Friday, November 22, 2013

Mr. Mickey joins The Rare Reporter



It didn't take even a whole week for The Rare Reporter to acquire a new canine companion after Queenie's death Nov. 11. Mr. Mickey, a 6-year-old schnauzer, arrived Nov. 17.

Happy Tails, a Cedar Creek Lake animal rescue group run by founder Tina Hamilton, delivered him for foster care until an adoption could be arranged. But within a couple of hours, The Rare Reporter decided Mr. Mickey would be remaining permanently.

Mr.Mickey and The Rare Reporter are still getting used to each other, but it looks like everything will be just hunky dory.

Within minutes of Mr. Mickey and The Rare Reporter meeting, the song, "Only Love Can Break a Heart," played on the car radio. The next verse was "only love can mend it again." It was a clear sign that Mr. Mickey should become a member of the household because that song had played on the radio upon the death of another beloved pet's death earlier.

Mr. Mickey left behind a female mate at the house where he formerly lived where the husband and wife got a divorce. They decided to give up the dogs. He was supposed to arrive with her, but the wife decided at the last moment to keep his female mate.

If the wife decides later to give up Mr. Mickey's mate, I will adopt her too.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Queenie the Schnoodle takes final trip




Queenie came to live with me in August 2003 when she was four-weeks-old. She fit in the palms of my hands.

She grew to be a beautiful white Schnoodle who was by my side most of those 10-plus years. She loved to go for rides in the car with me.

For the past week she had been sick at her stomach, and the medications didn't seem to help. After a particularly rough weekend, I took her to the vet this morning for extensive testing. It turned out she had liver cancer, and she was suffering greatly from it. She lost 12 pounds during the last year.

So it turned out to be her last car ride, and I miss her very much.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Public safety activists warn 65-year-old pipeline threatens Texas lake; legislator seeks meeting with ExxonMobil




SEVEN POINTS, TX  – Three Arkansas residents who witnessed the spill of 200,000 gallons of a toxic petroleum product into a Lake Conway neighborhood seven months ago traveled six hours and 330 miles to tell their story to Cedar Creek Lake residents, but local public officials failed to show up to hear them speak at the Oct. 5 town hall meeting.

Public safety activists from Dallas urged concerned residents at the meeting to “make enough noise” to attract the attention of the public officials who missed the forum about the failed 65-year-old Pegasus Pipeline. They suggested the residents target elected city, county and state officials, as well as water district board members.

Public Citizen and Safe Community Alliance sponsored the forum at the Seven Points Recreation Center. It featured speakers who warned residents about the risk of a local environmental catastrophe if the 20-inch diameter pipeline operated by ExxonMobil transporting diluted tar sands bitumen is allowed to resume operation. It ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., on March 29.

The Pegasus Pipeline runs through the communities of Kemp, Mabank, Gun Barrel City and Seven Points, including a path under the lake and through Tom Finley Park. The environmentalists warned that a similar rupture could occur on Cedar Creek Lake.

"We feel like it might not be a matter of if, but when there is a tar sands spill," said Rita Beving, a Texas-based lobbyist with Public Citizen, a national Washington, D.C.-based group.

Gun Barrel City resident Price Howell said the small number of people attending the town hall meeting and the absence of public officials concerned him. He noted the organizations distributed 3,000 fliers in the Cedar Creek Lake area to advertise the meeting.

Howell has worked for several months trying to raise concerns about the pipeline among Cedar Creek Lake residents since he learned that it runs through his property in Harbor Point Estates. “I’m really disappointed,” he said.

Beving urged residents who are concerned about the antiquated pipeline to complain to local city and county officials, water district officials and state legislators. "You've got to make enough noise to get their attention," she said.

Beving said residents need to ask their public officials if they are prepared for an emergency response and an evacuation if there should be an environmental disaster on Cedar Creek Lake.

A request for a show of hands at the meeting revealed no one identifying themselves as a public official, although one member of the East Cedar Creek Lake Fresh Water Supply Board of Directors was in the audience.

Organizers of the meeting said they invited public officials, including representatives of the Tarrant Regional Water District, to attend.

"We were told Saturdays were not good," said Steven Joseph DaSilva, one of the founders of Safe Community Alliance, in reference to TRWD officials. "They seem to be assuaged by the line Exxon Mobil has given them."

ExxonMobil officials have declined interviews about the pipeline, but they contend in written statements that the company manages its pipelines with advanced technology that conforms to federal regulations, according to a recent report in The Dallas Morning News. The inspections include monitoring by aircraft and interior pipeline devices.

In the most recent press release issued by ExxonMobil about the Arkansas disaster dated May 29, the company said significant progress had been made in cleaning up the spill. “Progress continues, but we know our work is not complete,” said Mark Weesner, ExxonMobil incident commander. “We will be here until the job is done.

 “While I know you have heard us say it many times before, we truly regret the spill continues to impact many in the community and are appreciative of everyone’s continued patience. We are working hard to get the job done as quickly and safely as possible.”

 Lawsuits are pending against ExxonMobil for the accident in Arkansas as well as one in Montana on the Yellowstone River two years earlier. The lawsuits maintain that Irving, TX-based ExxonMobil was negligent in its maintenance of its 8,000-mile U.S. pipeline network.

The speakers at the town hall meeting in Seven Points included Arkansas residents who witnessed the March 2013 spill in Mayflower on Lake Conway that poured 200,000 gallons of the petroleum product into a neighborhood before it flowed into the lake. The pipeline ruptured as a result of its age and the pressure inside it, according to the speakers. ExxonMobil officials described it as a system failure.

The area remains contaminated after months of clean-up efforts with only 84,000 gallons of the toxic material being collected, according to the activists. The spill exposed the Arkansas residents to the carcinogen benzene and six other dangerous chemicals, according to Environmental Working Group's report "Poisons in the Pipeline."

Residents reported a "horrible smell" and being unable to breathe and of experiencing burning in their throats, noses and eyes, the report said. No evacuation occurred.

Lake Conway, which was a popular fishing lake, is still  contaminated, according to environmentalists. A bubbling oil sheen remains on the lake, according to pictures taken last week and showed at the town hall meeting.

The pipeline was shut down by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration after the spill. ExxonMobil officials want to reopen the pipeline once repairs are made, according to opponents of the plan who are organizing a petition drive to shut it down permanently.

Bevings told the Cedar Creek Lake residents they needed to contact their state legislators and ask them, “What are you going to do to protect Texans? This is a Texas issue.” The audience erupted in applause when Bevings said, “This isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue.”

The activists said Texas legislators and other state officials have been “eerily silent” about the pipeline since its rupture in Arkansas.
Texas State Rep. Lance Gooden told the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce he plans to meet with ExxonMobil officials about the 65-year-old failed Pegasus Pipeline running through Cedar Creek Lake.

Gooden said he had discussed the pipeline with Tarrant Regional Water District officials, and he asked for a meeting with the oil company's officials. The pipeline, which ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., March 29 and poured 200,000 gallons of diluted tar sands bitumen into the Lake Conway neighborhood, has been shut down for seven months by the federal government.

"I would think that we don't want that to be reactivated if we can prevent it," Gooden said.


The legislator said that like most Cedar Creek Lake residents, he also had never heard about the pipeline and its course through the Cedar Creek Lake area until recently when people alarmed about the Arkansas rupture started contacting him.

