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LGBT group boycotts Beverly Hills Hotel after its owner, the Sultan of Brunei, will institute policy condemning homosexuals to death by stoning

  • Brunei is planning to implement the Sharia Penal Code, which calls for the stoning of people who commit a variety of sexual ‘crimes’
  • Currently, homosexuality is punishable by up to 10 years in prison
  • The United Nations already has warned that Brunei’s new penal code violates international human rights standards
  • The Sultan also owns The Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, 45 Park Lane in London and Le Meurice in Paris

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER

An LGBT advocacy group has moved the location of a conference it is planning to hold later this year from the Beverly Hills Hotel to a different location in protest of anti-gay policies being adopted by the Sultan of Brunei – the owner of the hotel – that calls for homosexuals to be stoned to death.

The Gill Action Fund, which was founded by activist Tim Gill, was scheduled to host its ‘Winning the Heartland’ conference for political donors at the Hotel from May 1-4.

However, because of the draconian laws regarding ‘sexual crimes’ Brunei is set to adopt later this month, the group has canceled its conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel and is looking for a new location.

Iconic: The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Dorchester Group, which is controlled by the Sultan of Brunei

Iconic: The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Dorchester Group, which is controlled by the Sultan of Brunei
Sharia: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah plans to implement a Sharia Penal Code, which calls for the stoning of gays

 Sharia: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah plans to implement a Sharia Penal Code, which calls for the stoning of gays

 

‘In light of the horrific anti-gay policy approved by the Government of Brunei, Gill Action made the decision earlier today to relocate its conference from the Beverly Hills Hotel to another property,’ Gill Action Executive Director Kirk Fordham told washingtonblade.com. ‘We are seeking a return of all deposits.’

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced last year that his tiny, oil-rich nation would begin to implement a Shariah Penal Code in his country, which calls for grisly executions of anyone committing a variety of sexual ‘crimes,’ including sodomy, adultery and rape.

‘By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled,’ the sultan said at a legal conference in Brunei’s capital last year.

The law would apply only to Muslims, who comprise about two-thirds of the population of nearly 420,000 people. The others follow mainly Buddhist, Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

Boycott: The Gill Action Fund, started by activist Tim Gill, is taking its business elsewhere

Boycott: The Gill Action Fund, started by activist Tim Gill, is taking its business elsewhere

 

Brunei’s Mufti Awang Abdul Aziz, the country’s top Islamic scholar, said last year that Shariah law ‘guarantees justice for everyone and safeguards their well-being.’

‘Let us not just look at the hand-cutting or the stoning or the caning per se, but let us also look at the conditions governing them,’ Awang said. ‘It is not indiscriminate cutting or stoning or caning. There are conditions and there are methods that are just and fair.’

Under secular laws, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane.

The United Nations already has criticized Brunei’s adoption of the Sharia Penal Code, claiming it does not meet international human rights standards.

‘Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” UN High Commission on Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said last week.

Even before the new penal code was adopted, homosexual acts were punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Brunei.

Dorchester: The hotel is owned by the Dorchester Group, which is controlled by the Sultan and owns other hotels throughout the world

Dorchester: The hotel is owned by the Dorchester Group, which is controlled by the Sultan and owns other hotels throughout the world

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Mayor Lee & Board President Chiu Launch Ellis Act Housing Preference Program

New Law Gives Displaced Tenants Preference for City’s Affordable Housing

Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu today launched the Ellis Act Housing Preference Program (EAHP) for tenants who are evicted under the State Ellis Act. Displaced tenants will now be given preference for the City’s affordable housing programs.

“This gives San Francisco’s longtime tenants and working families the much needed and urgent help they need after an Ellis Act eviction,” said Mayor Lee. “While we work on Ellis Act Reform to eliminate speculative evictions in our City, we are also providing some relief to tenants who can now more easily participate in San Francisco’s affordable housing programs, so that we remain a City for the 100 percent.”

“We must do everything we can to help San Franciscans facing Ellis Act evictions,” said Board President Chiu, who began this legislative effort in October 2013. “This safety net measure assists our most vulnerable tenants and reinforces our commitment to building more affordable housing as quickly as possible.”

