Archive | News

Assistant DA Sharmin Bock Cleared in Investigation by Alameda County District Attorney Office

Bock Returns to Work in Alameda County D.A. Office 

Former DA Candidate Acted Legally, in Accordance with Campaign Finance Laws

Oakland—The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office today announced it completed an investigation of Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock and concluded that no ethical or legal campaign laws were violated in her unsuccessful bid for the Office of San Francisco District Attorney in 2011, according to the Office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. 

Sharmin Bock returned to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office after the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office’s investigation cleared the 26-year legal veteran of any wrongdoing over campaign finance issues.

While on administrative leave, we conducted a thorough and comprehensive investigation to determine whether any ethical violations were breached when she (Bock) ran for San Francisco District Attorney.  We (Alameda County District Attorney’s Office) have concluded that no ethical rules were violated.  Agreeing to ask for contributions from respective donor bases was in compliance with the local campaign finance laws.  There was no violation of any federal, state or local law,” according to a memo from Chief Assistant D.A. Kevin E. Dunleavy on behalf of Alameda County District Attorney O’Malley.

“I am honored to be back at work and serving the people of Alameda County,” Sharmin Bock said.  “It is unfortunate that the false and reckless accusations of a criminal defense attorney caused this situation, but this case demonstrates the justice system does work.  An investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office cleared me of any illegal or unethical behavior.”

Bock was placed on paid administrative leave in early August pending an investigation in to whether she violated any laws while attempting to retire campaign debt from her 2011 campaign for the Office of San Francisco District Attorney. 

The false allegations against Bock were made by a criminal defense attorney for Raymond Chow, who also targeted other elected leaders, in a desperate effort to deflect attention from his client who faces a significant prison term. The defense motion in which the claims were made was rejected by United States District Court Judge Charles Breyer.

Bock was in compliance with campaign finance laws when she and then State Senator Leland Yee solicited contributions from their respective contributors to retire campaign debt after they both lost their races. Bock was also completely unaware that Yee was involved in criminal activity.

“It is my privilege to work at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office which has the very highest of ethical standards.  I have always and will continue to always uphold these standards with pride,” Bock said.

Sharmin Bock, Assistant District Attorney Alameda County District Attorney Office

Sharmin Bock, Assistant District Attorney Alameda County District Attorney Office

Continue Reading

Warriors Plans for S.F. Arena Slammed by UCSF National Academy of Sciences Leaders


 Mission Bay Proposal is “Disaster” for Life Sciences, UCSF

Leaders Call on S.F. Mayor Ed Lee to Abandon Proposed Arena and Protect Biotech/Life Sciences in S.F. from “Critical Harm”

Joe Lacob and Peter GuberJoe Lacob and Peter Guber Asked to Abandon Mission Bay Warriors Plans to Protect Live-Saving Research, Science

San Francisco – A coalition of world-renowned scientists from the University of California at San Francisco and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences today said the proposed Golden State Warriors’ Arena in Mission Bay would be a “disaster” for the City’s growing biotech and life science hub and called for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to abandon the proposed plans.

The UCSF scientists joined the California Nurses Association and the Mission Bay Alliance, a coalition of UCSF employees, stakeholders and neighbors who oppose the 18,500-seat arena and entertainment center, in their decisive opposition of the proposed project, saying it would threaten “the entire future of UCSF as the center of a world-class academic/biotech/medical complex.”

“Our major fear is that the Mission Bay site will lose its appeal – not only for the new biomedical enterprises that the city would like to attract here, but also for most of its current occupants,” according to the letter, which was delivered to Mayor Lee and signed by more than 20 of UCSF’s leading scientists and researchers.

“The result could critically harm not only UCSF, but also the enormously promising, larger set of biomedical enterprises that currently promises to make San Francisco the envy of the world,” the letter said.

The letter sites traffic gridlock as a leading concern for both residents accessing UCSF’s emergency services and for the hospital workers and scientist and researchers who have turned Mission Bay into one of the most “prominent academic-industry biotechnology/medical complexes in the world.”

“It is unavoidable that terrible, and possibly even life-threatening, traffic congestion will be associated with the planned complex, given that it is intended to be the site of some 220 events per year, held both in the evening and during the day,” wrote the scientists. “Many of us have experienced the hours-long gridlock that paralyzes all Mission Bay streets before and after San Francisco Giants home games. The absolute paralysis that it creates is already a non-trivial problem, which the planned stadium promises to both greatly expand and intensify.”

The UCSF faculty who signed the letter are among the most prestigious and acclaimed scientists in the world and include Bruce Alberts, UCSF Chancellor’s Leadership Chair for Biochemistry and Biophysics for Science and Education, who is the former president of the National Academy of Sciences, a membership organization of the world’s leading scientists and Noble Prize winners.  Other signatories include:

  • Elizabeth Blackburn, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Nobel laureate
  • James Cleaver, Professor of Dermatology and Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • John A. Clements, Professor of Pediatrics and Julius H. Comroe Professor of Pulmonary Biology, Emeritus
  • Robert Fletterick, Professor of Biochemistry, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology
  • Carol Gross, Professor of Microbiology
  • Christine Guthrie, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Lily Jan, Professor of Physiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Yuh-Nung Jan, Professor of Physiology
  • Alexander Johnson, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Cynthia Kenyon, Emeritus Professor, UCSF, and Vice President, Aging Research, Calico Life Sciences
  • Gail Martin, Professor Emerita, Department of Anatomy
  • Frank McCormick, Professor Emeritus, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer CenterDavid A. Wood Distinguished Professorship of Tumor Biology and Cancer Research
  • Ira Mellman, Professor (Adjunct) of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • William J. Rutter, Chairman Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry, and Chairman, Synergenics LLC
  • John Sedat, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics
  • Michael Stryker, William Francis Ganong Professor of Physiology
  • Peter Walter, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Arthur Weiss, Professor of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Zena Werb, Professor of Anatomy

The scientists said special traffic routes proposed to protect UCSF employees would not work.

“Those of us at Mission Bay have experienced the unruly behavior of frustrated drivers stuck for long times in traffic jams,” they wrote. “In fact, there is no believable transportation solution for two very large complexes placed in such close proximity at Mission Bay.”

Bruce Spaulding of the Mission Bay Alliance said he commended the courage of UCSF’s preeminent scientists and researchers for taking a stand and protecting the growth of Mission Bay’s biotech and life science community.

“These concerns are consistent with those shared by Mission Bay Alliance and the healthcare employees, neighbors and others who recognize what a disaster this project would be on the thousands of people and budding industries in this growing community,” Spaulding said. “This is a significant community and a quality of life issue in San Francisco.  We hope the Mayor recognizes the danger to public health and life sciences of this ill-conceived project.”

Anchored by UCSF’s new, $1.6 billion hospital and research campus, Mission Bay has given rise to San Francisco’s flourishing life science and biotech industry, generating nearly $4 billion in economic activity, $1.4 billion in income and 21,000 jobs.

The City’s Mission Bay project – the largest ongoing biomedical construction project in the world – can be credited for the City’s biotech success and would be jeopardized by the proposed stadium.

“We face increasing competition from other rapidly growing complexes of this type, both in the US and abroad,” the scientists wrote. “It will be critical to keep moving aggressively forward, if we are to continue to attract the very best talent – both academic and private sector – to SanFrancisco….We are seriously concerned that this future is threatened by the plan to construct a very large sports, entertainment, and event arena in our midst.”

 About the Mission Bay Alliance

 The Mission Bay Alliance is a coalition of UCSF stakeholders, donors, faculty, physicians and the working men and women of San Francisco who are concerned about the impact of the proposed Golden State Warriors’ stadium on the future of the vibrant community and medical campus at Mission Bay. The Alliance fully supports the Warriors’ team and congratulates its tremendous championship win. However, the Alliance believes the proposed arena and entertainment center is ill-conceived for this site. For more information about the Mission Bay Alliance, visit

Continue Reading

S.F. Chinese Community Health Plan Sued by its Own Physicians for Endangering Patient Health Care

S.F. Physicians Sue For Contract Breach, Criticize CCHP Management for Endangering Patient Safety, Health Care

In Separate Legal Action, Whistleblower Sues CCHP in S.F. for Overbilling Medicare

CCHP accused of harming Chinese patients, endangering healthcare in S.F. Chinatown

CCHP accused of harming Chinese patients, endangering healthcare in S.F. Chinatown


The physicians association representing the medical staff at the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown has filed suit against the for-profit Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP), claiming that recent actions by CCHP management to siphon doctors from the association threaten to tear apart longstanding health-care alliances in the community while putting the very future of the hospital at risk.

The non-profit, independent physicians association, known as Chinese Community Health Care Association (CCHCA), represents 197 doctors serving the Chinese Hospital and community health clinics in Chinatown.  For more than three decades the physicians association has served as a gatekeeper between CCHP, the Chinese Hospital and health care providers, ensuring that everyone in the community received high-quality health care.

Recently, however, CCHP sent doctors in the physicians association Participating Provider Agreements – individual physician contracts – in an attempt to pressure doctors into signing directly with the health plan. The contract offer included language that intentionally misled doctors into believing that the PPA was simply a renewal of an existing agreement, when in fact it was a completely new offer that would have legally bound the physicians directly to CCHP.

“We believe the purpose of these unprecedented solicitations is to decimate the independent physicians association, destroy the unique health care alliance that has served this community so well for so long and ultimately drive up profits for CCHP at patients’ expense,” said Dr. Raymond Li, President of CCHCA.  “The actions by the management of CCHP will leave our community with fewer doctors and far fewer health-care choices.”