Beving said another concern about the transport of diluted sand tar bitumen is that it is not considered a crude oil so it is exempt by the Internal Revenue Service from contributions to the U.S. Spill Liability Fund. Companies transporting crude oil must pay an eight-cents per barrel levy into the fund for clean ups, she said. “Who would bear the liability?” she asked.

Prior to the spill in Arkansas, few people in the Cedar Creek Lake area realized the pipeline runs through the outskirts of Mabank, Gun Barrel City, and Seven Points on its way to Corsicana, and then to Beaumont and Nederland, Texas. Its route takes it under the middle of Cedar Creek Lake. It runs past Mabank High School, 505 Ranch Estates and the polo field, underneath Gun Barrel City Airpark's tarmac, through Harbor Point Estates, under Tom Finley Park and under Cedar Creek Lake Reservoir. It is buried only two-feet deep in the Cedar Creek Lake area. In other areas, such as near the Red River, it is exposed.

The pipeline was built in 1948, almost 20 years before Cedar Creek Lake was constructed in the mid-1960s. It was designed for the transport of diesel oil, but ExxonMobil purged the system in 2002, then reversed the flow and started transporting sand tars bitumen in 2006. The 850-mile pipeline runs from Nederland, TX, to Patoka, IL, passing through and crossing several tributaries that lead to drinking supplies.

The substance, which is a mined material from Canada that resembles asphalt, contains neurotoxins and carcinogens, according to the environmental organization. The substance is processed to remove the sand so it can be used for petroleum products.

DaSilva said ExxonMobil touted the repurposing of the pipeline for diluted tar sands bitumen as “the first of its kind” in the petroleum industry. The activist called it a “failed experiment,” saying, “Unfortunately the communities the pipeline ran through were treated as if they were expendable, like lab rats.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a 630-page redacted report on inline testing of the portion of the pipeline running from Arkansas to Corsicana, according to Safe Community Alliance. The document was made available by the efforts of U.S. Rep.Tim Griffin of Arkansas (http://griffin.house.gov/pressrelease/
griffin-releases-new-mayflower-pre-spill-reports-and-data-after-receiving-phmsa). It was prepared for ExxonMobil Pipeline Company by NDT Systems and Services. Inc.

The report lists thousands of anomalies on 206 pages, according to the group.

The group maintains that based on the report there are at least eight problems that were discovered in the ½"-wall of the pipeline under Cedar Creek Lake. The roughly one mile of pipeline that runs from the water's edge, under Tom Finley park, through the neighborhood of Harbor Point Estates, and then underneath the Gun Barrel City Airpark tarmac had as many as twenty six anomalies. Here the pipe is 3/8" thick, or less.

The group has reported problems that include mill anomalies, an internal problem that resulted during the pipe's manufacture; metal loss anomalies, most of which are the result of corrosion, and long seam anomalies, problems along the lengthwise joint where the pipe was welded.

The group claims that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company knew about these problems by the end of 2010, yet they continued to risk the health and safety of this and many communities by continuing to pump diluted tar sands bitumen through their unsafe pipeline. ExxonMobil officials have countered that they had no indication that the pipeline would rupture.

A similar spill occurred in 2010 in Michigan when a pipeline owned by Embridge ruptured spilling 840,000 gallons of diluted tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The river remains contaminated three years later, according to environmentalists. That spill has cost $850 million in clean-up costs so far, according to environmentalists.



Monday, September 2, 2013

HUD charges Texas RV park owner with anti-transgender discrimination, seeks damages for complainants



SEVEN POINTS, TX  -- The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a charge of discrimination in August against an Athens, TX,  RV park owner after investigating a complaint by a transgender woman and her female partner who now live in Seven Points.
The action is believed to be one of the first few investigations by HUD to proceed to the trial stage since the federal agency adopted a new policy in March 2012 banning discrimination against LGBT people.

Natalie Chin, who is a teaching fellow at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law in New York City, wrote the original Fair Housing Complaint on the behalf of  complainant Roxanne Joganick  for Lambda Legal before it was later amended to include Darlina Anthony. "The potential impact of this case is exciting," Chin said.

If the charge of discrimination is upheld in a federal administrative hearing or a U.S. federal district court the park owner could be fined $16,000 and be required to reimburse the complainants for damages. The damages could include moving expenses and compensation for emotional distress.

Joganik (pictured above, left) and Anthony filed the complaint in the summer of 2012 against George and Amy Toone and In Toone Services, LLC, owners of Texan RV Park on Highway 175 West in Athens. The complainants alleged that the Toones discriminated against them on the basis of sex on May 15, 2012, and again on Aug. 18, 2012.
“They said they weren’t going to have my kind living in the park,” Joganik said during an interview at her Seven Points residence.

After the park owner refused to accept a rent payment from them and successfully pursued an eviction in now-deceased Justice of the Peace Henry S. Ashford’s court in Henderson County, Joganik offered to move to her son’s residence so Anthony could remain, according to the couple. The park owner again refused to accept the rent payment, they said.
“He told me that he didn’t like my kind either,” Anthony said. “At that point it became a dual case,” Joganik added.

The pair amended the complaints in February 2013 to add charges of harassment and intimidation after the Toones, who are represented by Dallas lawyer Casey Erick, allegedly “sought and assisted in the publication of articles on a campground management website,” according to the complaint outlined in HUD documents. The articles allegedly contained “inaccurate and negative information about complainant Joganik for the purpose of harassing and intimidating her” in violation of federal law, according to the allegations in the documents.
The Toones denied the allegations of discrimination, claiming that the complainants’ recreational vehicle did not “constitute a dwelling” and should be exempt from the federal housing law. They claimed the owners of the recreational vehicles in the park were not tenants, but instead guests.

The respondents also maintained that Joganik and Anthony were asked to leave the park because Joganik would not sign the park rules presented to him, the pair disrupted other guests’ use of the park and that Joganik had killed park wildlife.
Federal officials found “reasonable cause” of “discriminatory housing practices” by the park owner in the case, according to HUD documents in the possession of the complainants. But the officials rejected the complaint against the owner’s wife and the allegations of intimidation and harassment.

Joganik and Anthony said they lived in the park and paid $375 monthly rent from April 2011 to May 2012 without incident. Another person owned the park during that time, but Joganik never dressed as a woman in the common areas, they said. Joganik asked to be allowed to dress as a woman in the park, but permission was denied, according to the documents.

When Toone bought the park in May, Joganik asked him for permission to dress as a woman, and he also denied the request, Joganik said.
“I told him because I wanted to come out,” Joganik said. “It was my right to live as a transgender person.”

Subsequently, the owner circulated a list of new park rules for residents to sign. The rules included a provision prohibiting the killing of wildlife in response to the owner learning that Joganik had killed turtles in a pond that stole the bait off her fish hooks, and it omitted sex as a protected class in the nondiscrimination policy.
Joganik said she refused to sign the rules, but that she had already quit killing turtles that the previous owners wanted removed because they ate fish eggs and small fish. The elimination of sex from the nondiscrimination clause concerned her because of the potential for discrimination, she said.

A spokeswoman for Texan RV Park in Athens said the owner would have no comment. Erich, the owner's lawyer, has not yet returned a telephone message left for him.