The Ellis Act Displacement Emergency Assistance Ordinance, which responded to concerns in the rise of Ellis Act Evictions that paralleled rising market-rate housing prices, was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Lee on December 18, 2013.

Landlords subject to the Rent Ordinance must have “just cause” to evict existing tenants. Of several allowable reasons for eviction that are not the tenant’s fault (“No-Fault Evictions”), Owner Move-In and Ellis Act Evictions are historically the most numerous. No-Fault Evictions rose significantly in 2013.

In response, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development created the EAHP to assist the rising number of tenants displaced due to Ellis Act evictions and for whom a market rate rental unit is unaffordable.

The EAHP gives displaced tenant preference in City affordable housing programs. Tenants who have been or may be displaced by Ellis Act Evictions that took place in 2012 or later may apply for an EAHP certificate from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. An EAHP Certificate will give tenants priority consideration to obtain a housing unit in a City-funded or Inclusionary housing development. Applicants must meet program eligibility rules.

For more information on the EAHP and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, go to sf-moh.org.

 

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Louisiana’s bold stand against sodomy

The culture war’s focus has narrowed quite a bit in recent years. Whereas the political combat over hot-button social issues used to include issues like school prayer, access to pornography, and Ten Commandments displays, the contemporary culture war tends to focus on sexual health (access to abortion and contraception) and gay rights (most notably marriage equality).
But once in a while, anti-sodomy laws return to the fore.
It was, after all, just last summer that Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli (R), at the time the state Attorney General, fought in support of an anti-sodomy measure that had already been struck down in the courts. This week in Louisiana, meanwhile, state lawmakersprotected an anti-sodomy law that’s already been deemed unconstitutional.
The Louisiana House of Representatives rejected legislation, on Tuesday, that would remove the state’s symbolic ban on certain kinds of sodomy. The bill failed by a wide margin on a vote of 27-67, with 11 members not voting.
Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law was overturned and declared unconstitutional in 2003, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling such state statutes could not be enforced. Still, the Legislature has been unwilling to officially strike the measure from state law, even though it can’t be used as a cause for arrest.
A House Committee passed the legislation onto the body’s floor by a vote of 9-6 last week. But one of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups, the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum, opposes striking the sodomy ban.
And in this case, the Louisiana Family Forum won.
Keep in mind, everyone involved realizes that Louisiana’s anti-sodomy statute cannot legally be enforced. It’s effectively legal window dressing – it’s just sitting there, serving no practical purpose. But rather than removing unenforceable clutter from their books, Louisiana’s state House, with the overwhelming support of its Republican majority, agreed with the Louisiana Family Forum’s assessment that the unconstitutional anti-sodomy statute is “consistent with the values of Louisiana residents who consider this behavior to be dangerous, unhealthy and immoral.”
It’s tempting to think it this is largely a fight over symbolism, but it’s worth noting that last July, the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s office began arresting men for agreeing to have consensual sex with other men. When asked to defend the arrest, the sheriff’s office pointed to the statute that’s “still on the books of the Louisiana criminal code.”
That the statute is dead-letter law didn’t seem to matter.
None of those charged faced prosecution – lawyers couldn’t find any evidence that a crime had been committed – but the incident served as a reminder that it’s generally not a good idea to leave unconstitutional laws in place just for the heck of it.
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The Bundy crisis in Nevada: Don’t like a law? Get a gun.

