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Build My Heart Foundation Hosts Major Sports Memorabilia Auction to Raise Money to Support Children with Congenital Heart Disease

Fourth Annual Heart and Soul Gala & Auction scheduled for March 15, 2014 in Emeryville

The Build My Heat Foundation will host a sports memorabilia auction at its upcoming gala from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, March 15 at St. Columba Rectory, 6401 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville.

The free gala event will feature drawings, giveaways, and a silent auction for signed sports memorabilia from notable Bay Area sports teams such as the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco Giants, and the Golden State Warriors. The proceeds will help to support families with children who are affected by heart disease in the Bay Area.

BryceBryce, a Build My Heart Foundation Client

“We are honored to be hosting the Fourth Annual Heart and Soul Gala to spread awareness of congenital heart disease, and raise money to support those families who have been most impacted by it,” said Ella Bell, the founder of Build My Heart.  “We are deeply touched by the generosity of our local sports teams who have provided autographed memorabilia and other auction items that will go toward helping families cope with this disease.”

The Build My Heart Foundation is a non-profit that provides emotional, social, and financial support to at-risk, low income, families with children affected by congenital heart disease. A congenital heart defect is an abnormality in any part of the heart that is present at birth. Heart defects originate in the early weeks of pregnancy when the heart is forming. The Foundation was established in 2010 when Ms. Bell’s son, Bryce Malik House, was born and diagnosed with heart disease. She became inspired to help other struggling families in similar situations by raising money to offer them gas cards, hotel accommodations, food, and care packages. To date, the Foundation has worked with over 20 families in the Bay Area to offer their support and services.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information about the Build My Heart Foundation and the Fourth Annual Heart and Soul Gala, please visit www.buildmyheart.org or call 1.866.838.9490.

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Build My Heart Foundation Clients and Friends

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Arkansas Judge Mike Maggio Outed for Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Posts

An Arkansas judge, Mike Maggio, was outed for making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments online. Here are some of the posts that he made thinking that nobody would figure out who he was:

The most controversial comments appeared on a Louisiana State University message board called Tiger Droppings. In one comment, Geauxjudge made fun of the name of a University of Alabama football player who is black, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix. He questioned the wisdom of parents giving such irregular names to their children: “I do agree about names may not be predictors of future success but in reality: How many doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or Ha-Ha? How many bankers do [you] hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the ‘common names.’”

Maggio’s candid views on marriage and divorce:

“I see it every day. A woman makes [an] emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father and husband . . . then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.”

“Men have two needs. Feed me and f— me. Take care of both we will be good. Whichever one you don’t then the man will find. Women have need for security. So man take care of that and will be OK.”

He also compared women having sex with dogs as just a small step from “TGGLBS” sex and disclosed certain proceedings of the adoption by Actress Charlize Theron of a Black kid. Maggio withdrew from an appellate race after being outed.The New York Daily News notes that he posted these confidential proceedings related to Theron’s adoption two months before they became public knowledge.

Starcasm put up another post where Maggio said Khloe Kardashian was “black by injection.”

The site Blue Hog Report was the site which originally outed Maggio and has even more nuggets, including these:

He also opines on relations post-marriage,  makes that same “joke” about bulges many times, why a man should sell Mary Kay,   repeats the wisdom about “golden vaginas”, explains why women generally shouldn’t get alimony, thinks that you should “raise your own kids” instead of paying for childcare, refers to “Vitamin P”, implies that American education is failing because all the easy girls major in education, laughing about “riding” bi-polar women, talks about gynecology, says women are ridiculous because they want husbands who don’t work all the time, refers to wives as “chattel”,  references his own sexual shortcomings, and . . . whatever the hell this is.

There are many more such posts at this link. Blue Hog also cites these set of ethical rules for judges:

   Rule 1.2. A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.    Official Comment [2]: A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code.

Official Comment [6]: Actual improprieties include violations of law, court rules or provisions of this Code. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.

Rule 3.1. A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this Code. However, when engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not: [*]
(C) participate in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.

Official Comment [3]: Discriminatory actions and expressions of bias or prejudice by a judge, even outside the judge’s official or judicial actions, are likely to appear to a reasonable person to call into question the judge’s integrity and impartiality. Examples include jokes or other remarks that demean individuals based upon their personal characteristics.

The Associated Press reports that he is under investigation by that state’s judicial commission.

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Ecuador Plaintiffs, Steven Donziger, Committed Fraud against Chevron in Ecuador Case

Berlinger and Donziger

Joe Berlinger’s (left) Film “Crude,” paid for by Ecuador Plaintiff Attorney Steven Donziger, ultimately led to a crushing victory for Chevron Corporation in the Ecuador Case

Chevron Corporation won a major victory today when a New York federal judge ruled that the case against the oil company in Ecuador was procured by fraud.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found that lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger used bribery, coercion, fraud and other illegal means to create a fraudulent case against Chevron in Ecuador.

Donziger, whose fraudulent lawsuit was supported by environmental organizations such as AmazonWatch in San Francisco, Rainforest Action Network, Earthrights International, and other alleged environmental groups, might have gotten away with the crime if it were not for the sloppy work of Hollywood movie director Joe Berlinger.

Berlinger, who was paid by the plaintiffs to produce a film that lambasted Chevron for alleged pollution in Ecuador, ultimately and ironically, became Chevron’s savior.

Berlinger’s movie “Crude” produced evidence that led Chevron to its important court victory today in New York.

In making his ruling, Judge Kaplan  said Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs used “corrupt means” to secure a multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp in Ecuador, giving a major setback for attorneys hoping to collect on the award.

Kaplan said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that attorney Steven Donziger’s legal team bribed an Ecuadorean judge to issue an $18 billion judgment against the oil company in 2011.

The villagers had said Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, contaminated an oil field in northeastern Ecuador between 1964 and 1992.  Ecuador’s high court cut the judgment to $9.5 billion last year.

Kaplan’s decision bars Donziger and environmental groups like AmazonWatch and public relations agent Karen Hinton from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States. It may also give Chevron legal ammunition in other countries where the plaintiffs could try to go after Chevron’s assets.

At a six-week trial last year, Chevron accused Donziger of fraud and racketeering and said Texaco cleaned up the site, known as Lago Agrio, before handing it over to a state-controlled entity.

Below is the full text of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s opening judgement today against Steven Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs:

“Steven Donziger, a New York City lawyer, led a group of American and Ecuadorian lawyers who brought an action in Ecuador (the “Lago Agrio” case) in the names of 47 plaintiffs (the“Lago Agrio Plaintiffs” or “LAPs”), on behalf of thousands of indigenous peoples of the Orienté region of Ecuador, against Chevron Corporation (“Chevron”).

They claimed that Chevron was responsible for extensive environmental damage caused by oil activities of Texaco, Inc. (“Texaco”), that ended more than twenty years ago and long before Chevron acquired Texaco’s stock.

After years of pressuring Chevron to settle by a variety of both legitimate and illegitimate means, Donziger and his clients obtained a multibillion dollar judgment (the“Judgment”) in the Ecuadorian courts and now seek to enforce it around the world.

Chevron then brought this action, contending among other things that the Judgment was procured by fraud.  Following a full trial, it now seeks equitable relief against Donziger and the two of his Ecuadorian clients who defended this case in order to prevent any of them from profiting from the alleged fraud or from seeking to enforce the Judgment in the United States.

This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more. The evidence is voluminous.

The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.

Upon consideration of all of the evidence, including the credibility of the witnesses– though several of the most important declined to testify – the Court finds that Donziger began his involvement in this controversy with a desire to improve conditions in the area in which his Ecuadorian clients live. To be sure, he sought also to do well for himself while doing good for others, but there was nothing wrong with that. In the end, however, he and the Ecuadorian lawyers he led corrupted the Lago Agrio case.

They submitted fraudulent evidence. They coerced one judge, first to use a court-appointed, supposedly impartial, “global expert” to make an overall damages assessment and, then, to appoint to that important role a man whom Donziger hand-picked and paid to “totally play ball” with the LAPs.

They then paid a Colorado consulting firm secretly to write all or most of the global expert’s report, falsely presented the report as the work of the court-appointed and supposedly impartial expert, and told half-truths or worse to U.S. courts in attempts to prevent exposure of that and other wrongdoing. Ultimately, the LAP team wrote the Lago Agrio court’s Judgment themselves and promised $500,000 to the Ecuadorian judge to rule in their favor and sign their judgment. If ever there were a case warranting equitable relief with respect to a judgment procured by fraud, this is it.

The defendants seek to avoid responsibility for their actions by emphasizing that the Lago Agrio case took place in Ecuador and by invoking the principle of comity. But that warrants no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here. The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here.  The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.1

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador – and they knew it. Indeed, one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, “apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”2

It is time to face the facts.”

Link to the judgement: http://tinyurl.com/o8p6gve

 

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San Bruno Files Court Petition for Expedited Hearing for CPUC Public Documents in PG&E Explosion Case

 The City of San Bruno has been assigned a March 27 court date to argue why the California Public Utilities Commission should be ordered to immediately turn over public records believed to show improper contact between senior management and judges, among other public records, related to the Sept. 9, 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

Also, last week, attorneys for San Bruno filed a separate order asking that a Superior Court judge expedite the court’s review and–due to the urgent nature of this case and impending decision by the CPUC’s administrative law judges–quickly demand that the CPUC turn over records connected to the PG&E penalty and fine for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight people, injured 66 and destroyed scores of homes.

San Bruno believes these records may demonstrate the ongoing “cozy relationships” between the CPUC and PG&E that federal investigators determined to be a leading cause of the explosion and fire.

The hearing in Superior Court is at 9:30 a.m. March 27 in room 203 of the San Francisco Superior Court, 400 McAllister St.

“This lawsuit calls for full transparency so that the people of San Bruno and the citizens of California can be confident about the integrity of this long penalty process against PG&E,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “Due to the urgency and importance of this matter, we’ve asked that the court  expedite the process so that the public can have full knowledge of conversations behind the scenes that may directly affect the outcome of the case to hold PG&E and its shareholders fully accountable for their gross negligence that caused tragedy in our community.”

San Bruno filed the original public records lawsuit in Superior Court on Feb. 4 after the CPUC refused to fulfill four separate public records requests dating back more than 10 months, in violation of the California Public Records Act.

At the center of San Bruno’s legal filing is an email correspondence from Executive Director Paul Clanon to the Administrative Law Judges that allegedly violates the CPUC’s own rules and is believed to demonstrate improper communication and influence between the CPUC’s senior management and the judges tasked with determining whether to levy a recommended $2.45 billion penalty and fine against PG&E.

The CPUC’s excuses for not producing the records have ranged from the deliberative process privilege to arguing that it was “very busy” and would respond when it had free time – a “response that makes a mockery of the value of public participation within its own government,” according to the suit filed on Feb. 4. Every public agency in California has an obligation to respond to requests for public records as a result of legislation that was adopted by the state more than 40 years ago.

San Bruno officials say these records are important because they may reveal the very problems that federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board identified as a cause of PG&E’s persistent and troubling inability to maintain accurate gas pipeline records, which continues to threaten the public’s safety by keeping the utility at risk for future pipeline failures.

“An open, honest and fully transparent process is the only way that we can ensure the safety of PG&E’s gas pipelines so that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere in California,” Ruane added.

San Bruno city officials have just launched an online petition drive that seeks the public’s participation in calling on the CPUC to hold PG&E and its shareholders accountable for the 2010 pipeline explosion.  San Bruno’s petition – which already has more than 15,000 signatures – is available at: www.gaspipelinesafety.org.

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Why Russia No Longer Fears the West

The West is blinking in disbelief – Vladimir Putin just invaded Ukraine. German diplomats, French Eurocrats and American pundits are all stunned. Why has Russia chosen to gamble its trillion-dollar ties with the West?