Joganik, who has legally changed her name and acquired the female gender marker on various government identification cards, began transition from male to female three years ago with hormone treatments. She began dressing and living as a woman full-time in June 2012 when the judge in the eviction case ordered her not to appear in court dressed as woman. Joganik ignored the warning the judge communicated to her through his secretary.
“I showed up dressed as a woman from that point on,” Joganik said. “They all walked out of their offices and looked. Everybody in the building looked at me. I didn’t care. ”

The judge ordered the pair evicted from the park on July 5, 2012, and awarded the Toones $2,500 in attorneys’ fees and charged the evicted couple $116.00 in court costs. The pair moved their recreational vehicle out of the park on Aug. 18, 2012 when a team of sheriff’s deputies showed up to enforce the order.
A HUD official unsuccessfully sought Toone’s cooperation in delaying the eviction proceedings while an investigation could be undertaken, but the owner refused, saying he would do “everything legally and morally possible” to rid the park of them.

Joganik said she contacted Woodall’s Campground Management of Elkhart, Indiana, to demand that the article it posted about them on a website be taken down in part because it called her a “crossdresser” rather than a transsexual. The Toones’ lawyer also posted an article about them they considered unflattering, she said.
“I told them they better take it down or I would prepare a civil suit against them,” Joganik said.

Joganik and Anthony said they are confident they will prevail in the HUD proceedings. Either party in the case can demand that the proceeding take place in federal district court rather than an administrative hearing so the forum and date are yet to be determined.

If the administrative hearing is chosen, the case could be wrapped up by the end of the year, but if they go to federal district court the trial might be two years away, according to the complainants.
Joganik, who is 56, said she would like to have sexual reassignment surgery if her heart is stable enough for it and if Medicare starts paying for such procedures. Otherwise, she would be unable to afford the surgery, she said.

Both Joganik and Anthony are disabled and live on Social Security disability checks.
If same-sex marriage is ever allowed in Texas, Joganik and Anthony said they would like to do so because they are a committed couple. They met through an Internet dating site, hitting it off immediately even though Joganik told Anthony about being transgender.

“You can call us lesbian lovers,” Joganik said. “We will really be lesbians if I ever get that surgery”
Joganik said she had dressed up all of her life in secret, and that she decided to push the issue so that younger people in the future might feel more comfortable coming out as transgender. A former computer technician, Joganik got married, raised children and stayed with his wife until her death in 2007.

“I’ve lived my life,” Joganik said. “I don’t care what people think of me.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A kitten named Lucy turns out to be a tomcat


You've heard the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue," I rather imagine. Well, this is a tale about "A Cat Named Lucy." The bottom line is, I'm a big old mean cat.

I got adopted as a tiny gray kitten by an about-to-be, middle-aged couple whose children were all but grown. I guess they wanted to make sure they didn't wind up with an empty nest in a couple of years so they took me home with them.

The first thing the woman did was squeal, "Isn't she cute. I think I'll name her Lucy." Oh no, I thought. So I smacked her with a paw, but she didn't take the hint.

As I developed into a half-grown cat, the man said to the woman, "Uh, I think we made a mistake with the name." Then it was off to the veterinarian in a failed effort to make me a less adventurous cat.

Things clearly turned for the worse, especially when they kept calling me Lucy. Like any self-respecting tomcat I started acting out my frustration with aggression.

After a fine day of lying on the car roof in the shade, I would go inside and terrorize the man's cow dog and the woman's two silly female pussies that hid every time they heard the door open. They put up with me because I would purr so convincingly when they petted me, and I slept with them at night on the bed.

In my opinion things went swimmingly well for several years, but then one day I overheard the man and woman announce we were moving from the Cedar Creek Lake area to Dallas. The man got a promotion that landed him in the executive offices, and he was all like, "I can't spend hours on the road everyday to go to and from work."

We landed in Winnetka Heights in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood. I must admit it was a fine jump up in the world, and it certainly gave me more opportunities to roam in a beautiful area covered by trees. I discovered a woman living nearby with two cats whom I thoroughly enjoyed scaring.

I would sit by her door waiting for it to open. When she stuck her head out the door and looked around, I would hide behind a bush and jump out snarling when she tip-toed into the yard. It was great fun watching the woman and her two silly wussy cats run back inside shrieking.

Eventually, I would wander home to eat and sleep inside overnight, but mostly I liked to roam the neighborhood. It was a fine arrangement as far as I was concerned, but one day the phone rang.

A neighborhood man called for the scared woman to complain about me. My keepers shook their heads in wonder about someone not knowing how to scare a cat away, but they decided that at the age of 10 I had to relocate. As a city cat, I was a failure in their minds. The woman cried.

The next thing I knew I was in the truck with the man headed back for Cedar Creek Lake to the ranch where the parents lived in the big house and the uncle lived in the smaller house. For days I heard all of this noise about "How did we wind up with a cat" and "We don't like cats" from the people in the big house.

At first the parents, who are really old and fussy, refused to let me stay inside the house. The uncle (who is quite youthful and good looking) said I could go live at his house, but frankly he and that silly white Schnoodle he calls "Queenie" just get on my feline nerves.

Actually, it didn't take all that long for me to get things under control at the big house. Now, they've forgotten about not liking cats and dote on me. I hang out on the car roof in the garage during the day. Occasionally, I'll chase a bird or squirrel out of the yard. I sleep inside at night, and I have a secret hiding place no one can find. It's fun to listen to the old man look for me. He's determined to figure out where I hide, but he doesn't realize I have more than one spot. The old woman pets me, and she wants to know where I am when she doesn't see me.

Things are just fine, and the best part is that they've renamed me "Tom," I'm probably part bobcat considering how big and strong I am, according to the old man. But the real truth is that I'm just a big old mean cat who loves to be petted.





 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Boston to host gathering of LGBT journalists


What a great time of year for a quick getaway to New England. The Rare Reporter is escaping the unrelenting heat of the Texas summer as he heads to Boston for the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association's 22nd Convention and Ninth LGBT Media Summit.

That's right folks. It's informative, fun and tax-deductible so I'll be saving my receipts for sure.

I'll be joining hundreds of other media professionals at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, which is in the Back Bay neighborhood near the city's South End gay entertainment district. The four-day event Aug. 22-25 will include 40 workshops, speaker luncheons, social events and dinners out on the town.

I've been to a number of these conferences over the years -- San Diego, New York City and Montreal to name a few -- where I always enjoy seeing journalists I've met in years past and making new friends to look forward to seeing again in the future. The workshops are always interesting, and of course, it's always fun to see big-name media celebrities in person.

This year, I will be honored to participate as a panelist in two workshops, "Boomer or Bust: Serving the Over-50 LGBT Population" and "Gay Press, Gay Power, Ensuring LGBT Media Future by Examining It's Past."

So Boston, here I come. I am so looking forward to visiting you for the first time.

For information, visit:

http://www.nlgja.org/2013  and
http://presspassq.blogspot.com/2013/08/top-story-lgbt-media-summit-slated-for.html


 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Facebook lays down law to The Rare Reporter; bans him for 12 hours


I had what seemed to be an encounter of the strange kind on Facebook last night when I posted what I considered to be a funny remark I overheard at the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. I included the photo you see above this post as an illustration.

The speaker at the luncheon, who specializes in helping small businesses get up and running as part of the Small Business Administration, shared some startling information. It seems that Americans dependency on the manufacture of products in other countries has reached the point that 90-percent-plus of all the men's underwear sold in retail stories in this country come from foreign countries, mostly Asia.

In response, one member of the audience who likes to crack jokes said, "I'm going to rip mine off right now," which drew a lot of laughter. (And no, I'm not the one who said that, although I admit it does sound like something I might say.)