The CCHP contract offer threatens to divide the health-care community in Chinatown and diminish the availability of care for thousands of Chinese patients. Without the protections of CCHCA, health plan management would be free to manipulate fees and other reimbursements, driving qualified, culturally sensitive doctors from the community and depleting the medical ranks within the Chinese community.

San Francisco elected representatives told the San Francisco Sentinel they will investigate the allegations made by physicians to ensure the safety of Chinese patients from price gauging, unsafe medical practices, overbilling and other questionable actions by CCHP and its management and board of directors.

“The unique alliance between CCHP, CCHCA and the Chinese Hospital served the Chinese community well for many years,” said Dr. Eric Leung, Vice President of CCHCA.  “But the tradition of affordable, reliable care and services is threatened by the actions of profit-driven corporate leaders bent on controlling and manipulating the health-care marketplace. The pending opening of the new Chinese Hospital will mean little if the historical structure of health care in the community has been destroyed by corporate greed.”

CCHCA took legal action against CCHP reluctantly and only after a cease and desist letter from CCHCA was ignored. Indeed, instead of ending the solicitation, CCHP sent out an addendum to the physicians that continued the deception in an attempt to coerce their signatures. Despite these veiled threats and strong-armed tactics, only two physicians have signed the CCHP contract.

The California Medical Association and the San Francisco Medical Society recently penned a joint letter to Brenda Yee, CEO of the health plan, expressing their grave concerns about CCHP’s actions. “It is critical that the health plan respect the important role CCHCA has played in delivering much-needed, culturally appropriate, affordable health care to the Chinese community,” the letter stated. “CMA and the SFMS are prepared to support CCHCA and its physicians to continue to achieve its charitable purposes.”

As the letter from SFMS and CMA points out, CCHCA for three decades has promoted social welfare in Chinatown by providing financial support for health-related community programs, including the Chinese Community Health Resource Center, the Neighborhood Disaster Response Plan and treatment room services at the Chinese Hospital. CCHCA has also provided more than $2 million in direct grants to innovative community projects.

“We have asked our elected representatives to join us in condemning the recent actions by CCHP management,” Dr. Li said. “In the spirit of transparency and cooperation, CCHP must drop its efforts to destroy our health network so we can continue our mission of serving our community and providing high-quality health care to all.”

CCHCA Doctors Stand Up for Chinese Patients

Non-Profit CCHCA Doctors Stand Up to Protect Rights of Chinese Patients Against For-Profit CCHP

Separate Legal Action Claims Chinese Community Health Plan Overbilled Medicare

In another lawsuit filed this week against Chinese Community Health Plan in San Francisco, a whistleblower in Texas has brought a lawsuit against former employer CenseoHealth and numerous Medicare Advantage Organizations (including CCHP in S.F.) alleging they overcharged Medicare for in-home patient care.

Plaintiff and former Censeo Coding Manager Becky Ramsey-Ledesma of Texas has demanded a jury trial, according to court documents filed with the U.S. District Court of Texas. So far, no trial date has been set.

The court documents were ordered unsealed by the court on June 17 after the United States Department of Justice declined to intervene in the civil action, according to Judge Barbara Lynn.

[Also: Feds look closely at Medicare Advantage plans in risk adjustment probe]

Plaintiff Ramsey-Ledesma claims Censeo knew diagnoses of patients were not supported by medical record documentation, but were “picked up” from diagnoses predicted by medications used, according to court documents.

“If a prescribed medication could potentially support a diagnosis, they were to code for that diagnosis,” according to the lawsuit.

Ramsey-Ledesma claims Censeo Chief Medical Officer Mark Dambro developed an evaluation process designed to maximize the capitated payment rates paid to Censeo’s client Medicare Advantage Organizations.

Rather than rely on medical records provided by physicians treating patients, the plaintiff alleges Censeo obtained self-reported data directly from certain MAO members, according to court documents. The data was collected through evaluation forms completed by physicians retained by Censeo, not for the purpose of treatment, but to create ICD-9 codes for submission to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to the lawsuit.

Censeo targeted those MAO plan members who were likely to yield the most serious diagnoses, and more likely to generate higher capitation payments for Censeo’s MAO clients, the lawsuit states. Medicare Advantage plans get higher rates for patients who are sick than those in good health.

The company completed twice as many assessments in 2013 as it did in 2012, saying its clients propelled the company into a record-setting first quarter, increasing the number of evaluations by 250 percent, according to the lawsuit.

[Also: Medicare Advantage proposal means rates fall, rise depending on risk ]

Revenue growth for 2013 was projected to reach $120 million, a 140 percent year-over-year increase, according to court records.

Censeo contracted with at least 30 MAOs to provide the home assessments, including Blue Cross Blue Shield in several states and Humana, which are both named as defendants.

Defendants include: CenseoHealth LLC, Mark Dambro, Chief Compliance Officer James Edward Barry Greve Jr., Director of Quality Joy Ridlehuber, Altegra Health Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield Alabama, Blue Cross of Idaho, Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee, Care Plus Health Plans Inc., Chinese Community Health Plan, Commonwealth Care Alliance, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coventry Health Care Inc., Health Net Inc., Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Hill Physicians Medical Group Inc., Humana, Inc., and North Texas Specialty Physicians.

Ramsey-Ledesma said she was fired August 9, 2013, after advising coders she would code only those diagnoses that could be supported by a doctor’s assessment. Messages for comment to Censeo were not returned.

This case is among several whistleblower cases filed alleging billing fraud of Medicare Advantage plans. CMS has said in the past it suspects home visits improperly raise risk scores.

In July, the Center for Public Integrity published a report of government audits showing widespread billing errors — mostly overcharges — in private Medicare Advantage health plans.

The audits involved five health plans: Aetna Health Inc. in New Jersey; Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia; Lovelace Health Plan in Albuquerque, N.M.; Care Plus, a division of Humana, South Florida; and PacifiCare in Washington State, an arm of UnitedHealth Group, and considered the nation’s largest Medicare Advantage plan.

Among the findings: Medicare paid the wrong amount for 654 of the 1,005 patients in the sample, an error rate of nearly two-thirds. The payments were too high for 579 patients and too low for 75 of them. The total payment error topped $3.3 million in the sample.

Auditors concluded that risk scores were too high for more than 800 of the 1,005 patients, which in many cases, but not all, led to hefty overpayments.

Auditors could not confirm one-third of the 3,950 medical conditions the health plans reported, mostly because records lacked “sufficient documentation of a diagnosis.” The names of the medical conditions were redacted by federal officials.The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which conducted the audits, had no comment, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

None of the health plans would discuss the audit findings.

Aetna, in a statement, said the company had “raised a number of questions and concerns” regarding the results and was “awaiting a response from CMS.”

Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s primary trade group, said the audits “overstated” the payment errors, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative news organization. The records are coming to light at a time of rapid expansion – and consolidation–in the Medicare Advantage market. Enrollment has neared 17 million. An estimated one of every three people are eligible for Medicare.


Continue Reading

True Leaders at the Presidio Trust: Nancy Bechtle, William Hambrecht, Charlene Harvey: Editorial

1 presidio trust

San Francisco should be justly proud of the independent and visionary leadership of outgoing Presidio Trust President Nancy Hellman Bechtle and board members William Hambrecht and Charlene Harvey.   Their hard work, independence and dedication to serving the public deserves praise from every San Franciscan and California resident.

During their tenure, and because of their leadership–along with the guiding hand of recently retired Presidio Trust Executive Director Craig Middleton–the Presidio is financially self-sufficient and a thriving example of public-private partnerships that exemplify the very best in public parks, recreation and conservation in the World today.

In the face of overwhelming political pressure, these individuals and other Trust board members Paula Robinson Collins and Alex Mehran created new opportunities for San Franciscans, Californians and visitors to access one of the great treasures of American parks—The Presidio. Our Presidio.

And, just recently, the leadership of these individuals was demonstrated for everyone to see: they unanimously stood up to megalomaniac billionaire Star Wars director George Lucas, whose proposed vanity museum would have been a disgrace to San Francisco and the Presidio Trust.  Through open hearings, transparency and fairness their process concluded that not only should Lucas’s horrific design be rejected, but that two other competing proposal should turned down as well.

They took this action against the political and social pressure of Mayor Ed Lee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.  That, in itself, is no small feat. They also stood strong against venture capitalist Ron Conway, who became a one man sycophant for Lucas and his museum.  Even now, in defeat, Ron Conway continues to embarrass himself by claiming a conspiracy against George Lucas.

We believe and hope that new members Lynne Benioff, Nicola Miner, Janet Reilly, and John Keker will continue to keep the independent leadership exhibited by Bechtle, Hambrecht and Harvey alive.  The legacy left by Bechtle, Hambrecht and Harvey is an important milestone in San Francisco and Presidio history.  And, it is something that would have made Congressman Philip Burton, who championed the Presidio’s preservation, very proud.


Continue Reading

Can PG&E Be Trusted? Carmel Puts Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Notice in Carmel Explosion

Jason Burnett, Mayor of Carmel, California

Jason Burnett, Mayor of Carmel, California


Five years after a devastating pipeline explosion ripped through the city of San Bruno, killing eight, and a year after another explosion destroyed a house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. still doesn’t have accurate records of the gas pipes around our homes, neighborhoods and businesses, the business practices to compensate for their inaccurate records, or the tools in place to immediately halt a gas leak. Each day this situation is not fixed puts the public’s safety at risk.

