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Federal judge sent hundreds of racist messages

Last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Richard Cebull, an appointee of George W. Bush, was caught sending a racist email about President Obama from his courthouse chambers. At the time, Cebull, Montana’s chief federal judge for nearly five years, defended himself by saying the message “was not intended by me in any way to become public.”

It wasn’t long before the Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opened a misconduct review, and on Friday, we learned that Cebull kept awfully busy disseminating offensive messages to his personal and professional contacts. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:
A former Montana judge who was investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths, liberal political leaders, and some emails contained inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

Many of the emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull’s court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 15, 2013, order.
In case it’s not obvious, it’s critically important for federal judges to maintain a sense of credibility and impartiality. Once a jurist is exposed as a bigot, he or she can no longer expect to rule from the bench.

In Cebull’s case, the 9th Circuit was not lenient.

The panel issued a public reprimand, instructed that the judge receive no new cases for 180 days, ordered him to complete new round of judicial training, and told the judge he must issue an apology that acknowledged “the breadth of his behavior.”

Judicial impeachment was ruled out because he was not found to have violated any state or federal laws.

All of this, however, happened 10 months ago. Why didn’t we hear anything until now? Because Cebull resigned the same month as he received the judicial council’s report, making the sanctions moot.

That said, Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, petitioned the panel, arguing that the judicial council’s work should be made public. The committee agreed.

“The imperative of transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct,” the national judicial panel wrote in its decision.

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PG&E Attempt to Improperly Influence California PUC Should Result in Penalty, City of San Bruno Demands in Legal Filing

Jack Hagan, CPUC Safety HeadElizaveta Malashenko

Jack Hagan and Elizaveta Malashenko of the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division made allegedly illegal deal with PG&E

San Bruno, Calif. – An attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to broker what appears to be a secret deal with a California Public Utilities Commission staffer should result in significant penalties and fines for the utility company and the creation of an independent monitor to ensure transparency and accountability of the CPUC, San Bruno demanded in a legal filing with the CPUC today.

The apparent backroom deal, revealed in a report by Jaxon Van Derbecken San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, detailed how PG&E hoped to quietly pay  a $375,000 fine to avoid paying a proposed $2.5 billion in penalties and fines for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight, injured 66, destroyed 38 homes and left a giant hole in the center of the city.

In a legal motion filed with the CPUC on Friday, San Bruno officials demanded that PG&E face a significant fine for violating CPUC rules when, in December, it paid a $375,000 fine imposed by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division – and then quietly asked that the fine count against the multi-billion-dollar penalty it faces for violations stemming from the San Bruno pipeline disaster.

It was revealed that no parties involved in the more than three-year San Bruno penalty proceeding were made aware of PG&E’s secret payment. Instead, the CPUC withdrew the fine and refunded the $375,000 payment amid concerns that PG&E had attempted to broker a backroom deal that could have triggered a form of regulatory double jeopardy, preventing the CPUC’s administrative law judges from levying a sufficient future penalty.

“Instead of being transparent and forthcoming, PG&E appears to have consciously elected to conceal an ill-fated attempt to quietly settle for the fatal and tragic pipeline disaster in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We believe PG&E should be fined and reprimanded for trying to undermine the ongoing penalty investigation and possibly jeopardizing more than three years of work to ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

“This attempt to circumvent the legal and public process also raises troubling questions about the CPUC safety division and its staffer who attempted to conceal this backroom deal,” representatives for the city added. “This action is just the latest attempt by the PG&E and some members of the CPUC safety division to hide from public view the unholy alliance and power PG&E has with our State’s regulatory agency.  That is why San Bruno demands an independent monitor to ensure the CPUC is operating properly and transparently.”

The $375,000 fine was originally levied in December by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division in response to a 2012 audit, which concluded that for more than four decades PG&E lacked the proper procedures to monitor its gas-transmission pipelines. Reliable reports indicate that CPUC safety division deputy director Elizaveta Malashenko, who made this deal with PG&E, has a longstanding personal relationship with PG&E outside of her CPUC job.