Western leaders are stunned because they haven’t realized Russia’s owners no longer respect Europeans the way they once did after the Cold War. Russia thinks the West is no longer a crusading alliance. Russia thinks the West is now all about the money.

Putin’s henchmen know this personally. Russia’s rulers have been buying up Europe for years. They have mansions and luxury flats from London’s West End to France’s Cote d’Azure. Their children are safe at British boarding and Swiss finishing schools. And their money is squirrelled away in Austrian banks and British tax havens.

Putin’s inner circle no longer fear the European establishment. They once imagined them all in MI6. Now they know better. They have seen firsthand how obsequious Western aristocrats and corporate tycoons suddenly turn when their billions come into play. They now view them as hypocrites—the same European elites who help them hide their fortunes.

Once Russia’s powerful listened when European embassies issued statements denouncing the baroque corruption of Russian state companies. But no more. Because they know full well it is European bankers, businessmen and lawyers who do the dirty work for them placing the proceeds of corruption in hideouts from the Dutch Antilles to the British Virgin Islands.

We are not talking big money. But very big money. None other than Putin’s Central Bank has estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion exiting Russia in 2012 might be traceable to illegal activities. Crimes like kickbacks, drug money or tax fraud. This is the money that posh English bankers are rolling out the red carpet for in London.

Behind European corruption, Russia sees American weakness. The Kremlin does not believe European countries – with the exception of Germany – are truly independent of the United States. They see them as client states that Washington could force now, as it once did in the Cold War, not to do such business with the Kremlin.

When Russia sees Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal outbidding each other to be Russia’s best business partner inside the EU (in return for no mention of human rights), they see America’s control over Europe slowly dissolving.

Back in Moscow, Russia’s hears American weakness out of Embassy Moscow. Once upon a time the Kremlin feared a foreign adventure might trigger Cold War economic sanctions where it hurts: export bans on key parts for its oil industry, even being cut out of its access to the Western banking sector. No more.

Russia sees an America distracted: Putin’s Ukrainian gambit was a shock to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. They prefer talking about China, or participating in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Russia sees an America vulnerable: in Afghanistan, in Syria and on Iran—a United States that desperately needs Russian support to continue shipping its supplies, host any peace conference or enforce its sanctions.

Moscow is not nervous. Russia’s elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner – everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.

The Kremlin sees its evidence in the former leaders of Britain, France and Germany. Tony Blair now advises the dictatorship in Kazakhstan on how to improve its image in the West. Nicholas Sarkozy was contemplating setting up a hedge fund with money from absolutist Qatar. And Gerhard Schroder is the chairman of the Nord Steam consortium – a majority Gazprom-owned pipeline that connects Russia directly to Germany through the Black Sea.

Russia is confident there will be no Western economic counterattack. They believe the Europeans will not sanction the Russian oligarch money. They believe Americans will not punish the Russian oligarchs by blocking their access to banks. Russia is certain a military counterattack is out of the question. They expect America to only posture. Cancel the G-8? Who cares?

Because Putin has no fear of the West, he can concentrate on what matters back in Russia: holding onto power. When Putin announced he would return to the presidency in late 2011, the main growling question was: why?

The regime had no story to sell. What did Putin want to achieve by never stepping down? Enriching himself? The puppet president he shunted aside, Dmitry Medvedev, had at least sold a story of modernization. What, other than hunger for power, had made Putin return to the presidency? The Kremlin spin-doctors had nothing to spin.

Moscow was rocked by mass protests in December 2011. More than 100,000 gathered within sight of the Kremlin demanding Russia be ruled in a different way. The protesters were scared off the streets, but the problem the regime had in justifying itself remained. Putin had sold himself to the Russian people as the man who would stabilize the state and deliver rising incomes after the chaos of the 1990s. But with Russians no longer fearing chaos, but rather stagnation as the economy slowed – it was unclear what this “stability” was for.

This is where the grand propaganda campaign called the Eurasian Union has come into its own. This is the name of the vague new entity that Putin wants to create out of former Soviet states — the first steps toward which Putin has taken by building a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and he had hoped with a Ukraine run by Viktor Yanuvokych. This is not just about empire; it is about using empire to cover up the grotesque scale of Russian corruption and justify the regime.

Russia would rather have swallowed Ukraine whole, but the show must go on. Russian TV needs glories for Putin every night on the evening news. Russian politics is about spin, not substance. The real substance of Russian politics is the extraction of billions of dollars from the nation and shuttling them into tropical Western tax havens, which is why Russian politics needs perpetual PR and perpetual Putinist drama to keep all this hidden from the Russian people. Outraged Putin has built up a Kremlin fleet of luxury aircraft worth $1 billion? Angry that a third of the $51 billion budget of the Sochi games vanished into kickbacks? Forget about it. Russia is on the march again.

This is why Crimea is perfect Putin. Crimea is no South Ossetia. This is not some remote, mountainous Georgian village inhabited by some dubious ethnicity that Russians have never heard of. Crimea is the heart of Russian romanticism. The peninsula is the only part of the classical world that Russia ever conquered. And this is why the Tsarist aristocracy fell in love with it. Crimea symbolized Russia’s 18th and 19th-century fantasy to conquer Constantinople and liberate Greek Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule. Crimea became the imperial playground: In poetry and palaces, it was extolled as the jewel in the Russian crown.

Crimea is the only lost land that Russians really mourn. The reason is tourism. The Soviet Union built on the Tsarist myth and turned the peninsula into a giant holiday camp full of workers sanitariums and pioneer camps. Unlike, the Russian cities of say northern Kazakhstan, Crimea is a place Russians have actually been. Even today over one million Russians holiday in Crimea every year. It is not just a peninsula; this is Russia’s Club Med and imperial romanticism rolled into one.

Vladimir Putin knows this. He knows that millions of Russians will cheer him as a hero if he returns them Crimea. He knows that European bureaucrats will issue shrill statements and then get back to business helping Russian elites buy London town houses and French chateaux. He knows full well that the United States can no longer force Europe to trade in a different way. He knows full well that the United States can do nothing beyond theatrical military maneuvers at most.

This is why Vladimir Putin just invaded Crimea.

He thinks he has nothing to lose.

 

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This Map Shows Why People Should Stop Freaking Out About Rent Prices In San Francisco

From outrageous listing prices to Google Bus protests, soaring rents in San Francisco have been all over the news lately.

But new data from online real estate marketplace Zumper tells an altogether different story.

Zumper compared median prices for 1-bedroom apartments from hundreds of listings posted on their site during the month of January. They then calculated the change from January 2013 to January 2014. What they found was that while some neighborhoods certainly did see an increase in rents year-over-year, rents in other neighborhoods stayed the same or even decreased significantly.

 

11Jan14rentchangesf_RENTCHANGESFZumper

 

Instead of taking information from Craigslist or other boards, Zumper’s platform allows realtors to post their listings directly to their site. According to Zumper Co-founder and COO Taylor Glass-Moore, this means that listings are more accurate, and there’s no duplicate information.

 

Glass-Moore says that one reason for the frenzy surrounding San Francisco rent is that the media tends to focus on certain neighborhoods that have historically been popular with residents, including techies.

“A lot of the focus is on overall prices and trying to identify unit types where there’s been the most appreciation to have a number that is really dramatic,” Glass-Moore said to Business Insider. “Multiple factors are causing the changes, but only one is being discussed.”

The tech sector has largely been blamed for causing rents to rise and longtime residents to be evicted from their homes, but that’s only one part of the problem, according to Glass-Moore.

“Yes, tech is driving demand and prices for apartments, but only in specific neighborhoods,” he said. “A lot of focus is placed on SOMA or the Mission where a lot of tech workers have moved, but that’s not representative of the city as a whole. There are plenty of neighborhoods where people aren’t wearing Google Glass and jumping into a Google shuttle.”

Other factors contributing to high rents include rising construction of luxury condos, increase in short-term rentals (which tend to be more expensive than long-term), and rent-controlled housing. Most units in San Francisco are protected under rent control, but that locks up housing supply, according to Glass-Moore.

Though rents in San Francisco were up 2.74% as a whole over the last year, Downtown and the Financial District were two neighborhoods that saw a decrease of up to 10% in rent prices. Sunset is another desirable neighborhood with relatively reasonable rent.

He also emphasized that high rents in San Francisco are nothing new.

“Rentals were expensive in San Francisco last year as well, so it’s not like they were cheap last year and now they’re much more expensive,” Glass-Moore said. ”The message that I think should be made clear is that San Francisco is still an affordable city to live in if you’re open to other neighborhoods.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/san-francisco-rent-map-2014-2#ixzz2uh5h6Id0

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Texas ban on marriage equality ruled unconstitutional, Rick Perry upset

A federal judge on Wednesday declared Texas’ ban on equal marriage unconstitutional; the judge also ruled that the state’s refusal to recognize the unions of gay couples married in other states to be unconstitutional.

As the San Antonio Express News notes, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia stayed the decision pending the state’s appeal, meaning that the state ban on marriage equality remains in effect for now.

“Regulation of marriage has traditionally been the province of the states and remains so today,” Garcia wrote in the ruling. “However, any state law involving marriage or any other protected interest must comply with the United States Constitution.”

Gov. Rick Perry, if you can believe it, is upset by the decision and has vowed to appeal it:

Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens. The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.

One of the couples behind the suit, Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon celebrated the decision as “a great step towards justice for our family.”

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” they said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”

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Injured Carpenters in Good Shape, One Recovering at Home, Other Improving, Construction Company Says Work Resumes at 350 Mission St. Construction Site Today

Work Resumes at 350 Mission St. Construction Site Today

State safety inspectors have declared the 350 Mission St. office development site safe for construction work to continue today after two carpenters were injured when vertical scaffolding tipped over according to Webcor Builders officials.

One of the carpenters has already been released, is at home and will soon begin physical therapy. The other is still in the hospital but we are expecting a full recovery, said Jes Pedersen, president of Webcor Builders.

The carpenters were injured around 2:20 p.m. Thursday. The pair was attached to the scaffolding with safety harnesses at about 35 feet above ground.

Cal/OSHA finished investigating the site Friday and gave it’s full clearance to re-start work today on the 30-story tower building adjacent to the new Transbay Transit Center.

“We take all safety precautions very seriously,” Pedersen said. “That’s why these carpenters were attached with safety harnesses.  This was an unfortunate accident and it’s something we work very hard to prevent.”

Webcor Builders broke ground on the project in April 2013 and it is slated to be completed by early 2015.

 

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Mayor Lee & Senator Leno Announce Legislation To Amend State Ellis Act Law To Protect Long-Time Tenants

Closing Loophole in State Law to Prohibit Real Estate Speculators From Using the Ellis Act to Displace Tenants in San Francisco

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee and State Senator Mark Leno joined State and local leaders, including Assemblymember Phil Ting and Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos along with tenant advocates, labor groups and business leaders to announce legislation closing a loophole in the Ellis Act that allows speculators to buy rent-controlled buildings in San Francisco and immediately evicting long-term tenants. To counter a recent surge in Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco, Senate Bill 1439 authorizes the City to prohibit new property owners from invoking the Ellis Act to evict tenants for five years after the acquisition of a property, ensures that landlords can only activate their Ellis Act rights once, and creates penalties for those who violate the law.

“We have some of the best tenant protections in the country, but unchecked real estate speculation threatens too many of our residents,” said Mayor Lee. “These speculators are turning a quick profit at the expense of long time tenants and do nothing to add needed housing in our City. These are not the landlords the Ellis Act was designed to help, and this legislation gives San Francisco additional tools to protect valuable housing and prevent Ellis Act speculator evictions, which already displace working families and longtime San Franciscans. This carve out is a good policy for San Francisco, and I thank Senator Leno for being a champion on this issue. Together we have built a large coalition of renters, labor and business leaders to fight this battle in Sacramento to support middle income and working families here in our City.”

