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‘This could be dramatic’

In recent years, political organizations have exploited flaws in the campaign-finance system in a way that seems almost farcical. That may be poised to change in a big way.

For example, a group like Karl Rove’s attack operation, Crossroads GPS, or the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, can declare itself a “social welfare” organization, as opposed to a political action committee. Once they enjoy tax-exempt status as a 501(c)4 group, these brazenly partisan outfits can raise enormous amounts of money as non-profit organizations – while keeping their donors lists entirely secret from everyone.

As Nicholas Confessore reports this afternoon, the Obama administration is eyeing new rules that would “curtail” the campaign activities of these groups that enjoy tax-exempt status, but shouldn’t.

The proposed rules, announced by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, would expand and clarify how the I.R.S. defines political activity and then establish clearer limits for how much activity nonprofits can engage in. Such a change – long urged by government watchdog groups – would be the first wholesale shift in a generation in the regulations governing political activity. […]

The rules would not prohibit political activity by nonprofit organizations. But by establishing clearer limits for campaign-related spending, the new rules could have a significant impact on the big-spending nonprofit groups that have played a central role in national politics in recent years, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising and voter outreach.

Marcus Owens, a former chief of the IRS’s exempt organizations division, told the Times, “Depending on the details, this could be dramatic.”

Quite right. The proposed guidance, for example, would say that “social welfare” organizations couldn’t engage in campaign  activities such as airing television ads within 60 days of an election.

We’ll learn more about the detail soon, but the goal here is to start applying meaningful definitions – and setting credible limits – on what a “social welfare,” tax-exempt, non-profit group can do to influence the outcome of elections. No matter what the guidance says, the parameters likely won’t be in place to influence the 2014 cycle, but in 2016 and beyond, the administration’s proposed changes have the potential to make an enormous impact on U.S. elections.

Steve Benin MSBNC

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Fallin’s fallacy fails to fix fault

The Pentagon has ordered national guard facilities nationwide to extend equal treatment to married couples in the U.S. military – including same-sex married couples – and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave them a Dec. 1 deadline to comply.

While most states have gladly gone along – because, really, what kind of governor wants to deny active-duty military personnel equal treatment, especially during a war? – there are a handful of far-right, red-state governors who continue to resist the order, citing their state’s anti-gay policies.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Oklahoma’s Republican governor has taken this position to its logical extreme.

Oklahoma will stop processing all military spouse benefit applications at state-owned National Guard facilities rather than begin accepting the applications from same-sex spouses, Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday.

Instead, military spouse applications, including those of same-sex couples, will only be accepted at four federally owned National Guard bases: the Air National Guard bases in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City and Camp Gruber.

Got that? Fallin’s administration could process benefits applications for all military spouses – just as most governors from both parties are doing – but that would mean helping same-sex married couples. So rather than comply with the Defense Department, Oklahoma intends to stop processing everyone’s benefits applications.

If you’re in the National Guard, you’re in Oklahoma, and you want your spouse to be eligible for benefits, you must now travel to a federally run facility – because the state doesn’t intend to process your application anymore. As Rachel put it on the show, “Instead of treating one group with dignity and one group with indignity, now nobody gets treated at all.”

The story took an interesting turn today, however, when Fallin said on Twitter, “To set the record straight – no National Guardsman in Oklahoma is being denied marriage benefits. Stories that suggest otherwise are false.”

Twitter obviously isn’t conducive to detailed explanations – 140 characters is inherently limiting – which is a shame in a case like this because the governor’s message isn’t exactly helpful in letting the public know the whole story.

In Oklahoma, can married National Guardsmen and women apply for marriage benefits? Yes. But – and this is the important part – the Republican governor and her administration have changed state policy in order to deny equal treatment to married same-sex couples. The applications will still be processed, but only at federal locations in Oklahoma because Fallin’s state facilities have withdrawn from the process rather than helping Guard personnel – gay or straight – in order to remain in technical compliance with the Pentagon policy.

Let’s put this another way:

1. Oklahoma used to process military spouse benefit applications.

2. Then the Pentagon ordered Guard bases to treat all marriages equally.

3. Then Oklahoma stopped processing military spouse benefit applications.

Fallin’s defense, at least on Twitter, is that benefits will still be available, and to be sure, that’s heartening.

But it also misses the point of the controversy.

From msnbc

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Ted Cruz Gets Asked What His Alternative to “Obamacare” is, Hilarity Quickly Ensues

Ted Cruz likes to use any microphone or television camera he’s presented with as a platform to bash the Affordable Care Act. I honestly can’t recall the last interview I’ve seen him give, or speech he’s given, where he didn’t obsess about “repealing Obamacare.”

And while it’s easy to bash the healthcare law — or in the case of Ted Cruz, just blatantly lie about it — it’s a lot harder to name an alternative solution. Which is probably why 3 1/2 years later, Republicans have yet to do just that.

Well, during an interview on CNN with Chris Cuomo, Ted Cruz was asked what his alternative to “Obamacare” was exactly:

CUOMO: What do you say to them, Senator? When they say, “Please help me”, what is the fix that you offer them? I looked at the list of bills that you’ve sponsored. There’s not one that offers a solution to the current problems with health care except to get rid of the existing law. Is that enough?
CRUZ: Well, that’s the only solution that will work. All of these Band-Aid fixes that the president is pushing, the congressional Democrats are pushing won’t fix the problem. Every one of those bills, they have great titles, like “if you like your plan you can really, really, really keep them”, but if they were passed into law, it wouldn’t fix the problem for the 5 million people who have lost their health insurance, they wouldn’t get it back.
CUOMO: You don’t think you have a responsibility as a U.S. senator to do better than that in terms of offering a solution for what to do next?
CRUZ: Well, I appreciate your trying to lecture me in the morning. Thank you for that.
Cuomo: Not at all, Senator. I’m worried, the same as you. Anybody who looks at the situation has worries. Families need health insurance.

CRUZ: Sir, if you’re worried, did you speak out for the five million people who’ve lost their health insurance? Did you speak out…?
CUOMO: We’ve been covering it doggedly and I’m sure you watch the show. The problem is I don’t have the power to fix it. You do. That’s what a U.S. Senator does. You sponsor law. You know this. It’s not a lecture, it’s a concern. I’m asking what are you going to do about it?
CRUZ: Well, and I share that concern and have every day been working to highlight the millions of people who have lost their job because of Obamacare, the millions of people who have been forced into part-time work. There are single moms, there are young people, Hispanics, African Americans, people struggling who are now on part-time work. You can’t feed your kids with 29 hours a week. There’s over five million people who have lost their health insurance and the way to fix that is to stop this broken law.

First, I love how Ted Cruz never once offered an alternative outside of “repeal it,” claiming that’s the “only solution that will work.” The closest thing to a “plan” he really offered during the whole interview was allowing people to buy insurance across state borders. Yes, that’s really plausible.

Then I love how he seems unable to step away from the “5 million Americans” talking point, while completely ignoring the fact that millions of Americans were already denied insurance before the Affordable Care Act.
Oh, and people aren’t “losing” their health insurance. These people who’ve had their plans cancelled are simply being forced to buy new insurance plans. What, were many Americans not having their health insurance cancelled each year before “Obamacare?”

We also can’t forget the “millions” of people who have lost their job because of “Obamacare.” Funny, the nearly 8 million private-sector jobs we’ve created since the healthcare law was passed would say otherwise. His statement also has exactly zero evidence to support it. It’s just another right-wing talking point.
Then he has the nerve to talk about people being forced into part-time employment being caused by the health care law? Please. That’s on big business and greedy corporations. These companies were already gutting full-time positions long before “Obamacare.” They’re just using the healthcare law as a convenient excuse to do what they were already planning on doing.

I absolutely love how he threw out the “young people, Hispanics and African Americans” line. A blatant attempt to try to fear monger about the struggles of those who fall within the demographics Republicans usually lose come election time.

Cruz is nothing more than a robotic politician. Everything he says seems like it was taken directly from flash cards that were prepared and written by the tea party.

And even after all his fear mongering, lies and propaganda—he still couldn’t offer a single alternative for the healthcare law he has spent nearly his entire time in the United States Senate opposing.

But when it’s all said and done, he can whine about “Obamacare” all he wants — Ted Cruz has absolutely no answers to fix the issues that have plagued our health care system for years. And while the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it’s at least a starting point to better health coverage for all Americans.