Because the infraction related directly to the ongoing San Bruno-related penalty proceeding, it should have been handled as part of that process. Instead, it was handled and paid separately, without notification to any parties and in violation of CPUC’s own procedures.

San Bruno officials say they suspect that a backroom deal, involving illegal ex-parte communications between PG&E and the CPUC, played a role in this mishap. Attorneys for San Bruno have filed a public records request to determine whether PG&E officials spoke directly with CPUC leadership to arrange for the fine that PG&E paid – and later tried using to reduce their overall penalty.

In December, the CPUC fined PG&E $14 million for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

San Bruno officials say this latest attempt to undercut its obligation to the public further underscores the need for an Independent Pipeline Safety Monitor to serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and its regulator, the CPUC.

“The Commission lacks the resources to effectively comprehend and oversee PG&E’s compliance,” said the city’s filling. “An Independent Monitor would partner with and provide additional resources to the Commission in order to have more robust regulatory oversight necessary to protect the safety of the public.”

The San Bruno filing came on the same day as the announcement that CPUC Commissioner Mark Farron will be resigning from the Commission to concentrate on beating prostate cancer.

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Olympic Official Says U.S. Delegation is Too Gay

Whoops, someone at the Olympics seems to have gone a little off-message this week.

“It’s absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have (been established),” Mario Pescante told a committee. “The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily.”

Later, he added, “I just wanted to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics.”

This is a common refrain from Olympic apologists: the event should be about sports, sports, and sports, never about anything else.

This is, of course, a bizarre fantasy. The idea that they have somehow created an event that is immune to politics — well, no such event has ever existed and never will. Saying “it’s not political” doesn’t make it true.

Besides which, as “political” stunts go, arranging for three highly-qualified LGBT athletes to appear together in public is a pretty mild demonstration.

Pescante, by the way, has in the past arranged talks between Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials. Nothing political about that.

 

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Keystone contractor gives us 5 more reasons it has a conflict of interest

Politico just broke a big story. Environmental Resources Management, the firm hired by the State Department to do the environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is a member of five oil industry booster groups that have advocated for the approval of the pipeline and spent millions to lobby for its approval.

The groups include the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Western Energy Alliance, all of whom signed a letter to Congress calling for approval of the pipeline. API has spent upwards of $16 million lobbying for the pipeline since 2011, not a small sum by any standard.

These latest revelations should be the final nail in the coffin for the State Department’s flawed review which had already come under fire from the EPA and environmental groups for downplaying the climate impacts of the pipeline. Add the ongoing inspector general inquiry into ERM’s conflicts of interest which was launched in August, and it’s clear that  Secretary Kerry and President Obama should scrap ERM’s environmental review and start anew.

It’s not just me questioning the validity of the environmental review of Keystone XL.

Last week, led by Congressman Raul Grijalva, 25 members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama asking him to delay the release of the State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline until its inspector general completes its inquiry into the conflict of interest at the heart of the report.  “If the allegations that ERM lied…about its conflicts of interest turn out to be true” they wrote, then the State Department “must conduct a new EIS that is not tainted by conflicts of interest.”

For the uninitiated, here’s the backstory: TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, was asked in 2012 to submit a list of possible contractors to the State Department to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline. Unfortunately, this cozy practice of approving contractors is standard practice. Every contractor on TransCanada’s list had conflicts of interest. So State hired ERM, a London-based firm with offices in 36 states plus the District of Columbia.

What followed is isn’t quite Watergate, so we don’t need a Deepthroat to know what happened next. In fact all of the incriminating evidence that ERM lied on its application to get the Keystone contract is available on the internet, something not available to Watergate investigators.  On the official conflict of interest disclosure form it was required to submit ERM claimed that it had “no direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” In truth, ERM worked with TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, on the Alaska Pipeline Project in 2011. We also know that ERM has worked for over a dozen oil companies with a direct stake in whether Keystone XL gets built, despite stating on its conflict of interest disclosure form that it had no such ties.

All of this amounts to a big problem, a problem State Department officials should have avoided by denying ERM’s application. Congress now wants to find out why. We all should.