“The original spirit of California’s Ellis Act was to allow legitimate landlords a way out of the rental business, but in recent years, speculators have been buying up properties in San Francisco with no intention to become landlords but to instead use a loophole in the Ellis Act to evict long-time residents just to turn a profit,” said Senator Leno. “Many of these renters are seniors, disabled people and low-income families with deep roots in their communities and no other local affordable housing options available to them. Our bill gives San Francisco an opportunity to stop the bleeding and save the unique fabric of our city.

Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco have tripled in the last year as more than 300 properties were taken off the rental market. This spike in evictions has occurred simultaneously with huge increases in San Francisco property values and housing prices. About 50 percent of the City’s 2013 evictions were initiated by owners who had held a property for less than one year, and the majority of those happened during the first six months of ownership.

In light of the growing problem of speculative Ellis Act evictions, Mayor Lee joined Senator Leno, Assemblyman Ting, Supervisors Chiu and Campos and a diverse coalition of supporters, including business leaders, property owners and developers, to reform the Ellis Act in Sacramento. Senate Bill 1439 was the result of this effort.

“Rents in San Francisco are at an all-time high. My former neighbors and I, working families and seniors, were displaced from the place we called home for several decades,” said evicted senior Gum Gee Lee. “Those that have yet to receive an Ellis Act notice continue to live in fear, fear that they too will be evicted from their homes. For seniors such as myself who rely on public transportation and access to social and health services within our community, Ellis evictions cut our lifeline, our independence to thrive. For working class families such as my former neighbors from Jackson Street, they continue to struggle to survive in San Francisco. San Francisco is our home.”

Enacted as State law in 1985, the Ellis Act allows owners to evict tenants and quickly turn buildings into Tenancy In Common (TIC) units for resale on the market. In San Francisco, the units that are being cleared are often rent controlled and home to seniors, disabled Californians and working class families. When these affordable rental units are removed from the market, they never return.

SB 1439 will be heard in the State Senate Policy Committees this Spring.

 

 

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One-Percent Jokes and Plutocrats in Drag: What I Saw When I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society By Kevin Roose

Recently, our nation’s financial chieftains have been feeling a little unloved. Venture capitalists are comparing the persecution of the rich to the plight ofJews at Kristallnacht, Wall Street titans are saying that they’re sick of being beaten up, and this week, a billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, proclaimed that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.”

Ross’s statement seemed particularly odd, because two years ago, I met Ross at an event that might single-handedly explain why the rest of the country still hates financial tycoons – the annual black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called Kappa Beta Phi.

“Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas, Kappas from the Spring Street and Montgomery Street chapters, and worthless neophytes!”

It was January 2012, and Ross, wearing a tuxedo and purple velvet moccasins embroidered with the fraternity’s Greek letters, was standing at the dais of the St. Regis Hotel ballroom, welcoming a crowd of two hundred wealthy and famous Wall Street figures to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner. Ross, the leader (or “Grand Swipe”) of the fraternity, was preparing to invite 21 new members — “neophytes,” as the group called them — to join its exclusive ranks.

Looking up at him from an elegant dinner of rack of lamb and foie gras were many of the most famous investors in the world, including executives from nearly every too-big-to-fail bank, private equity megafirm, and major hedge fund. AIG CEO Bob Benmosche was there, as were Wall Street superlawyer Marty Lipton and Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the former chairman of Bear Stearns. And those were just the returning members. Among the neophytes were hedge fund billionaire and major Obama donor Marc Lasry and Joe Reece, a high-ranking dealmaker at Credit Suisse. [To see the full Kappa Beta Phi member list, click here.] All told, enough wealth and power was concentrated in the St. Regis that night that if you had dropped a bomb on the roof, global finance as we know it might have ceased to exist.

During his introductory remarks, Ross spoke for several minutes about the legend of Kappa Beta Phi – how it had been started in 1929 by “four C+ William and Mary students”; how its crest, depicting a “macho right hand in a proper Savile Row suit and a Turnbull and Asser shirtsleeve,” was superior to that of its namesake Phi Beta Kappa (Ross called Phi Beta Kappa’s ruffled-sleeve logo a “tacit confession of homosexuality”); and how the fraternity’s motto, “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus,” was Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.”

On cue, the financiers shouted out in a thundering bellow: “DUM VIVAMUS EDIMUS ET BIBERIMUS.”

The only person not saying the chant along with Ross was me — a journalist who had sneaked into the event, and who was hiding out at a table in the back corner in a rented tuxedo.

Several Kappas at the table next to me, presumably discussing the coming plutocracy.

I’d heard whisperings about the existence of Kappa Beta Phi, whose members included both incredibly successful financiers (New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones) and incredibly unsuccessful ones (Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld, Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, former New Jersey governor and MF Global flameout Jon Corzine). It was a secret fraternity, founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, that functioned as a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club. Each year, the group’s dinner features comedy skits, musical acts in drag, and off-color jokes, and its group’s privacy mantra is “What happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.” For eight decades, it worked. No outsider in living memory had witnessed the entire proceedings firsthand.

A Kappa neophyte (left) chats up a vet.

I wanted to break the streak for several reasons. As part of my research for my book,Young Money, I’d been investigating the lives of young Wall Street bankers – the 22-year-olds toiling at the bottom of the financial sector’s food chain. I knew what made those people tick. But in my career as a financial journalist, one question that proved stubbornly elusive was what happened to Wall Streeters as they climbed the ladder to adulthood. Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy. But if I could somehow see these barons in their natural environment, with their defenses down, I might be able to understand the world my young subjects were stepping into.

So when I learned when and where Kappa Beta Phi’s annual dinner was being held, I knew I needed to try to go.

Getting in was shockingly easy — a brisk walk past the sign-in desk, and I was inside cocktail hour. Immediately, I saw faces I recognized from the papers. I picked up an event program and saw that there were other boldface names on the Kappa Beta Phi membership roll — among them, then-Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Home Depot billionaire Ken Langone, Morgan Stanley bigwig Greg Fleming, and JPMorgan Chase vice chairman Jimmy Lee. Any way you count, this was one of the most powerful groups of business executives in the world. (Since I was a good 20 years younger than any other attendee, I suspect that anyone taking note of my presence assumed I was a waiter.)

I hadn’t counted on getting in to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner, and now that I had gotten past security, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. I wanted to avoid rousing suspicion, and I knew that talking to people would get me outed in short order. So I did the next best thing — slouched against a far wall of the room, and pretended to tap out emails on my phone.

The 2012 Kappa Beta Phi neophyte class.

After cocktail hour, the new inductees – all of whom were required to dress in leotards and gold-sequined skirts, with costume wigs – began their variety-show acts. Among the night’s lowlights:

• Paul Queally, a private-equity executive with Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe, told off-color jokes to Ted Virtue, another private-equity bigwig with MidOcean Partners. The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”).

• Bill Mulrow, a top executive at the Blackstone Group (who was later appointed chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Agency), and Emil Henry, a hedge fund manager with Tiger Infrastructure Partners and former assistant secretary of the Treasury, performed a bizarre two-man comedy skit. Mulrow was dressed in raggedy, tie-dye clothes to play the part of a liberal radical, and Henry was playing the part of a wealthy baron. They exchanged lines as if staging a debate between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. (“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Henry shouted. “My God, you callow, insensitive Republican! Don’t you know what we need to do? We need to create jobs,” Mulrow shot back.)

• David MooreMarc Lasry, and Keith Meister — respectively, a holding company CEO, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, and an activist investor — sang a few seconds of a finance-themed parody of “YMCA” before getting the hook.

• Warren Stephens, an investment banking CEO, took the stage in a Confederate flag hat and sang a song about the financial crisis, set to the tune of “Dixie.” (“In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man.”)

A few more acts followed, during which the veteran Kappas continued to gorge themselves on racks of lamb, throw petits fours at the stage, and laugh uproariously. Michael Novogratz, a former Army helicopter pilot with a shaved head and a stocky build whose firm, Fortress Investment Group, had made him a billionaire, was sitting next to me, drinking liberally and annotating each performance with jokes and insults.

Can you fuckin’ believe Lasry up there?” Novogratz asked me. I nodded. He added, “He just gave me a ride in his jet a month ago.”

The neophytes – who had changed from their drag outfits into Mormon missionary costumes — broke into their musical finale: a parody version of “I Believe,” the hit ballad from The Book of Mormon, with customized lyrics like “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe my plan involves a seven-figure bonus.” Amused, I pulled out my phone, and began recording the proceedings on video. Wrong move.

The grand finale, a parody of “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon

“Who the hell are you?” Novogratz demanded.

I felt my pulse spike. I was tempted to make a run for it, but – due to the ethics code of the New York Times, my then-employer – I had no choice but to out myself.

“I’m a reporter,” I said.

Novogratz stood up from the table.

“You’re not allowed to be here,” he said.

I, too, stood, and tried to excuse myself, but he grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.

“Give me that or I’ll fucking break it!” Novogratz yelled, grabbing for my phone, which was filled with damning evidence. His eyes were bloodshot, and his neck veins were bulging. The song onstage was now over, and a number of prominent Kappas had rushed over to our table. Before the situation could escalate dangerously, a bond investor and former Grand Swipe named Alexandra Lebenthal stepped in between us. Wilbur Ross quickly followed, and the two of them led me out into the lobby, past a throng of Wall Street tycoons, some of whom seemed to be hyperventilating.

Once we made it to the lobby, Ross and Lebenthal reassured me that what I’d just seen wasn’t really a group of wealthy and powerful financiers making homophobic jokes, making light of the financial crisis, and bragging about their business conquests at Main Street’s expense. No, it was just a group of friends who came together to roast each other in a benign and self-deprecating manner. Nothing to see here.

But the extent of their worry wasn’t made clear until Ross offered himself up as a source for future stories in exchange for my cooperation.

“I’ll pick up the phone anytime, get you any help you need,” he said.

“Yeah, the people in this group could be very helpful,” Lebenthal chimed in. “If you could just keep their privacy in mind.”

I wasn’t going to be bribed off my story, but I understood their panic.  Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark. (Or worse, sing about it — one of the last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”) These were activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and damage very public reputations.

After several more minutes spent trying to do damage control, Ross and Lebenthal escorted me out of the St. Regis.

As I walked through the streets of midtown in my ill-fitting tuxedo, I thought about the implications of what I’d just seen.

The first and most obvious conclusion was that the upper ranks of finance are composed of people who have completely divorced themselves from reality. No self-aware and socially conscious Wall Street executive would have agreed to be part of a group whose tacit mission is to make light of the financial sector’s foibles. Not when those foibles had resulted in real harm to millions of people in the form of foreclosures, wrecked 401(k)s, and a devastating unemployment crisis.

The second thing I realized was that Kappa Beta Phi was, in large part, a fear-based organization. Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world. And the idea of a reporter making those views public had caused them to throw a mass temper tantrum.

The last thought I had, and the saddest, was that many of these self-righteous Kappa Beta Phi members had surely been first-year bankers once. And in the 20, 30, or 40 years since, something fundamental about them had changed. Their pursuit of money and power had removed them from the larger world to the sad extent that, now, in the primes of their careers, the only people with whom they could be truly themselves were a handful of other prominent financiers.

Perhaps, I realized, this social isolation is why despite extraordinary evidence to the contrary, one-percenters like Ross keep saying how badly persecuted they are. When you’re a member of the fraternity of money, it can be hard to see past the foie gras to the real world.

 

Adapted from Kevin Roose’s bookYoung Money, published today by Grand Central Publishing.

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Suspected Gay Men Forced To March Naked Through Nigeria’s Capital Before Being Beaten By Police And Two Violent Mobs

The situation in Nigeria for its gay citizens continues to deteriorate. In early February, shortly after the African nation officially criminalized homosexuality, a suspected gay couple was forced to have sex in front of an angry mob. But late last week and over the weekend the violent mob rule intensified.