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Ashton Kutcher vs. Wal-Mart: Epic Twitter clash rages over poverty wages

Celebrity actor/producer Ashton Kutcher and retail giant Wal-Mart had a spirited Twitter debate Tuesday over Wal-Mart workers’ wages.

Kutcher (@aplusk) kicked off the dust-up by tweeting about the news that an Ohio Wal-Mart took up an employee-to-employee food charity collection “so Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” He wrote, “Walmart is your profit margin so important you can’t Pay Your Employees enough to be above the poverty line?”

Fourteen minutes later, the company’s @WalmartNewsroom account, echoing its replies to others on the topic, tweeted back at Kutcher, “It’s unfortunate that an act of human kindness has been taken so out of context. We’re proud of our associates in Canton.” After 10 minutes, Kutcher shot back, “you should be proud of your associates but I’m not sure if they should be proud of you.”

Wal-Mart then offered Kutcher a video on “Opportunity and Benefits at Walmart,” saying, “We know you believe in opportunity like we do & we’d love to talk to you more about it.”

Kutcher quickly countered, “you had 17 billion in profits last year. You’re a 260 billion$ company. What are we missing?”

That set off a trio of tweets from Wal-Mart, starting with, “We think you’re missing a few things,” and then touting that “The majority of our workforce is full-time and makes more than $25,000/year”; that “about 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates”; and that “every year, we promote about 160,000 people…”

Kutcher told Wal-Mart the company “does a lot of great things but it needs to be a leader on this issue as well.” In its final tweet to Kutcher – so far — Wal-Mart answered, “We know we can always get better as a company. This year we’ve made providing more opportunities for our associates a top priority.”

Kutcher returned to the topic an hour later, linking a blog post on a study estimating the cost of Wal-Mart workers’ use of public assistance, and saying “Walmart should be the leaders not the low water mark.

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Obama Calling the GOPs Bluff

One must always be careful of what they ask for. Many have been accusing President Obama of breaking his promise ‘If you like it you can keep it’. The president ill-advisedly decided to ‘apologize’ in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.

On Thursday the President gave an extensive news conference. Republicans may have been caught flat footed judging from the less than inflammatory rhetoric that followed. Maybe they thought the president would have to resort to legislation that they would be able to politicize and block.

The fix the president has instituted is rather ingenious. More importantly it immediately ensured that Congress, the insurance companies, and the American citizens absorb responsibility for the solution.

The president said, ‘Insurers can extend current plans that otherwise would be canceled into 2014 and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.” He then said, ‘This fix won’t solve every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot of people. Doing more would require work with Congress.’

The president’s fix allows insurance companies to extend the cancelled policies even if they do not conform to the Affordable Care Act for one year. The insurance companies cannot enroll new customers into the substandard policies. The insurance companies are also required to inform the purchasers of these substandard policies that they may qualify for federal subsidies only through the exchanges. They must disclose that these policies do not have the consumer protections that all new insurance policies must have. They must also inform them that they may qualify for Medicaid.

Insurance Triangulation

President Clinton was the master of triangulation. Unfortunately while he seemed to win at triangulation, the poor and the middle class usually became its victim (e.g., Glass-Steagall, welfare reform, supply side economics). This move by President Obama if allowed to go through is how a masterful triangulation should be effected.

President Obama tells insurance companies they have the freedom to extend the policies but cannot force them. That removes the narrative of Obama/government takeover of your healthcare. He forces insurance transparency by requiring insurance companies to come clean on their substandard policies relative to the Affordable Care Act. In doing this the American citizens purchasing these policies know upfront that they are purchasing junk.

The fact that many will now have the comparison and the knowledge that there may be subsidies on the exchange will limit the size of that insurance market. This means it is unlikely many insurance companies will bite. There are some people who will not get subsidies, will not have policies extended by insurance companies, and will be upset that they will pay higher rates. The president put the onus of fixing that on working with Congress. Congress can choose to engage or not. Not engaging becomes a new campaign direction for Democrats.

The insurance companies are now upset. When they cancelled policies they did so with an upsell of more expensive policies as opposed to encouraging folks to go to the Obamacare exchanges. In doing so they created a political firestorm instigated by Republicans. Now the insurance companies are complaining about the fix disrupting the insurance markets.

Purist believe the Obamacare fix is about to create a big mess. This is partly true. This mess is politically necessary to expose insurance companies and Republicans. It will illustrate realities versus perceived hypotheticals.

The insurance companies attempted to circumvent the Obamacare exchanges and got bit. Their threats of future higher premiums should be ignored. If they do not work towards assisting in getting a sustainable pool that can be insured at affordable rates, Americans will demand a public option which will likely evolve into a single payer (Medicare for all) in the form detailed by Anthony Weiner on Real Time with Bill Maher.

The roll out of the healthcare.gov has been a mess. President Obama said that he is responsible for fumbling the rollout of Obamacare. He also said that when he became president he told Americans he would not be perfect but he would be working throughout his administration to make life better for Americans. He said the old individual insurance market was not working. Many only had insurance until they had to use it. He reiterated all the benefits of Obamacare.

The president’s news conference was contrite yet assertive. It was likely compelling to many in its detail. Near universal coverage has eluded every president in the 20th and 21st centuries thus far. Those who are betting that obstruction and sabotage would deter this president should take heed. This president has accomplished substantive changes to the direction of this country even as billions have been spent to derail him. Bet against him at your peril. The president will win this one. Americans will win.

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​Woman Fined $3500 for Leaving a Negative Review Online

Like many consumers who have had a bad experience, Jen Palmer wrote a review online in 2008 after the Christmas presents her husband ordered from Kleargear.com never arrived. Years later, thanks to her online review, the couple is facing a damaged credit score and a $3,500 fine.

When the items Palmer’s husband ordered in 2008 didn’t ship within 30 days, the PayPal transaction was automatically canceled. However, Palmer still left a review on RipoffReport in early 2009 detailing her experiences with trying to reach the company’s customer service:

A company like yours, while catering to geeks, should first and foremost understand that while electronic communication is nice, there are inevitably times that human contact is necessary. At this point, the only thing I can determine is that your customer service department, in fact, your whole company, is so busy returning voicemails from disgruntled customers that they are inable to take live calls of any kind.
But three years later, Palmer’s husband received an email from Kleargear.com demanding that the post be taken off RipOffReport or the couple would face a fine. Apparently, Palmer violated a non-disparagement agreement hidden within the terms of sale on the Kleargear website. The clause read:

“In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts kleargear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.”
According to KUTV, the clause (it’s no longer on the website) also said that if the consumer violates the contract “they will have 72 hours to remove your post or face a $3500 fine. If that fine is not paid, the delinquency will be reported to the nation’s credit bureaus.”

When a scared Palmer contacted RipoffReport to remove the posting, she was allegedly told it would cost her $2000 to get the review taken down.

Because the couple could not pay either the fee or the fine, their credit score was dinged by Kleargear. Palmer reports that she and her husband are now getting rejection letters from lenders as they apply for a loan to fix their car and their furnace.

KUTV looked into the company and found that in 2010, the company had an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau for “not delivering products purchased online in a timely manner.” Today Kleargear has a “B” rating. When the reporter contacted an unidentified employee at Kleargear via email, the employee defended the $3,500 charge and said that when they asked Palmer to take down the review or face a fine, they were not blackmailing her: they claim they were making a “diligent effort to help them avoid [the fine].”

The couple cannot afford a lawyer, but KUTV has put them in touch with media relations people at a credit bureau in the hopes that they can successfully appeal the credit ding.

Making the situation even more disgusting, TechDirt has done more research and found that Kleargear’s non-disparagment clause may not have even existed when Palmer’s husband made his order:

According to the Internet Archive, that clause didn’t exist in 2008, when Jen wrote her review, so there’s no way the company can claim that charge is legitimate, even by its own shady metrics. It actually doesn’t appear until June of 2012, suggesting that its battle to raise its BBB rating wasn’t going as well as it had hoped, but rather than overhaul its customer service, it decided to bill its way back to the top at $3,500 a review.
In the meantime, the attention on this case has driven more people than usual to the Kleargear website. Apparently consumers are unable to resist the pull of a good “Geek T-Shirt,” even if the company is a sack of garbage. On the front page of the site, the president of Kleargear has written “WHOA! Due to an unexpected and short increase in recent order volume, orders with Standard Shipping will temporarily leave Kleargearland in up to 48 business hours.”