Changing market forces

While the State Department finishes its faulty environmental assessment of Keystone XL, new information keeps coming to light which undercuts the oil industry’s (and the State Department’s) argument that tar sands crude is coming out of the ground with or without Keystone XL. Chevron, for instance, recently estimated that bottlenecks in the supply chain for tar sands have cost the industry more than $16 billion per year. Two of the largest tar sands shippers, the ironically named Canadian Natural and Suncor, are waiting for Keystone XL to increase their production and losing money everyday that they can’t expand.

We also have learned from internal government documents that the Canadian government seems to have no intention of putting a cap on global warming emissions from the tar sands. NRDC’s Danielle Droitsch explains:

The newly released documents reveal industry and the Canadian and Alberta governments have been negotiating behind closed doors to identify possible new climate regulations for the tar sands sector.  Promises for new regulations on the oil and gas – including tar sands – sector have been sold to U.S. audiences as part of an aggressive lobbying campaign to promote the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  What the documents show is that under any of the proposals tar sands emissions will grow.  Industry’s proposal would enable a 70 percent growth in tar sands carbon pollution levels by 2020 from today’s level. Even the “toughest” proposal under consideration would lead to an increase of 60 percent of tar sands emissions.  And none of proposals under consideration will enable Canada to meet its international climate target.

Whatever happens with the inspector general’s report and the State Department’s review is anyone’s guess and is made more complicated by the fact that TransCanada and the Province of Alberta have hired, in the words of the Financial Times, a “who’s who of lobbyists and communications professionals with links to the Obama administration – and to John Kerry in particular.”

What we do know for sure is that eventually this will all land on President Obama’s desk. The president was swept into office, in part, by people who believed that he would tackle the climate crisis. Now is his chance to make good on his promises. He can show Big Oil that they can’t game the system by cleaning up the State Department’s flawed review and ultimately saying no to Keystone XL.

 

- See more at: http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2013-12-keystone-contractor-gives-us-5-more-reasons-they-hav#sthash.n99SvFRZ.dpuf

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Dozens arrested for being gay in north Nigeria

First the police targeted the gay men, then tortured them into naming dozens of others who now are being hunted down, human rights activists said Tuesday, warning that such persecution will rise under a new Nigerian law.

The men’s alleged crime? Belonging to a gay organization. The punishment? Up to 10 years in jail under the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that is getting international condemnation.

Dubbed the “Jail the Gays” bill, it further criminalizes homosexuality and will endanger programs fighting HIV-AIDS in the gay community, Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

On Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan’s office confirmed that the Nigerian leader signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them.

The witch hunt in Bauchi state all began with a wild rumor that the United States had paid gay activists $20 million to promote same-sex marriage in this highly religious and conservative nation, according to an AIDS counselor.
He said he helped get bail for some 38 men arrested since Christmas. The man spoke on condition of anonymity for fear he too would be arrested.

He and Aken’Ova said dozens of homosexuals have fled Bauchi in recent days.

Aken’Ova, whose organization is helping with legal services for the arrested men, said a law enforcement officer pretending to be a gay man joined a group being counseled on AIDS. Police detained four gay men and then tortured them until they named others allegedly belonging to a gay organization, she said, adding that police now have a list of 168 wanted gay men.

She said the arrests began during the Christmas holidays and blamed “all the noise that was going on surrounding the (same sex marriage prohibition) bill.”

Chairman Mustapha Baba Ilela of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, which oversees regulation of Islamic law, told the Associated Press that 11 gay men have been arrested in the past two weeks. He said community members helped “fish out” the suspects.

“We are on the hunt for others,” he said, refusing to specify how many.

Bauchi state has both Shariah law and a Western-style penal code. Shariah is Islamic law, which is implemented to different degrees in nine of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Ilela said all 11 arrested — 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim — signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization, but that some of them retracted the statements in court.

He denied there was any force involved: “They have never been tortured, they have never been beaten, they have never been intimidated.”

Nigerian law enforcers are notorious for torturing suspects to extract confessions. They also are known for extorting money from victims to allow them to get out of jail cells.