That’s not my opinion alone, but the concern of the California Public Utilities Commission, which opened a formal investigation of PG&E’s practices and record-keeping after recent pipeline accidents in Carmel, Mountain View, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Castro Valley highlighted the risk to public safety of PG&E not having accurate records or maps of its vast pipeline network.

The proceeding — which could lead to more penalties and fines against PG&E — follows a report by the CPUC’s Safety Enforcement Division finding that PG&E’s pipeline records are too inadequate and too flawed to be trusted when making critically important, ongoing safety decisions. The public remains at risk until these issues are resolved.

It’s the same problem that caused tragedy in 2010, when PG&E’s record-keeping errors led to a fatal fire and explosion in San Bruno. PG&E is now facing a $1.6 billion penalty and fine for its mistakes.

And it’s the reason that another explosion shook Carmel, when in 2014 bad records misled construction crews replacing a gas-distribution line at Guadalupe and Third Street. The pressurized “live” line was punctured, causing gas to escape into a nearby house. PG&E knew it had caused a leak but allowed this dangerous situation to persist for more than 30 minutes without calling 911. Our police and firefighters were therefore not alerted and were not able to evacuate the area. The house exploded, sending building debris just over the heads of crews and residents walking nearby. Shrapnel was hurled into neighboring houses and windows were blown in by shock waves. It was a miracle nobody was killed, but we cannot rely on miracles to protect the public safety. The incident should have been prevented.

Yet bad records seem to be only part of the problem with PG&E in the Carmel region, which has suffered a string of incidents and life-threatening service delays since the initial incident.

Immediately prior to the 2014 explosion, construction crews realized they had accidentally tapped into an inserted plastic main, a main that records did not indicate existed. Once the main started leaking, PG&E did not have the “squeezer” tools in place to immediately stop gas flow.

PG&E crews were forced to halt the leak manually and it took them more than 60 minutes to do so. It was too late — the house exploded within 30 minutes.

PG&E has since been fined $10.8 million for its role in the Carmel explosion, with more penalties to come, depending on the outcome of the CPUC investigation.

Despite PG&E’s lip service and empty promises of recovery, five subsequent pipeline accidents and leaks in the Carmel area have shaken our confidence in the company’s commitment to safety.

Last year, shortly after the house explosion, another gas leak was reported in a major hotel. PG&E took more than five hours to respond. Weeks later another gas leak threatened Carmel when a third-party construction crew hit a pipe outside another hotel. A 20-foot gas cloud lingered for 20 minutes before PG&E crews finally arrived and they took over an hour to stop the leak.

While PG&E was able to halt these leaks before tragedy struck in the crowded area, the incidents underscored our urgency to make sure PG&E implements several potentially lifesaving safety measures to prevent future pipeline breaches from threatening this community again.

These include better training of construction crews with the necessary emergency tools to make sure gas leaks are stopped quickly. Crews must respond to odor calls in a timely fashion, and a project manager must be designated to monitor construction projects and make regular site visits for possible pipeline interference.

As we prepare to participate in the upcoming CPUC investigation of PG&E’s record-keeping and safety practices, we intend to require these measures as part of any penalties levied. We simply can’t trust that PG&E will impose these measures on its own. The safety of our communities and the lives of our residents depend on our diligence.

Jason Burnett is mayor of Carmel.

Continue Reading

Golden State Warriors Arena Would Create Gridlock in SF, Mission Bay Alliance Says

Legal Team Announced to Challenge Golden State Warriors San Francisco Arena, Real Estate Development

Warriors Stadium: Gridlock, No Way to Reach UCSF Hospital in an Emergency

Warriors Stadium: Gridlock, No Way to Reach UCSF Hospital in an Emergency


San Francisco – The Mission Bay Alliance, which is greatly concerned with the grave environmental impact of the proposed Golden State Warriors’ Stadium and Events Center on the entire Mission Bay Community including the UCSF Mission Bay Campus, has retained four major law firms including some of the state’s top legal minds with expertise in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to review the Warriors’ stadium plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

David Boies, the Chairman of the firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has been described by the Wall Street Journal as a national legal “powerhouse,” will serve as the Mission Bay Alliance’s Lead Counsel and help the Alliance carefully vet the project and strategize tactics going forward.  The Boies Schiller firm has worked on landmark cases, including Bush v. Gore, United States v. Microsoft, and the case to overturn Proposition 8 which resulted in all Californians gaining the equal right to marry the person of their choosing.

In addition to the appointment of Boies Schiller, the Mission Bay Alliance has engaged a CEQA legal team with decades of experience advising and litigating impacts of high-profile public and private projects. The team includes:

Thomas Lippe, who has dedicated his career to environmental law with a specialty in litigating land use cases at both the administrative level and in state courts that typically require enforcement of CEQA and the California Planning and Zoning Law. Lippe has litigated dozens of high-profile cases, including many involving land use in San Francisco, recently representing environmental organizations that worked to minimize the environmental impacts of the America’s Cup event in San Francisco.

Susan Brandt-Hawley of the Brandt-Hawley Law Group, who has represented hundreds of public-interest groups in widely-varied CEQA and land use issues statewide, often with special focus on historic resources. In February she won a significant land use victory when a San Francisco Superior Court Judge struck down all approvals for the controversial 8 Washington St. waterfront luxury condo project, ruling that the project EIR was inadequate.

Osha Meserve and Patrick Soluri, who are principals at Soluri Meserve, a Sacramento-based environmental law firm that also specializes in land use planning and policy and large entitlement projects. Soluri has specific experience challenging NBA arenas and, most recently, represents a group of Sacramento residents fighting an arena deal for the Sacramento Kings.  That deal includes more than$100 million in taxpayer-funded sweeteners. Meserve has extensive experience challenging major projects on environmental grounds, most recently representing groups fighting the Governor’s controversial plan to divert the Sacramento River into the so-called Delta Water Tunnels.

“Our team of attorneys – some of the nation’s best – will be tasked with analyzing the Warriors’ proposed plan and advising us on the environmental and civic impacts of a project that we believe would wreak havoc on Mission Bay for UCSF and bioscience research,” said Bruce Spaulding of the Mission Bay Alliance.

The MBA is hopeful that litigation will not be necessary because the EIR will reveal fatal flaws, resulting in abandonment or rejection of the project. However, the MBA is preparing itself in the event that the City provides an inadequate review and a “rubber stamp approval” of a project it seems to have prejudged before any public vetting of its impacts.

“CEQA will analyze environmental impacts and identify mitigation. Our job is to protect the public’s right to know what these impacts will be by ensuring the City and the Warriors comply with CEQA,” said attorney Osha Meserve of Soluri Meserve.

Spaulding said the Warriors’ own initial estimates indicated that development will generate 38.5 million vehicle miles traveled per year for games and events in addition to the impact of the new proposed office buildings that are part of the development. Spaulding said this means as many as an additional 450,000 vehicle trips in San Francisco every year.

“These overwhelming impacts raise obvious questions about how the City will avoid gridlock stretching for miles around the proposed Arena,” Spaulding said. “We will be taking a hard look at the City’s CEQA analysis of these impacts in the forthcoming Draft Environmental Impact Report.”

For more information about the Mission Bay Alliance, visit or contact Singer Associates Public Relations and Public Affairs San Francisco at: 415.227.9700.

Continue Reading

Paul Hobbs Winery, Sonoma County Beat Back Attack On Vineyard Protection Law

Paul Hobbs Winery Joins Sonoma County in Victory Over Activist Lawsuit to Repeal Landmark Sonoma County Vineyard Development Rules

Paul Hobbs Helps Sonoma County Win Victory
Sonoma, Calif.,–A lawsuit threatening long-standing Sonoma County environmental regulations was dismissed today in a ruling by the Sonoma County Superior Court.

The ruling upholds Sonoma County’s 15-year-old Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO), thereby preserving the county’s clearly defined standards for protecting soil, water and air during vineyard development.

This represents a significant victory for Sonoma County and responsible farming advocates, including Paul Hobbs, who was named in the suit. A small activist group targeted Hobbs’s 39-acre Watertrough Road property as the test case in their campaign to subordinate County vineyard regulations to the oft-abused statewide regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act, more commonly known as CEQA.

“We are relieved and thankful that this attack on VESCO was thrown out,” said Hobbs spokesman Christopher O’Gorman. “The results of this suit could have been devastating both for farmers and the environment. Now we can continue to grow and thrive, responsibly.”

The suit, brought by a small parent group called the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, hinged on whether VESCO should be considered a “ministerial” or “discretionary” ordinance. Today’s ruling underscored the prevailing view that VESCO is a ministerial ordinance, meaning that CEQA does not come into play during vineyard development.

This comes as a relief to local winemakers, as the environmental review process triggered by CEQA is notorious in California for being abused by activists to delay and add significant cost to projects large and small.

“The impact of CEQA review would be very negative for Sonoma County agriculture, as has been noted by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and many others” said O’Gorman. “This ruling protects Sonoma farmers, Sonoma’s environment, and Sonoma’s economy.”

With this court’s final word on this legal question, Hobbs is happy to return his full attention to farming and winemaking.