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Marissa Alexander Is Given No Bail Today – New Evidence Comes To Court byLeslie SalzilloFollow

by Leslie Salzillo, Daily Kos

Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband, was granted no bail Wednesday afternoon in a Jacksonville courtroom. The mother of three will most likely not get to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with her children, as the ‘deciding judge’ opted to make no decision and set another hearing for January 15, 2012 – pending of course, that he does, or does not, change his mind.

In 2010, just days after giving birth, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot in self-defense to keep her abusive husband, Rico Gray, from attacking her. In his deposition, Gray who has a history of abusing Alexander, admitted it, stated he intended to hurt her had she not fired the warning shot, and said she did the right thing. He also said Alexander did not aim he gun at him. Gray then changed his story once the case went to trial. He walked out a free man – Marissa Alexander, the battered wife, received 20 years. The Florida Stand Your Ground Law did not work for Alexander because she fired a warning shot. Had she shot and killed Rico Gray that day, she would have most likely served no time at all.

A source who was in the courtroom today, reported new evidence has been brought forth – a text message of Rico Gray asking Marissa to come over for sex while there was an order of protection. Rico Gray claims Marissa should not be let out on bond because he is afraid of Marissa; he fears/feared for his life. Does asking her for sex sound like someone who feared for his life?

“I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and . . . I told her, you know, I used to always tell her that, if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you. It was not the first time of ever saying it to her.”~ Rico Gray in his deposition on November 22, 2010.

Again, does this sound like a man fearing for his life?

Marissa Alexander’s case has been highly publicized from the start, and the Free Marissa Now campaign has grown throughout social media. The case was catapulted into even more national spotlight, following the George Zimmerman case. In July 2013, Zimmerman was set free after killing teenager, Trayvon Martin, even though Zimmerman was the aggressor. Ironically, the same state attorney that failed to successfully prosecute George Zimmerman, is the same attorney that sent Marissa Alexander to prison. State Attorney Angela Corey ‘twisted the knife’ by refusing to drop Alexander’s case,even after it was overturned in September.

Unless something changes, it doesn’t look as though Marissa Alexander and her three children will be having happy holidays, as she awaits a new bail hearing, and then a whole new trial in March 2014. Supposedly the next trial will be different. This time, Florida courts say the burden of proof will be placed upon them rather than Marissa Alexander. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work, Florida?

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Sexist Rush Limbaugh Refers to Single Mothers as “Semen Receptacles”

Just two days after referring to Democratic women as “abortion machines,” on Friday’s show serial sexist Rush Limbaugh made a vulgar reference to single mothers as “receptacles for male semen.”

The right wing talk show host made the comment about unmarried Democratic mothers voting in this week’s Virginia gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

RUSH:  But to an unmarried single mother, a guy like McAuliffe may be exactly what she’s looking for.

CALLER:  It’s quite possible.  I was single for 14 years. I never had any children but even in my brokest (sic) times, I never went to the government for my help.  I always took care of myself or family and friends helped me. So…

RUSH:  The last thing that woman wants to hear is take care of yourself.

CALLER:  I know.

RUSH:  That’s  scary. She’s owed a living because life has dealt her so much unkindness.  They saddled her with a kid. She’s single mother. Probably the husband walked out on her or she kicked him out. Something happened. But she’s owed something, in her mind, and here comes McAuliffe identifying with her.  McAuliffe said, “Look, if you want to be a receptacle for male semen and not pay a price, I’m your guy.”

Limbaugh apologists will claim that the horrid remark is all about context, or that the right wing talker is simply imagining what McAuliffe might say, or repeating what he heard somewhere else.

They’d be conveniently ignoring Rush Limbaugh’s long history of demeaning comments about women:

Limbaugh on an ongoing rape investigation:
“He’s trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team… supposedly, you know, raped some hos.”

Limbaugh on feminism:
“Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”

Limbaugh on sexual harassment:
“Some of these babes, I’m telling you, like the sexual harassment crowd. They’re out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes.”

Limbaugh on the women’s movement:
“I love the women’s movement — especially when walking behind it.”

Limbaugh on longevity:
“Women still live longer than men because their lives are easier.”

Limbaugh on breasts and intelligence:
“The larger the bra size, the smaller the IQ.”

Limbaugh on chauvinism:
“We’re not sexists, we’re chauvinists — we’re male chauvinist pigs, and we’re happy to be because we think that’s what men were destined to be. We think that’s what women want.”

Limbaugh on cats and women:
“My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed….She’s smart enough to know she can’t feed herself. She’s actually a very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn’t have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat’s taught me more about women than anything my whole life.”

Limbaugh on women’s clothing:
“I’ll tell you, you women. Why don’t you just make it official, put on some burkas and I’ll guaran-damn-tee you nobody’ll touch you. You put on a burka, and everybody’ll leave you alone if that’s what you want.”

Limbaugh on overweight women:
“Female politicians get a pass on every aspect of their appearance. You would never have stories about how some female politican’s fat… There are plenty of lard-ass women in politics, and they get a total pass on it.” 

Limbaugh on contraceptives:
“So Ms. Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.” 

StopRush is making a major impact by convincing advertisers on this show to withdraw their ads–and with your help we can do even more.  Just a few emails, tweets, or Facebook messages a week to Limbaugh’s advertisers can go a long way toward making hatred less profitable.  It is our collective voice that makes us strong.

Want to do something hold Limbaugh accountable?
Join StopRush!  We can use your help in the following ways:

Join:  The Flush Rush Facebook community
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Fact Check:  Limbaugh Lie Debunking Site

From the DailyKos

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“That is when the Transplant Coordinator Nurse told me that they are Republicans.”

Apparently the University of Nebraska Medical Center only provides care to straight white Republicans.

Because sie* told them sie was gender queer a transplant patient with a live kidney donor was denied care.

Up to that time Mika had yet to discuss sie’s trans status probably thinking it inconsequential. But after Mika revealed sie’s trans status the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s staff became more difficult.
Mika wrote on sie’s blog

“However, this is when I told them that I identify as Mika and prefer female pronouns. Everything seemed to be okay, except for a little confusion. Until they asked me what I do in my free time and I told them that I volunteer with non-profits to work towards equality for the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) community and I volunteer on political campaigns and plan to help out on the Obama campaign. That is when the Transplant Coordinator Nurse told me that they are Republicans. Everything changed.”

That’s when the staff began having trouble addressing Mika with the proper pronouns.
and despite having a live Donner waiting Mika was told Sie and the downer would have to submit to extended psychoanalysis before the transplant

As ENDA sits in the corner out of fear of frivolous lawsuits the reality that we as Transgender people are considered outcasts undeserving of life saving medical care remains. Just like we are considered undeserving of housing, employment and basic services, like food, from public accommodations.

*complainants preferred gender neutral pronoun.

From the Daily Kos

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Why the Science Behind Jurassic Park Is a Little Less Far Fetched

 

In Montana, researchers have discovered USNM 559050,

a fossilized mosquito containing what is indisputably a blood meal in its swollen belly.

 

The Science Behind Jurassic Park Is a Little Less Far Fetched: Fossilized Mosquitoes

(Photo: Courtesy of Dale Greenwalt)

Somewhere in the afterworld, Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton must be twitching and grinning with the glee of a science fiction writer proved right, or at least not woefully wrong: Researchers have announced the discovery of specimen USNM 559050, a fossilized mosquito from northwestern Montana, containing what is indisputably a blood meal in its swollen belly.

The specimen, described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dates back 46 million years—not quite to the age of dinosaurs, but tantalizingly close. Crichton built his novel Jurassic Park, published in 1990, on what then seemed to be a far-fetched premise: Scientists had supposedly figured out both how to extract DNA from the blood in ancient mosquitoes preserved in amber, and also how to use that DNA to bring the dinosaurs on which those mosquitoes had fed back to life.

That premise is still far-fetched, but now just a smidgeon less so. USNM 559050 turned up not in amber, but in shale, like most mosquito fossils found to date. (The fossils in amber are typically midges, which apparently liked to hang around in a certain type of primordial forest and thus sometimes got trapped forever in amber exuded by resin-producing trees.)

Preservation of the mosquito specimen “was an extremely improbable event,” according to biochemist Dale E. Greenwalt and his co-authors. “The insect had to take a blood meal, be blown to the water’s surface, and sink to the bottom of a pond…to be quickly embedded in fine anaerobic sediment, all without disruption of its fragile distended blood-filled abdomen.” In a phone interview with TakePart, Greenwalt likened the blood-swollen abdomen to “a balloon ready to burst.” He put the probability that it would have been preserved at “almost one over infinity.”