In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, a mob of more than 50 people forced 14 suspected gay men to march through the streets naked last week. Once in the Gishiri neighborhood, the mob beat the men with nail-studded clubs, whips, iron bars and anything else that could be weaponized. Police joined the mob in beating the men, with one man nearly dying from the injuries he sustained.

“They all had weapons,” one witness said. “Some were having wires, whips. Some had broken furniture. They said they wanted to kill. They were moving around from one person’s house to another.”

Following the attack, the mob wrote “Homosexuals, pack and leave” on the homes of the men they assaulted.

Saturday night, a second mob went out on a mission to rid Nigeria of its LGBT people. ”We have been notified that 10 men, suspected to be gay, were rounded up and beaten last night in the town of Geshiri, near Abuja, by a mob of about 40 people,” International Gay And Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern reported. Five of the men were apparently detained by police before being released.

“The leaders are just watching, and now the Nigerian social fabric is being disintegrated by acts of mob violence,” said human rights activist Dorothy Aken’Ova about the mob attacks. “Now we have this new category as a result of the new law. And the government is quiet.”

Does the situation in Nigeria remind you of any other blemish on human history that’s occurred in the past 100 years?

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Here’s Where The GOP Is Depriving Americans Of Health Care

Many of the Americans who need access to affordable health care the most live in areas where they won’t get it under Obamacare, thanks to their Republican governors and legislators.

A new map from the Urban Institute, a social and economic policy research organization, shows that a large swath of those being denied the health care they need live in places where governors decided not to expand Medicaid.

map 1

The map highlights where the greatest percentage of people would benefit from Medicaid expansion, with darker colors representing higher concentrations of poor Americans who are currently ineligible for Medicaid but who would be eligible if their state expanded the program.

For reference, the map below highlights states that didn’t choose to expand Medicaid in lighter gray. As you can see, many overlap with the areas that have the highest levels of uninsured adults in poverty who would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion.

map 2

One of the major goals of the Affordable Care Act was to give poor Americans increased access to affordable health coverage, but a 2012 Supreme Court decision threw a wrench in that plan. The high court ruled that state lawmakers could decide whether they wanted to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid to those making less than 133 percent of the poverty level under the law, or about $15,300 for a singleperson.

Since that decision, Republican governors and legislators in 25 states have refused to adopt the Medicaid expansion, leaving some of their poorest residents in limbo. For the record, Medicaid expansion is fully funded by the federal government from 2014 through 2016, then at no less than 90 percent in future years.

Subsides in the form of tax credits are available for Americans who make poverty-level wages and up to four times that amount to buy insurance on the government-run exchanges. But for Americans who earn less than the poverty rate and live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, it’s nearly impossible to get access to affordable coverage.

“You end up with what seems to be this counterintuitive notion that you have poor adults in the 25 states that are not expanding Medicaid where their incomes are not high enough to qualify for subsidized coverage,” said Stephen Zuckerman, a senior health policy fellow at the Urban Institute.

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Virginia Ban is Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Virginia’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional late Thursday.

From the ruling:

The Court finds Va. Const. Art. I, § 15-A, Va. Code §§ 20-45.2, 20-45.3, and any other Virginia law that bars same-sex marriage or prohibits Virginia’s recognition of lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions unconstitutional. These laws deny Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen wrote that the constitutional right to equality should apply to all, including same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us,” wrote Wright Allen, an Eastern District of Virginia judge in Norfolk. ”While ever vigilant for the wisdom that can come from the voices of our voting public, our courts have never long tolerated the perpetuation of laws rooted in unlawful prejudice. One of the judiciary’s noblest endeavors is to scrutinize law that emerge from such roots.”

Wright Allen stayed her order to allow an appeal, meaning nothing immediately changes for same-sex couples in the state.

The suit was filed by two Virginia couples: Tim Bostic and Tony London, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, a couple whose California marriage license did them no good in Virginia. The couples were represented by Theodore Olson and David Boies, the bipartisan attorney pair known for winning the June 2013 case that restored gay marriage rights in California.

Wright Allen began her opinion with an excerpt from Mildred Loving’s “Loving for All.” Loving, a black woman, was banished from Virginia for marrying a white man.She brought her case to the Supreme Court, leading to the end of state miscegenation laws. The judge concluded with a salute to President Abraham Lincoln:

Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his own life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just… the same thing — fairness, and fairness only. This so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.

Mark Herring, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, recently announced his support for gay couples seeking marriage licenses.

“After thorough legal review, I have now concluded that Virginia’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” Herring said in January.

More from the Associated Press:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, making it the first state in the South to have its voter-approved prohibition overturned.

Wright Allen’s ruling makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages.

A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state, however. The Virginia judge’s ruling also follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.

Wright Allen’s stay was requested by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office in order to avoid a situation similar to what happened in Utah after a federal judge declared that state’s ban on gay marriages unconstitutional.

More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in the days after the ruling before the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state an emergency stay, halting the weddings and creating a cloud of uncertainty for the status of the married couples. Soon after, a federal judge also declared Oklahoma’s ban unconstitutional. That ruling is also on hold while it is appealed.

In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast. None of them is in the old Confederacy.

 

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Boston mayor refuses to march with anti-gay St Patrick’s Day Parade

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has vowed to boycott the South Boston St Patrick’s Day Parade if organizers do not reconsider allowing members of the LGBT community to march.

Speaking to the Boston Herald he said, “If the gay community is not allowed to march, I’m not marching in the parade.”

The Mayor, who is the son of Irish immigrants, said he is trying to persuade the parade’s organizers to allow members of Boston’s gay, lesbian, and transgender communities to publicly march under their own banner.

“I’m working on it…I hope (to reach a deal),” he said.

“It’s 2014, it’s time for the parade to be an inclusive parade and it’s something that I’m working with. I’ve had some conversations early on and they have been very good conversations, we will see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”

In 1995 the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the parade was a private event and, thus, the parade organizers had the right to exclude groups that proclaimed messages they reject.

One of the parade’s longtime organizers, John “Whacko” Hurley, told the Boston Herald that he is unaware of any deals being worked out to allow gay and lesbian marchers.

Hurley added that he will harbor no ill will towards Mayor Walsh if he chooses to skip the March 16 parade.

“That’s his prerogative whether he wants to walk or not. He’s a great guy. I sat down with him last week,  I think he’s got a tough job there. He don’t make the rules for the parade,” Hurley said, adding, “it takes a lot more to make me upset.”

Parade organizers have always pointed to the 1995 ruling as the mainstay of their decision to invite only those they want. While South Boston has changed incredibly, it is still a hard knocking Irish neighborhood, fiercely independent and ornery when it comes to who marches in their parades.

The Boston mayor’s decision is just the latest controversy to hit plans for parades this year.

New York mayor Bill De Blasio has announced that he will not to march in this year’s parade in New York.

A senior Irish government minister has followed his lead and is also boycotting New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade in protest at the organizers’ attitude to gay and lesbian marchers.

Minister for Social Protection and Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton told a Dublin radio station that she will not be attending the parade when she is in the city for the annual festivities. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, however, is expected to march in the parade despite mounting pressure on him follow the mayor’s lead.

“It is my intention to be there in New York,” Kenny said.

Mr Kenny did not express a view on Mr de Blasio’s reservations about the parade.

“You should ask the Mayor that question. I don’t speak for the Mayor,” he said.

 

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Kent State Wrestler Suspended For Anti-Gay Tweets About Michael Sam

Following the historic coming out of Division I college football player Michael Sam, the social media backlash was both predictable and horrifying. However, one college athlete is now experiencing the repercussions of what can happen when you choose to be homophobic on Twitter.

Kent State wrestler Sam Wheeler has reportedly been suspended from the university’s team after taking to Twitter to voice his feelings about Sam’s decision to publicly come out.

Following outrage over Wheeler’s anti-gay tweets and subsequent suspension, the university issued a statement from KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen.

“We are aware of the insensitive tweets by one of our student athletes,” Nielsen stated. “On behalf of Kent State University, we consider these comments to be ignorant and not indicative of the beliefs held by our university community as a whole. This is an educational opportunity for all of our student-athletes.”

University officials also released an accompanying statement from Wheeler’s wrestling coach, Jim Andrassy.

“As an alum of Kent State University and as Sam’s head coach, I was surprised and offended by what I read on Twitter,” said Andrassy. “I have spoken to Sam personally, and while he is remorseful, he will be suspended indefinitely while we determine the best course of action moving forward.”

An end date has reportedly not set for Wheeler’s suspension.

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Most corrupt Olympics ever: Why Sochi’s “above and beyond” what we’ve seen before

Protesters against the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia (Credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The 2014 Winter Olympics will have their official kickoff Friday, with an opening ceremony marked in part by the absence of politicians from several high-profile countries. Knocking the “ostentatious gesture” of non-attendance, International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach declared the organization “grateful to those who respect the fact that sport can only contribute to the development of peace if it’s not used as a stage for political dissent, or for trying to score points in internal or external contexts.” But the prospect of protest – by politicians, by activistsor by Olympic athletes – looms large over the games.

To parse Olympic politics, this week Salon called up the Nation sports correspondent Dave Zirin, who wrote the book “Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down,” and co-authored the memoir of John Wesley Carlos, the bronze medalist whose defiant raised fist defined the 1968 Olympics. Faced with extreme anti-gay laws in Russia, Zirin predicted, “I think that there are going to be athletes from a lot of different countries, and maybe from Russia itself, that are either going to speak out or do something.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.

You say that this appears to be the most corrupt Olympics in history. How so?

Well, you’ve never had an Olympics where there is $30 billion plus that seems to be just unaccounted for … There is corruption in every Olympics, but it seems like Sochi is just above and beyond anything that we’ve seen before. And frankly there are very tangible reasons why that’s the case … I think the level of graft is a surprise, but the actuality is not a surprise. Because from the very beginning — forget about the corruption, forget about the kleptocracy – from the very beginning, Vladimir Putin approached the international Olympic committee and said: My goal is not only the Olympics, staging the Olympics, I want to remake this entire region of Russia. And I’m going to do it by holding the Winter Olympics in a subtropical climate in the middle of what has been for the last two decades a veritable war zone.

So all of these factors together, everybody knew that this would be very expensive for the Winter Games, which are usually much less expensive than the Summer Games. But I don’t think anyone expected it to be the most expensive Olympics in history, and more expensive than every single Winter Olympics combined.

What do you hope to see at the Olympics?

I hope to see a break from the very homogenous, monochromatic sporting environment that we have currently. That’s one of the things about the Olympics, which is why it remains so attractive to so many people, is that there’s an interesting break from the usual sports that are forced down our throats. So I am excited to see things like the first women’s ski jumping competition …

I am also excited at the prospect of activism on the question of LGBT liberation. And I’m excited about it because I think it’s going to happen on a scale that’s international, and won’t look like the United States trying to stick a thumb in Putin’s eye and all the rest of that, like using LGBT rights as a diplomatic shell game. But I think that there are going to be athletes from a lot of different countries, and maybe from Russia itself, that are either going to speak out or do something.

And I think we can expect political action to take place at the Olympics, because of this movement — and because we are living in a time, Josh, of unprecedented confidence of LGBT athletes. And that being said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long ways to go, but relative to where we’ve been, I mean the steps have been seismic in recent years.

What are some of the forms that activism could take?

Because of Russia’s laws, a lot of what’s being planned is under lock and key. I’ve certainly heard some rumors of what could happen … I don’t even want to repeat them, one, because I’m not entirely sure about the veracity. Two, I’m not entirely sure if I wouldn’t be exposing people to either persecution, or if there would be preemptive steps that would prevent any kind of activism …

I do know that there are people who are very committed, and very serious. And they feel they’ve laid the kind of groundwork that has put Putin in the position that if they do something, they’re not going to get arrested. Even though there are people in the Russian parliament, the Russian Duma, who believe that according to the letter of the law they should be arrested, because they would be propagating homosexuality, and that is against the law in Russia … I think enough groundwork and enough attention has been put down that if they do choose to use that platform, that they’re going to have the requisite amount of cover to make it home in one piece. And obviously I hope that they’re correct.