It’s not uncommon for conservative media to put a very different spin on current events than major news organizations. For example, news consumers who surround themselves with nothing but conservative media might believe right now that the Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral, the IRS “scandal” is heating up; the nation is facing a debt crisis; the Benghazi conspiracy will soon rock the White House; etc.
But once in a while, conservative media doesn’t just put a unique spin on the news, it also identifies stories that exist largely below the radar. Over the last week, for example, far-right news consumers have been captivated with coverage of Cliven Bundy, while for much of the American mainstream, that name probably doesn’t even sound familiar.
If you don’t know the story, it’s time to get up to speed.
U.S. officials ended a stand-off with hundreds of armed protesters in the Nevada desert on Saturday, calling off the government’s roundup of cattle it said were illegally grazing on federal land and giving about 300 animals back to the rancher who owned them.
The dispute less than 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas between rancher Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had simmered for days. Bundy had stopped paying fees for grazing his cattle on the government land and officials said he had ignored court orders.
Anti-government groups, right-wing politicians and gun-rights activists camped around Bundy’s ranch to support him.
By any fair definition, this was an intense standoff with a very real possibility of significant casualties.
But to understand how and why the crisis unfolded as it did over the weekend, we have to start with how it started in the first place.
Ian Millhiser did  a nice job summarizing the backstory.
This conflict arises out of rancher Cliven Bundy’s many years of illegally grazing his cattle on federal lands. In 1998, a federal court ordered Bundy to cease grazing his livestock on an area of federal land known as the Bunkerville Allotment, and required him to pay the federal government $200 per day per head of cattle remaining on federal lands. Around the time it issued this order, the court also commented that “[t]he government has shown commendable restraint in allowing this trespass to continue for so long without impounding Bundy’s livestock.” Fifteen years later, Bundy continued to defy this court order.
Last October, the federal government returned to court and obtained a new order, providing that “Bundy shall remove his livestock from the former Bunkerville Allotment within 45 days of the date hereof, and that the United States is entitled to seize and remove to impound any of Bundy’s cattle that remain in trespass after 45 days of the date hereof.” A third federal court order issued the same year explains that Bundy did not simply refuse to stop trespassing on federal lands – he actually expanded the range of his trespassing. According to the third order, “Bundy’s cattle have moved beyond the boundaries of the Bunkerville Allotment and are now trespassing on a broad swath of additional federal land (the “New Trespass Lands”), including public lands within the Gold Butte area that are administered by the BLM, and National Park System land within the Overton Arm and Gold Butte areas of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.” The third order also authorizes the federal government to “impound any of Bundy’s cattle that remain in trespass.”
So, on the one hand we have Bundy, who’s said, “I don’t recognize [the] United States government as even existing.” It led him to repeatedly ignore federal law, repeatedly blow federal court rulings, and refuse to pay federal fines for his transgressions. On the other hand we have the United States government – which does, in fact, exist – showing considerable restraint in trying to resolve the problem.
All of this started to come to a head last week, with federal officials going to the area late last week to enforce the law and seize the cattle Bundy has been illegally grazing. Except this proved to be problematic – Bundy’s heavily-armed allies, egged on by conservative media, showed up from a variety of Western states to confront U.S. officials.
Facing the very real possibility that the anti-government forces might open fire, U.S. officials backed off in the interest of maintaining public safety.
“Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, said in a statement.
Bundy’s cattle, which had been rounded up, were released. The Bundy supporters and assorted militia members were pleased, the crowds dispersed, and no one was shot.
But you probably see the problem: it’s unsustainable to think a group of well-armed extremists can simply block the enforcement of American laws in the United States. It’s perfectly understandable that the Bureau of Land Management saw a crisis unfolding and pulled back to prevent bloodshed, but there’s an obvious problem with establishing a radical precedent: you, too, can ignore the law and disregard court rulings you don’t like, just so long as you have well-armed friends pointing guns at Americans.
To put it mildly, that’s not how the American system works. Indeed, that’s not how any system of government can ever work.
Tensions eased over the weekend, but it seems likely that this story isn’t over yet.
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Judge: Ohio must recognize out-of-state gay marriages

Proponents of marriage equality have been on quite a winning streak in the courts, targeting anti-gay laws in states across the country. That streak continued this morning in Ohio.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black has formally ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, but he put a hold on his order for the time being.
“Ohio’s marriage recognition is facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances,” Black said in an order he announced verbally 10 days ago.
“It is this court’s responsibility to give meaning and effect to the guarantees and of the U.S. Constitution and all American citizens and that responsibility is never more pressing than when the fundamental rights of some minority citizens are impacted by the legislative power of the majority.”
To be sure, the judge in this case had already made clear that this ruling was coming, but for civil-rights advocates, that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction that comes with another victory.
Indeed, note that Black was fairly aggressive in smacking down Ohio’s argument, concluding that the record “is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the State’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The case did not address whether or not same-sex couples can be married in Ohio, only whether same-sex marriages performed in other states should be legally recognized in the Buckeye State.
As for the current state of the law in Ohio, in light of the ruling, Chris Geidner reported, “The ruling is stayed, or put on hold, with Black inclined to issue a stay pending appeal as to the full recognition ruling. Black wrote, though, that he is inclined not to issue a stay ‘as to the as-applied claims of the four couples who are Plaintiffs because they have demonstrated that a stay will harm them individually due to the imminent births of their children and other time-sensitive concerns,’ but he announced in his ruling that he will be taking views from both the couples and the state on the question over the next day before deciding whether to issue a stay as to the four couples.”
For those keeping score, the Ohio ruling this morning comes on the heels of related victories in Michigan,VirginiaKentuckyOklahomaUtah and Texas, just from the last few months.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Gender politics: he, she or zie?