The researchers were able to use modern mineral science technology to analyze the contents of the abdomen without destroying the specimen. They found high levels of iron and porphyrins—both important components of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule in red blood cells. It is the first time anyone has found actual blood in a fossilized mosquito, from the host animal it had been feeding on immediately prior to death.

Finding blood remnants is, however, not even close to Crichton’s fantasy of finding intact DNA. Jurassic Park was great entertainment, said Greenwalt, and it also caused scientists to undertake useful research to test the idea of recovering ancient DNA. “But DNA is a very large, very fragile molecule,” he said, “and the consensus now is that it’s just not going to survive.” Researchers have looked for DNA even in insects preserved for as little as 50 to 10,000 years in sub-fossilized resin, called copal, “and found nothing.”

The new find came about largely through the work of amateur paleontologists.  Greenwalt, a retired cell biologist in the biotech industry, now works as a volunteer at the Smithsonian Institution. A few years ago, he happened to be reading a huge tome about insect evolution when his attention riveted on a single paragraph about fossil insect specimens from the Coal Creek member of the Kishenehn Formation.

With permission from the U.S. Forest Service, Greenwalt began collecting there, on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. He eventually learned that the original insect fossils had been gathered in the early 1980s by a couple from Whitefish, Montana. Norm and Leona Constenius used to hike in the area while their son Kurt was doing his research for a doctorate in geology. They eventually retrieved their collection from their basement and donated it to the Smithsonian. There, Greenwalt found USNM 559050.

The new research proves conclusively that one of our least favorite animal behaviors—an insect feeding on blood—has been around for tens of millions of years. USNM 559050 is not the oldest fossil mosquito; other specimens date back into the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs lived. Earlier specimens have also had a proboscis, like modern mosquitoes, leading scientists to suspect that they were blood feeders. Moreover, some of those fossils have revealed the presence of blood-borne disease organisms, including the malaria plasmodium. But finding actual blood seals the case.

The study could help researchers patching together the early evolution of insect blood feeding—now practiced by about 14,000 living species, including flies, fleas, lice, bed bugs, and a few vampire moths. It could also improve our understanding of important insect-borne diseases likemalaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. “Mother Nature is always changing,” said Greenwalt, “and we’re never sure how. Any information about the past might help us understand what could happen in the future.”

That leaves one big question: What species did USNM 559050 feed on in the moments before death? Thespecimen did not have enough detail for co-author Ralph E. Harbach, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London, to make a positive identification. But the mosquito most closely resembles a modern genus, Culiseta, in which the mosquitoes feed exclusively on birds.

That is, the blood meal certainly didn’t come from dinosaurs. But it may well have come from the birds that we now know to be their closest living descendants.

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Absolutely unimaginable this could happen in America

This news report out of New Mexico is so disturbing, it’s hard to imagine this could happen in America. Talk about an unreasonable search:

The incident began January 2, 2013 after David Eckert finished shopping at the Wal-Mart in Deming.  According to a federal lawsuit, Eckert didn’t make a complete stop at a stop sign coming out of the parking lot and was immediately stopped by law enforcement.Eckert’s attorney, Shannon Kennedy, said in an interview with KOB that after law enforcement asked him to step out of the vehicle, he appeared to be clenching his buttocks.  Law enforcement thought that was probable cause to suspect that Eckert was hiding narcotics in his anal cavity.  While officers detained Eckert, they secured a search warrant from a judge that allowed for an anal cavity search.

Initially the doctor on duty refused the search, citing it as “unethical.” Unfortunately, after several hours, hospital personnel relented and did the search.

Here’s what happened to David Eckert at that hospital:

While there, Eckert was subjected to repeated and humiliating forced medical procedures.  A review of Eckert’s medical records, which he released to KOB, and details in the lawsuit show the following happened:

1. Eckert’s abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.

2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.

3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.

4. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

5. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a second time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

6. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a third time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.

8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert’s anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.

Throughout this ordeal, Eckert protested and never gave doctors at the Gila Regional Medical Center consent to perform any of these medical procedures.

Think that’s outrageous? David Eckert has since been billed by the hospital for all the procedures and they are threatening to take him to collections.

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Straight Marine Punched After Defending Gay Friends

Ryan Langenegger, a 22-year-old straight Marine, was punched in the face outside an Omaha eatery early Sunday morning after he stood up to three men who were harassing his gay friends, one of whom was in drag, reports the Omaha World-Herald.

Langenegger and his friends, Joshua Foo and Jacob Gellinger, were grabbing a bite to eat at PepperJax restaurant in Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood after attending a nearby drag show, in which Gellinger performed. As the friends were dining, they said, three men approached them and began staring at Gellinger. That’s when the friends decided to leave the restaurant.

But the assailants followed them out, stepping between the trio and their car, repeatedly saying “Should I?”

That’s when Gellinger said “I know, I am a boy in a dress,” according to the World-Herald.

“Yeah, and you’re disgusting,” replied the harasser, before hurling antigay slurs at the men.

“I stepped in and said, ‘Hey we aren’t looking for any trouble,’” Langenegger told Omaha’sWOWT. ”And as I’m talking to him, one of his friends from the corner of my eye, comes up and hits me in the face. I stand up and he also swings at my other friend and misses and I just look at him and say, ‘Why?’ There’s no reason for this.’”

Langenegger says he didn’t fight back but did suffer a bruised eye, two chipped teeth, and a lacerated forehead. The attackers began laughing and walked away, according to the World-Herald.

Foo called 911, and Langenegger filed a police report and spoke with a detective, reports the paper. He says the beating was worth it to stand up for his friends. “Hopefully more people realize this is a problem,” Langenegger told the World-Herald. ”People need to be more accepting of everyone.”

LGBT advocates, including some of the drag queens who performed at the show the friends attended Saturday night, are organizing a peaceful march through Old Market on Saturday afternoon, called “Drag Out Hate!”

“I wanted to show in broad daylight that there is nothing to feat about gay people and there is nothing disgusting about drag,” Chad Bugge, a drag queen known as Anna Roxia who is helping organize the rally at 4 p.m. on Saturday, told the World-Herald. ”Drag is fun and it has been the source of entertainment for the gay community for years.

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San Bruno Demands Accurate PG&E Pipeline Records and Active CPUC Oversight

 San Bruno City leaders today called on the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and the California Public Utilities Commission to provide accurate pipeline safety records, enhanced emergency response protocols and vigilant State oversight following revelations of persistent safety threats to PG&E’s pipeline 147 in San Carlos, just 14 miles south of the deadly 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

At a hearing hosted by Sen. Jerry Hill and a California Senate subcommittee on Gas and Electric Infrastructure Safety on Monday, leaders from the cities of San Bruno and San Carlos said they were deeply troubled to discover that PG&E had once again used faulty records to falsely determine the San Carlos pipeline safe. Even worse, that it took 11 months for PG&E to alert San Carlos officials of possible threats to the defective pipe. Federal and state investigators identified faulty recordkeeping as the leading cause of the Sept. 9, 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

Of equal concern was the lack of oversight provided by the CPUC, the regulatory agency that is supposed to act as a watchdog for public safety, which also failed to notify city leaders, city staff, and the public of the potential for “sitting on another San Bruno situation,” according to PG&E’s own engineer.

“We call on PG&E and the CPUC to remedy these persistent threats to the safety of our communities,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We ask that PG&E and the CPUC communicate with local governments in a manner that is honest, timely and transparent so that city and county leaders are not left in the dark after a threat is discovered beneath our communities and our citizens.”

City leaders asked for the help of Sen. Hill and state leaders by establishing an Office of Local Government Liaison, which would coordinate emergency response plans with a community’s first responders and force utilities like PG&E to operate with transparency and integrity with regard to their facilities.

Ruane said state intervention was necessary to end the faulty recordkeeping by PG&E and the lack of transparency by PG&E and the CPUC, which continues to put the lives of all 740,000 county residents at risk.

“Each of the 20 cities in San Mateo and their citizens deserve to know about threats to their safety from PG&E and the CPUC,” Ruane said. “This is not just a matter of common sense but mandatory of a company that enjoys a legal monopoly and of the regulatory agency, the CPUC, whose very job is to protect the public, its interest and its safety.”