Given that you coauthored “The John Carlos Story,” what is the lesson of that act of protest? How does that inform how you look at this?

I would want to give all the credit in the world to Dr. John Carlos, and all the respect in the world for standing so strongly with the LGBT community on this issue. It demonstrates his commitment to universal human rights, and his active presence on every front in the fight for human liberation. He’s a tremendous person.

The second thing is the lesson that John projects — the lesson that John has said explicitly — is that athletes have minds, not only bodies. And expecting athletes to just be instruments of physical excellence, yet not have an opinion in their heads about the ways in which their physical excellence has been used politically, is to deny them their humanity.

And therefore, John doesn’t think athletes need to speak out. John doesn’t think athletes don’t need to speak out. John thinks athletes need to be free to follow their conscience. And John always says that the lesson of his life is that it’s much worse to regret not doing something than to regret doing something.

The president in his State of the Union said that “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week the world will see one expression of that commitment when Team USA marches the red, white and blue into the Olympic stadium and brings home the gold.” Do you agree with that framing of those questions?

No. I think a step back needs to be taken, and the first question is: Why is the president talking about symbolic LGBT resistance at the Olympics, and not actual[ly] speaking out in the State of the Union about [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] or … taking on the fact that there are 29 states in the United States where it’s still legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexuality?

For two reasons, I have a problem with the president sending the Billie Jean King delegation with Caitlin Cahow, Brian Boitano, openly LGBT Olympians. I have a problem with it on two counts. One, I think doing that in the absence of taking on homophobia, trans-phobia in the United States is a shell game.

And the other … Barack Obama in the past has, like particularly during the Arab Spring, made mention of the fact that if the U.S. went in too aggressively to, say, topple Mubarak, for example, then that would be used as an excuse to further oppress the protesters, if they were being seen as U.S. puppets. And he said that explicitly. He understands that dynamic exists: that the U.S. is not always seen as this magnanimous force for good, and often if it comes into this internal political situation, that can be used as an excuse to crack down on dissent, and propagandize against protestors — as saying, “Wait a minute, there are foreign agents” or what have you.

And I think we have to be extremely mindful of the fact that after the confetti has been cleared, after all the cameras go home, there is still an LGBT community in Russia that’s going to have to deal with these laws. And the question then becomes — the only question that matters, Josh, is — are the actions taken by the Olympians going to make the situation on the ground better or worse for the people who are there after the games are over?

And I have very real concerns that by President Obama using this issue to stick a thumb in Putin’s eye — and everybody knows that Russia and the United States have issues that go well beyond this, from Syria, to trade, to the Middle East — that it comes across as using the protests to further the United States’ other aims. I have to say, when you consider that the U.S. hasn’t said anything about its ally India, you know, a country of over a billion people, recently passing homophobic laws — you don’t want to be in a position of selectively being against oppression.

How would you reform the Olympics, in terms of the economics, in terms of the structure, in terms of the content, in terms of how decisions get made?

I think that there are two ways to go about it. Everywhere the Olympics go, they bring budget-busting economic projects, displacing people from their homes, and the utter militarization of a region. Those are true of every Olympics, whether we’re talking about Sochi, whether we’re talking about Vancouver, whether we’re talking about Atlanta, whether we’re talking about Beijing, whether we’re talking about Mexico City, whether we’re talking about Hitler’s Berlin.

I mean, it exists to greater or lesser degrees, but it’s there all the same. And so if we’re going to remedy, very concretely, those problems, then I think the thing that makes the most sense is having one stable Olympics set. Where the infrastructure can be built and rebuilt — where you don’t have to remove people from their homes. I mean, you stick it somewhere in the world, so you don’t get extraordinary acts of hubris like Vladimir Putin saying I’m going to put the Olympics in a subtropical climate …

The other way: Well, there’s just a lot of people who say that in a sane world, the Olympics should be abolished, because it’s just about promoting nationalism. And I don’t go down that road entirely, because I think that there’s clearly, I mean, an appetite for these kind of sports to be highlighted, and there is art and beauty in these kinds of sports.

I mean, I would love it if it was organized in a way that was less nationalistic, of course. But at the same time … there’s a way in which I think, when we celebrate these global sports that places in other parts of the world are able to excel at, that it’s actually good for people in the United States to be able to witness that. Often that coverage is skewered toward U.S. athletes. But I think in and of itself, it’s good; I like the concept of a global athletic festival. It’s something worth celebrating.

But the way it currently operates, it operates too often … like a neoliberal trojan horse. Where people are excited about the Olympics, and then all of these economic, neoliberal sporting shock doctrine measures are pushed through.

How do you see the moral or political responsibility of fans? Whether we’re talking about the economic policies or the security policies of the Olympics, or the clinging to the name “Redskins,” or the alleged abuses in the NCAA, what kind of politics or responsibility goes with being a fan and watching a sport?

Well, I think the first thing is people got to stop — I mean, you have seen recently this ferocious pushback from the right wing on this, that is trying to frame this as a left-wing, right-wing issue … These are pretty clearly right or wrong issues. Like, either we are going to have racist team names for a sport, or we’re not. So it’s not left or right; it’s racism versus anti-racism …

With stadium funding, it’s are you for corporate welfare and taxpayers getting soaked, or are you against it? Are you for NCAA athletes getting exploited within an inch of their lives, or do you support them fighting back? I mean, this needs to be the way these discussions are framed. Because there’s a lot of injustice in sports, for the simple reason that sports are insanely profitable, and they are controlled by a small minority of people, and in that way it’s not that different from any other big business.

But the main difference is that I think we have some sort of collective sense of ownership of sports … Who the hell roots for Exxon Mobile over British Petroleum? … You say ,“This is my team.” You don’t say, “This is my gas station.” And I think that because people have that sense of ownership, they need to exercise it in ways that are more psychological, and demand what they don’t like about sports to change.

How do you decide whom to root for?

I mean, I decide who to root for on the basis of what I feel in my gut. There are teams I love from my youth …

But sometimes you don’t have a team to root for. And then I think it’s always fun to root for a team who, if they win, it kind of provokes an interesting discussion about sports and politics. Maybe that’s just me personally. That’s just like, for example, I just wrote this piece … If you’re not a Broncos fan and you’re not a Seahawks fan, root for the Seahawks, because if Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seahawks, leads his team to victory, then it really chops away at a lot of very tired tropes that surround the quarterback position: from his height, to his ability to scramble, to the fact that he’s a person of color, to the fact that he was a later-round draft pick. And that’s kind of cool, that he’s able to take some of these tired sports radio tropes and just turn them on their heads.

So, who do you root for in the Olympics?

Well, I try to not root for anybody in the Olympics, honestly. I like rooting for individual stories in the Olympics. And I like just really taking in how interesting I think so many of the events are that are usually denied in mainstream sports coverage…

I think speed skating is amazing, figure skating is amazing … I mean, shoot, I can even get into curling if I’ve had a couple of beers.

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How Far Will the Right Go to Defeat a Democrat?

Florida’s 13th congressional district will host a special election next month and by all appearances, it should be a close contest. Democrats have nominated former state CFO Alex Sink, who very nearly won the 2010 gubernatorial race, and have high hopes about her chances.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also taking the race very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that the NRCC has come up with an unusual fundraising gambit.
Folks can go to a website that looks legitimate – contribute.sinkforcongress2014.com – and find a nice photo of the Democratic candidate alongside a graphic that reads, “Alex Sink – Congress.” If you’re not reading carefully, you might assume this is a page for Sink supporters to make a campaign contribution to their preferred candidate. But it’s not – this is a page set up by Republicans. The Tampa Bay Times reportedyesterday:
Ray Bellamy said he wanted to make a political contribution to Alex Sink a Google search landed him at “http://contribute.sinkforcongress2014.com.”
“It looked legitimate and had a smiling face of Sink and all the trappings of a legitimate site,” Bellamy, a doctor from Tallahassee who follows Florida politics, wrote in an email to the [Times].
What Bellamy overlooked was that the site is designed to raise money against Sink. “I failed to notice the smaller print: Under “Alex Sink Congress” was the sentence ‘Make a contribution today to help defeat Alex Sink and candidates like her,’ ” he said.
Once Democratic supporters make their contribution, they’re directed to a new page on the NRCC’s website thanking them for donating to defeat Democrats.
In other words, the Republican campaign committee seems to be trying to trick people – and in at least some instances, it’s having the desired effect.
What’s more, this isn’t limited to Florida.
National Journal reported this has become a national effort launched by the NRCC in advance of the 2014 midterms.
The National Republican Congressional Committee proudly launched a faux campaign website for Democratic candidate Domenic Recchia this week, mocking him as a “career politician … asking for your vote.” They even bought Google ads to direct New Yorkers to www.domenic-recchia.com, designed at first glance to look like it could be Recchia’s own, down to the same yellow star replacing the dot in the ‘i’ of his last name.
The problem is such a look-alike site, with a banner blaring “Domenic Recchia for Congress,” may violate Federal Election Commission regulations for confusing the public, election lawyers say.
There’s no firm count yet on the exact number of districts in which the NRCC is trying this stunt, though Rebecca Leber found six similar instances, all following the same model.
For their part, officials at the Republicans’ campaign committee insist the trick is technically legal and the NRCC is willing to return contributions to those who believe they were deceived.
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Some on the Right Find Superbowl Inclusion is Anti American

Oh, who could ever predicted that conservatives would be up in arms over a Super Bowl commercial that was just too damn inclusive. No, not the Cheerios one. This one had people singing in languages other than English!

No, many conservatives didn’t much care for Coca-Cola’s one-minute spot, which showcased a rendition of “America The Beautiful” in languages such as English, Arabic and Spanish.Former tea party congressman Allen West even took time to write a blog post during the game to voice his displeasure. For West, the ad started out strong enough.

“Then the words went from English to languages I didn’t recognize,” a troubled West wrote, calling it “a truly disturbing commercial.”

Fox News’ Todd Starnes tweeted “Coca Cola is the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border” and that perhaps Coca Cola was “saying America is beautiful because new immigrant don’t learn to speak English?” And yes, there’s talk of boycotting the company fer insufficient patriotism, although whether the feeling will outlast yesterday’s leftover bean dip remains to be seen.MSNBC bending over themselves to apologize for someone in the network thinking the American right wing was made up of people who pore over the nation’s television commercials to find companies acting Not Bigoted Enough is, and there’s no other word for it, pathetic. As are, of course, the predictable reactions from the right wing themselves. You would think that people who get so very, very, very mad whenever someone suggests that they might be bigoted simpletons would be able to go at least one weekend without proving to be exactly that, but no. Never quite works out that way.

 

ORIGINALLY POSTED TO HUNTER ON MON FEB 03, 2014 AT 11:13 AM PST.

ALSO REPUBLISHED BY DAILY KOS.

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France’s politics of hatred: Move towards traditional family values risks being hijacked by anti-Semites and homophobic nationalists

Hundreds of thousands of pro-family and anti-government demonstrators marched through Paris yesterday amid claims from a minister that France faced a return of the “sombre” and “disturbing” political divisions of the 1930s.

The stark warning by the interior minister, Manuel Valls, jarred with the prosperous, well-behaved ranks of most of yesterday’s marchers, including thousands of elderly people and families with children in push-chairs.

However, two groups of hard-right thugs were arrested as they attempted to join the protest. Scuffles broke out on the Avenue Raspail last night between riot police and about  200 hard-right youths giving Hitler salutes. They threw beer bottles at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Yesterday’s warning by Mr Valls of “sombre forces” at work in France followed a similar but smaller demonstration last week which dissolved into running battles with riot police. Several large sections of protesters on that march carried anti-Semitic banners and chanted “Jews out of France”.