Olumide Makanjuola said lawyers for his Initiative For Equality in Nigeria are backing lawsuits of several homosexuals arrested by police without cause. He said police regularly and illegally go through the cell phone of a gay suspect, then send text messages to lure in others.

Then the men or women are told they will be charged and their sexuality exposed unless they pay bribes. “Some pay 5,000, some 10,000 naira ($30 to $60). Even though they have done nothing wrong, people are scared, people are afraid that even worse things will happen,” Makanjuola said in a recent Associated Press interview.

The United States, Britain and Canada condemned the new law in Africa’s most populous nation, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians.

While harsh, Nigeria’s law is not as draconian as a bill passed last month by legislators in Uganda that is awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. It provides penalties including life imprisonment for “aggravated” homosexual sex. Initially, legislators had been demanding the death sentence for gays.

The Nigeria law provides penalties of up to 14 years in jail for a gay marriage and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for membership or encouragement of gay clubs, societies and organizations. That could include even groups formed to combat AIDS among gays, activists said.

The U.N. agency fighting AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed “deep concern that access to HIV services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will be severely affected by a new law in Nigeria — further criminalizing LGBT people, organizations and activities, as well as people who support them.”
UNAIDS said the law could harm Jonathan’s own presidential initiative to fight AIDS, started a year ago.

It said Nigeria has the second-largest HIV epidemic globally with an estimated 3.4 million people living with the virus. The disease affects many more gay men per capita than heterosexuals.

Jonathan has not publicly expressed his views on homosexuality.

But his spokesman, Reuben Abati, told The Associated Press on Monday night, “This is a law that is in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. … Nigerians are pleased with it.”

Many have asked why such a law is needed in a country where sodomy already was outlawed, and could get you killed under Shariah. Ilela said sodomy carries the death sentence in Bauchi state, with a judge deciding whether it should be done by a public stoning or by lethal injection. No gay person has been subjected to such punishment.

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“Like a Book Burning” The Canadian government is closing scientific libraries and destroying docs

“Paranoid ideologues have burned books and records throughout human history to try to squelch dissenting visions that they view as heretical, and to anyone who worships the great God Economy monotheistically, environmental science is heresy.”

Post Media News has  obtained a document stamped “SECRET” which exposes the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries and countless scientific documents that they contain. The destruction and burning of documents has little if anything to do with digitizing the books and documents for cost savings as claimed by the Harper government.

As reported by The Tyee earlier this month and again here, scientists are sounding alarms about libraries dismantled by the government, including Maurice-Lamontagne Institute, which housed 61,000 French language documents on Quebec’s waterways, as well as the newly renovated $62-million library serving the historic St Andrews Biological Station (SABS) in St Andrews, New Brunswick. (Famed environmental scientist Rachel Carson corresponded with researchers at SABS for her groundbreaking book on toxins, Silent Spring. The station’s contaminant research program has been axed by the Harper government.) Also shut down are the famous Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and one of the world’s finest ocean collections at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.Scientists who use the libraries say priceless information — essential for the legal and political security of Canada’s waterways as well as the defence of the longest coastline in the world — was thrown into dustbins, burned or scavenged by private consultants. In Winnipeg, a consultant’s group operating for Manitoba Hydro backed up a truck to collect materials from the dismantled library.
A DFO scientist anonymously told The Tyee, “The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions.”

In addition, the Harper government has forced hundreds of researchers and Coast Guard workers  to be laid off. Harper has dismantled a marine contaminants program, closed the Kitsilano (Vancouver) Coast Guard station which is reportedly the first line of defense against oil spills.

The document lists 26 “tracks” or changes within the Department of Fisheries being carried out to help reduce Canada’s federal budget deficit. Very few of those tracks’ descriptions make claims for bolstering or improving marine safety, contaminant research, protection of fish habitat or the efficacy of the Coast Guard.Instead, the document details numerous actions which create reductions or total elimination of these environmental services.They include:

•The shrinkage of 20 Marine Communications and Traffic Service centres down to 11;
•The reduction of Inshore Rescue Boats;
•The reduction of Marine Search and Rescue services;
•The defunding of species at risk recovery oriented programs in the Maritimes;
•The closure of 21 Conservation and Protection offices, as “part of a broader departmental footprint reduction plan.” Comox, Pender Harbour, Quesnel, Hazelton and Clearwater all lost offices;
•The closure of the Kitsilano Lifeboat Station in Vancouver;
•Closure of the Experimental Lakes Area;
•The killing of all biological effects contaminant research within the department.