San Bruno is asking the following going-forward commitments from PG&E and the CPUC:

  • That PG&E notify cities, counties and the CPUC within 24 hours should it detect any immediate threats to public safety or any discrepancies in its records.
  • That PG&E staff a dedicated, 24/7, employee to its Dispatch and Control Room, trained to communicate with emergency responders and city officials in the event of an emergency.
  • That PG&E provide better public awareness and outreach programs to local governments so that emergency responders are aware of important pipeline information and know what to do in an emergency.
  • That PG&E work with local cities to establish a regular, productive and open 2 way communication to address important safety issues in each community.

San Bruno is seeking an Independent Monitor to ensure that PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement by politically appointed CPUC Commissioners with close ties to utilities.  San Bruno also reminded the committee that the City is seeking maximum penalties and fines from the CPUC against PG&E for its gross negligence in the San Bruno Explosion and Fire – a decision that is expected to be made within coming months.

“San Bruno will continue to hold PG&E accountable for its past actions and to advocate for changes and active oversight by the CPUC,” Ruane said. “We are committed to ensuring that legacy of our City becomes an opportunity to prevent another deadly explosion from happening again, in San Carlos or in any community in our state.”

 

 

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Shepard Smith’s Office Romance: A 26-Year-Old Fox Staffer

From Gawker:

Shepard Smith, the endlessly endearing (and easily angered) Fox News anchor, has likened the right-wing channel to a “family,” with president Roger Ailes as its domineering father. Which makes it only slightly awkward that in early 2012, the 49-year-old anchor started courting an attractive young production assistant who worked under him on Fox Report With Shepard Smith. Now they are a couple.

Gawker has learned that Smith is dating a 26-year-old Penn State grad and Fox Business producer named Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. According to multiple sources with knowledge of their relationship, the couple met sometime after Graziano started working at Fox Report in October 2011 as a production assistant. He’s the man with whom Smith frequents Bathtub Gin.

“Yes, that’s Shepard’s boyfriend,” Katya Minskova, the Bathtub Gin waitress Smith berated in March, confirmed to Gawker when shown a photo of Graziano. Another source who had seen them together at the Chelsea speakeasy confirmed Graziano’s identity as well. Both sources say they saw Graziano and Smith together at the bar on multiple occasions, and that they appeared to be romantically involved.

While Smith and Graziano’s boss Roger Ailes, a notorious homophobe, was apparently kept in the dark about the relationship—“higher ups had no idea,” a source close to Graziano said—the pair doesn’t appear to have gone to great lengths to keep the workplace romance from their co-workers.

“The people who know the most are [Graziano’s] former coworkers from Fox,” one source told Gawker. “One of the production assistants even saw him getting into Shep’s limo one night earlier this year around 8 p.m. outside Fox, after Shep’s show was over,” the source added.

Indeed, away from Fox, Smith and Graziano appeared together throughout Manhattan, showing up at fratty bars like the Ainsworth in Chelsea and the Village Pourhouse on 3rd Avenue, to watch football when Penn State or Ole Miss (Smith’s alma mater) were playing.

Still, Smith was concerned about the optics of dating a subordinate. Last year, according to former Fox News employee, the anchor arranged for Graziano’s transfer, in October 2012, to Fox Business Network, where he was installed as an associate producer for Varney & Co. “Shep had to move him to Fox Business to avoid a ‘conflict of interest,’” the former employee, who asked not be named, explained.

Graziano’s current status at Fox is unclear. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is currently employed at Fox Business (after three years as a production assistant at Fox News, including one year at Smith’s show). But the source close to Graziano claimed that he abruptly left Fox in mid-July. Graziano “dropped off the planet, cut off all his friends, to be with Shep,” the source said. “His former work friends are clueless about his current whereabouts.”

Graziano does not have a landline at Fox, and is not listed in Fox Business’s employee directory, according to a telephone operator at the channel who spoke with Gawker yesterday. However two email addresses associated with Graziano, at the domains of Fox News and Fox Business, remain active.

Reached by telephone, an assignment editor at Fox Business named Howard (who would not supply his last name) told Gawker that Graziano is an employee there, but declined to specify how we could contact him. Colin Small, an associate producer at the channel, refused to confirm whether Graziano remained employed there, telling us before hanging up: “Sorry, I can’t help you. Bye.”

Graziano has not returned multiple emails sent to three different email addresses, a LinkedIn message, five text messages, and three voicemails left on his cell phone. Nor were we able to find him at his last known address, a penthouse suite of an East Village condominium. The building’s doorman said that Graziano moved out “a month and a half ago,” but did not know where he moved. (According to public records, the suite sold for $1,125,000 in mid-September.) Voicemails left with more than a dozen family members and former co-workers went unreturned as well.

Graziano appears to be aware of our attempts to contact him. Not long after we reached out, a 5 minute long reporter reel that he uploaded to YouTube last year, featuring him delivering news reports throughout Manhattan and on the stage sets of America’s News Headquartersand On the Record with Greta van Susteren, was removed from the internet. The video was available on Thursday morning, but was made private a few hours later.

This would not be the first time a prominent Fox anchor has sought the attention (wanted or otherwise) of an underling. In 2005, an O’Reilly Report producer named Andrea Mackris revealed that Bill O’Reilly urged her, in one of several telephone conversations, to pleasure herself using a loofah.

Neither Shepard Smith nor Fox News responded to multiple emails, two voicemails, and a faxed letter requesting comment.

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Universal Axes Homophobic ‘Bill and Ted’ Show

After video appeared online of a gay Superman lisping his way through a live production of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure — as well as getting mocked and beaten — at Universal Studios Hollywood, the studio canceled the production.

“After thoughtful consideration, Universal Studios Hollywood has made the decision to discontinue production of the Halloween Horror Nights’ ‘Bill & Ted’ show for the remainder of its limited run,” read a statement on the website for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights.

On Monday, the studio released a statement about the show, saying officials were reviewing its content.

“[Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure] appears during ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ in limited run and is specifically intended to be shocking and satirical in tone, focusing on adult themes,” Universal spokeswoman Audrey Eig said in an emailed statement to The Advocate. ”The show lampoons across all areas of our culture and it was not our intention to offend or upset anyone. We know there are a range of opinions on this issue and we will respect them as we consistently review and refine the show’s content.”

In its review of a recent performance of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, an annual spectacle at the Los Angeles theme park that spoofs pop culture, Vice noted that the character of Superman assumes a succession of stereotypes after a witch sprinkles him “with fairy dust, turning him gay.”

“After becoming gay, Superman’s voice and posture changes,” Vice reported. “His lips purse, his toes point inward, and his wrists become limp. His new voice sounds like a homophobic uncle doing a drunken impression of Richard Simmons, complete with lisps and frequent use of the word ‘faaaaaaabulous!’”

The protagonists Bill and Ted — inspired by the 1989 cult film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,which features slackers traveling through time — lament Superman’s transformation, as it renders him useless in their latest adventure, which involves battling witches in the Land of Oz.

“Who could possibly make a worse Superman?” Bill asks Ted, referencing the newly gay Man of Steel. “Ben Affleck?” Ted responds.

After assuming his new sexual orientation, Superman takes off his shirt and makes several sexual advances toward Bill and Ted. He exits the stage after encountering a fictionalized George Takei, presumably to have sex.

Vice also reported jokes aimed at women and other minority groups, including racially charged characterizations of Kim Jong-un and Nicki Minaj. The play also incorporates a date rape gag after Minaj is dragged unconscious off the stage by Wreck-It Ralph, a spoof of a Disney character from a 2012 film of the same name.

In addition, the tornado that transports Bill and Ted into Oz is called “Cory Monteith’s ghost,” referring to the Glee star who died of a heroin overdose earlier this year.

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For the Koch brothers: Possible $100 billion in tar sands profit if Keystone XL pipeline is approved

Authors of a 40-page report by the liberal think-tank International Forum on Globalizationhave concluded that the billionaire duo, David and Charles Koch, stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits from their holdings in the tar sands of Alberta if President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline. Because it would cross the boundary between Canada and the United States, the pipeline, which would connect the tar sands to refineries on the Texas gulf coast, requires a presidential permit based on U.S. national interest. Given the mandates of the review process, a decision isn’t likely until early 2014.