There was no sign of such banners at yesterday’s demonstration – nominally the 15th protest against the law passed last summer which made gay marriage legal in France. Yesterday’s march, which attracted about 200,000 people (the organisers claimed 500,000 attended), turned instead into a much wider protest against the alleged “familyphobe” policies of the left-wing government of President François Hollande.

Many marchers said they were protesting against the “conspiracy” of the government, and the “gay” and “feminist” lobbies, to brainwash primary school pupils into forgetting that they were boys and girls. In recent months an apparently baseless conviction that something called “gender theory” is to be imposed in France has been created by a de facto alliance of fundamentalist Catholics and ultra-right wing, anti-Semitic and anti-gay nationalists.

One banner on yesterday’s march read, bizarrely: “Gender. Never, never, never.” Another read: “The school should instruct. Only the family should educate.”

Mr Valls said in a newspaper interview yesterday: “We are witnessing a union of extremes, never before seen in France… [Last week] was the first time for a long time that people have screamed their hatred of Jews in the street.

“A block of protest is forming, a rebellion which is anti-elite, anti-state, anti-tax, anti-parliament, anti-press … but also, and above all, anti-Semitic, racist and homophobe.”

Mr Valls is playing with fire. Most of the people on yesterday’s march – and many of the protesters at last week’s “day of anger” – were radical Catholics or conservatives: anti-gay, perhaps, but not  anti-Semite or anti-Republican.

One protester, Alain, 67, a businessman, said: “Valls thinks that he can contain these protests by painting us all as dangerous extremists. When I was young, every left-winger was accused of being a communist. Now, to this government and the mainstream media, every right-winger is a fascist.”

And yet Mr Valls also has a point. France’s economic sufferings are fusing with contempt for President Hollande to dissolve barriers between radical, but respectable, conservatism and violent, new extremes (even more extreme than the National Front). This, in itself, is reminiscent of the poisonous politics of France in the 1930s.

 

Protesters at the rally oppose the fertilisation help that is being offered to lesbians

Protesters at the rally oppose the fertilisation help that is being offered to lesbians

Centre-right and even far-right politicians, such as the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, are torn between condemning and trying to channel the new radicalism. One name connects a number of recent events or phenomena, including the rise of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’Bala and the anti-Jewish banners and chanting on last week’s march. It also arises in connection with a recent obscene internet and text campaign which persuaded hundreds of French parents that the government wanted primary school children to masturbate in class.

The common factor is Alain Soral, a 55-year-old Franco-Swiss ex-communist who preaches a new and virulent form of French nationalism. His declared aim is to unite poor people – white, brown and black – in a revolt against the “dictatorship” of capitalists, progressives, Jews and gays. Mr Soral, an avowed anti-Semite and “national socialist”, is Dieudonné’s political guru. He was long regarded as a marginal figure. No more.

Mr Valls accused him yesterday of creating a new “abscess of rampant hatred” in France. “Alain Soral, through his use of the net, the networks he has created, is uniting and federating an unprecedented front of extremes,” Mr Valls said.

Mr Soral had no connection with yesterday’s march. It was mischievous of Mr Valls to imply that he did. But many of yesterday’s marchers nevertheless swallow wholesale the distortions pedalled by Mr Soral and by Catholic extremists in recent months on “la théorie du genre” – or gender theory. They demanded the withdrawal of a pilot programme in four areas of France which seeks to steer primary school boys and girls away from gender stereotypes.

This apparently modest programme consists of trying to persuade girls that they can perfectly well drive tractors and boys that they can be ballet dancers if they want to. Harmless? Not as far as the marchers were concerned.

Adèle, 42, demonstrating with her three small children yesterday, said: “What they are really trying to do is to destroy the family. It is all part of the same plan as the gay marriage law, to impose a completely new set of values on French society.”

It was this programme which was the subject of the obscene rumour spread by text and online a few days ago by Mr Soral’s lieutenant, Farida Belghoul. Texts, tweets and emails persuaded hundreds of mostly black and Muslim parents that there would be masturbation and cross-dressing in primary schools.

More moderate protesters against gender theory have been slow to repudiate the nonsense disseminated by Mr Soral and his friends.

Béatrice Bourges is the spokeswoman for Printemps Français (“French Spring”) one of the more radical groups behind yesterday’s march – and last week’s. She is currently on hunger strike demanding the impeachment of Mr Hollande by the national assembly.

She accuses the President of “bringing France to its knees” morally as well as economically – not because of his alleged affair with an actress but by “perverting the school system” to “destroy our families”.

One of France’s most popular conservative columnists, Ivan Rioufol, of Le Figaro, accused Ms Bourges and other radical Catholics this week of “undermining their own credibility” and “playing into the hands” of the government by failing to erect firewalls between their movement and racist, “plot-obsessed” extremists.

Ms Bourges told The Independent that she tried to stop the anti-Semitic outbreaks last week. She said she had “never met this man Soral”. But she refused to repudiate the campaign which persuaded hundreds of parents to take their children out of school.

“It performed a useful function in drawing attention to the dangers of gender theory and what the government is trying to do to the family in this country,” she said.

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DOESN’T ANYONE READ THE NEWS?

The State of the Union address is one of the few times each year when a large percentage of Americans reliably pay attention to politics. Once upon a time, as legend has it, things were different: most Americans tuned into Walter Cronkite in the evening or picked up the morning newspaper, which covered matters of national and international importance, like politics, foreign affairs, and business developments.

If analysts at Microsoft Research are correct, a startling number of American Web users are no longer paying attention to the news as it is traditionally defined. In a recent study of “filter bubbles,” Sharad Goel, Seth Flaxman, and Justin Rao asked how many Web users actually read the news online. Out of a sample of 1.2 million American users, just over fifty thousand, or four per cent, were “active news customers” of “front section” news. The other ninety-six per cent found other things to read.

The authors defined an active news customer as someone who read at least ten substantive news articles and two opinion pieces in a three-month period—if you remove the requirement of reading opinion pieces, the number of news readers climbs to fourteen per cent. The authors studied U.S.-based Web users who, between March and May of 2013, accumulated a total of 2.3 billion page views.

News can be a vague category; the authors defined by collecting news sites with appreciable traffic (the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News), blogs (Daily Kos and Breitbart), and regional dailies (the Seattle Times and the Denver Post). Using “machine learning” algorithms, the authors separated what, based on word usage, they considered front-section news from the other content on news sites, like sports, weather, life style, and entertainment. What’s left is the narrow, classical news article, about, say, the State of the Union, as opposed to one about the latest adventures of Justin Bieber or Farrah Abraham.

Various influences shaped the study. The data was collected only from Internet Explorer users (who, the authors say, tend to be slightly older), and it represents only those who agreed to make their Web-browsing history available. Additionally, just because people don’t surf news Web sites doesn’t mean that they don’t get news from other sources, like physical newspapers, talk radio, Twitter, “The Colbert Report,” or the evening news.

That said, the sample size, 1.2 million, is impressive—far greater than that of a typical survey. And the number of people whom the study shows to be paying attention to the news online is consistent with the low ratings of cable news during the same period. Also, as opposed to relying on what people said they did, the Microsoft researchers drew on a record of what they actually did, which is significantly different. In a 2012 Pew survey, for example, thirty-nine per cent of people said that they had read news online the day before. The difference between the two numbers—fourteen and thirty-nine—may, in part, reflect different definitions of “news.” (The Pew survey did not define the term.) And, of course, what people like to think they do is often different from what they do.

Assuming that Microsoft’s numbers show a real phenomenon, though, they do introduce some perspective. Journalists and political junkies often presume that everyone cares about politics all of the time. But the fourteen-per-cent number makes it seem more like a hobby or a subculture, something like the N.H.L. or Nascar—a deep obsession for some of members of the population but of limited interest to anyone else, unless something extreme happens.

To be sure, twelve to forty-two million potential readers is a respectable audience; it’s more than that of mixed martial arts, say, even if it’s not at the level of N.F.L. football. But, mainly, it suggests that attention to politics, once a basic mandate of citizenship, is now an entertainment option, in fierce competition with other forms of entertainment. Politicians’ awareness that they don’t have a guaranteed audience may also account for the increased use of reality-TV strategies in politics. We can see the congressional shutdown, in part, as an effort to move the numbers.

The figure is also important to the concept of filter bubbles, the main subject of the Microsoft paper. Commentators and journalists (and, of course, Barack Obama) have long bemoaned the division of America into highly polarized ideological camps, said to bereinforced by online filtering. But it seems that the most important filter bubble is the one that could be labelled, simply, “ignore everything.” It’s the bubble filled with people who, so long as the country remains basically stable, pay no attention to partisan politics.

The number may also help us understand why a relatively small number of motivated people can have such a significant effect on American politics and policy. For better or worse, the number of people in this game is pretty small. Bottom line: if you can get one per cent of the population vaguely interested in something nowadays, that’s huge.

By Tim Wu, The New Yorker

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Map: Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism.

A large, publicly funded charter school system in Texas is teaching creationism to its students, Zack Kopplin recently reported in Slate. Creationist teachers don’t even need to be sneaky about it—the Texas state science education standards, as well as recent laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, permit public school teachers to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Meanwhile, in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, taxpayer money is funding creationist private schools through state tuition voucher or scholarship programs. Creationism in schools isn’t restricted to schoolhouses in remote villages where the separation of church and state is considered less sacred. If you live in any of these states, there’s a good chance your tax money is helping to convince some hapless students that evolution (the basis of all modern biological science, supported by everything we know about geology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields) is some sort of highly contested scientific hypothesis as credible as “God did it.”

State-by-state breakdown

Arizona: As many as 15 schools that teach creationism may be participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship program for disabled children or children attending underperforming schools. (Arizona has not released a list of private schools that have received students on this scholarship.)

Arkansas: Responsive Education Solutions operates two campuses in Arkansas that use creationist curricula. (See Texas.)

Colorado: At least eight schools in Douglas County teach creationism while participating in the Douglas County Scholarship Program.

Florida: At least 164 schools teach creationism while participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship programs for disabled children and children from low-income families.

Georgia: At least 34 schools teach creationism while participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship program for disabled children.

Indiana: At least 37 schools teach creationism while participating in the state’s voucher program for children from low-income families.

Louisiana: The Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 allows teachers to use “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner,” specifically theories regarding “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”—in effect, allowing creationist material inside classroom. It’s no coincidence that the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank that provides such “supplemental textbooks,” helped write the bill, which the American Association for the Advancement of Science described as an “assault against scientific integrity.”

Ohio: At least 20 schools teach creationism while participating in a tax credit scholarship program for children in underperforming public schools.

OklahomaAt least five schools teach creationism while participating in a tax credit scholarship program for disabled children.

Tennessee: A 2012 state law, like Louisiana’s, permits public school teachers to teach the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of theories that can “cause controversy,” specifically citing evolution, global warming, and cloning, therebyproviding legal cover for teachers who want to forward creationist pseudoscience.

Texas: The state’s largest charter program, Responsive Ed, receives $82 million in taxpayer money each year, but that hasn’t stopped its schools from adopting acreationist curriculum that seriously misrepresents the science of evolution. These materials wrongly portray the fossil record and the age of Earth as scientifically controversial, assert that there is a lack of “transitional fossils,” and claim evolution is untestable.

Utah: At least five schools teach creationism while participating in a tax-credit scholarship program for disabled children.

Washington, D.C.: At least three schools teach creationism while participating in a tax-credit scholarship program for children from low-income families.

Wisconsin: At least 15 schools teach creationism while participating in a Milwaukee or Racine voucher programs.

 

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Paul Ryan is wrong: Wealthiest Americans are not “makers,” they’re mercenary takers

The top individuals on the 2013 Forbes 400 list are generally believed to be makers of great companies or concepts. They are the role models of Paul Ryan, who laments, “We’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America.” They are defended by Cato Institute CEO John A. Allison IV, who once protested: “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive.”