The speaker pointed out that many Americans are beginning to realize that we probably need to again start manufacturing more of our own products in light of our struggling economy and high unemployment rate.

He noted that one company in the United States by the name of Flint and Tinder had started manufacturing men's underwear for this reason, and it was adding other products to its line. I looked up the website and discovered to my horror that a pair of men's made-in-America briefs cost about $25 each.

I didn't get into all of the specifics of the prices, etc., but I did think I would like to share with my Facebook friends that all of the men's underwear comes from foreign countries. And I wanted to share the guy's joke because I still thought it was funny.

This morning I was shocked to discover that someone had complained about me posting this photo and apparently relating the joke. The people who can see my posts are limited to my Facebook friends so I can't imagine who would have been offended by it.

Facebook informed me I was blocked from posting anything for 12 hours because I had violated the group's "community standards." I assumed that they meant the photo was too racy, but it seems so mild and representative of what can be seen on TV daily and in magazines, catalogs and newspapers that I was confused.

Now, I suspect that the reprimand resulted not as a result of the photo or the joke, but that the post inadvertently came across as a prejudicial statement to someone.

I sent Facebook a message asking for clarification, and within the hour I received an e-mail from someone I don't know who told me I was a "disgusting bigot" and a "repulsive hypocrite." I can't prove the message came from a Facebook employee as it was sent to my e-mail account and only contained the signature of an individual, but the timing seemed suspicious.

I also should mention that I recently complained about a short-lived consumer relationship with StraightTalk.com because the service failed to work. I noted that I spent two hours talking with seven people in a Philippines call center in a fruitless attempt to resolve the issue before going back to AT&T. Every person I spoke to told me something different about why I couldn't get my phone to work. It was especially confusing at times because of all the background chatter and poor telephone line connections. If the service had worked, there would not have been any problem.

I've still got another couple of hours to go before I can post again on Facebook, but I'm thinking maybe I don't want to be a part of it anymore. I've seen all kinds of pictures posted and things said on Facebook that I would never repeat, but I never complained about it. I just deleted the person who posted it from my group of friends if I found it that offensive.

If someone doesn't like what I have to say, why not just talk to me about it? I'm a reasonable person. If I say something that makes me sound like I am a bigot I would appreciate knowing it because I'm not.




 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beware those ads offering to cut your cell phone bills in half; you might wind up throwing money away, not talking


"Cut your cell phone bill in half, feel richer," the ad says, but is that really going to happen? Maybe not.

Those plans that offer to save you money on your wireless phone bills are only as reliable as their infrastructure and their customer service. If you live on Cedar Creek Lake, you might wind up throwing some money away if you choose to abandon your current carrier in favor of the "Straight Talk" lure.

The cards and the brochures are prominently displayed in the electronics department of the Gun Barrel City Walmart.

As it turns out, the talk might not be as straight as the advertising campaign claims, but buyer beware.

StraightTalk.com claims in advertising materials it can allow you to bring your own phone and your same number to them, and they can cut your phone bill in half. It might work in some areas, but it sure didn't at my house.

I followed all of the instructions, ordering a SIM card and 30-day unlimited-use call card plan for my Apple iPhone 4 recently only to ultimately realize I had thrown $72.46 right out the window.

I am now struggling to retrieve my phone number that I have had for years back from StraightTalk.com and re-establish it with AT&T.

Last night when I first attempted to connect with StraightTalk.com online through those "easy activation steps" I wound up with an error message. As instructed I called the phone number I was given, and I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with three different people verbally giving them the information they needed.

About a couple of hours later the new phone service kicked in with StraightTalk.com, and I retired for the night feeling thrifty and successful. But that didn't last long.

This morning, my phone wouldn't work. It had a "no service" message on the screen. So back to the phone I went.

To make a long story short, I have spent at least two hours on the phone today with seven people who operate out of a call center office in the Philippines. I was told many different things, ranging from the cell phone tower in this area of Cedar Creek Lake needs attention to there is a problem with my phone.

During the day, the phone occasionally worked and then went back to "no service."

When I told StraightTalk.com representatives I wanted to go back to AT&T and asked for a refund, I was told the company policy is that there are no refunds for SIM cards and call plan cards. They suggested maybe I needed to by a new phone from them. If that turns out not to work, they will refund the price of the phone, they said.

By the end of the day I feel very foolish. It has disrupted my day and caused me problems with my wireless phone I still don't have resolved.

My mother's words that she used so often ring clearly in my head now, "You get what you pay for." I won't complain about my AT&T bill anymore. The phone always worked.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Destiny reunites, separates friends again

CEDAR CREEK LAKE, TX -- Some stories seem so special that they must be retold, even when they involve  ordinary people.

The name of Sherry Lee French and her picture will go unrecognized by most local people and certainly the world-at-large, but the tragic story of her battle with breast cancer would be one well worth remembering.

The people who do recall her will remember that she drove a red pickup truck with the words, "Lil Country Girl" in the back window, and she always wore some article of pink. One of her favorite T-shirts, black with pink letters, blazed the message, "Cancer Sucks." She wore it proudly to shopping, lunch or wherever else she went.

About five years ago, the tiny black-haired woman of Italian descent with the friendly smile and generous spirit learned she suffered from breast cancer. She first reacted by saying, "I love my boobs, and I can't do this." Later she accepted the reality, undergoing a double mastectomy and other cancer treatments, but the medical procedures failed to deter the aggressive disease's spread to her bones.

Today, July 30, 2013, in midafternoon at the age of 55, she lost her painful battle, passing away in her rural home near Seven Points, TX, with her adult son and daughter by her side.

The retired federal employee, who was born and raised in California and lived in Dallas for decades, moved to Cedar Creek Lake about three years ago when she learned her illness would be terminal. Using money she saved for retirement, French bought a small house on one of the area's country lanes because she wanted to live out the rest of her life surrounded by East Texas' natural beauty.

French bought some chickens that she loved to sit and watch roam in her backyard, and she set about to make her last few years enjoyable ones.

She was a frequent customer at the Yellow Rose Café where she would meet friends and chat, always saving half of her lunch for takeout for her evening meal. She never complained about her fate, except to say that she wanted to use every last minute she had for maximum enjoyment and peace.

French wore hearing aids as a result of having been a physically abused child of an alcoholic, but she seldom expressed resentment about that either, except to point out that she had always made it a point to remind herself that she "never would be like" that parent.

She bought a boat last summer, and her son took her for many pleasurable rides on the lake. On one of their favorite outings, they attended the "Buddy Bash" cancer benefit concert at Cedar Isle Restaurant and Baja Club.

She visited friends and relatives on the West Coast and in Nebraska. She took her son and daughter and two nieces on trips to Las Vegas.

She also healed relations with half-siblings and others with whom she had become crossways over the years.

She joined the local Rockin' Country Church and participated in a Baptismal ceremony with several members of her family present.

For me, it all seemed surreal because French and I had been next-door neighbors when we both lived in Dallas. We discovered we had things in common, including that I was gay and she had a gay brother. We became close neighbors and good friends, but we lost touch with each other when I sold my house to take advantage of a large equity that resulted from the real estate boom.

After buying and selling yet another house in Dallas, I moved to Cedar Creek Lake five years ago after retiring. I came more because of economic considerations than any other motive. I realized that I could live in the country for much less than it cost me in Dallas.

Three years ago, I received a Facebook message from French asking if I had been her former neighbor. We discovered we lived just three miles from each other on Cedar Creek Lake. We agreed to meet for lunch the next day, and we continued to do so once or twice per week until recently.