Boiled down to the essentials of its executive summary, the IFB report—Billionaires’ Carbon Bomb: The Koch Brothers and the Keystone XL Pipeline—states:

By better connecting Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries and their growing export markets, KWL will create a cash cow on steroids for the Kochs. KWL would worsen today’s chances for controlling carbon by enormously expanding the Kochs’ financial war chest thereby increasing their ability to influence U.S. carbon pollution policymaking and undermine urgent global climate cooperation.IFG’s special report reveals that Koch Industries’ role in KXL includes:

2 million or more potential acres in Alberta with tar sands (and emissions) exceeding Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips combined;

$53 million in Koch Cash for front groups and politicians who are pushing to fast-track KWL;

$100 billion in potential profits due to KWL, or 1 million times more than the average KWL worker’s wage over the life of the pipeline.

The resulting rise in the pace and scale of Canadian crude oil consumption will make more money faster for the Kochs, who stand to personally profit from KWL more than any other individuals, even Exxon executives.

Approval of the pipeline, the report’s authors add, would give the Kochs “more money to ramp up their already successful attacks against Americans’ voting rights, labor rights, pollution controls, and other public interest protections.”

The Kochs, with a combined net worth of $92 billion, have been the leaders in financial support for climate change denialist propaganda, surpassing even Exxon’s massive support for such lies, as well as denying candidates and lobbying meant to spur lawmakers away from pollution controls.

The authors conclude:

No single permit or pipeline will itself solve our Earth’s deepening crisis of economic inequality and ecological collapse, but rejecting both can build awareness and popular pressure to reduce the role of private money polluting politics, the underlying problem obstructing our global economic transition from today’s delusion of endless industrial growth to ecological sustainability and social justice.

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Anti-LGBT Group Admits It Invented Story About Transgender Student Harassing Classmates

Conservative media has been quite exercised this week by a story about a transgender student at Florence High School in Colorado allegedly harassing girls in the locker room. The Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based anti-LGBT group, spurred the media focus by sending a letter to the school demanding accommodation for the supposed victims. Cristan Williams at The TransAdvocate debunked the story by speaking directly with Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti, who explained that no harassment took place — a few parents just don’t like that a transgender student is being allowed to use the locker room of the gender with which she identifies. Now, PJI has basically admitted they invented the story because they’re just transphobic.

One of PJI’s responses came through the conduit of attorney Cathy Brennan, a mouthpiece for a fringe group of transphobic feminists who do not believe that trans people exist and that any attempt to recognize or respect them is an attack on all women. Here’s the message she delivered to The TransAdvocateon behalf of PJI:

We’ve seen similar claims. It is our position that the intrusion of a biological male into a restroom for teenage girls is inherently intimidating and harassing. We have received additional reports of particular incidents of harassment, and we are working to corroborate those reports. In our letter, we specifically asked the school to notify us immediately if they disputed any of the factual allegations. To date, they have not done so. The core of this story — that the school is elevating the rights of one self-proclaimed transgender student while minimizing the privacy rights of all the biologically female students, has not been seriously controverted. We encourage journalists to continue their important work of investigating the details of this story independently and not simply accepting the statements of either side, and certainly not pulling their stories simply because activists demand this story be silenced.


PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, who drafted the letter the group sent to the school, similarly explained the case to Alec Torres at the National Review:

Matthew McReynolds, staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, told me that “the core issue is that this school is giving this transgender youth full access to both boys’ and girls’ facilities, and they are showing little if any regard for the privacy rights of other students. . . . We have received additional reports of specific, inappropriate statements made by this student, and we are working to corroborate those reports.”

“We’re standing by our allegations that our student clients have been threatened with retaliation by school officials for talking about this, including [the threat of] being kicked off athletic teams,” he said. ”[School officials] have also thrown around the notion that hate crimes could be charged against students just for talking about this.”

In other words, as far as PJI is concerned, it doesn’t matter if the transgender student actually did anything to harass these girls. Simply by entering the girls’ locker room, she was “inherently intimidating and harassing” the other girls who use it. And further, even though PJI’s claims of actual harassment have been debunked, the group sill insists that the story is true simply because they sent a letter about it and the school didn’t reply — which it has no obligation to do.

The Pacific Justice Institute’s embrace of blatant anti-LGBT positions is not new. They wholeheartedly promote ex-gay therapy, believing that homosexuality iscaused by sexual abuse, and they even filed a lawsuit challenging California’s ban on ex-gay therapy for minors. They lost. They are also working to repeal California’s new law protecting transgender students, eagerly seeking victimslike the ones they are trying to invent in this Colorado school.

UPDATE

The Pacific Justice Institute has posted an updated press release defending their attack on Florence High School for its respect of this transgender student. Claiming that transgender advocates are in “near panic” and “full damage control mode,” PJI President Brad Dacus confirms that the group’s objection is merely the fact that a trans student was allowed to use the facility with which she identifies:

DACUS: Transgender activists are in full damage control mode because they know how explosive and damaging to their cause this story is. The central issue in this case—a high school’s decision to give a biological teenage boy full access to teenage girls’ bathrooms is both disturbing and not seriously disputed. It is very revealing that the Superintendent is seeking sympathy from transgender activists instead of addressing the serious concerns raised in our letter.

Though PJI boasts that it represents “students and their families whose privacy rights are being violated,” the word “harassment” is noticeably absent.

 

From THINKPROGRESS

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How Do You Not Condemn the Waving of a Confederate Flag in Front of the White House?

Al Sharpton, via Huffington Post

People are upset. The government is partially shut down, workers have been furloughed, important services are unavailable, some schools have had to scale back on providing meals because of a lack of funds to the federal lunch program, many local businesses are suffering, some workers are performing their duties without pay at the moment, families are forced to ration things like food, many national parks and monuments are closed, world markets are watching with a cautious eye and people everywhere are on edge. But instead of channeling this frustration to those who are guilty of holding the government, the nation and its people hostage, some have been misguided and have resorted to unspeakable acts of hatred. And the same politicians who caused the shutdown and are now pushing us to hit Thursday’s deadline are the ones fear mongering and playing on people’s anxiety.

During the ‘Million Vet March’ this weekend, a man waved a Confederate flag in front of the White House as the protest expanded to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Yes, a man waved a Confederate flag in front of the home of an African-American family. And the elected officials who organized, spoke, marched or promoted this rally are just as responsible as that man for this ugly display of bigotry.

Last week, my book, The Rejected Stone was released. In it, I share many stories of my work in the struggle for social justice and the varying relationships I’ve garnered and built even with those who I don’t necessarily agree with. But what I also highlight and place emphasis on are key lessons I’ve learned along the way. One of those main lessons is that hate cannot ever be tolerated or accepted — even quietly. One cannot ignore a blatant act of racism or intolerance by simply stating that they did not commit the act themselves. There are many times in my own life when I had to condemn the actions of others because they may have taken place at an event I organized, or around an issue I was heavily involved in. Even though I wasn’t the one who said it or did it, as a public figure, that’s what you must do because if you don’t, you might as well condone the behavior. And that’s exactly what Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mike Lee and others involved in this weekend’s protest have done. Their silence is deafening.

Often times, people like to falsely believe that the Confederate flag is somehow not offensive. As Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post highlighted in his recent piece, it’s akin to placing a swastika somewhere. The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery. And it is representative of a mentality that looked upon Blacks as inferiors who needed to remain in the shackles of subservience. If you don’t believe me, ask family members of those that were beaten, castrated and lynched under the guise of that Confederate flag. For a person to boastfully wave that flag in front of the White House is beyond reprehensible.

The organizers of this weekend’s march will dismiss this flag waving abomination by stating they cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. While I agree that as a public figure you can never fully control what people say or do at a gathering, when an individual or group turns ugly, it is your duty to speak up. Because if you do not, you are quietly cosigning whatever despicable act they have committed. These elected officials can have all the differences in the world with the President and with the Democratic Party, but they cannot tolerate actions and environments of vile behavior. We are afforded freedom of speech in this country, but we are also afforded the right to live in a safe environment for all. When a Confederate flag threatens the peace and security of so many people of color and those who were on the right side of justice, why would we ever allow it to be waved in front of the home of the First Black family?

If Ted Cruz and others want us to believe that they don’t despise minorities and that they are trying to make their Party more ‘inclusive,’ then they need to start acting like it. A great first step would be to condemn this disgusting, inexcusable act.

But I won’t hold my breath on that one.

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Where Even the Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live Any More

FROM THEATLANTICCITIES.COM

High-cost cities tend to have higher median incomes, which leads to the simple heuristic that, sure, it’s costlier to live in San Francisco than in Akron, but the people who pay bills there make enough money that they can afford it.