Continue Reading

S.F. Archbishop Cordileone Priest Joseph Illo was Focus of Abuse Lawsuit: Star of Sea School Parents Demand Removal


Ft. Joseph Illo: Emotional Abuse Lawsuit Comes to Light

Ft. Joseph Illo: Emotional Abuse Lawsuit Comes to Light–Star of Sea Parents Demand Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone Remove Priest

Canonical and court documents have come to light from 2003 and 2005 that cast a negative light on the ministry of Priest Joseph Illo during his time in the Stockton, Calif., diocese — including a court ruling that he inflicted “intentional emotional distress” on an 11-year-old girl — have further enraged parents at San Francisco’s Star of the Sea School who have sought the priest’s removal as Star of Sea Parish administrator, according to news stories on KGO Radio and in the National Catholic Reporter and the San Francisco Examiner.

“We do not want Father Illo around children or in our community,” said Christy Brooks, a Star of the Sea parent.  “The details of this past lawsuit are deplorable. There is no one, who after reading this lawsuit, would want to have their children near Father Illo.  Archbishop Cordileone should remove him immediately from our school and parish. The safety and well-being of our children must be paramount.”

“We believe Archbishop Cordileone was aware of this verdict against Ft. Illo for intentional infliction of emotional distress on a child and still knowingly placed him in our community with foresight and knowledge of his history.  That is shocking and unforgivable,” Brooks added.  She and a group of parents from Star of the Sea have written and phoned the Archbishop demanding Illo’s removal.

The facts of the 2005 lawsuit against the priest, Father Illo, which required him to pay $14,000 for therapy for the young girl he traumatized, are as follows:

An 11-year-old girl came to Father Joseph Illo in confidence to report an incident of sexual abuse by one of the priests in Illo’s parish in Modesto.

Upon listening to the child’s report of abuse, Father Illo responded by yelling at the child, calling her a liar and calling the character of the child’s mother into question.

Father Illo then invited the offending priest into his office, where the two of them further confronted the child.

It was only after Father Illo invited his secretary in the room and she found the child in a hysterical state that she was removed and the mother was called.

Father Illo has a sworn duty to immediately report all allegations of abuse to the police.

As part of the case, church documents detailing an internal canonical investigation were subpoenaed. This report raises questions about Father Illo’s leadership and referring to his personality as being “dictatorial, manipulative and insensitive.” Another report for the court in Modesto said Father Illo had “a Jekyll and Hyde” personality. The canonical report recommended counseling for Father Illo.

Controversy has dogged Father Joseph Illo since he was appointed by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to Star of the Sea Parish and School in late 2014.  After taking charge of the San Francisco parish he banned altar girls, saying only boys can be altar servers. The move sparked criticism along with his statements to parents that he planned on replacing the school’s teachers with nuns from Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist order, the same nuns that walked out on students at Marin Catholic High School last week to protest an event to prevent bullying of LGBT youth.

The Star of the Sea parents have contacted Archbishop Cordileone and his staff by mail and phone and have “respectfully demanded that Father Illo be immediately and completely removed from his involvement at Star of the Sea,” according to the Star of the Sea parents group.

Just earlier this month, Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese resigned after a canonical review of Finn to determine if he violated church law by failing to report suspected child sexual abuse in connection to former priest in that diocese.  Many parents are wondering if the same fate will befall Archbishop Cordileone since he placed Father Illo at Star of the Sea school with the knowledge that Father Illo had a history of emotional abuse of children.

Prominent Catholic leaders have written Pope Francis and took out a full page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle requesting the Pontiff remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for “fostering “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.”





Continue Reading

S.F. Archbishop Faces New Controversy: His Nuns Boycott Anti-Bullying Program at Catholic High School

Here’s a tough question to answer: What anti-bulling event does McDonald’s, Target, Disney, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Google and the NBA support, but Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s hand-picked Nuns oppose?

The answer: an anti-bullying event program intended to protect gay and lesbian high school teens from bullying.


Just after 100 of the most prominent Catholics in San Francisco signed an open letter to Pope Francis asking that Archbishop Cordileone be removed, Cordileone proved the signers of the petition right. He is out of step and out of his league in San Francisco.

These are the same Nuns that the Archbishop imported to the Bay Area from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Cordileone and his controversial Star of the Sea Parish priest Father Joseph Illo have publically said they want to replace current Star of the Sea teachers with these same “pro-bullying” nuns from out of state—which has ignited a firestorm by parents at the school.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross just reported this latest disaster for Archbishop Cordileone in their column.

Here’s what Matier and Ross wrote:

The divisions within the Bay Area’s Catholic community over gay rights hit Marin Catholic High School full force the other day, when a group of nuns walked out of their classes to protest the sponsors of a program intended to protect gay and lesbian teens from bullying.

The five members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary order exited their classrooms Friday as students began handing out flyers at the Kentfield school promoting a nationwide Day of Silence.

Their walkout came one day after 100 prominent local Catholics attracted national attention by taking out a full-page ad in The Chronicle calling on the pope to oust Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in part for trying to get teachers at Catholic schools to sign off on a morality clause that characterizes homosexual relations as “gravely evil.”

Marin Catholic High President Tim Navone and Principal Chris Valdez tried to put out the latest brushfire with a letter to parents about “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

At issue was Friday’s annual Day of Silence, promoted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — whose corporate sponsors include McDonald’s, Target, Disney/ABC, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Google and the NBA. It bills itself as a group of “students, parents, and teachers that tries to effect positive change in schools,” but the nuns at Marin Catholic High see it as anti-Catholic.

The school declined to participate in the Day of Silence. Instead, a morning prayer was read over the school’s PA system “to acknowledge and pray for students everywhere who have the experience of being ostracized, marginalized or silenced by bullying,” school officials wrote in their letter.

“Our intention was not to take part in a Day of Silence, but rather take a moment in the morning to pray together as a school community,” the letter to parents said.

Unfortunately, the administrators said, the school’s message was “compromised and misinterpreted” the night before when it was linked on Facebook to the campaign by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, “an activist group with which we are not affiliated.’’

When some Marin Catholic High students began handing out Day of Silence-related stickers and flyers on campus Friday morning, the five nuns felt “felt compromised, offended and uncomfortable,” Sister Clare Marie, one of the teachers, later wrote in a lengthy e-mail to her students.

She said the sisters “do not support bigotry or any kind of prejudice,” but that they were compelled to act out against an event promoted by a group that “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

Her e-mail also accused the group’s members of speaking out “against Christians who do not share their views” and handing out materials that “say that any church which teaches homosexuality is sinful is an ‘oppressor’ and should be opposed.”

Valdez told us in an interview that the sisters — who make up a small portion of the school’s 60 teachers — stayed away from the campus for the rest of the day, but had informed him of their intentions before they left.

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group “actively promoted” homosexuality in the classroom.

“We are not trying to convert anyone,” she said. “We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.”

Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for antibullying and antidiscrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.

School officials told parents that the walkout by the five nuns “further confused the students and created some false rumors about the sisters not caring for students who feel bullied, ostracized or marginalized.”

Valdez told us that the school is working hard to cut through the politically charged atmosphere to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus” in hopes of healing any rifts between the students and sisters.



Continue Reading

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Graham Fleming Resigns Under Protest After University Botches Harassement Investigation

Graham Fleming Resigns—Returns To Teaching After Biased, Flawed UC Investigation

 Fleming Says Charges Against Him by Fired Employee Were False, Then Mishandled by University Office of the President Janet Napolitano in Bungled Investigation

Graham Fleming

Graham Fleming

Berkeley—Expressing both his admiration for and his deep disappointment with the University of California at Berkeley,  Graham Fleming resigned his position as Vice Chancellor for Research following a deeply flawed University of California Office of the President (UCOP) investigation into allegations made against him by former UC Berkeley employee Diane Leite.

Fleming, one of the most successful Vice Chancellors for Research in UC-Berkeley history, resigned under protest. He strongly denies the charges of harassment made by Leite, as well as allegations by the University that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest because of his close relationship with her—even though he was ultimately responsible for her dismissal.  He will return to his tenured role as a professor of chemistry.

“I resign under protest, with profound objections to and great personal disappointment in the investigation into those allegations,” Fleming said in his resignation letter to Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks.  “This process violated fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and resulted in a report riddled with inconsistencies, mischaracterization of the facts, and distortion of witness statements, as well as the selective omission of relevant information.”

Fleming’s legal counsel provided evidence to UCOP, including sworn declarations from respected members of the University and business communities, that demonstrated that the findings against him were not supported, and that the investigation was biased.  Fleming’s counsel unsuccessfully sought retraction of the investigation report.  Efforts to obtain an independent and unbiased review of the investigation process and all the evidence were summarily rejected by University officials.  An urgent letter to UC General Counsel and Vice President-Legal Affairs Charles F. Robinson, sent on April 6 and requesting his immediate intervention in this matter, went un-responded to in UC President Janet Napolitano’s office.

“Because I was not afforded due process by UCOP, and because there is no independent mechanism to appeal a biased and unjust report, there is no way for me to clear my name.  I am concerned that my professional and personal reputations have been irreparably damaged,” Fleming said.  Despite the flawed investigation and its unsupported conclusions, Fleming continues to have positive feelings about the University he has served with distinction for the past 18 years.   “I still strongly believe in the University and its mission….I remain committed to serve the University, its students, and faculty, and to continue to build and enhance this great institution for future generations,” Fleming said.

“Unfortunately, given the current climate around issues of sexual harassment on college campuses,  the rights of the accused are often lost in the rush to judgment, with devastating impact,” said Sam Singer, Fleming’s spokesman. With no way to fight or appeal the findings, Fleming had no choice but to resign.