The document explains that ending the capacity to do public research on freshwater and ocean pollutants such as bitumen spills “involves eliminating the in-house research program aimed at biological effects of contaminants, pesticide and oil and gas, and establishing a small advisory group to oversee the outsourcing of priority research needs.”

Sounds like “quiet little rooms” if you ask me.

Environmental activists through out the world celebrated when George W. Bush was finally out of office. Since the election of Harper’s regime,  the world now has Canada with a leader, who like Bush, prides himself in the part that he plays in the destruction of the planet. Maurice Strong, the Canadian diplomat who was secretary-general of the famous 1992 Earth Summit, calls Harper’s government, “the most anti-environmental government that we’ve ever had, and one of the most anti-environmental governments in the world.”

Canada holds more than 20 per cent of the surface freshwater in the world, and its rivers and streams annually transport almost 10 per cent of the world flow of freshwater. Canada is also one of the world’s largest seafood-exporting nations. All of which is now at risk of damage or destruction along with scientific evidence documenting the pollution and the damage to marine and freshwater systems.

The below corporations along with Charles and David Koch are pushing a libertarian brand of political activism that presses a large footprint on energy and climate issues. They have created and supported non-profit organizations, think tanks and political groups that work to undermine climate science, environmental regulation and clean energy. They are also top donors to politicians, who support the oil industry and deny any human role in global warming.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
Petroleum Services Association of Canada
Propane Gas Association of Canada
Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors
Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association
Alberta Chamber of Resources
Alberta Chambers of Commerce
The Cement Association of Canada
Canadian Council of Chief Executives

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Penis Size and Gay Men’s Stereotyping

Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”

Nico Lang is a contributor at the L.A. Times, Huffington Post and Thought Catalog as well as the co-editor of BOYS, an anthology series featuring the stories of gay, queer and trans* men. Lang’s debut novel, “The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses,” was released earlier this year.

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U.S. to Recognize Utah Gay Marriages Despite State Stance

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday said that it would recognize as lawful the marriages of 1,300 same-sex couples in Utah, even though the state government is refusing to do so.

Wading into the fast-moving legal battle over same-sex marriage rights in one of America’s most socially conservative states, the administration posted a video on the Justice Department’s website making the announcement. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the federal government would grant federal marriage benefits to the same-sex couples who rushed to obtain marriage licenses after a federal judge last month unexpectedly struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder said in the video. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

The Justice Department’s intervention added a further sense of whiplash to the highly charged dispute, which began on Dec. 20 when a Federal District Court judge, Robert J. Shelby, ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violated the federal Constitution.

As same-sex couples flooded county clerk’s offices in Utah, the state government asked a higher court to block the order while it appealed the ruling, but a federal appeals court declined to do so, and the marriages continued. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a stay, bringing a halt to further same-sex marriages while the litigation continues. That decision effectively left those same-sex couples in legal limbo.

Then, on Wednesday, the office of the governor of Utah, Gary R. Herbert, said that the state would not recognize as lawful the same-sex marriages already licensed while it pressed forward with its appeal of the ruling.

“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” Derek Miller, the chief of staff to Mr. Herbert, wrote in a memo to state officials. “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”

But Mr. Holder said the federal government would not do likewise. He invoked as a historic call for equality a June ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are legal under state law, saying the Justice Department was “working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit.”

“In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled — regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder said. “And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

A variety of federal benefits are accorded to legally married couples, including being able to file jointly for federal income taxes; exemption from estate taxes and eligibility for some Social Security claims if one spouse dies; eligibility for health and life insurance for spouses of federal employees; the ability to sponsor a spouse who is not a United States citizen for a family-based immigration visa; and eligibility for survivor benefits for spouses of soldiers and diplomats.