In reality, yes, the median household income in metropolitan San Francisco is higher than it is in Akron (by about $30,000). But that smaller income will buy you much, much more in Ohio. To be more specific, if you make the median income in Akron – a good proxy for a spot in the local middle class – 86 percent of the homes on the market there this month are likely within your budget.

If you’re middle-class in San Francisco, on the other hand, that figure is just 14 percent. Your money will buy you no more than 1,000 square feet on average. That property likely isn’t located where you’d like to live. And the options available to you on the market are even fewer than they were just a year ago, according to data crunched by Trulia. To frame this another way, the median income in metro San Francisco is about 60 percent higher than it is in Akron. But the median for-sale housing price per square foot today is about 700 percent higher.

The gulf between those two numbers means that the most expensive U.S. cities aren’t just unaffordable for the average American middle-class family; they’re unaffordable to the relatively well-off middle class by local standards, too.

To use an even more extreme example, the median income in metropolitan New York is about $56,000 (including families in the surrounding suburbs). If someone making that much money wanted to buy a home on the market this October in Manhattan, the most expensive home they could afford would cost about $274,000. A mere 2.5 percent of for-sale housing that’s available in Manhattan now costs that little. Oh – and those properties are averaging 500 square feet.

Trulia ran these numbers based on the assumption that a family shouldn’t spend more than 31 percent of its pre-tax income on housing (and that it must pay local property taxes and insurance). This data also assumes that a family makes a 20 percent down payment on a home – a daunting feat even on a six-figure income in somewhere like Los Angeles or New York.

In San Francisco, a household making $78,840 a year can top out buying a home worth about $409,000. 24 percent of the homes for sale in the area were below that threshold last October. Now it’s just 14 percent. In fact, in every one of those 10 metros, a smaller share of homes are considered affordable now to the middle class than last year.

Affordability is effectively declining as home prices are rising (and at a much faster rate than median incomes). Within the most expensive metros, the most affordable housing is also located in the areas that require some of the longest commutes. In metro New York, for instance, the Bronx and Nassau County are home to the bulk of the most affordable housing in the region.

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Airline Apologizes for Antigay Message on Passenger’s Luggage

Jetstar has issued an apology after a passenger’s luggage was lettered with the words
‘I Am Gay’ after a flight last weekend.

An Australian airline is apologizing for the defacement of a passenger’s luggage, which was branded with an antigay message last weekend.

Jetstar officials said they were investigating the matter involving the words “I Am Gay” stamped upon a suitcase with airport barcode stickers. The passenger Tweeted an image of the luggage Satruday after his flight from Perth to Brisbane in Australia.

“Utterly disgusted to find my luggage front and center on the @JetstarAirways luggage carousel looking like this,” Twitter user @aaronpp wrote.

“I know nobody there. It was after midnight and the flight delayed over an hour … idle hands, perhaps,” he later posted, clarifying that he did not know any of the Jetstar staff who may have been playing a practical joke.

As of this article’s posting, the image of the lettered luggage had been retweeted 247 times. Many major outlets had also published the photo, including The Huffington PostThe Sydney Morning Herald, and International Business Times.

“We are taking this matter very seriously and we have contacted the passenger to apologise for any distress caused,” a Jetstar spokeswoman said in response to the media uproar.

The passenger, who identifies as straight and is a married father of two, followed up his tweet with ablog post detailing his reaction to the incident.

“For me, this was only a few minutes of one day of my life,” he wrote. “If what I felt for those few minutes is extrapolated out every day over a lifetime, then I can fully understand why our gay friends feel persecuted and why they have such high rates of suicide. It is unacceptable.”

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Calif. Gov. Signs Trans Birth Certificate Bill Amid Republican Opposition

The movement toward equality for transgender Californians progressed this week, but not without significant pushback from leaders of the state’s Republican Party.

A bill that will help facilitate legal name changes for transgender people was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, reports the Associated Press.

Authored by Assembly majority leader Toni Atkins, Assembly Bill 1121 was approved by both houses of the California legislature in September. The bill provides an easier and more inexpensive process for Californians seeking to change their name to correspond to their gender identity. The new system will also protect their privacy.

Currently, a transgender person in California must seek a court order to obtain a name change. The change must also be published in a newspaper, which may expose an individual to unwanted attention as well as discrimination or abuse.

According to the Transgender Law Center, which cosponsored the bill with Equality California, 44% of transgender people reported experiencing some form of discrimination, assault, or harassment in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party in California is pushing to repeal a state law that offers greater freedom to transgender teens. Buzzfeed reports that the party has voted to endorse a coalition aiming to repeal Assembly Bill 1266, which gives transgender students access to gender-segregated public school activities and facilities like restrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity. The bill was signed into law by Brown August 12  and will go into effect January 1.

“Clearly the California Republican Party understands that AB 1266 is a threat to the privacy and safety of public school students throughout California,” Gina Gleason, a member of Privacy for All Students, stated in the coalition’s newsletter. “Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, showers and locker rooms will not decrease bullying. It is bullying.”

Republican leaders voted to endorse the coalition last weekend at a party convention in Anaheim. They are hoping to strike down AB 1266 in a 2014 voter referendum

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Experts demand official UK gay stats are pulled as they may be dangerous

From Gaystarnews

The UK Government’s Office for National Statistics seriously underestimated the country’s LGBT population and figures may harm health drives

The UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) was so wrong in estimating only 1.5% of the country is lesbian, gay or bisexual it should withdraw its figures.

That’s according to Out Now Consulting, a global marketing agency internationally recognized as experts in LGBT statistics.

In a letter to the ONS today (7 October), Out Now says the figures are so misleading they may harm gay causes and should be pulled immediately.

Out Now points out how poor research methods by the ONS meant they were bound to get the answer wrong. In addition, many people refused to answer.

But Out Now responds: ‘This claim is not only inaccurate as a true measure of the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality in the United Kingdom, it is dangerous as it is prone to misreporting and may lead to funding problems for organizations focused on the health of LGB people.

‘The research methodology you have employed is not suitable for the purpose of obtaining an accurate measure of homosexuality and bisexuality in the UK.’

Out Now founder and Ian Johnson today wrote to the ONS saying: ‘The data you are responsible for publishing is not fit for purpose and risks being used by those who may not “like” gay, lesbian or bisexual people to undermine their rights.

‘It may be used similarly to seek to reduce funding for government and NGO initiatives focused on LGB people in the UK.’

The UK Government has previously estimated the gay and bisexual population at about 6%.

Even gay dating sites in the country can disprove the ONS figures. The number of gay Britains they have registered alone exceed the official numbers generated by the official survey.

Meanwhile a fun straw poll of over 2,000 Gay Star News readers over the last few days asked what proportion of the world you thought was LGBT.

While not a scientific survey, here are the responses:

Less than 1% are lesbian, gay, bi or trans: 2% of respondents
1% to 5%: 15%
6% to 9%: 23%
10% to 15%: 28%
16% or more: 27%
Don’t know: 6%
- See more at: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/experts-demand-official-uk-gay-stats-are-pulled-they-may-be-dangerous071013#sthash.YybICbQa.Tdg8dQEW.dpuf

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NOM’s Brian Brown Went To Russia To Stop 600,000 Orphans From Being Adopted By Gays

Calling Same-Sex Marriage “A Real Threat” To “Normal Civil Rights” Of Children,

President Of National Organization For Marriage Launches Secret International Campaign

National Organization For Marriage president Brian Brown was heavily involved in France’s anti-gay protests that preceded the successful vote for same-sex marriage. Brown even bragged about it in NOM fundraising emails and on their website. And only after the French marriage bill passed did Brown finally denounce the frequent violence of the protesters he had touted. But while Brown was promoting his mission of hate in Paris, he was hiding another deep, dark voyage: his trip to Russia.

Just days before the Russian parliament passed a bill all but banning Russia’s 600,000 parentless children from being adopted by foreign same-sex couples, Brian Brown advised the Russian Duma (Congress) not only to pass the bill, but to not divorce marriage from the issue of adoption.

“Right now you’re having the fight about adoption, but the adoption issue is indivisible from the marriage issue,” Brown can be heard in the video below telling a Russian reporter. “If you don’t defend your values now, I’m afraid we’re going to see very negative developments all over the world.”

Days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law.

In an extensive two-part exposé, which will be expanded to four parts tomorrow, Right Wing Watch is “exploring how American right-wing groups have supported Russia’s recent spate of anti-gay laws and its crackdown on LGBT citizens.”