Singer said UCOP began its investigation of Fleming in 2014,  after ex-University Assistant Vice Chancellor Diane Leite made a series of inflammatory allegations, long after her termination, claiming sexual harassment by Fleming—charges that were never made at any time during her employment, or even at the time of her firing in May of 2012.   Given the circumstances, Fleming believes that Leite made these charges against him because he did not protect her job after she was involved in a pay hike scandal benefitting her subordinate, with whom she had had a sexual relationship.

Fleming notes that he and Leite had a long-standing and affectionate friendship, as well as a close professional partnership at Berkeley, for almost 11 years.   While Fleming acknowledges that their relationship was occasionally flirtatious and familiar, both he and Leite agree that at no time were the two ever sexually or romantically involved.

Fleming maintains that he was nothing more than supportive of Leite, and that she never gave him any indication that any of his actions toward her were unwelcome.  In fact, Leite did not even raise any issue of alleged sexual harassment until well after her firing, Singer said.

“The allegations of harassment are not true,” Fleming said. “I am hurt and disappointed that Diane Leite has fabricated these charges to harm me and the University.  She wanted me to protect her job after the details of her affair became public.  I ultimately had to terminate her, once it became clear that she had lost the confidence of many in the University community.

Fleming noted that during the course of his 35 year career mentoring, teaching, and working with women, this is the first and only complaint of alleged improper conduct he has ever received.

Fleming also vehemently denied the UCOP finding that he had a “conflict of interest” and that he improperly tried to protect Leite’s job during the investigation into her conduct.   He noted that he acted in full accordance with UC procedures, and with the guidance and at the direction of University counsel. He did not protect Leite and, in fact, he ultimately made and carried out the decision to terminate her.  Leite herself admitted that Fleming never promised or gave her any favors and never made any threats to her.

“The University has made egregious errors in its handling of my case, but there is no internal procedure for me to appeal this unjust decision, and no way to clear my name,” said Fleming.  “At this point, I have not ruled out legal action.”

The allegations by Leite against Fleming are suspect as she never made them at the time of her firing in 2012.   Fleming was not even told of these charges until May of 2014– two years after Leite had been fired– even though her allegations went back to 2008, Singer said.

“These facts alone should have given the University pause in evaluating the merits of Leite’s allegations,” Singer said.  Rather than undertake an independent and unbiased review of all the relevant facts as required by its own policies and procedures, the University found against Fleming with no due process, said Singer.

About Graham R. Fleming

Graham R. Fleming has been the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California-Berkeley since 2009.   A decisive and visionary leader, Professor Fleming used the Office of Research to mobilize the vast and diverse scholarly talents of the Berkeley campus to address major challenges confronting the world. Because of his leadership, the campus is now positioned at the forefront of research in many areas, including energy and climate research, the theory of computing and data science, neuroscience and precision medicine. He strengthened and invigorated the invaluable role that ORUs, museums, and field stations play in the campus research landscape. He led the effort to strengthen UC Berkeley’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. These efforts will continue to ensure the university’s research excellence in the years to come.

He transformed the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Among other things, he substantially expanded new funding opportunities, and successfully engaged external partners – federal and state agencies, industry, investors, foundations, private philanthropists, as well as other researchers – from around the world.

Professor Fleming created faculty teams that led successful proposal development for numerous new large-scale interdisciplinary institutes and centers that are fully supported by private philanthropy, including the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI), the Philomathia Center for energy and environmental research, the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Social Science D-lab, the Kavli EnergyNanoscience Institute, and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Convergence Research.

Professor Fleming also established many new campus-wide programs to support faculty research based on a merit-based competitive review process across a wide area of disciplines that have attracted significant, new private philanthropic support. Prominent examples include the Bakar Fellows Program, which supports innovative research by early career faculty at UC Berkeley with a special focus on projects that hold commercial promise; the Rose Hills Innovator Program for faculty who are who are developing highly innovative research programs in STEM fields; the Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation Women in Science Program, which supports education and research projects of leading female UC Berkeley faculty; and most recently the Signatures Innovation Fellows Program to support faculty interested in developing market-based applications in the data science area.

In addition, Professor Fleming engaged with a group of prominent alumni and entrepreneurs to enhance UC Berkeley’s innovation ecosystem which, with the close partnership of the College of Engineering and the Haas Business School, led to the creation of new accelerator space at Skydeck in downtown Berkeley in 2012.

Prior to his appointment at Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor Fleming served as Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director from 2005 through 2007, at the forefront of a major revolution in the biophysical sciences. Through joint appointments as a faculty member at UC Berkeley and founding director of both the Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), Professor Fleming played a critical role in proposing and planning the construction of Stanley Hall which became the Berkeley home of QB3. Professor Fleming also played a key role in bringing the Energy Biosciences Institute to UC Berkeley, to date the largest industry partnership in higher education.

Throughout his career, Professor Fleming has worked to re-shape the intersection of physical and biological sciences, while maintaining his own ground-breaking research into ultrafast chemical and biological processes, in particular, the primary steps of photosynthesis. He has published close to 500 scientific papers in his field.

Continue Reading

San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone “Morality Clause” Respectfully Criticized in National Catholic Publication by S.F. City Attorney

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Respectfully Criticizes Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Respectfully Criticizes Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone


San Francisco’ top legal officer today published an opinion piece in the National Catholic Reporter newspaper that was respectful to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, but also challenged his stand on loyalty oaths and morality clauses for Catholic teachers, calling the Archbishop’s  move “high-handed and wrong.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote “To me, San Francisco’s recent controversy threw into stark relief the challenges that make Pope Francis’ leadership so vitally important at this moment in our church’s history. Progress is desperately needed to renew our church’s mission to serve the world rather than scold it and to emphasize teaching that young Catholic consciences will recognize as legitimately Christlike.”

“So when church ideologues express disdain for contemporary society (as Cordileone often does) or bring disproportionate emphasis to the catechism’s most discriminatory and divisive elements (as Cordileone did last month), it risks losing a generation of Catholics quite unlike anything has before,” Herrera wrote.

Herrera’s respectful, but bold statement sent an arrow through the heart of the Archbishop’s stated arguments about why the loyalty oath for teachers is necessary in his opinion.

The Archbishop is fast becoming a pariah in San Francisco. He has grown distant from the parishioners, Catholic grade school and high schools, as well as San Francisco’s top Catholic families, all of whom have banded together to protest his loyalty oath.

There is a discreet, but fast growing grassroots movement against the Archbishop and it is hard to imagine how quickly he has lost both power and prestige in the Bay Area.  He is badly damaged as a leader and seems to be sinking in his own morass.  Now, with one of the top Catholic elected leaders in Northern California weighing in against him, he has no chance of success.

On top of the Archbishop’s rebuke by Herrera, the Teacher’s Union representing high school teachers said it will not accept his language as part of any of its collective bargaining agreements.  And, to add insult to injury, grade school parents at the historic Star of the Sea school are revolting against the Archbishop’s handpicked parish priest, Ft. Joseph Illo.

Illo started an international controversy by banning Altar Girls at Star of the Sea, removing Filipino women who had served for generations on the church altar, refusing to give blessing to non-Catholics and passing out an inappropriate sex pamphlet to second through sixth graders.

Lastly, City Attorney Herrera may have gotten the best line off in this entire debate: the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan reported “Asked if he (Herrera) felt heinous as a man who has officially and unofficially promoted ideals so contrary to Cordileone’s moral code, Herrera paused for a moment while he carefully picked his words.

“Let’s just say I know I’m not gravely evil,” Herrera said.

The archdiocese had no comment on Herrera’s essay, the Chronicle reported.

Continue Reading

Oro Loma Sanitary District Board Member Laython Landis Competency Questioned

Oro Loma Sanitary District Seek California Attorney General Kamala Harris Permission to File Quo Warranto Action

1 landis 

 San Lorenzo, Calif.–The Board of Directors of Oro Loma Sanitary District  decided Tuesday to seek permission from the Attorney General of the State of California to sue to remove District Board Member Laython Landis from the Board on questions of mental competency.

“We are compelled to take this action to remove Director Landis because of concerns related to his mental capacity to hold office, ” said Board President Timothy P. Becker.

There have been numerous instances and complaints about the mental stability of Landis.  On a recent talk show appearance on KGO Radio, host Brian Copeland reported that Landis was unaware of his location or why he had been invited to attend – all after detailed invitations had been provided to him and he had travelled to the radio station’s studio.  At the Board Meeting of February 2, 2015, while members of the public described how hurtful his comments about African Americans had been, Director Landis stated “Who are they talking about?”

The District said it will seek permission from California Attorney General Kamala Harris to file a Quo Warranto action against Landis.  Quo Warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.

Details about how a Quo Warranto works in California.

The District believes this action against Landis is warranted because his diminishing capacity is hurting the community and hindering the District’s ability to conduct normal business.

In a separate action, on Dec. 23, 2014, the District voted unanimously to publicly censure District Board Member Landis for a racially derogatory comment about African Americans made during a public committee meeting, as well as for other personal misconduct.

“As public servants to the citizens of the Oro Loma Sanitary District, we hold ourselves, our staff, and our elected officials to the highest standards.  That is why we were compelled to respond swiftly and responsibly to the unacceptable racial slur against African Americans made by District Board Member Laython “Judge” Landis at a Committee meeting held on December 10, 2014,” said Board President Becker.

Becker added that the District has previously warned and reprimanded Director Landis, but he seemed unwilling or unable to change his behavior.  The Board took the action to publically censure Director Landis for his behavior because it wants the public and the District staff to know that offensive, repugnant and wrongful behavior will not be tolerated.