Last week, the Australian high court ruled that the sex of Norrie May-Welby was ‘non-specific’

Norrie, who identifies as a ‘spansexual’Norrie, who identifies as a ‘spansexual’

Meet Norrie May-Welby – or simply ‘Norrie’ as zie (no, that’s not a typo: bear with me) is known to the Australian media – a Scottish-born, Sydney-dwelling artist and political activist with a penchant for big sunglasses and provocative cartoons.
Except in one sense: Norrie (born Bruce Norrie Watson) is neither male nor female, hence the playfully evasive adopted surname.

Last week, the high court of Australia ruled that the sex of May-Welby was “non-specific”.

Norrie is not the first Australian whose gender has been legally declared to be neither male nor female – previous cases include Tony Briffa, a former mayor of Hobsons Bay in Victoria. In fact, since 2011, Australians have been able to tick a box marked “X” in the space for gender on passport applications.

But what is different about Norrie’s case is that it wasn’t merely about gender – a concept understood since at least ancient Greek times to encompass some fluidity – it was about sex. Specifically, it was about whether sex can be legally be “non-specific”.

Norrie, who identifies as a “spansexual”, was born with male sexual organs. Zie (the preferred pronoun of many of her fellow spansexuals, although Norrie is okay with “she” and “her”) underwent gender-reassignment surgery at the age of 28, but subsequently decided that she wasn’t female, or even intersex.

In 2010, Norrie successfully obtained a birth cert recognising that the gender affirmation surgery had left her with a sex that was “non-specific”. Cue global headlines about the “world’s first genderless person”, and a minor, embarrassed flurry in the New South Wales births, deaths and marriages office, which led to the status being rescinded just four weeks later. Since then, Norrie has been locked in a legal battle to have that birth cert reissued. That the high court ruled in Norrie’s favour has obvious implications for the estimated one in 2,000 children born intersex (with indeterminate sexual organs) each year. Instead of being boxed into one gender or the other immediately after birth, those in Australia now have time to determine which gender, if either, fits.

In the short term, Norrie’s victory may not seem to mean much to the rest of us; but to those for whom it matters, it matters a great deal. Facebook recognised the need for genders beyond the binary when, earlier this year, in a fit of either empathy or advertising savvy, it introduced a total of 56 gender options, up to 10 of which can be used on any one profile.

But even for the rest of us, it raises valid questions in a society obsessed with gender and sexual identity.

“Do you know what you’re having?” is the first question a pregnant woman gets asked (and the one she is asked at least twice a day, every day, until it can be replaced by “What did you have?”). As they grow, children’s gender is expected to determine the clothes they wear, the toys they will play with, the sports they participate in, and even where they are educated and work. As adults, we are required to declare our gender on everything from car-insurance forms to bank-account applications. Sex has become a shorthand for much more than our chromosomal make-up; it’s the bluntest and most effective way we have of corralling one another into rigid stereotypes.

But if people such as Norrie force us to recognise sex as something more fluid – if we accept that, like sexuality, it might more accurately be said to exist on a spectrum – then such divisions begin to seem more meaningless than ever.

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Washington Hospital Physician Among the First in Bay Area to Implant Lifesaving Device for Patients at Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death

Christine Ortiz, 59 of Union City, is one of the first patients in the Bay Area to receive a new unique cardiac device known as a Subcutaneous ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator). Her life nearly came to an end after she suffered what is known as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), a condition where the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Without rapid medical attention, a person can die within a few minutes. The incident occurred while Ms. Ortiz, who is the proud grandmother to six grandchildren, was watching her grandson’s high school wrestling match. Thanks to a quick assessment by the school’s wrestling coach and a Washington Hospital athletic trainer, Ms. Ortiz was resuscitated by emergency responders and transferred to Washington Hospital; an Alameda County designated cardiac receiving facility. Upon arrival, she was placed under the care of Washington Hospital cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Sanjay Bindra, who was involved in early studies when the device was in development. Not only was the life of Ms. Ortiz saved, but as a result of this new, revolutionary device, she is already resuming a normal life and is protected from another, potentially deadly episode of sudden cardiac arrest.