Miranda Blue reports that in June, “just days after the Russian Duma passed laws banning on gay ‘propaganda’ and actions that ‘offend religious feelings,’ a delegation of five French Catholic anti-gay activists — at least one with ties to the far-right Front National party — traveled to Moscow at the invitation of the Duma committee on family, women and children to discuss, among other issues, Russia’s plans to tighten its ban on adoption by same-sex couples abroad.”

Joining them was one of the most well-known figures in the American anti-gay movement, National Organization For Marriage president Brian Brown.

Brown had worked closely with the French anti-gay movement in its protests of the country’s marriage equality law, traveling to Paris to demonstrate against the law and signing onto an email to members of the Collectif Famille Mariage, one of the most prominent groups working to oppose marriage equality in France.

(Excerpt, via Google Translate: “You are the people who invented the Gothic art and launched skyward these wonderful cathedrals which the whole civilized world was inspired…The new cathedral that you are to build our eyes is composed of living stones: you, dear French Resistance, youth and adults, men and women, boys and girls!”)

RWW adds that NOM “did not publicly announce Brown’s participation in this international meeting of anti-gay minds. However, his presence was mentioned by Revel in a blog post about the visit, in which he noted that Brown gave a “remarkable speech in the Duma.”

An excerpt:

“But we are now convinced, having heard the presentations of our French brothers and sisters, that we are talking about very serious problems indeed,” Brown told the members of the Russian Duma. “We are talking about violations of rights, we are talking about the rights and problems of children in their education.”

“We should not shy away from this and should not forget about it and create an illusion for ourselves. A reconsideration of the definition and understanding of marriage is in fact a real threat to rights. Very soon after a law was passed that legalized same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, we saw that religious organizations were closing down, religious organizations that dealt with adoptions and that did not support adoption by same-sex families. They were closing one after another.

“We have actually seen that in some schools, they are talking to children about homosexuality, but in fact they don’t have the right to learn about a lot of things like that until a certain age.

“I think that this visit, the invitation to visit Russia, will enable the development of this movement around the world. We will band together, we will defend our children and their normal civil rights. Every child should have the right to have normal parents: a father and a mother.”

Don’t you think it’s curious that anti-gay violence ramps up wherever Brian Brown goes?

Bilerico’s John Becker sums it up like this:

The so-called “National Organization for Marriage” and its president, Brian Brown, are in bed with Russian state-sponsored homophobia, are again actively participating in the exportation of anti-gay hatred abroad, and are collaborating with foreign governments on the legislative bullying of LGBT people and families.

It’s important to remember that courts have time and time again ruled against the National Organization For Marriage’s skirting of donor disclosure laws, and that NOM’s own corporate documents detail board-approved directives to use race to divide Americans, advocate “sideswiping Obama,” and the painting of him as a “social radical.”

NOM’s arrogant treatment of the law and its questionable disclosure practices are par for the course. Their lies about LGBT people and same-sex marriage, however, have fallen into the definition and boundaries of an anti-gay hate group, and it’s time for the Southern Poverty Law Center to once and for all add them to their list.

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Why Being “The First” Matters

MICHELLE SILVERTHORN,(Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism)

I was going to write a blog post about the Senate confirming Todd Hughes to the Federal Circuit last week. Todd Hughes will be the first openly gay male to serve as a federal appellate judge. My post was going to acknowledge President Obama for appointing far more diverse candidates to the judiciary than any of his predecessors (Mr. Hughes’s confirmation was swiftly followed by the swearing in of Sri Srinivasan, the first South Asian federal appellate judge.)  Despite their political struggles, both the President and the Senate have managed to make significant strides in diversifying the judiciary by appointing and confirming highly-qualified judicial candidates.

And then, David Mowry, senior in-house counsel at Xerox, wrote a blog post on Above the Law asking the simple question: “Are Diversity Milestones Just The Privileged Patting Themselves On The Back?”

As some of you who’ve read my previous blog posts know, I’m not a ‘shipper for diversity initiatives.  I think they are necessary and important (see below) but I do see the shortfall between all the time and money we’ve spent on diversity, and actual results.  In fact, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession is having a two day program in Chicago and New York that discusses that very issue.  If you have the time and resources, I encourage you to attend.

Having said that, I do not agree with Mr. Mowry and his provocatively titled blog post.  In the post, he asks, “Who gives two whits that Todd Hughes is gay?  Is it really progress?”  Then he adds,

“I find it reprehensible that his sexual orientation gets any mention. Just as revolting as the “First Black, First Latino” — it’s as though white media pats itself on the back every time we let one of “them” into the club. “See, we let one of them sit on the bench, now all our bigotry is disappeared — yay ‘Murica.’”

I agree with some of his other statements in the post.  For example, he says that input from all backgrounds is good, and that a federal judge’s judgment should ideally be separate from any personal “peccadillos,” “backgrounds”, “orientations” or “religions.”

However I don’t think it’s “revolting” whenever the “white media” (whatever that is) mentions when someone of a certain race, or nationality, or in Mr. Hughes’s case, sexual orientation, is the First appointed or elected to a position of authority in this country.  My response could probably begin and end with Election Day 2008, but I’ll take it a little further.

Now I’m not a diversity expert my any means.  But I am a young, black, female immigrant.  And from my perspective, being the First matters, whether you’re the First Black President or the First Hispanic Justice or the First Openly Gay Federal Judge.

It matters because Step One to eliminating issues of bias and stereotyping is to see people, especially leaders, contradicting our biases and dissolving our stereotypes.  The prevailing image of a judge as an older, white, straight, male can only be challenged if there are diverse persons – gay, black, Muslim, young, Hispanic – publicly taking on these roles.

It matters because it mitigates the belief among the young non-majority, such as myself, that no matter how hard I may work, I will never become X person (say, President of the United States) because I’m not of the majority religion, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation.  If someone did it before me, I can envision myself doing it as well.

Finally, it matters because it is a victory.  When President Obama names the first gay man to a federal clerkship, it is a victory for the thousands of men and women who have fought, both publicly and privately, for same sex rights.  And in the battle for equal rights, victories are mostly personal and small with a handful of public ones interspersed in between.  We should celebrate them all.

So yes, it does matter that Thurgood Marshall was black, that Sandra Day-O’Connor is a woman, that Ruth Bader-Ginsburg is Jewish, that Sonia Sotomayor is Hispanic, and that Todd Hughes is gay.  Whether you look at it from a sociological, historical or individual perspective, naming the First to a position from which persons of their race or religion or gender or sexual orientation have traditionally been excluded, is true progress.

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Antigay Group Claims ‘Modern Family’ Same-Sex Engagement Is ‘Dangerous’

Evan Mantel of the conservative blog Media Research Center says TV shows

with gay couples are harmful because they rely on ‘feelings which mislead.’

 

A blogger associated with an antigay group is warning shows like Modern Family are tricking people into feeling empathy for same-sex couples.

After Modern Family’s gay couple, Cam and Mitch, got engaged in an episode last week, Evan Mantel of the Media Research Center — a notoriously antigay organization — posted a rant on the group’s blog claiming it was “dangerous” because it made him feel empathy for the fictional couple.

“This was a good episode. I laughed. I cried. I felt. It moved me like good art is supposed to do. But that’s the problem. It moved me. It made me feel joy for Cam and Mitchell after the Supreme Court over-ruled California’s Prop 8,” Mantel wrote of the show’s most recent episode. “And that is what makes this show great. And dangerous. It relies on feelings which mislead. There is no logical argument in favor of gay marriage, but the sweetness of Cam and Mitchell trying to outdo each other’s proposal is touching.”

Mantel went on to encourage his readers to continue watching the show “but know that what you are seeing is fiction and not a realistic portrayal of reality.”

Earlier this year, Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson — who plays Mitchell Pritchett on the hit series — told The Advocate one of the things he enjoyed most about his role was having this exact effect on those who harbor antigay views. “I feel like there are a lot of people who still aren’t comfortable with gay characters on television,” Ferguson said. “But what I admire about our show is that it has a plethora of characters for people to attach to, and slowly those people are becoming attached to Mitchell and Cameron as well. It’s kind of like a Trojan horse. We sneak into a lot of people’s living rooms when they aren’t expecting it and maybe change some minds through the back door.”

If Mantel’s latest blog entry is any indication, Ferguson and the rest of the cast and crew behindModern Family are affecting views exactly the way they intended.

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