Continue Reading

SF Tribal and Textile Arts Show Opens Feb. 5


Excitement by collectors and fans of tribal, ethnographic and textile arts is building as two major tribal and textile arts shows are coming to San Francisco.

The annual San Francisco Tribal and Textile Arts Show at Fort Mason opens Feb. 4 and runs to Feb. 8.  The exhibition is the leading art fair devoted to the arts of tribal cultures in the U.S. and presents a comprehensive selection of international galleries representing the arts of Asian, Oceanic, African, Native American and Latin American indigenous peoples.

The 80 participating galleries will open from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5 for a sneak preview benefiting the DeYoung Museum Oceanic, African and Americas Department.  Opening night tickets cost $150.  This event features live music by Pacific Chamber Jazz, cuisine by McCalls Catering, and early access to the show.

The show opens to the public at 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday Feb. 6 and runs through Sunday, Feb.8.  Tickets are $15.

Some of the world’s leading galleries and dealers of tribal arts will be exhibiting at the show: Wayne Heathcote, Jack Sadovnic Indonesian Art , Michael Hamson Oceanic Art, Bruce Frank Primitive Art, Robert Brundage Himalayan Art, Cathryn Cootner, Marc Assayag African & Oceanic Art, Jim Willis Tribal Art, Thomas Murray Ethnographic Art, Mark A. Johnson Tribal Art, Steve Berger Art Textile, Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery, Joel Cooner Gallery,  Patrick & Ondine Mestdagh,  Pascassio Manfredi Gallery, John Ruddy, James Stephenson,  Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Jewels, Robert Morris Fine Art, Jacaranda Tribal, Farrow Fine Art Gallery, Miranda Crimp, Gary Spratt, Taylor Dale Tribal Art, Gebhart Blazek, Peter Boyd, Chris Boylan Oceanic Art, Galen Lowe Art & Antiques,  Anavian Gallery, Galerie Arabesque,  Bryan Reeves, and others.   


A special tour of the show by Cathryn Cootner, emerita curator of textiles at the DeYoung, and a respected collector, author, lecturer, and tribal art dealer, is back by popular demand, as a tour guide leading “The Delight of Looking Closer.”  Cootner’s tours will be at 9 a.m. on both Friday Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 and cost $40 per person.

For more information or tickets, call 310.305.4543 or visit:

The second event that is generating excitement in the tribal world is the opening of the DeYoung Museum’s exhibition of Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpture from the collection of Richard H. Scheller. The exhibition runs Jan. 31 to July 5.

A number of the works from the extraordinary collection assembled over the past 30 years by Scheller, a biochemist and executive at Genentech, are being gifted to the Museums in 2013 and 2014, and the Museums will receive additional gifts from the collection in the future.  These will enhance one of the world’s most important collections of Oceanic Art, the John and Marcia Friede collection, which is already exhibited at the DeYoung. This new addition of African art, combined with the Friede Oceanic collection, makes San Francisco one of the world’s premier museums of tribal art and keeps it at the forefront of presenting art that showcases the diversity of the world.


Continue Reading

Meet The 80 People Who Are As Rich As Half The World

Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis just released from Oxfam. The report from the global anti-poverty organization finds that since 2009, the wealth of those 80 richest has doubled in nominal terms — while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population has fallen.

To see how much wealth the richest 1 percent and the poorest 50 percent hold, Oxfam used research from Credit Suisse, a Swiss financial services company, and Forbes’s annual billionaires list. Oxfam then looked at how many of the world’s richest people would need to pool their resources to have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent — and as of March 2014, it was just 80 people.

Four years earlier, 388 billionaires together held as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world.

Thirty-five of the 80 richest people in the world are U.S. citizens, with combined wealth of $941 billion in 2014. Together in second place are Germany and Russia, with seven mega-rich individuals apiece. The entire list is dominated by one gender, though — 70 of the 80 richest people are men. And 68 of the people on the list are 50 or older.

f those 80 individuals were to bump into each on Svenborgia, what might they talk about? Retail could be a good conversation starter — 14 of the 80 got their wealth that way. Or they could discuss “extractives” (industries like oil, gas and mining, to which 11 of them owe their fortunes), finance (also 11 of them) or tech (10 of them).

There might be some quiet voices in the room, though, because 11 of the wealthiest people on the planet were simply born into their money (19 others inherited their wealth and then made it grow). The remaining 50 names on the list, according to Forbes, are self-made billionaires.

Oxfam notes that global wealth inequality is increasing while the rich get richer. If trends continue, the organization projects that the richest 1 percent of people will have more wealth than the remaining 99 percent by 2016.

Mona Chalabi, FiveThirtyEight

Continue Reading

Why Drugs Cost So Much

ELI LILLY charges more than $13,000 a month for Cyramza, the newest drug to treat stomach cancer. The latest medicine for lung cancer, Novartis’s Zykadia, costs almost $14,000 a month. Amgen’s Blincyto, for leukemia, will cost $64,000 a month.

Why? Drug manufacturers blame high prices on the complexity of biology, government regulations and shareholder expectations for high profit margins. In other words, they say, they are hamstrung. But there’s a simpler explanation.

Companies are taking advantage of a mix of laws that force insurers to include essentially all expensive drugs in their policies, and a philosophy that demands that every new health care product be available to everyone, no matter how little it helps or how much it costs. Anything else and we’re talking death panels.

Examples of companies exploiting these fault lines abound. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine last fall focused on how companies buy up the rights to old, inexpensive generic drugs, lock out competitors and raise prices. For instance, albendazole, a drug for certain kinds of parasitic infection, was approved back in 1996. As recently as 2010, its average wholesale cost was $5.92 per day. By 2013, it had risen to $119.58.

Novartis, the company that makes the leukemia drug Gleevec, keeps raising the drug’s price, even though the drug has already delivered billions in profit to the company. In 2001 Novartis charged $4,540, in 2014 dollars, for a month of treatment; now it charges $8,488. In its pricing, Novartis is just keeping up with other companies as they charge more and more for their drugs. They know we can’t say no.

But what if we didn’t require insurance companies to cover all drugs? We can see the answer in Europe. Many European countries say no to a handful of drugs each year, usually those that are both pretty ineffective and highly costly. Because they can say no, yes is not a guarantee. So companies have to offer their drugs at prices that make them attractive to these health care systems. A recent survey of cancer drug policies revealed you don’t have to say no very often to get discounts for saying yes. Of the 29 major cancer drugs included in the study that are available in the United States, an estimated 97 percent and 86 percent are also available in Germany and France, respectively.

As a consequence of the stand taken by those countries, prices in Europe for prescription drugs are 50 percent below what we pay, according to a McKinsey study from 2008. Gleevec costs $4,500 per month in Germany today, and $3,300 per month in France, less than what Americans paid in 2001.

Saying no, or even the threat, works to lower prices in the United States, too. But it’s rare. In 2012, my hospital said we wouldn’t give the colon cancer drug Zaltrap to our patients because it cost twice as much as another drug (Genentech’s Avastin) that was just as good. When we refused to use it, the company realized that other cancer hospitals and doctors might follow, and halved its price nationwide.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
More recently, Express Scripts, a company that manages pharmacy benefits, showed that approval was no guarantee. It was therefore able to play two makers of treatments for hepatitis C off against each other. Express Scripts said yes to AbbVie’s Viekira Pak (for the most common subtype, genotype 1 disease), and said no to Gilead’s Sovaldi and Harvoni. Another pharmacy benefit program, CVS Caremark, played it the other way, closing out AbbVie and choosing Gilead.

Continue reading the main story

Arthur Taylor 18 hours ago
For years I have been on a lonely campaign to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics; My theory being – in absolute opposition to 99% of…
Richard 18 hours ago
There is no reason why patent law cannot be amended so that once a drug comes off patent no one can thereafter buy exclusive rights to…
Me 19 hours ago
One problem is that drug companies have realized that their drugs don’t actually need to work in order for them to charge tens of thousands…
Either way, the lesson is that Express Scripts, once it showed it could say no, got AbbVie to discount its product. It isn’t saying how much, but Steve Miller, a senior executive, said it had “significantly narrowed the gap between prices charged in the United States and Western Europe.” Sounds like the kind of progress we need.

You might worry about patients being harmed through these moves. But we rejected Zaltrap knowing it was no better than the alternative. Express Scripts and CVS Caremark played the two drug manufacturers off against each other because both manufacture effective treatments.

The industry might argue that drug spending is only 10 percent of all health care spending, but that 10 percent equals around $300 billion per year. More important, the costs of high-priced drugs are being passed on to patients. Lilly’s drug Cyramza will cost the average Medicare patient $2,600 per month without supplemental insurance. That’s more than most Medicare-age people earn each month, before taxes. Actually, high prices get passed on to us all, either through individual costs or insurance.

That leaves us with two options. We can free insurers and government programs from the requirement to include all expensive drugs in their plans as we explain to the public that some drugs are not effective enough to justify their price. If we do this, we can be confident that manufacturers will lower their prices to ensure their ability to sell their products. Or we can piggyback on the gumption of bolder countries, and demand that policy makers set drug prices in the United States equal to those of Western Europe. Either approach would be vastly superior to the situation we have today.

New York Times

Continue Reading

Scientists ‘delete’ HIV virus from human DNA for the first time

Once HIV conquers a human cell, it will stay there forever.

It inserts its deadly genome permanently into its victims’ DNA, forcing them to require medical treatment for the rest of their life.