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Former Gov. Has Best Quote of the Year on GOP’s ‘Family Values’

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer had strong words about the hypocrisy of the “family values” touted by members of his state’s Republican Party.

During an interview with Slate magazine, Schweitzer, who is considered a likely challenger to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries, made the remarks when asked about the Republicans who attempted to set “‘family values’ traps” regarding marijuana and same-sex marriage during his successful campaign for governor of Montana in 2004.

“Oh, yeah, name these Republicans,” the 58-year-old politician prompted. “The ones cheating on their third wives while they’re talking about traditional family values? Those ones?”

“Each society has to make choices about what’s against the law,” Schweitzer had remarked beforehand on the legalization of marijuana. “You have a large percentage of the population that’s already using this. The war on drugs is another war that appears to have been lost. This experiment with prohibition of marijuana doesn’t seem have to been working. Colorado might have it more right than the rest of us.”

Schweitzer, who bested Republican opponent Roy Brown by 33 percentage points in the state’s 2008 gubernatorial election and enjoyed one of the highest approval ratings of governors in the United States, ended his second term as governor of Montana in January 2013.

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Sexual Harrassment in the Vatican?

A former member of the Swiss Guard, the pope’s security force, has alleged that during his tenure he was solicited for sex by many Roman Catholic clergy members, including bishops and cardinals.

The guard, whose name was not published, told Swiss newspaperSchweiz am Sonntag that he had received as many as 20 “unambiguous requests” from clergy for sexual liaisons, according to The Local, an English-language Swiss news publication. One of them, he said, came from “a dignitary close to Pope John Paul II,” The Local reports.

The man told of being invited to a Vatican official’s room in the middle of the night, receiving gifts of liquor, and being told he would be “dessert” after dinner with a priest. He said he reported the sexual advances as harassment, but his superiors took no action. He accused the church of “hypocrisy” because of the contrast between its stand against sex outside marriage, including gay sex, and what he alleges he experienced. Also, Catholic clergy take a vow of celibacy.

Spokesmen for the Vatican and the Swiss Guard said they gave no credence to the former guard’s report.

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Far From Russia’s Biggest Cities, Being Gay Means Being Always Under Threat

The last two years have been brutal for Konstantin Golava, a 22-year-old environmental activist and the only publicly out gay person in this gritty industrial city known for car factories, chemical plants, and nothing else.

In early 2012, as soon as Golava started disseminating news items related to LGBT issues through his social media accounts, rumors about his sexual orientation began to spread. Since then, he’s been beaten up by unidentified thugs, dismissed from his job at a community center working with teenagers, and vilified by national and local media as having desecrated the memory of Soviet victims of WWII by deliberately placing condoms near the city’s eternal flame.

One evening in November 2012, while Golava was attending a conference in another city, he agreed to meet on a street corner with a young man who had contacted him. When Golava arrived, several men grabbed him, pushed him into a car with tinted windows, and drove him to a dark, quiet courtyard. They punched him, grabbed his phone, found his mother’s number, called, and informed her that her son was a “pedophile” and a “pervert.” Then they asked her if they should kill him.

“They threw me out of the car, made me get down on my knees, and pointed the gun at my head,” Golava recalled over a recent cup of coffee at a brightly lit café in downtown Tolyatti, a city still crisscrossed by multiple streets named after Vladimir Lenin. “They said, ‘A disgusting pig like you, it’s not even worth killing you.’ And they got in the car and took off.” Although he filed a complaint, the police refused to take up the case.

The Russian government’s decision last June to ban “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors startled the world and sparked aninternational uproar, especially as it came in the run-up to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. But for members of the LGBT community living in Tolyatti and elsewhere in “the provinces” — which in Russia means anywhere that isn’t Moscow or St. Petersburg — the federal move was almost anticlimactic.

In the years leading up to the federal law, at least 10 regional governments passed similar anti-LGBT propaganda laws, starting with the regions of Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma. St. Petersburg, seen as Russia’s cultural capital, began debating its own law in late 2011 and passed it in March 2012, followed by the Samara region and several others.