But many of the richest Americans are takers. The top twenty, with a total net worth of almost two-thirds of a trillion dollars, have all taken from the public or from employees, or through taxes or untaxed inheritances.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates may be a knowledgeable and hard-working man, but he was also lucky and opportunistic. He was a taker. In 1975, at the age of 20, he founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. This was the era of the first desktop computers, and numerous small companies were trying to program them, most notably Digital Research, headed by brilliant software designer Gary Kildall. His CP/M operating system (OS) was the industry standard. Even Gates’ company used it.

But Kildall was an innovator, not a businessman, and when IBM came calling for an OS for the new IBM PC, his delays drove the big mainframe company to Gates. Even though the newly established Microsoft company couldn’t fill IBM’s needs, Gates and Allen saw an opportunity, and so they hurriedly bought the rights to another local company’s OS — which was based on Kildall’s CP/M system. Kildall wanted to sue, but intellectual property law for software had not yet been established. Kildall was a maker who got taken.

Warren Buffett

At first glance, Warren Buffett seems to be a different breed of multi-billionaire, advocating for higher taxes on the rich and a reasonable estate tax. But his company, Berkshire Hathaway, hasn’t been paying its taxes. According to the New York Post, “the company openly admits that it owes back taxes since as long ago as 2002.”

A review of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report confirms that despite profits of over $22 billion in 2012, a $255 million refund was claimed, while $44 billion in federal taxes remain deferred on the company’s balance sheet.

Berkshire Hathaway has another little surprise hidden in the small print of its income statement. It shows an income tax expense of almost $7 billion, all of it hypothetical.

Larry Ellison

Ellison was #1 on Sam Pizzigati’s Greediest of 2013 list. A well-deserved ranking. Since 2008 the Oracle CEO has awarded himself tens of millions of dollars in stock options and performance pay, most of it either tax-deferred or tax deductible. The money taken from the taxpayers served as a nice down-payment on Ellison’s purchase of the sixth-largest Hawaiian island.

Koch Brothers

This is an easy one, sad to say. Koch Industries is taking away our clean air and water, taking its waste to Detroit and Chicago, trying to take away the minimum wage, seeking to take down renewable energy initiatives, and taking away jobs

And trying to take us for fools, with statements like this from Charles Koch: “I want my legacy to be…a better way of life for…all Americans.”

The Walmart Family

Where to begin? Walmart takes from employees, takes from the taxpayers, takes from competitors and suppliers, takes from foreign workers, takes from the environment.

Walmart sales associates make about $9.00 per hour, which comes to $18,000 per year for a full-time worker, well below the poverty threshold for a family of four (and even below the threshold for a family of three).

Walmart makes more than that from profits and subsidies. In the U.S., the company makes over $18,000 per employee, including $13,000in pre-tax profits (after paying salaries) and a taxpayer subsidy of $5,815 per worker.

On top of all the business profits, the four members of the Walmart family made a combined $28.9 billion from their investments last year. Less than a third of that would have given every U.S. Walmart worker a $3.00 raise, enough to end the public subsidy.

Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg has taken from workers, vetoing the Prevailing Wage Bill while likening the higher wage campaign to communism. He has taken from children through cutbacks to child care and after-school programs. He has taken funding from the homeless, and he has taken away the dignity and civil rights of minorities through his “stop and frisk” policy. A long-term pattern of taking from the poor and redistributing to the rich has caused New York City to become the most unequal city in the United States.

Sheldon Adelson

Casino magnate Adelson is a taker. He had his Sands Corporation in Las Vegas declare a special dividend that will pay him $1.2 billion, at the capital gains tax rate. Meanwhile, The Sands took bribe money, admitting that it likely violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in its dealings with China.

Jeff Bezos

The Bezos way of taking is by using the extraordinary advantage of tax-free sales on Amazon to offer discounts while undercutting competitors. While this might seem like a failure of government rather than an appropriation by business, it’s a little of both, since Bezos, according to Slate, has “spent millions of dollars per year on lobbyists, deployed an army of lawyers, and cultivated political allies with large campaign contributions.”

The Amazon CEO also takes from his employees, who are considered underpaid and overworked, making less for warehouse work than Walmart workers, fearful about joining unions, and at risk for physical breakdowns on the hottest working days.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Google’s business, like that of Facebook, is based on the Internet, which started as ARPANET, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency computer network from the 1960s. The National Science Foundation funded the Digital Library Initiativeresearch at Stanford University that was adopted as the Google model. (The late Steve Jobs spoke for the industry: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”)

Google has gained recognition as one of the world’s biggest tax avoiders, a master at the “Double Irish” revenue shift to Bermuda tax havens, and employing tax loopholes to bring money back to the U.S. without paying taxes on it.

The Mars Family

Jacqueline, John, and Forrest, Jr. are trying, along with the Kochs and the Waltons, to take more money out of their inherited and untaxed estates by conducting a coordinated campaign to repeal the estate tax. For all three families, the ‘makers’ were their parents or grandparents.

Lobbying for lower taxes by ill-informed or self-centered estate tax opponents is understandable. But according to a report by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy, “The families also have helped finance outside groups that have spent millions on fear-mongering ad campaigns intended to sway public opinion against the estate tax.”

Carl Icahn

Icahn is involved in an indirect but lucrative form of taking, asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to buy back $150 billion of its own stock. Stock buybacks are a means by which major corporations seek to put upward pressure on the market prices of their own shares. Icahn owns $2.5 billion of Apple stock.

George Soros

Soros went overseas to do his taking, betting heavily against the British Pound after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the point that overwhelming pressure was exerted on the Bank of England, leading to a collapse of the national currency.

In effect, Soros contributed to the destabilization of a major country’s financial position by manipulating the markets and choosing, as he put it, to “go for the jugular.”

Mark Zuckerberg

To a large extent Mark Zuckerberg took his Facebook idea from others, in both a long-term and immediate sense. As Gar Alperovitz noted, “Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s the National Science Foundation spent $200 million to build and operate a network of regional supercomputing hubs called the NSFNET. Connected to the ARPANET, this network established Internet access for nearly all U.S. universities, making it a civilian network in all but name.”

Zuckerberg developed his version of social networking while he was at Harvard. Before he made his contribution, Columbia University students Adam Goldberg and Wayne Ting built a system called Campus Network, which was much more sophisticated than the early versions of Facebook. But Zuckerberg eventually prevailed for at least three reasons: (1) the Harvard name; (2) better financial support; and (3) the simplicity of Facebook, which ironically boosted the system’s popularity among students engaging in social networking for the first time. A possible fourth reason: it was alleged that Zuckerberg hacked into competitors’ computers to compromise user data.

One More Take…

Bloomberg and Ellison and Zuckerberg and Page & Brin have one more cunning strategy for remaining on the take: $1 a year salaries.

It sounds noble, and generates a lot of good will. But as MSN Money puts it, “Dollar pay is typically a myth, since the CEOs getting $1 in salary often get huge stock-and-option grants.” Stock options, dividends, and performance pay are all either tax-deferred or untaxed, or taxed at the capital gains rate. If cash is needed, CEOs like Zuckerberg can borrow against their billions in stock holdings and real estate, at an interest rate much smaller than the income tax rate.

The richest Americans keep making money. And they’re taking the rest of us for all they can get.

 

FROM ALTERNET

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Drakes Bay Oyster Will Remain Open Pending Supreme Court Petition

Ninth Circuit Grants Motion Based on Significant Possibility of Oyster Farm Win in High Court

The Ninth Circuit has granted Drakes Bay Oyster’s motion to allow the historic oyster farm to remain open while its legal team petitions for the case to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The small, family-owned farm has been in a heated legal battle with federal regulators for its survival.

In granting the stay, the court had to find that there is a “reasonable probability” that the Supreme Court will take this case and a “significant possibility” that the oyster farm will win.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve our community while the high court considers our case,” said Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.

Observers of the closely watched case have expected the Supreme Court might want to hear the case in order to resolve three circuit splits—that is, issues on which two or more circuits in the U.S. court of appeals system have given different interpretations of federal law. The splits in this case are on important issues:  jurisdiction over agency actions, applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and prejudicial error under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The Ninth Circuit majority’s decision also presents a conflict with several decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court itself. In addition, Drakes Bay Oyster will suffer irreparable harm if the mandate is not stayed.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

The historic oyster farm in Drakes Estero, located in Point Reyes, Marin County, has been part of the community for nearly 100 years. The Lunnys, a fourth-generation Point Reyes ranching family, purchased the oyster farm in 2004. Modern environmentalists and proponents of sustainable agriculture praise Drakes Bay Oyster as a superb example of how people can produce high-quality food in harmony with the environment. The farm produces approximately one third of all oysters grown in California, and employs 30 members of the community. The Lunnys also contribute the oyster shells that make possible the restoration of native oysters in San Francisco Bay and the oyster shells used to create habitat for the endangered Snowy Plover and Least Tern. As the last oyster cannery in California, Drakes Bay is the only local (and thus the only safe and affordable) source of these shells. The Lunny family is proud of its contributions to a sustainable food model that conserves and maintains the productivity of the local landscapes and the health of its inhabitants. For more information, please visit www.drakesbayoyster.com.

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The Stealth War on Abortion

By Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone

On the morning of December 11th, Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic 42-year-old minority leader of the Michigan Senate, stood before her colleagues in the Statehouse in Lansing, and told them something she’d told almost no one before. “Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”

No one in the gallery said a word. Instead, with just hours to go before it broke for Christmas recess, Michigan’s overwhelmingly male, Republican-dominated Legislature, having held no hearings nor even a substantive debate, voted to pass one of the most punishing pieces of anti-abortion legislation anywhere in the country: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which would ban abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest, from virtually every health-insurance policy issued in the state. Women and their employers wanting this coverage will instead have to purchase a separate rider – often described as “rape insurance.” Whitmer, a Democrat known as a fierce advocate for women’s issues, described the new law as “by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve seen in the Michigan Legislature.”

And it’s not just Michigan. Eight other states now have laws preventing abortion coverage under comprehensive private insurance plans – only one of them, Utah, makes an exception for rape. And 24 states, including such traditionally blue states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ban some forms of abortion coverage from policies purchased through the new health exchanges. While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.

All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant.

Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade. “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front,” says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is currently litigating against some of the new anti-choice laws. “The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can’t come right out and say they’re trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place.”

Last June, the right’s stealth attack on abortion rights became front-page news, when, in an attempt to block a vote on a sweeping omnibus bill that included 20 pages of anti-abortion legislation, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis embarked on an 11-hour-plus filibuster in the Texas Statehouse. Wearing rouge-red Mizuno running shoes and an elegant string of pearls, the blond, blue-eyed Davis, a onetime single mother and a graduate of Harvard Law School, became an overnight symbol of what, in many states, is a growing popular resistance to the conservative anti-choice agenda. But Davis’ filibuster failed to prevent the Texas Legislature from holding a special session in July to pass the bill, despite widespread public opposition.

This was the latest failed battle to protect reproductive rights in a state that in the past few years has passed some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. Thanks to the cumulative impact of Texas law, a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure. This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when, in a specific attempt to defund Planned Parenthood – which operated only a portion of the state’s women’s-health clinics – the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screenings for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.

Much of the public outrage in recent years has revolved around extreme measures, like proposed “personhood amendments” that would have outlawed abortion outright, and banned many common forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. But the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business.

Twenty-six states, including Texas, have laws on their books requiring that abortion clinics become mini surgical centers, a costly proposition that would require clinics to widen hallways, expand parking lots, modify janitorial closets or install surgical sinks and pipelines for general anesthesia – regulations most providers say are unnecessary. Four states currently (and four more may soon) require that the doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which applies even in places where the nearest hospitals oppose abortion or are simply too far away to meet the state’s distance requirement. Sixteen states restrict medication-induced abortion; in 39 states, only licensed physicians – not their physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners – are permitted to hand out the drug. Fourteen states ban its use via telemedicine, which is often the only way a woman in a rural part of the country can consult with her doctor.