But now, for the first time, researchers in Philadelphia have found a way to completely delete HIV from human cells by ‘snipping’ them out.

The team of Temple University School of Medicine said the breakthrough marks the first successful attempt to eliminate latent HIV-1 virus from human cells – and could be a cure for other latent infections.

‘This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS,’ said Kamel Khalili, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple.

‘It’s an exciting discovery, but it’s not yet ready to go into the clinic. It’s a proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction,’ he added.

In a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr Khalili and colleagues detail how they created molecular tools to delete the HIV-1 proviral DNA.

When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA.

From there, the cell’s gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells.

‘Since HIV-1 is never cleared by the immune system, removal of the virus is required in order to cure the disease,’ explained Dr Khalili.

These molecular tools also hold promise as a therapeutic vaccine; cells armed with the nuclease-RNA combination proved impervious to HIV infection.

Worldwide, more than 33 million people have HIV, including more than 1 million in the United States.

Every year, another 50,000 Americans contract the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the UK, around 100,000 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2013. That’s around one person in 665.

Although highly active antiretroviral therapy (Haart) has controlled HIV-1 for infected people in the developed world over the last 15 years, the virus can rage again with any interruption in treatment.

‘The low level replication of HIV-1 makes patients more likely to suffer from diseases usually associated with ageing,’ Dr Khalili said.

These include cardiomyopathy – a weakening of the heart muscle – bone disease, kidney disease, and neurocognitive disorders.

‘These problems are often exacerbated by the toxic drugs that must be taken to control the virus,’ Dr Khalili added.

Researchers based the two-part HIV-1 editor on a system that evolved as a bacterial defence mechanism to protect against infection.

Dr Khalili’s lab engineered a 20-nucleotide strand of gRNA to target the HIV-1 DNA and paired it with a DNA-sniping enzyme called Cas9 and used to edit the human genome.

‘We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies,’ Dr Khalili said.

‘We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it.’



Continue Reading

Leslie Hatamiya To be Appointed First Executive Director of San Bruno Community Foundation

The Board of Directors of the San Bruno Community Foundation will consider final action to appoint Leslie Hatamiya as the Foundation’s first Executive Director effective Feb. 1. Ms. Hatamiya, a San Bruno resident, led the California Bar Foundation as its Executive Director from 2004 to 2012.

“The San Bruno Community Foundation presents a unique opportunity to benefit San Bruno’s dynamic, diverse, and resilient community over the long term,” said Ms. Hatamiya. “I would be honored to help build the Foundation into a valuable community resource that supports all of San Bruno.”

A graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School, Ms. Hatamiya has more than two decades of experience in building organizations and programs. Over seven years, Ms. Hatamiya transformed the California Bar Foundation into a vibrant center of philanthropy for California’s legal community.  She rebuilt the Board of Directors, developed a growing fundraising program, launched a highly successful scholarship program to increase diversity in the legal profession, sharpened its grant-making strategy, spearheaded a remake of its brand and public image, and strengthened its relationship with the State Bar of California. While at the California Bar Foundation, Ms. Hatamiya earned recognition as one of the “Best Lawyers Under 40” from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Prior to joining the California Bar Foundation, Ms. Hatamiya served as chief of staff and director of corporate communications and special projects at wireless broadband startup SOMA Networks; ran the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs in San Francisco; and helped build former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign as a deputy campaign manager. Recently, she staffed the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation and launched the “Vote with Your Mission” campaign for the California Association of Nonprofits. She has also held positions at Stanford University, Yale University, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and in Senator Bradley’s Capitol Hill office.

Ms. Hatamiya has been a longtime Stanford University volunteer, including service on the University’s Board of Trustees, the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, and the National Advisory Board of the Haas Center for Public Service, which she chaired. She is also the author of Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a publication of Stanford University Press.

Since moving to San Bruno in 2003, Ms. Hatamiya has been an active member of the community as a PTA leader, a volunteer for San Bruno Pee Wee Baseball, and a past AYSO soccer coach. Her ties to San Bruno reach back to World War II, when her mother and grandparents were among the Japanese Americans interned at the assembly center on the site of what are now the Shops at Tanforan.

“Ms. Hatamiya has wide-ranging experience in the public, nonprofit, political, and private sectors,” commented Nancy Kraus, Board President. “She has the perfect combination of experience, energy, vision, and sense of the community to lead the Foundation forward in its important work.”

The San Bruno Community Foundation was established by the San Bruno City Council to administer, for the long-term benefit of the San Bruno community, $70 million the City received in restitution from PG&E after the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in the City.

The Board-appointed Search Committee to fill the Executive Director position included Directors Dr. Regina Stanback-Stroud, Frank Hedley, and Board President Nancy Kraus. The recruitment process spanned several months led by the nationally recognized firm, The 360 Group.



Continue Reading

Russian thugs storm LGBTI club, four gay men injured

A group of Russian thugs stormed a gay club on 3 January, injuring several people there on a night out.

The unknown number of men bypassed the security at Fantom in Togliatti, a city in southwestern Russia.

At least one of the customers was hospitalized with serious injuries, local media reports, with at least three recieving medical care after being attacked.

Police say they currently have no suspects.

Konstantin Golava, a local gay activist, demanded a full investigation into the crime and to finally bring homophobic thugs to justice.

‘It is known that several of the attackers had previously seen near the places, maybe they were planning an attack on the club,’ he said.

‘It is not surprising that this happened because the representatives of LGBTQ community and their friends in Russia are trying to expel as “defective” from all walks of life.’

Writing on LGBT Russia, he listed the many teachers who have been fired for being gay among the examples of how the authorities have little interest in protecting the community.

Golava also says it is also a reason that LGBTI people, apathetic to the country’s issues, should care about what’s happening.

‘Gay men can create their own cozy ghetto in a club that seems to be safe. But they are wrong.

‘There is nothing wrong with having fun and relaxing, but they must protect themselvs, protect their rights and not to grumble that activists “provoke” and “our rights are not violated”.

‘When gay Russians think their rights are not being violated, even after attacks like this, then only more of this darkness will continue.’

Joe Morgan, Gay Star News

Continue Reading

Astrophysicist Writes Brutal Response To WSJ Article Claiming Science Has Proven God Exists

Recently – Christmas Day, in fact – the Wall Street Journal published an article by a Christian apologist who boldly declared that science was “increasingly” making the case for God, year-after-year.

Eric Metaxas is best known as a biographical writer, but he is also lauded (in conservative circles) for his work promoting the pro-life movement and making sweeping, outrageous conclusions about the existence of God based on whatever tenuous evidence seems handy at the time. If sweeping, outrageous conclusions be Metaxas bread-and-butter, than his Wall Street Journal article is perhaps his magnum opus. It’s a doozy.

After subtitling his work “The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”, what followed was a meandering journey into the mind of a creationist playing at scientific literacy – but only when it suited his predetermined conclusions.

The arguments aren’t new. If you’ve ever walked into a Christian bookshop and picked up a book “debunking” evolution, you’d find similar jabs. Paragraphs like these abound:

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

One person who is clearly fed up with this kind of pseudoscientific contrived nonsense is Lawrence Krauss, a world-renown theoretical physicist and cosmologist. His actual job, unlike Metaxas’, is to study the Universe – and he doesn’t share Metaxas’ optimism about his discoveries justifying intelligent design.

In a letter to the editor, Krauss systematically dismantles Metaxas’ shallow science and demonstrates that, not only has science not proven God’s existence (or disproven!), but most of the assumptions Metaxas makes are flat-out wrong.

To the editor:

I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda. The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations. For example:

  1. We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe. We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere. The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.
  2. We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made. If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.
  3. The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different. It is true that if the forces had vastly different strengths (nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not evolved. This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.
  4. My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted. The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.

Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.

And anticipating Metaxas’ response of “bias” from a secular scientist, Krauss isn’t the only one – on either side of the debate – that has found the Metaxas’ premises to be absurd. Writing for the Huffington Post, Geoffrey A. Mitelman, a rabbi, found the article equally troubling.

So, as tempting as it might be for someone like Metaxas to believe it, science doesn’t prove God exists any more than it has for the last several hundred years.

Ironically, contrary to the Wall Street Journal’s opinion, with more and more data coming in from various NASA experiments (including the historic comet landing in 2014), scientists are now growing increasingly convinced that life – or at least the ingredients to make it – are incredibly abundant throughout the Universe. If we haven’t heard from any little green men yet, it may be as simple as this: the Universe is a very, very large place and we’ve only just started looking.


From Jameson Parker, Addicting Info

Continue Reading

Pope Francis: There is No Hell Fire; Adam + Eve Are Not Real

Some of the beliefs that are held in the church but contrary to the loving nature of God are now being set aside by the Pope who was recently named The Man of The Year by TIME Magazine.

In his latest revelations, Pope Francis said:

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

In the last six months, Catholic cardinals, bishops and theologians have beendeliberating in the Vatican City, in discussing the future of the church and redefining long-held Catholic doctrines and dogmas. The Third Vatican Council, is the largest and most important since the Second Vatican Council was concluded in 1962.

Pope Francis convened the new council to “finally finish the work of the Second Vatican Council.”

The Third Vatican Council concluded with Pope Francis announcing that…
Catholicism is now a “modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”

One statement in the Pope’s speech has sent traditionalists into a fit of confusion and hysteria…

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. Some even call for intolerance or judgement. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!”

A few cardinals in the Catholic church are against Pope Francis’ latest declarations. Watch out for the report.