Tolyatti is in the Samara region, 500 miles southeast of Moscow, and named after Palmiro Togliatti, a longtime leader of the Italian Communist Party. Life in Tolyatti is stifling and repressive, said Vyacheslav, another gay man who, like Golava, grew up here. If people suspect you’re gay, he said, it can be dangerous.

“It’s like a small village,” he said. “People will point their fingers, call youpederast, they could set your apartment on fire out of hate. Here it’s better to be quiet and a bit underground.”

Vyacheslav, 30, is wiry and energetic, a former firefighter who is currently unemployed. He wasn’t surprised when the Russian government finally passed the federal anti-propaganda law in June. “Once the law passed in St. Petersburg, it was evident,” he said. “I figured it would end up being all over Russia. It felt like the country was closing up.”

Like many young adults here, Vyacheslav has lived in the same small apartment with his parents most of his life; comings and goings are observed by longtime neighbors as well as family members. Because he would often return home late after being at a gay club or gathering, his parents worried that his nocturnal schedule meant he was dealing drugs. They once surreptitiously checked his phone messages, discovered a love note from a man, and confronted him. Vyacheslav dismissed it as a joke, but since then, he has known that they knew.

Even so, they regularly berate him for his lack of interest in getting married. “It torments them,” he said. “And then they constantly torment me, ‘Where’s the wife and children?’” He fantasizes about making an announcement at a large family gathering, in front of his parents and his many aunts, uncles and cousins. “I would just like to say it to all of them, but I’m afraid,” he said. “Because people don’t know anything about this issue, and the information they have is bad.”

The imposition of anti-propaganda legislation, first in the regions and then nationally, clearly exacerbates the problem of “bad information” by hampering efforts to promote positive LGBT-related images and attitudes. In early December, the new federal law was cited in fining Russian LGBT activists Nikolai Alekseyev and Yaroslav Yevtushenko 4,000 rubles (about $120) each for holding a banner reading “Gay propaganda doesn’t exist. People don’t become gay, people are born gay” near a library in the far northern city of Arkhangelsk. Weeks later, a court in Kazan found another activist guilty of propaganda for participating in a demonstration last June.

Beyond the legal minefield, however, the anti-gay campaign appears to have provided sanction for unfettered expressions of anger and hatred toward the LGBT community, without fear of consequences. There are frequent reports from around the country about people being fired for their sexual orientation, being beaten up by anti-gay gangs, or otherwise suffering mistreatment and discrimination.

“I’m afraid in Tolyatti — every fifth person knows my face,” said Golava, who hopes to move to St. Petersburg soon. “Here, if you do something, you become a star. But I don’t need to be a star, I just want to live within my rights.”

Golava, a tall, slender man, smiled nervously when talking about the recent events that had made him into the kind of star he doesn’t need to be. Before and after the physical assault last fall, he experienced increased bullying and harassment at work, he said. In December, his supervisor called him in and requested him to remove all references to LGBT issues from his social media accounts.

“She closed the door, and I understood what the conversation was about,” he recalled. “She started with that phrase all homophobes use, ‘I am of course a very tolerant person myself, but…’ She said, ‘Of course, we like you, but we will have problems because of the laws.’”

Last January, when the federal propaganda law came up for discussion in the parliament, Golava attended a local protest and for the first time publicly declared his sexual orientation to journalists and others who were there. After that, his problems at work intensified, and he was let go in early May.

Two weeks later, his participation at an HIV-prevention event led to the explosive charge that he had defiled the memory of those who perished in the war. The event was organized by Project April, a group that dispenses HIV information; it was held near an eternal flame honoring the war dead in Tolyatti’s central plaza, a common site for all sorts of political and nonpolitical events and gatherings. The activists placed more than a dozen candles in red jars on the ground, in the form of a big ribbon. Next to that, they spread out a large piece of red fabric and laid out blue brochures with information about HIV/AIDS and a yellow bowl with condoms meant for distribution to bystanders.

Several days after the event, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a leading Moscow tabloid, published an article headlined: “In Tolyatti, LGBT Activists Laid Condoms at the Eternal Flame.” Taking umbrage at the purported disrespect shown by the participants, the journalist wrote that “the tongue can’t even twist itself to call them ‘citizens.’” The article, which specifically named and ridiculed Golava, triggered an uproar, fanned by further coverage in the news and discussion on social media.