French kept going strong until early this year when she started canceling lunch dates because she felt so weak. In recent weeks, she began showing signs of cognitive problems and experienced difficulty speaking as the cancer spread to her brain.

It finally became clear her time had come to go, and she went peacefully with loved ones near her to help calm the anxiety that sometimes plagued her.

She died with dignity, her life fulfilled, despite it being cut short long before her time. Life dealt French some bad hands, but she made the most of them.

It would be a good model for anyone to follow, and I like to think that some force more powerful than her and me put us in each other's company again for the benefit of us both. And who knows, perhaps, we will meet yet again one day.





 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Landscape of media’s LGBT coverage grows from barren to lush in three decades



Times can change more quickly and more drastically than even progressive people might imagine, as the events of the past half-century show.

A little over three decades ago I knew just about anything I might write about ordinary gay and lesbian people representing them as anything other than criminal, psychotic  or flamboyant protesters would be viewed skeptically and harshly by most readers of mainstream publications.

 I also knew getting such a story past an editor would be more than problematic. It would be next to impossible, even if I did manage to overcome the greater challenge of getting anyone to go on the record as being gay. Only activists such as those who bravely risked public condemnation by filing early legal challenges to sodomy laws and organizing gay rights parades in the wake of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 in New York City could be counted on to take such a risk.

My research of The Dallas Morning News’ archives show early coverage of gay people prior to the widely-recognized birth of the gay rights movement in 1969 focused on the war on homosexuality that legendary Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, pictured above in his office about the time, waged against ordinary gay people. The newspaper published stories of police officers busting parties in private residences where – gasp – men actually danced with other men.

During those days, most of what I learned about homosexuality I found in literature, such as Gore Vidal’s book, “The City and the Pillar,” which ironically was published about the same time I was born. It was the first book I discovered that openly discussed the subject I was so eager to know more about, and it led to the discovery of many more such resources during my teenage years. I also learned the cultural centers of the world – New York City, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome to name a few – attracted enlightened, unconventional societies I wanted to join.

At some point in the 1960s Wade quietly gave up his anti-gay initiative and by 1969 gay and lesbian bars, which apparently had always quietly existed in Dallas and other large cities in the nation, flourished openly that summer all hell broke loose in New York City.  To the amusement of the nation, surprised police officers ran away in panic when a group of oppressed drag queens and other scrappy gay patrons turned on them inside a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall Inn.

The national media made note of the event, but the idea of the birth of a new civil rights movement apparently went right over the head of most journalists. Gay pride parades became common in most major American cities, but coverage remained limited to the parades and other big events, such as the outcry against singer Anita Bryant’s anti-gay rhetoric, a boycott of Coors beer after news of anti-gay employment practices surfaced and legal efforts to ban pro-gay nondiscrimination policies.

It took the emergency of the HIV virus in 1981 and the subsequent epidemic involving so many gay men to catch the media’s attention and hold it.  At the same time, LGBT people became more willing to embrace the gay rights movement, and that included a lot of people who worked within the media as reporters and editors.

In the following years newspapers devoted to the coverage of HIV and all other LGBT issues emerged throughout the nation, and the mainstream media and the alternative media , which had occasionally covered gay issues in addition to the environment and other civil rights issues, steadily increased their coverage. In the mid-1980s more progressive newspapers began using the terminology of "gay" rather than "homosexual," largely thanks to the efforts of the efforts of groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that published a style book devoted to LGBT issues and circulated it to the media.

The development of the Internet has led to a wealth of information, and it has connected LGBT people around the world with each other. News about LGBT issues circulates at the same speed that all other information enters the public domain through the mainstream media and websites devoted solely to the LGBT audience and its friends.

I personally have gone from writing on a standard Underwood typewriter 50 years ago to a laptop today. For many years I felt compelled to specialize in the coverage of LGBT issues, but I no longer feel my contribution is as important as I once considered it.  There are many new voices available to take my place so if I slack off someone else will fill the space.


Today there is an abundance of media coverage about LGBT issues, and I am unable to keep up with it all. I don’t complain about that though because I well remember a time when it was not available to me or anyone else.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gun Barrel City's name might be its commercial salvation; Cedar Creek Lake could become weapons mecca?


GUN BARREL CITY -- It's doubtful civic leaders foresaw the future when they named their new town four decades ago, but current leaders are making the most of it now.

The City Council passed a resolution on April 23 supporting the right of all heads-of-households to own a gun. Mayor Paul Eaton said the council was not urging everyone to buy a gun, but it wanted to raise awareness about the issue and support the Second Amendment. Afterwards, Eaton posed for pictures in front of the city's logo -- a pair of crossed pistols -- for the local media.

As everyone left the council meeting room, City Manager Gerry Boren was overhead telling Eaton, "It will go viral now." And he was right. The Dallas media picked it up within a week, and now Eaton is getting calls from radio stations all over the country wanting to interview him.

As it turns out, the council indeed had a lot more on its mind than just raising public awareness, and it could turn out to be a pretty savvy business move on the part of city officials.

Boren said this week he is courting the weapons and ammunition industry, touting Gun Barrel City as an idea location for factories and retail centers. It's a move that coincides with the efforts of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is sending letters to the firearms industry telling it Texas would be proud to make a home for them if the gun control debate in other states is making them uncomfortable.

At the recent National Rifle Association convention in Houston, the governor made sure everyone knew he was there and supportive of them.

A representative of the Economic Development & Tourism division of the Office of the Governor met with the city's Economic Development Corp. this week to explain how the governor could help them attract new business.

With lots of land left undeveloped in the area and many commercial locations vacant, civic leaders see this move as an opportunity for needed growth, Boren said.

Boren said public opinion among residents seems to be about 70 percent in favor of the what city officials are doing.






Saturday, May 4, 2013

Former Canadian Mountie on blog rampage in defense of wacky wife; bloggers threaten to send derogatory messages to The Rare Reporter's Facebook friends



HOUSTON -- Just when I think it can't get any stranger in the Blogosphere, it of course does do exactly that.

In my ongoing coverage of several blogs and bloggers during the last year, I have encountered some of the most peculiar people in the virtual world imaginable. Not the least of which is a Houston woman named Yappy who immigrated to the U.S. from Canada with her husband for him to work at an oil company. We will call him Mr. Yappy because that is how he referred to himself in his latest letter addressed to me.

Mr. Yappy reportedly is a former Canadian Mountie, and he likes to boast about his former military experience and his physical size. The letter posted on a blog that came to my attention this morning is at least the second communication I've had from him. This one didn't mention how big and strong he was, possibly because I previously pointed out to him that it sounded like he was threatening me.

The bottom line is that Mr. Yappy thinks I am out-of-line for defending myself against his wife's vicious attacks on my character that she posts on JoeyIsALittleKid.blogspot.com, which I've written about quite a bit. Yesterday, I updated a story about a lawsuit involving the blog's author, and it set off another round of verbal shots from the blog's virtual clubhouse. Mr. Yappy's letter subsequently was posted on the same blog.

During the past year or so Mrs. Yappy has accused me of driving my "longtime lover" to commit suicide after she apparently learned that I had found a close friend of mine of more than 40 years dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, of defending child molesters because of what I wrote about the trial of a blogger who was convicted of child sexual assault, of possibly being a child molester myself, of being an alcoholic, of being a "pathetic lonely old man" and just about every other insult you can imagine.