The recently FDA approved Boston Scientific S-ICD® System is the world’s first and only commercially available subcutaneous implantable defibrillator (S-ICD) for the treatment of patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). The S-ICD System is designed to provide the same protection from SCA as traditional ICDs; however the S-ICD System sits entirely just below the skin without the need for thin, insulated wires — known as electrodes or ‘leads’ — to be placed into the heart. This leaves the heart and blood vessels untouched, offering physicians and patients an alternative treatment to traditional ICDs and fewer potential long-term complications.

“This new device is a major leap forward in the treatment of patients like Christine,” said Dr. Bindra. “Because there are no wires into the heart with this device, the risk of infection and wear on the wires, which is an issue with traditional ICDs, is not a factor.” For younger patients, those with cardiac electrical disorders or prior infection complications, the S-ICD is invaluable.

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Powerball Winner to Use $425 Million to Travel, Start Charity

Ray Buxton, the winner of the $425 million Powerball lottery, wants to use his new found fortune to travel and start a foundation to do good by fighting child hunger and promoting pediatric health and education.

Buxton claimed his prize today from the California Lottery and is still overwhelmed with excitement. “Unbelievable” is the best word, he said, to describe his winning the sixth largest Powerball jackpot in history.

“Once the initial shock passed I couldn’t sleep for days,” is how the senior citizen described his feelings after realizing on Feb. 19 that he was sole ticket winner.

Since winning, he said, he has sat in front his computer in disbelief frequently re-checking the numbers across multiple sources. While validating the numbers at the California Lottery web site, he came across the “I Won! Now What? Winners Handbook,” and started to put a plan in motion. As advised in the handbook, it took some time to solidify legal and financial representation.

Buxton said his short term goals are to “spend time with my family and friends, start a charity and consult with professionals on how to pragmatically utilize this windfall.”

“My longer term plan is trying to find a way to live a normal and discreet life,” Buxton added.

Who was the first person he told about winning? Nobody, he said.

“Sitting on a ticket of this value was very scary. It’s amazing how a little slip of paper can change your life. I’m going to enjoy my new job setting up a charitable foundation focused on the areas of pediatric health, child hunger and education,” he added.

Buxton estimates he has been playing the lottery for 20 years. He beat the odds, which were one in 175 million, to become the winner of the $425.3 million Powerball Lottery on Feb. 19. He purchased his ticket at the Dixon Landing Chevron in Milpitas.  His winning Powerball numbers were 17, 49, 54, 35, and 1, with a Powerball number of 34.

He said played the lottery regularly under the mantra: “You can’t win if you don’t play.” The Feb. 19 Powerball jackpot was big – so he decided to test his luck twice purchasing a second ticket for the week’s draw. He had previously purchased an entry for the draw, but luckily chose to purchase a second Powerball ticket while picking up food at the Subway inside Milpitas Chevron on California Circle. It was a smart choice because he ended up matching six of six Powerball numbers to win.

He has selected the cash option, which according to Lottery officials, is around $242.2 million before Federal taxes.

Buxton waited until today to claim his prize. Since winning in February, he has been working with his attorney Susan von Herrmann at the law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP to establish bank accounts, a charity, and work on tax issues.

Buxton does not want to do media interviews at this time and referred all media to his public relations representative Sam Singer of Singer Associates Public Affairs and Public Relations in San Francisco.  Phone: 415-227-9700. Email: Singer@SingerSF.com

 

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Is Rick Scott Guilty of Murder?

Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims. Charlene Dill was a hardworking Florida woman, who moved down to Florida when she was just 18 years old. To help make ends meet, Charlene worked at various fast food restaurants, at Disney World, and even cleaned houses and babysat. As the years went by, Charlene found herself, as a single mother, struggling to raise 3 children.  Last year, Charlene made just $11,000 cleaning houses and babysitting. She used that money to help put food on the table for her children, and to put a roof over their heads.