From YOGAnonymous

Continue Reading

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month’s ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

“Ordinary citizens,” they write, “might often be observed to ‘win’ (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”

Brenden James, Talking Points Memo

Continue Reading

Germany Files War Crimes Against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld And Other CIA Officials

If President Obama won’t do it, someone else will. Thankfully, a human rights group in Berlin, The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, has begun the process of indicting members of the Bush Administration by filing criminal complaints against the architects of the Admin’s torture program.

Calls for an immediate investigation by the German human rights group was started after outrage ensued on the case of a German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, who had been captured by CIA agents in 2004  because of a mistaken identity mix-up and was tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan.

Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said:

“By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished.”

In an interview with “Democracy Now,” Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said that he believes Cheney, among others, have no defense for torturous actions and should be indicted:


“I strongly disagree that Bush, Cheney, et al., would have a defense. This wasn’t like these memos just appeared independently from the Justice Department. These memos were facilitated by the very people — Cheney, etc. — who we believe should be indicted. This was part of a conspiracy so they could get away with torture. But that’s not the subject here now.”

“Secondly, whatever we think of those memos, they’re of uselessness in Europe. Europe doesn’t accept this, quote, ‘golden shield’ of a legal defense. Either it’s torture or it’s not. Either you did it or you didn’t.And that’s one of the reasons, among others, why we’re going to Europe and why we went to Europe to bring these cases through the European Center.”

Ratner then hit the nail on the head regarding America’s dangerous exceptionalism path down the road:

“But, of course, you know, Cheney just showed us exactly why you have to — have to prosecute torture. Because if you don’t prosecute it, the next guy down the line is going to torture again. And that’s what Cheney said: ‘I would do it again.’”

Khalid El-Masri was on vacation in Skopje, in Macedonia, when he was pulled off of a bus by government agents, sodomized with a drug, and taken to the secret base that was identified only as Cobalt in the CIA torture report. After four months, and after the United States learned of the mistaken identity, they left him there and continued to torture him. They held him further because the U.S. realized they had been torturing the wrong man. Afterwards, they released him, dropping him off somewhere to resume his life.

El-Masri in his own words, in the same interview with “Democracy Now:”

[translated] I was the only one in this prison in Kabul who was actually treated slightly better than the other inmates. But it was known among the prisoners that other prisoners were constantly tortured with blasts of loud music, exposed to constant onslaughts of loud music. And they were—for up to five days, they were just sort of left hanging from the ceiling, completely naked in ice-cold conditions. The man from Tanzania, whom I mentioned before, had his arm broken in three places. He had injuries, trauma to the head, and his teeth had been damaged. They also locked him up in a suitcase for long periods of time, foul-smelling suitcase that made him vomit all the time. Other people experienced forms of torture whereby their heads were being pushed down and held under water.

He finished the interview with some pretty damning words that should make George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld shudder:

“And let me just say, Germany — whatever happened before, between the NSA spying on Germany and the fact that their citizen has now been revealed to have been kept in a torture place, when it was known that he was innocent, I’m pretty sure that Germany is going to take this very seriously.


Continue Reading

A School Asked Students How To Punish Gay Students But They Didn’t Expect Such an Answer

A Korean high school student’s response to a survey on homosexuality went viral in Korea after a teacher posted it online.

The principal suspected that two students were in a lesbian relationship and created a survey to find out who they were and punish them.

Students were told their answers were anonymous and their honesty would help create a ‘safe and healthy school environment.’

They were asked what they thought of homosexuality, if they thought there were any at the school and which year had the most gay students?

The last questions was, ‘What action does the school need to take against homosexuals?’

This is what a student answered:

‘None. Homosexuality is a student’s personal characteristic that a school cannot interfere with. This survey itself, created for the purpose of punishing such activities, is absurd. Just as how introverted people take longer than others to make social relationships, and how neat/clean people’s frequency of cleaning is higher than others, [homosexuality] is just a person’s special tendency.

‘Before trying to create a healthy living environment, the school should work on its own mental level, since it is the learning environment of students. The school installed high tech whiteboards and new grass for our athletic field to be progressive. And the essay writing contest pointed out the modern day problems in discrimination, and the prompt was based on sex inequality.’

‘This survey, fit to be stuffed in the trash immediately, is a primitive concept, and is incredibly discriminatory. It can not be more paradoxical.’

Wow the world as a lot to learn from Korean student don’t you think?

From Gaystarnews

Continue Reading

4 things that should happen now that we know the truth about Witness #40, a white supremacist

No eyewitness testimony was more consistent with Darren Wilson’s personal story of events the day he shot and killed Mike Brown than that of Witness #40—who we now know as white supremacist Sandy McElroy.Not only did Sandy McElroy testify before the grand jury twice, she was allowed to show what she claimed was her journal from the day Mike Brown was killed. In the journal she said she decided to travel to a black neighborhood so she could learn to no longer “call blacks niggers.” In the transcript of her testimony, in her back and forth with members of the grand jury, members are recorded as actually stating that they believe she’s telling the truth.

What’s clear now, and what was actually clear to the FBI and the prosecutors before she ever testified, is that Sandy McElroy wasn’t anywhere near Canfield Drive the day Mike Brown was killed and made her entire story up. Not only that, but Sandy McElroy was on record with the St. Louis police as having lied and concocted fanciful stories in other murder cases in which she falsely claimed to be a witness.

Her inclusion in the grand jury pool of witnesses poisoned the well and her testimony is the most quoted testimony of conservative pundits; Sean Hannity alone has quoted her at least 21 times in various broadcasts. In addition to her calling African Americans “apes” and saying police should “kill the niggers” in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death, she regularly posted comments on various social networks showing her affection for Darren Wilson weeks and weeks before she ever claimed to be a witness.

The FBI, in their interrogation of Sandy McElroy, completely tore apart her story and proved that she never drove onto Canfield Drive, never drove off of Canfield Drive, was never seen on Canfield Drive, and couldn’t find one person or photo or message before or after the event to confirm that she was ever there. She claimed she told her ex-husband all about what she saw, but he swore she didn’t and he has problems remembering things.

Please read below the fold for more on McElroy’s faulty testimony:

After telling the FBI that she was there to meet a friend she hadn’t seen since 1987, she admitted to the grand jury that she actually lied about that and no such person existed. She then explained that she was actually on Canfield Drive in a different town the exact moment Mike Brown was killed, in the exact spot where he was killed, on a solo ethnographic expedition to ease her own racism. It’s a lie so preposterous that it feels dirty even repeating it.

Here’s the thing, though. When Sandy McElroy was called before the grand jury, she had already been thoroughly discredited by the FBI not just as being a poor witness whose recollection is fuzzy, but as someone who didn’t witness anything at all and was making it all up for the worst possible reasons. That she was allowed to testify before the grand jury on two different dates and produce fake evidence on her second trip is a scandal of epic proportions. That her testimony has become so popular among conservatives says as much about them as it does about Sandy McElroy.

Knowing all that we know about her testimony, here are four things that should happen immediately.

1. Sandy McElroy should be immediately charged with perjury. She was clearly told by the FBI and the prosecutors that lying about being there was a crime and was given chance after chance to back down. Instead she doubled down and added very specific and destructive details about what she saw Mike Brown do that day.

Furthermore, Sandy McElroy is not at all like an eyewitness who was actually there and sincerely believed she saw the events unfold in a way that may be different than the facts of the case. In her back and forth with the FBI, they even went so far as to clarify that it was not a crime to recall something you actually saw and state it in a way that is slightly off from what truly happened.

2. Sandy McElroy should be charged with creating and submitting false evidence which is a felony in Missouri and in most states. She completely and totally fabricated a journal months after the murder, never mentioned it to the FBI, and was allowed to actually show it to the prosecutors and grand jury as a form of proof she was telling the truth.

3. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who undoubtedly will not resign until hell freezes over and pigs fly, should at the very least explain why Sandy McElroy was called to testify. Having taken months and months to run the grand jury system, McCulloch was well aware of who she was, but clearly believed she should remain anyway.

4. A special prosecutor should be appointed and a new grand jury convened immediately. Gov. Jay Nixon still has the power to do such a thing—as does a circuit court judge in Missouri. Typically this would only happen in cases in which it can be proven that the prosecutor went out of his or her way to support the defendant in a case and the evidence for that in this case grows daily.


Shaun King, Daily Kos

Continue Reading


“The Interview,” a satirical film about two journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is being pulled from all theaters by Sony.

Here’s some background. Some hackers, who have been linked to North Korea, hacked Sony Pictures releasing emails, medical information, personal and financial information and have threatened 9/11-style attacks on any theaters that play the film. Subsequently, theaters began cancelling showings with Carmike, having nearly 300 theater locations in the country, being the major pull out.

“The world will be full of fear,” according to the hackers’ message. “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

Why is Sony pulling the movie over what’s almost 100 percent an empty threat? By pulling the movie, Sony is giving North Korea a victory, and also a say-so in American film culture. By all logic, a coordinated 9/11 attack on every theater in the United States by North Korea damn near impossible.

Remember when North Korea threatened nuclear attacks on America in 2013? Kim Jong Un became an internet laughingstock and we have yet to see the first missile launch. Kim Jong Un is more like a fat, crying baby than a political leader. No one takes this man or his country seriously, and Sony Pictures is foolish for faltering to, what pretty much are, empty threats.

Despite this disgraceful situation, the death scene of Kim Jong Un from “The Interview” was leaked.

Josh de Leon, Ring of Fire

Continue Reading