During our first encounter, her anti-gay rants such as "fruitcake" against me caused the blog hosting company Wordpress to shut down the blog. Later the blog author relaunched on Google, and they've apparently managed to train Yappy not to use anti-gay slurs. But they still enjoy making sly references about my sexual orientation.

I freely admit to losing my cool several times, and that I indeed did tell her off. She thinks I'm sick? I think she's sicker. So there you have it.

This is the most recent letter Mr. Yappy directed to me after Mrs. Yappy called me a "sicko," and I blasted back.:

"Mr. Webb, how awful your life must be. You must be so full of rage and anger to repeatedly attack people like Yappy in order to make yourself feel better. Must hurt so bad to look in the mirror and not see who you want everyone else to see when they look at you.

Reading the continuous garbage you post reminds me of a sadistic sociopath who goes out in a rage and attacks decent people in hopes that when they have reached their limit, they will strike back. Then you blame them for attacking you.

You are the complete opposite of Yappy (--I agree and thank God--), and I should know because I have lived with her for over 20 years. She is a beautiful person inside and out and has a heart of gold. She will not sit quietly and let the likes of you hurt and abuse her or other people. That's only one attribute that makes her beautiful.

You call her abusive yet your verbal attacks wreak of abuse. Go away and live your pathetic life, look for others to bash and abuse. Find another punching bag because your attacks on Yappy must end, yet you have no spine and morals so expecting you to change is hopeless.

Yappy doesn't need to be defended, she can handle herself quite well, but take it for what it's worth, this husband and ex-military MAN will always have her back.

-Mr. Yappy"

As though that wasn't enough to wake up to, another blog poster had named about two dozen of my Facebook friends and urged everyone to send them derogatory messages about me saying that I enjoy attacking victims of child sexual abuse. I'm not sure exactly what to make of that tactic, but if anyone receives one of those messages I would sure like to see it. If anyone wants to defriend me in advance, I understand. I already deleted one of the people on the list because I know he can't handle it. These are not nice people by any stretch of the imagination, which is quickly obvious from what they write on the blog.

In the meantime, here is a little music show to go along with this read:









Friday, May 3, 2013

Texas libel plaintiff settles with Google, he vows to pursue 'scumbag' John Does

DALLAS -- A Texas man who filed a defamation suit against Google and three John Doe defendants has settled with Google, but the anonymous bloggers, whom he referred to as "scumbags," still must answer for their actions, he said.

John Margetis and Google lawyer Charles Babcock signed an Agreed Order Granting Dismissal With Prejudice of all claims against Google, Inc. on April 3. The order, signed by Judge Ken Molberg of 95th District Court, does not dismiss any claims against the John Doe defendants, Margetis noted.

"There will be justice," Margetis said in a brief telephone interview today. "I promise you that."

The order notes that Margetis and Google will each pay for their own legal fees in connection with the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Ginger Snap, one of the bloggers targeted by Margetis, proclaimed victory on the blog JoeyIsALittleKid.blogspot.com. Ginger Snap said, "...,Margetis was awarded jack, together with squat with the words in all caps WITH PREJUDICE. And no, that's not the kind of prejudice you can play your gay card on....it means don't you ever waddle up these court steps again with such a pointless, frivolous waste of time."

Among the claims in the lawsuit, Ginger Snap had accused Margetis of being the homosexual lover of former Ellis County Observer blog author Joey G. Dauben, who is now serving a felony prison sentence for sexual assault of a child and for fraudulent use of identifying information in a story he wrote on his blog. Both Margetis and Dauben, who once were associates but reportedly now are enemies, denied any such romantic relationship ever took place.

Curtis Butler, who is also a former associate of Dauben's and apparently had a falling out with him as well, claims that he originally raised the question about the nature of the relationship between Dauben and Margetis.

Ginger Snap denied every accusing them of being in a homosexual relationship, saying the post only raised the question if they were homosexual lovers.

Ginger Snap posts critical stories about people on almost a daily basis. A loyal band of anonymous followers join in the criticism in the comments section almost around the clock. Many people describe the posts and comments as vicious attacks on their character. The most recent target, Bill Windsor of Lawless America, has filed a lawsuit against one of the blog followers that reportedly includes 1,000 John Doe defendants.

For related stories see: http://therarereporter.blogspot.com/2013/03/google-defamation-suit-not-anonymous.html , http://therarereporter.blogspot.com/2013/03/google-seeks-dismissal-of-defamation.html  and http://therarereporter.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-texas-man-who-recently-filed.html

The other two John Doe defendants, OReader and Ollie Reader, which are reportedly the same person, took the blog JoeyIsStillALittleKid.blogspot.com, down after the lawsuit was filed in February. Ginger Snap said the author of that blog took it down voluntarily and could restart it at will.

Ginger Snap said the lawsuit had only succeeded in producing documents about Margetis' history that entertained the blog followers.

The Dallas District Clerk's office shows the case has been closed so a new lawsuit would need to be filed to pursue the John Doe defendants. One of the items Margetis sought in the lawsuit was the identities of the anonymous bloggers.






Monday, April 29, 2013

Murder mystery terrifying small Texas town ends with married couple's surprising arrest; bonds total $33 million


KAUFMAN, TX -- For two terrifying months in early 2013 as they witnessed a murderous crime wave targeting top law enforcement officials, residents of Kaufman County kept asking each other, "Why here, of all places?"

There had been only one unsolved murder in the small agricultural county to the best of Sheriff David Byrnes' and everyone else's recollection prior to 2013. Byrnes had held the job for a dozen years so that was saying a lot. Seeing the top prosecutor of the district attorney's office gunned down in the courthouse parking lot on Jan. 31 and the district attorney and his wife slain in their home on Easter weekend  put everyone on guard for their lives.

The most logical scenario seemed to be that the culprits could be members of a white supremacist prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood because both District Attorney Scott McLelland and his top prosecutor Mark Hasse had helped bring two leaders of the group to justice in late 2012. The Texas Department of Public Safety had issued a warning afterwards that the group had threatened revenge on a variety of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The other seemingly most logical explanation was that drug war violence was spreading from Mexico. Drug trafficking was on the rise in all of East Texas -- especially in the Cedar Creek Lake area -- and it certainly seemed possible to some observers.

But whomever the enemy might be, it was obvious that war had been declared on Kaufman County's law enforcement officials. Hasse, 57, McLelland, 62, and his wife, Cynthia, 65, had already perished in unimaginable violence in the conflict, and a reward for information had reached $200,000 after Gov. Rick Perry attended the memorial service for the McLellands.

Although everything about the gruesome murders seemed to point to an organized crime hit, Kaufman County residents were in for the shock of their lives when the mystery finally was solved. It was true that war had been declared, but it turned out to be a war waged by what appeared to be an ordinary married couple -- not a team of of career criminals.

When witnesses reported seeing a masked gunman in black tactical gear kill Hasse with multiple shots and another masked person driving the getaway car, law enforcement officials quickly questioned former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams. Both McLelland and Hasse participated in his successful prosecution about a year earlier for theft of county property that led to the loss of his job, his law license and a two-year probated sentence. Still, few people thought that would drive him to murder, particularly since he he had just been granted the right to appeal the verdict in a new trial.

They questioned Williams again after discovering McLelland and his wife dead on March 30, but Williams had an alibi. As during the first murder, he claimed to have been at home with his wife, Kim Williams, a former nurse who was disabled by crippling arthritis.