“It’s a brilliant strategy to package these laws as just making sure abortion is ‘safe,’ [and] in many states, they’ve been able to sell it that way,” says Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But abortion is already safe. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. By comparison, the mortality rate for colonoscopies, also commonly performed in outpatient clinics but not subject to similar restrictions, is about 20 out of 100,000.

This incremental approach to eviscerating abortion rights grew out of the recognition at the highest levels of the pro-life movement that their previous message – equating abortion with murder – and the accompanying extremist tactics weren’t working. “Twenty years ago, we’d storm a clinic and close it down for a day – and then I’d get thrown in jail,” says Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, the infamous Kansas-based anti-abortion group that made its name during the 1980s and early 1990s by blocking the entrances to clinics and holding noisy sit-ins – a practice Congress outlawed in 1994. Other tactics, which ranged from handing out pamphlets emblazoned with the image of aborted fetuses, to “naming and shaming” the friends and associates of abortion providers, proved equally unfruitful. “All of that just made the community angry – at me, at the clinic,” says Newman. “And I hated that. I don’t want to wave pictures on the street just to piss people off. I want to win.” So Newman stopped the overt harassment, and settled on a new plan to push for TRAP laws and document alleged abuses at abortion clinics and report them to the authorities. Today, there are only four clinics offering abortions in all of Kansas, which, like Michigan, has its own version of the “rape insurance” law, and has also imposed myriad other restrictions, including the criminalization of abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy. The so-called “20-week ban” violates one of Roe’s central provisions, that a woman has the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb – roughly 24 weeks by today’s medical standards. Nonetheless, nine states currently impose the ban, basing it on a theory that is widely disputed by medical groups, that a fetus is able to feel pain at five months.

Polls have consistently shown that support for abortion after the first trimester drops precipitously – 64 percent of the country opposes it during the second trimester, and 80 percent opposes it during the third trimester. This has allowed pro-life groups to strike a note that might on the surface seem reasonable, and as Newman points out, “once you start enforcing a second-trimester ban, the camel’s nose is in the tent.” Arkansas has banned abortion after 12 weeks. North Dakota recently passed a law to criminalize abortion after six weeks, a point when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.

Two Washington-based advocacy groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, are responsible for much of the model legislation restricting abortion, as well as for the grassroots organizing that’s been needed to pass it. Of the two, AUL, which describes itself as both the legal arm and “intellectual architect” of the movement, is chiefly responsible for the most recent and highly successful under-the-radar strategy.

“We don’t make frontal attacks,” AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest told the National Catholic Register in 2011. “Never attack where the enemy is strongest.” Some abortion-rights advocates have compared AUL to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter-suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus “pro-life playbook,” Defending Life, which it describes as “the definitive plan for countering a profit-centered and aggressive abortion industry, while laying the groundwork for the ultimate reversal of Roe.” Among its annual features is a 50-state “report card” on the state of anti-abortion legislation, as well as a step-by-step guide, Yoest says, to help lawmakers “understand that Roe v. Wade doesn’t preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.”

While “each state has a different scenario,” says Yoest, AUL’s central strategy is to make women – not the “unborn” – the focal point of its efforts. In the past few years, AUL has drafted numerous bills that claim to protect women, recently including them in a new package it has dubbed the “Women’s Protection Project.” Based on misleading facts and dubious medical information, the package is full of model legislation with names like the “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” (which requires parental notification or consent for underage abortions), the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” (imposes draconian regulations on abortion providers), the “Women’s Health Defense Act” (designed to protect women from the supposed physical and emotional health risks posed by later-term abortion) and the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” perhaps the most punishing measure in the package. To make it possible for a woman to give her “informed consent” before terminating a pregnancy, it requires that she view the fetus she is about to abort, justifying a mandatory ultrasound. “Forced ultrasounds tell a woman exactly what she already knows – that she’s pregnant,” says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “These laws aren’t intended to provide new or useful information; they are intended to force more burden and shame on women who are simply exercising a constitutional right.”

In 2012, Arizona became the first state to pass a version of the Women’s Health Defense Act, one of 65 “life-affirming” laws that AUL claims credit for in the past three years. According to the ACLU, during the 2013 legislative session AUL worked in at least 27 states to, among other things, ban later-term abortion in North Dakota, further limit access to abortion care in Kansas, tighten regulations on parental-consent laws in Arkansas and Montana, and restrict access to medication abortion in Mississippi, a state where unnecessary regulation has already shut down all but one abortion clinic.

While all of this speaks to the clever tactics of anti-abortion groups, it also speaks to the new culture of the Republican Party. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Michigan, where gerrymandering combined with term limits have handed the GOP a hammerlock on the state Legislature, at least one-third of whose members are freshmen during any given term. Because of this, abortion opponents like the National Right to Life Committee’s Michigan affiliate now have the kind of broad political influence they might have only dreamed of a few years earlier. “Right to Life of Michigan is looked upon by most Republican legislators – and probably some Democratic legislators – as one of the most coercive, if not the most coercive lobbying group in the state,” says former U.S. congressman Joe Schwarz, a self-described pro-choice Republican who served 16 years in the Michigan Statehouse, from 1987 to 2002. “The amount of pressure Right to Life both directly and indirectly puts on legislators in Michigan is considerable. And some legislators aren’t exactly profiles in courage when it comes to standing up to these guys.”

Right to Life of Michigan’s president, Barbara Listing, who also sits on the board of the national organization, is known as a savvy operator who has wielded power in the Michigan Statehouse for more than 20 years. As far back as the early 1990s, recalls former Republican legislator Shirley Johnson, Listing would show up in the gallery and tell pro-life legislators how to vote. “We’d be voting on an amendment, something that those members who vote Right to Life did not have the opportunity to read, and they would look right up there and she’d give them a thumbs up or thumbs down,” says Johnson. “Most of us were shocked, but we got used to it.”

Michigan’s “rape insurance” law was written by Right to Life, which had proposed it twice before – most recently in 2012. Two governors, including Republican Rick Snyder, vetoed the bill – Snyder, who opposes abortion, nonetheless said he felt the bill “went too far.” So Right to Life employed a rarely used provision in the state constitution that allows for a citizens’ initiative to bring a bill to the Legislature, provided a certain percentage of the electorate supports it. Michigan abortion opponents spent four months gathering the requisite 258,088 signatures to reintroduce the insurance ban, skirting the veto entirely. “We used the democratic process and we won,” says Right to Life of Michigan spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling.

After the vote, says Gretchen Whitmer, a number of her Republican colleagues approached her to say they wished they’d had the courage to vote against the bill. “That was a tough thing to hear,” she says. “Not one Republican stood up and defended what they were doing – not one. Every one of them will get up and defend a business tax cut. Not one of them defended this action.”

Of the 30 states that have been actively pursuing the anti-abortion agenda, most, like Michigan, are also anti-union right-to-work states, where the alliance of powerful donors and corporate interests has been steadily working to change the political game. Thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision, conservative dark-money groups have spent millions on political campaigns, much of it impossible to trace. “There’s a lot of money behind this effort, and you have to ask, ‘Why is that?’” says the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northup. “It’s been apparent to me for a long time that this is part of a huge, larger agenda, and we’re just the canary in the coal mine. What this is really about is democracy.”

In Michigan, Amway scion Richard “Dick” DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state’s “freedom to work” legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state’s “rape insurance” bill.

A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor’s mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public’s scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the “motorcycle-vagina bill,” as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state’s 16 abortion clinics.

Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”

Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.

“This is what progressives don’t understand,” says Tabachnick. “The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they’re in a place where regardless of what’s happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that’s helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up.”

This union has been the key to not just the success of pro-life legislation, but also the avalanche of other model legislation to defeat the federal government promoted by groups like ALEC, which receives heavy backing from the State Policy Network, the free-market coalition of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” with branches in every state. Though they maintain their focus is strictly economic, many lawmakers who serve as state ALEC chairs also happen to be the leading proponents of anti-abortion legislation. At an ALEC conference last August in Chicago, Wisconsin Democrat Chris Taylor, a state senator, recalls that AUL had a prominent booth in the exhibition hall. “The relationship isn’t formal,” she says, “but they are clearly working in conjunction to help change the face of the legislatures.”

The good news is that in states where some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation has been proposed, the public is fighting back. On Monday, January 6th, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing arguments from pro-choice organizations on why the Texas laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges and regulating how they can prescribe abortion-induced drugs were unconstitutional. And Wendy Davis, whose filibuster catapulted her to national prominence, is now running for Texas governor, hoping to reverse two decades of Republican control. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters rejected a 20-week ban that would have amounted to the first municipal abortion restriction in the country. But the victory, decided by 55 percent of Albuquerque voters, only came after abortion-rights groups poured close to $700,000 into defeating the measure, outspending anti-abortion organizations by more than three to one.

“Republicans are alienating women voters with these policies, and the number of women who are running and winning at the state and federal levels proves that women reject this regressive agenda,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to state and federal offices. But while some on the left think the right may have overplayed its hand, others see these defeats as simply incidental. “This type of thinking is how progressives delude themselves,” says Tabachnick. “The problem with the left is that it pretty much fights every battle from scratch. But the right is playing chess: They are willing to lose a pawn here or there to achieve the larger goal.”

This story is from the January 30th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

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Legal experts: Alleged Sandy extortion could be more serious than Bridgegate

Legal experts in New Jersey aren’t surprised at how quickly area U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman responded to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that the Chris Christie administration tried to extort her into supporting a development project if she wanted more Sandy relief funding.  They not only think there’s enough evidence to open a preliminary investigation (a BFD in and of itself)–but that in the long run, Christie may have more to fear from this than Bridgegate.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.

“Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious.”

Aidan O’Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office considering the gravity of Zimmer’s charges and the enormous public interest.

“You’re going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do,” O’Connor said. “The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation.”

He said the mayor’s journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration’s struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer’s memory of the encounters.

“At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor’s word at this stage,” O’Connor said.

But Cohen said the diary would be “a very important piece of evidence.”

“It adds credibility to the statement,” the Fordham professor said. “She took the trouble to write something down.”

Cohen went on to say that this case will almost certainly go to court, since it’s a slam dunk that there’s probably more evidence.  He also thinks that if there is something to these charges, other local officials will likely speak up.  And if this ends up going to trial, anyone involved in this could face some serious jail time–with some of the potential offenses carrying a minimum of five years in prison.

Zimmer outlined some of that potential evidence last night on Anderson Cooper 360.  She produced two letters that document how she claims the Christie administration was turning the screws on her.  She also revealed why she waited so long to come forward–she was afraid if she spoke up any sooner, it would cripple her city’s chances of getting more funding.  Watch part 1 of that interview here and part 2 here.

The first letter, dated April 23, says that given the damage to Hoboken’s infrastructure, the proposed development project would be a waste.  She told Christie in no uncertain terms, “Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken’s flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development.”  The second letter, dated May 8, was penned less than 24 hours after the already battered city was slammed by a rainstorm; much of the western half of the city was flooded.  Zimmer was aghast that Christie refused to greenlight any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan.  The implication–that funding was dependent on the development project.  According to the Jersey (City) Journal the Hoboken planning board effectively deep-sixed the project on the same day Zimmer sent her second letter.

I have to admit, I was surprised that this could potentially be more serious than Bridgegate.  After all, it doesn’t seem that you could get more serious than an act that not only willfully interferes with interstate commerce, but also puts people’s lives in danger.  But after reading those letters Zimmer provided, I have to agree that this mess is at least as egregious as Bridgegate.  If Zimmer is telling the truth, Christie and his people knew that an entire city was finding it hard to survive–and yet were still willing to play games with their livelihood.  That makes Christie look even more depraved than Bush 43 partying while the levees blew during Katrina–and I didn’t think that was possible.

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