Then Charlene discovered she had a severe heart problems that needed to be managed.  And she couldn’t afford to get it treated right, because Charlene didn’t have health insurance. Charlene fell into what’s called the “Red State Donut Hole,” created by Republican lawmakers like Rick Scott. It says that if you make over $5,400 and less than $11,400, you get no health insurance.

Below the $5,400, Charlene would have qualified for Florida’s pretty pathetic Medicaid program. Over $11,400, she would have qualified for free health insurance under Obamacare because of the subsidies for low-income people. But because she only earned $11,000, she made too little to qualify for Obamacare, but too much to qualify for Florida Medicaid.

This isn’t, of course, how the Obamacare law was written. But this giant Swiss Cheese hole was drilled into Obamacare by John Roberts, when the Supreme Court said that states could refuse to take federal money to pay to cover people who don’t earn enough to qualify for insurance subsidies but make more than state Medicaid programs will cover.  It was into that hole that Charlene fell.

Twenty-three states which are either controlled by a Republican governor or a Republican legislature have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to their citizens under Obamacare.  This is pure politics, an effort to sabotage Obamacare by cutting the working poor out of the program. Republicans are hoping that working poor people like Charlene will be so upset that they can’t get Obamacare, and won’t realize that it was the Republican governors who refused their eligibility, that they’ll be angry with Obama and the Democrats and vote Republican in 2014 and 2016.

It’s all about politics. These states are literally playing politics with people’s lives, and Charlene is one of the people they’ve now killed.  Around 5 million Americans won’t have access to healthcare in 2014, because they fall into the “Red State Donut Hole,” just like Charlene.

Since she didn’t have insurance, Charlene couldn’t afford a regular doctor or regular treatment. In 2012, Charlene went to the emergency room because of a flare-up with her heart. Doctors there told her to start taking medicine, and to be routinely monitored. But she couldn’t afford it, because she only made $11,000 a year and had to feed three kids, and Rick Scott wouldn’t let her have the free health insurance that working poor people in every Democratically-controlled state in America have.

Rick Scott was willing to let her to die so he could score political points against President Obama. Back in December, Charlene again went to the emergency room, this time because of abscesses in her legs. Shortly after that trip to the ER, Charlene picked up another job as a vacuum cleaner saleswoman, on top of babysitting and house cleaning, to help provide for her family and to pay for her ER bills, which weren’t covered because Rick Scott and the Florida Republicans refused to let the federal government pay for her Medicaid.

This past Friday, Charlene was supposed to go see one of her close friends, so their children could play together. Charlene never made it to her friend’s house. Charlene died during one of her vacuum cleaner sales appointments that day. The hardworking and loving single mother of three young children was just 32-years-young.

Charlene died because multimillionaire Republican and Florida Governor Rick Scott chose to play politics, rather than protect the lives of the Florida citizens he is supposed to be serving. And unfortunately, if Republicans across the country continue playing politics with peoples’ lives, Charlene won’t be the only one to die.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the City University of New York found that as many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of Republican states refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.  Samuel Dickman, one of the authors of the study, told Morning Call that, “The results were sobering. Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.”

Unfortunately, Republicans like Rick Scott don’t give a rat’s ass that their political decisions have life-and-death consequences.  Consequences like three young children losing their mother. They just want to smear Obama, and don’t care who dies, just so long as it’s just working poor people.

But enough is enough. Some things are more important than politics, and life is certainly one of them. Republicans say that they’re pro-life, but that’s a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid. If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they’re going to burn in hell. Deservedly.

From Thom Hartmann

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Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control

When the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases about birth control on Tuesday, few observers doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia’s sympathies will be the Christian business owners who charge that the mandate violates their religious liberties.

The Reagan-appointed jurist is a devout Catholic who has extolled “traditional Christian virtues” and insists the devil is “a real person.” He even has a son who’s a Catholic priest. He voted in 2012 to wipe out Obamacare in its entirety and has been President Barack Obama’s most outspoken foe on the Supreme Court.

And yet, Scalia’s past jurisprudence stands contradictory to the argument for striking down the Obamacare rule in question, which requires for-profit employers’ insurance plans to cover contraceptives (like Plan B, Ella and intrauterine devices) for female employees without co-pays.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness.

