastes Against Censorship plans the following event:

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


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



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

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


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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gilead's Greed Makes Weinstein an HIV Hero

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conway's Emails to Chiu Released

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excepts from the two Conway emails are below.





Fire Commission to Debate Airing Meetings on TV

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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


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



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



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


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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DA Denies Emails Exist About His Unethical Fundraiser

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




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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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

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

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

The agency says:

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Did Sup. Campos Push Gilead to Lower Truvada Price? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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