There is no certainty the war might have continued with more deaths, but the plot unraveled when a friend of Williams' told law enforcement officials he had rented a storage unit for Williams prior to the murders in Seagoville, about 30 miles away. The resulting search of the storage unit became the "watershed moment" in the investigation, Sheriff Byrnes said.

Inside the storage unit investigators found guns, ammunition, law enforcement uniforms and a car. A search of Williams' house and his in-laws' house revealed computer records allegedly tying him to electronic threats made against the district attorney's office. While he was jailed on charges of making threats and held on $3 million bond, investigators questioned his wife, who relatively quickly revealed all she knew about the murders, according to investigators.

Kim Williams allegedly told the investigators that she drove the getaway car in the Hasse killing, and that she went along for the ride in the McLellands' murders. She allegedly sat in the car while her husband shot McLelland's wife once and  him about 20 times. She also allegedly helped plan the murders.

On April 18, Sheriff Byrnes held a press release, announcing to a much-relieved public that the crime wave was over. Flanked by local, state and federal law enforcement officials, he faced a bevy of cameras and reporters from all over East Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth.

When Byrnes was asked to assess the motive for the killings, the sheriff hesitated for a moment. "I don't know that I can assess the motive," Byrnes said. "It's kind of mind boggling to me that anyone could go out and shoot three innocent people."

Eric Williams, 46, who once was a reserve officer for the sheriff, and his wife, Kim, also 46, now sit in the Kaufman County Detention Center, being held on bonds of $23 million and $10 million each respectively. It is unlikely they will ever enjoy freedom again, and prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty. A public defender has been appointed to manage Eric Williams' defense, and the appointment of an attorney for his wife is pending. A change of venue hearing for the trial is also anticipated if one should occur, rather than guilty pleas.

Although law enforcement officials say they always had Williams on their "radar" and everyone whispered about him being questioned, it apparently still came as a something of a surprise for most people that the need for revenge could burn so intensely in the hearts and minds of what seemed like an unlikely murderous duo.




Monday, April 1, 2013

LGBT leaders share candid stories about their successes



One of the more interesting aspects of the book “Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office” for me turned out to be that I would learn the coming out stories of several people I know professionally.

For instance take Louise Young, whom I’ve known for decades in Dallas through her involvement in LGBT political and community activism since the late 1970s. I’ve interviewed Young and her longtime and only partner Vivienne Armstrong many times over the years, but I really never knew anything much about their personal histories.

It was surprising to learn that Young, who always seemed to have it all together professionally, experienced her own problems with anti-LGBT discrimination early in her career. It had always been her goal to graduate from and teach at East Central State College Campus in Ada, OK, but after a brief stint on the faculty staff the university informed her during a sabbatical in Colorado where she finished her dissertation that she should not return.

The college administration told Young the college enrollment did not support her continued employment, but the real story turned out to be that a student had observed Young and Armstrong, who had been enrolled in the college’s four-year nursing program, in an Oklahoma City gay bar. One might wonder why the student was in the bar, but regardless it ended Young’s career at the college.

Not long afterwards, Armstrong experienced discrimination herself when a former employer refused to allow her to be reinstated for a job because they learned she was in a lesbian relationship with Young. To put it mildly, the love Young and Armstrong felt for each other caused them serious career problems in the mid-1970s, but they stayed together.

At about that point, the couple moved to Dallas, and their experiences prompted them to get involved in the LGBT rights movement.  It was a pivotal moment for them and for Dallas’ LGBT community, which has become a vibrant force in LGBT activism in the nearly 40 years that have now passed.

Young and Armstrong publicly advocated for equal rights for LGBT people and often found themselves the subject of media reporters. This time though, Young’s employer, Texas Instruments, embraced the cause with her. In 1993, Young and another gay employee formed an employee resource group for LGBT people. 

When Raytheon bought out the defense sector of Texas Instruments where Young worked, the company added a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation. In 2002 it added domestic partner benefits.

In 2008, the college that forty years earlier had shunned Young, contacted her and asked to meet with the couple for making a donation to the school. Young related her story to the official, but she decided to “bury the hatchet.” They decided to form the “Louise Young Diversity Lecture Series,” and her first speech was ”Homosexuality: Why Talk About It?”

Young’s story is inspiring, and it is comforting to know that others who went on to achieve so much went through some of the same trials as the rest of us. All of the personal stories in the book come from people  who excelled in their fields and helped make like better for the whole LGBT community.

 As a retired journalist, there is not much I can do to change the direction of my career to greater success, but it makes me realize what I do to today on my blog writing about LGBT issues is useful and can help younger LGBT people. Just spreading the word about this book so younger people can take advantage of what they can learn from the 40 chapters of it is a useful endeavor.

And I’m sure there are ways that other older LGBT people can contribute to the advancement of the LGBT culture. It’s never too late to get involved.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kaufman County DA, wife murdered; link to execution of assistant 2 months ago feared by many


KAUFMAN, TX -- The greatest fear among employees in the Kaufman County Courthouse became a reality as word of  the murder of District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife spread Saturday night, March 30.

Law enforcement officers found McLelland, pictured above, and his wife dead from gunshot wounds in their home near Forney. The couple's door originally was reported to have been kicked in, leading investigators to fear they had been executed in similar fashion to the shooting two months ago of an assistant district attorney who worked in McLelland's office.

Subsequent media reports indicated law enforcement officials found no sign of forced entry, but all reports indicate the door to the house was not locked. The couple appeared to have been dead for about 24 hours.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down in the employee parking lot of Kaufman County on Jan. 31 as he walked to his office early in the morning. McLelland had made numerous public statements about his determination to find Hasse's killers and prosecute them.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a violent white supremacist group became the main focus of a multi-agency investigation that drew a small army of law enforcement officials to the rural area. A command post was set up by the FBI, the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement agencies in Kaufman to investigate leads.

Evan Ebel, a member of a prison group who is suspected of murdering Tom Clements, the head of Colorado's Prison System, was killed in a shootout in Wise County with a sheriff's deputy about a week ago.  His appearance in Texas puzzled law enforcement agencies.

A press conference was held Sunday, March 31, by Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes, but it appeared to raise more questions than it did answers. Byrnes remained tight-lipped about any evidence found at the scene, what law enforcement officers think happened and whether a link between Hasse's and McLelland's murders is suspected.

The purpose of the press conference appeared to be the reassurance of the county's 40,000 residents that public officials and other county employees would be protected. The courthouse will open Monday morning, April 1 as usual, but the District Attorney's Office will be closed to the public, and there will be increased security visible.

A deputy sheriff reportedly protected McLelland at home for about a month after Hasse's murder, but that security had ceased at the time of the District Attorney's murder over the weekend.

A Dallas Morning News reporter told CNN News during an interview that her law enforcement sources told her shell casings found at the scene indicate an assualtr rife was used in the murders. Surveillance cameras at the McLelland home may reveal more information about the assailants, she said.

The reward for information leading to the indictment and conviction of Hasse's killers has risen to $130,000 since his killing, but no arrests have resulted. Hasse's crime scene differed from that of the McLelland's because the killers apparently picked up the shell casings.

In the wake of Hasse's murder and the massive investigation, Kaufman County officials resurrected plans to build a new criminal justice system that would provide better protection for employees.

On the day of the 57-year-old Hasse's death, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Houston released a statement announcing the guilty please of two members of the white supremacist organization. Hasse was gunned down by two masked suspects who apparently easily escaped from the small town.