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Cornell, also addressed the tension.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Smith case offered a number of grounds for the conclusion that the Free Exercise Clause does not entitle religious objectors to exceptions from neutral laws of general application,” Dorf wrote in SCOTUSblog, observing that Scalia also posited that judges weren’t “competent” to decide which religions were deserving of exemptions.

In response to Scalia’s decision, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which says any law that “substantially burden[s]” a person’s exercise of religion must demonstrate a “compelling governmental interest” and employ the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. That’s the basis under which Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two businesses with religious owners, are suing for relief from the birth control rule.

And that might offer Scalia an escape hatch. Experts say he could conceivably decide that the First Amendment doesn’t protect a religious person’s entity’s to an exemption from the law but that RFRA suffices to let Hobby Lobby and certain others off the hook from the birth control rule. But even then, the RFRA argument isn’t clear-cut. Nineteen Democratic senators who voted for the law in 1993 have filed an amicus brief insisting that it doesn’t — and was never intended to — give for-profit companies a pass on the law.

It’s up to Scalia and the other justices to parse that question. If he axes the mandate on the basis of RFRA, he still has to contend with his earlier argument that such an outcome carries grave dangers for the rule of law.

“To permit this,” he wrote in Smith, quoting from an old court decision, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

SAHIL KAPUR, TPM

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Gluten Free Crepes Contest Winner at Squat and Gobble

Jessann Cohn, a trained chef who works as a caterer, has just moved the Gluten Free bar a bit further.   The Haight resident is the winner in the Squat and Gobble gluten free crepe contest and won $300 and a years worth of monthly meals.  Cohn currently works as a caterer with one of the larger SF catering companies.

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“”Crepe’ and ‘Gluten Free’ are rarely heard in the same sentence” according to Squat and Gobble managing partner Issa Sweidan.   “Because we specialize in crepes, we wanted to include an alternative for people with gluten issues.  So we conducted this contest to get some new ideas to make sure all of our customers can enjoy our family-friendly menu.”

Cohn’s winning recipe replaces traditional flour with chickpea flour among its chief ingredients.   Beginning this month a version of her crepe will appear on the menu at all five Squat and Gobble locations.

At the same time, all locations will offer gluten-free pasta, as well.

Squat and Gobble has served the Upper Haight, Lower Haight, Marina, Castro and West Portal since 1994.  Www.squatandgobble.com.

 

 

 

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Politician accused of buying sex toys with taxpayers’ money as expenses scandal hits Italy’s South Tyrol

An expenses scandal has broken out in the normally staid region of South Tyrol in northern Italy – after a female politician was accused of using taxpayers’ money to pay for a vibrator and other sex toys.

Ulli Mair, 39, a member of the centre-Right Freiheitlichen party in the German-speaking, autonomous region on the border with Austria, is suspected of buying the €65 items and then trying to claim them back as legitimate expenses.

She said the items were bought as a joke birthday present for a friend and denied that she had tried to claim back the cost of them from public funds.

They were purchased in May 2012 from a sex shop in Bolzano, the capital of the South Tyrol region, which retains a strong Germanic identity. The region, annexed to Italy after the First World War from Austria, has traditionally looked down its nose at the rest of Italy – particularly the south, which it regards as a hotbed of corruption.

Politicians across the country have been caught out claiming for items for their personal use, stoking anger among ordinary Italians.

One of the most ludicrous claims was for a pair of green underpants, bought on a visit to the United States by Roberto Cota, a senior politician from the Right-wing, secessionist Northern League.

The claim caused amusement in Italy because green is the official colour of the League, which has in the past campaigned for northern Italy to secede from the rest of the country.

In Rome, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s party was castigated for buying a brand new four-wheel-drive vehicle after the capital was hit by a highly unusual snowstorm. He claimed he needed the vehicle to get around the city, even though the snow lasted less than 48 hours.

According to a report released in December, corrupt officials cost Italian taxpayers €2 billion in 2013.

Politicians at national, regional and provincial level were accused of claiming state money for a range of fripperies such as truffle tastings, Tiffany jewellery and even lap dances.

In Calabria, politicians claimed for lottery scratch cards while in Campania a male politician put in for hair dye – despite the fact that he was nearly bald.

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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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