At the end of the statement the FBI credited a multi-agency task force for securing indictments in October 2012 against 34 ABT members that included the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office. In 2012 the Texas Department of Public Safety issued an alert that the ABT had vowed to retaliate against the 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that helped secure the indictments in Houston.

The Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, AL, which monitors the activities of hate groups, has branded the ABT as "particularly violent."

The other agencies named in the FBI statement were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI; U.S. Marshals Service; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety; Montgomery County, Texas Sheriff's Office, Houston Police Department Gang Division; Texas Department of Criminal Justice Office of Inspector General; Harris County, Texas Sheriff's Department; Tarrant County, Texas Sheriff's Department; Atascosa County, Texas Sheriff's Office; Orange County, Texas Sheriff's Office; Waller County, Texas Sheriff's Office; Fort Worth, Texas Police Department; Alvin, Texas Police Department; Carrolton, Texas Police Department; Montgomery County, Texas District Attorney's Office and Atascosa County, Texas District Attorney's Office.

The Aryan Brotherhood is a 50-year-old large, nationwide prison gang that is "infamous for its violence and its sprawling empire," according to the law center in Montgomery, AL. Members usually join the white supremacist group in prison, and they continue their involvement for life outside of prison walls as well. Leaders of the groups often direct activities from their prison cells.

The ABT is known to be involved in drug trafficking, and it cooperates with Mexican cartels, despite the intolerance the prison group's members harbor against ethnic groups.






Sunday, March 17, 2013

Google defamation suit not anonymous blogger's first time at rodeo; California woman sought, received relief in courts

DALLAS -- It's not the first time for an anonymous blogger named in an ongoing defamation suit against Google to be involved in a legal action alleging libel.

A California woman filed a lawsuit last year alleging that a Collin County, Texas, woman defamed her and her fiancee by anonymously posting that they "aided child molesters," "supported pedophiles" and "attacked victims of alleged child molesters." The lawsuit, "Lorraine Schaffer Haake v. Megan Van Zelfden and John Doe Defendants 1-10," claimed that Van Zelfden, posting anonymously, libeled her on the Texas blog, EllisCountyObserverSucks, and in the comments section of JoeyIsALittleKid.wordpress.com.

JoeyIsALittleKid.blogspot.com, which is authored by an anonymous blogger named Ginger Snap, who claims to be a man, is now identified in a defamation lawsuit filed in Dallas County styled John Margetis v. Google, Alfred Davis and Defendants John Does 1-3.  http://therarereporter.blogspot.com/2013/03/google-seeks-dismissal-of-defamation.html

The case, which was filed in 95th Judicial District Court, is now under review by the judge who is considering several motions filed by the plaintiff and Google. One of Margetis' requests of  the court in the lawsuit is to learn the identity of the anonymous bloggers from Google.

Haake said the attack especially posed a danger to her fiancee, with whom she lives, because he was involved in a child custody battle that had reached the appellate level. It could have caused him to lose his child, she said.

The "hateful, false remarks" apparently arose because they appeared on a radio show hosted last year by Joey Dauben, publisher of the blog EllisCountyObserver.com, Haake said. The couple had only known Dauben about three weeks, and they had no idea he would be indicted for sexual assault of a minor and later convicted, she said.

Haake said they became the subject of scorn from a group of people who apparently anonymously bonded on the blog to berate Dauben, who was widely criticized for unfair reporting on his blog. In addition to the libelous remarks, the bloggers even ridiculed her hair color, her fingernail polish, the appearance of her apartment and other personal subjects based on their scrutiny of her Facebook page, she said.

Attempts via messages online to get Van Zelfden and the bloggers to cease and desist the malicious remarks failed, and it resulted in more abuse, Haake said.

"Every time you try to address the defamation, it's a digital free-for-all from Ginger Snap," Haake said in an electronic message interview. "And  as the lies, threats and their reasoning get more and more outlandish, you are accused of several mental problems."

They even accused her of being a "cat woman," she said.

One woman posting on the blog, who goes by the name of Yappy and claims to be a Canadian citizen living in Houston on a work permit with her husband, even threatened to "submit documents to the court to ruin his case," she said. Yappy claimed to be a former child advocacy specialist before she immigrated to the U.S. with her husband who works for an oil company, she said.

"Megan Van Zelfden said if I didn't like it, I could sue her," Haake said. "So I did.

Haake said she felt forced to take legal action, and that it cost her $4,000 just to determine the identity of Megan Van Zelfden so she could sue her. The cost of an attorney to file the case represents about another $6,000 in legal fees, she said.

Haake said that when Van Zelfden shut down the blog EllisCountyObserverSucks.com, she began posting malicious remarks on JoeyIsALittleKid.wordpress.com so she was forced to include that blog and its participants in her lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 20, 2012, ended with a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff Dec. 3, 2012. Van Zelfden, who according to court records was evicted from her home in Plano Aug. 6, 2012, never responded to the legal action. The court ordered all of the offensive language removed from the blogs.

When JoeyIsALittleKid.wordpress.com was shut down late last year by that blog hosting company because it was determined to be allowing homophobic hate speech -- according to a subsequent post by Ginger Snap -- Haake said she saw a reprint of the libelous remarks about her and her fiancee. Ginger Snap relaunched the blog on Google's website hosting service, Blogspot.com, and one of his associates, OReader, transferred all of the old files to a new blog called JoeyIsStillALittleKid.blogspot.com.

The blog set up by OReader reprinted all of the hateful rhetoric the court had ordered removed, Haake said. Her Houston lawyer contacted Google asking for the information to be moved, but that apparently never took place, she said.

OReader, who is also named in the Margetis lawsuit for posting the old blog stories that includes multiple references to him, changed the status of the blog to "invited guests only" after the latest lawsuit was filed. The anonymous blogger noted in a telephone call seeking information about the current lawsuit that she used to be involved in an online program called "Perverted Justice" that targeted sex offenders, helping lure them to meetings with what the offenders thought would be minors.

OReader, who said she planned to cease blogging, claimed that the offensive remarks about Margetis would have been removed had he asked her, but Haake noted that's never been the case in the past when she complained to the blog participants.

In his legal documents, Margetis claims he asked Google to remove the posts he found offensive, and the company refused his request. That prompted him to file the lawsuit, he said in the court documents.

Recently, the blog JoeyIsStillALittleKid.blogspot.com became inactive, but JoeyIsALittleKid.blogspot.com continues as before, targeting a group called Lawless America and its founder Bill Windsor. Windsor is threatening to file both criminal complaints against Ginger Snap and the other bloggers.

After Google filed its answer to Margetis' original petition, Ginger Snap apparently took it as a sign of impending success and blogged that the company would be supporting him and the other bloggers. "They've got our clubhouse's back," said the blogger, who has bragged about his ability to keep his identity secret for two years.

Afterwards, Yappy, who claims to have been a child rape victim and appears to be one of the more aggressive participants on the blog, has in recent weeks told The Rare Reporter who complained about unfair, untruthful remarks being made about him on the blog that her research showed that he had driven his "longtime lover" to commit suicide, that he was an alcoholic, that he was a supporter of child molesters and possibly a child molester himself. Ginger Snap and several of the other bloggers told the author of this blog, who found a friend of 40 years dead as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound two years ago, that he was a "sad, miserable, pathetic, old man."

Later, as it has become clear the lawsuit filed against Google would not be the slam-dunk success Ginger Snap anticipated, the blog has become eerily quiet.