In an effort to quell the furor, Golava and other activists called a news conference to explain their actions. At the event, several men rushed at Golava, handcuffed him to a 70-pound weight, and dumped a bucket of red paint over his head; he still has damage to the vision in one eye from chemicals in the paint, he said. No one has been punished for the assault, but local officials have fined Golava 10,000 rubles (about $300) for having held an unauthorized gathering. His appeal of the fine has been rejected; he is now in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

Konstantin Golava after unknown men attacked him with paint last year. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Golava

Golava has received moral and legal support from gays and lesbians in nearby Samara, a historic Volga River port and the regional capital that counts more than 1 million residents. A key ally has been Mikhail Tumasov, a longtime Samara resident who two years ago organized an advocacy group to push back against the anti-gay momentum.

Tumasov, 38, moved to Samara from Astrakhan, about 500 miles farther south, when he was in his mid-twenties. Until a couple of years ago, he lived quietly with his partner, socialized with friends, and worked as a sales and distribution manager for local media companies. He never publicly declared his sexual orientation. In fact, Samara had already gained a reputation as a bastion of hostility to LGBT people. In 2011, the magazine Spletnik, which translates as “The Gossip,” citing such incidents as a recent effort by a local right-wing party to strip LGBT people of work rights, declared that “the Samara region is among the most homophobic in the country.”

By late 2011, the ripple of anti-propaganda legislation spreading across Russia had alarmed Tumasov. “I was afraid for my family, because this was a threat to my partner and me being able to be together,” he said. He decided he needed to speak out, and sought support from other Samara gays and lesbians through VKontakte, a Russian social network. They called their organization Avers, which translates as the “obverse” or “heads” side of a coin. The group has about 600 members through its online network, although Tusamov said that only a few dozen participate in Avers activities and only about 10 are “very active” in the group.

After Samara passed its anti-propaganda law in June 2012, Tumasov and several others sued to overturn it; not surprisingly, they lost. Despite the regional and federal laws, Avers has continued to organize events, such as an educational presentation on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day; public gatherings during an annual “week against homophobia,” which LGBT groups across the country have organized each spring for several years; and surveys of people in public venues that have revealed an increase in negative attitudes toward LGBT people as the regional and federal government campaigns have progressed.

At the end of December, Avers released an open letter offering profuse thanks to three anti-gay public figures: a politician and two journalists. The letter noted, ironically, how much their actions helped in motivating local LGBT people to organize and find one another as well as in informing the general public about their very existence.

“Two years ago in Samara, there was no civil LGBT-activism,” read the letter. “No one living in Samara even knew what gays and lesbians were, and only thanks to the fight for morality…the Samara region has learned that there are in fact gays, and lesbians, and bisexuals, and even transgender people here.”

 

From Buzzfeed

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Bill Nye to Debate Creationist in February

(Daily Kos)

We’re going to be in for a treat next month–a creation vs. evolution debate between Bill Nye and Answers in Genesis co-founder and CEO Ken Ham. It’s set for February 4 at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (south of Cincy).

Nye has been critical of creationists for their opposition to evolution and their assertions that the Old Testament provides a literal account of the earth’s beginnings. In an online video that has drawn nearly 6 million views, Nye said teaching creationism was bad for children.


The video prompted a response video from the Creation Museum, and Ham later challenged him to a debate.

In a blog post announcing the debate, Ham says that he and Nye will debate the topic, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Ham sees this as a way to highlight why so many young people are being swayed away from creation. That’s easy to answer, Ken. When people are actually trained to think, they’re open to consider possibilities other than an Earth that was only a few thousand years old and was created in six literal 24-hour days.
For those who don’t remember, almost two years ago Nye dropped a bombshell with a YouTube video that declared in no uncertain terms that denying evolution is harmful to kids. Answers in Genesis responded with two videos of their own–one starring Ham himself and another starring two of his colleagues, Georgia Purdom and David Menton. Their argument, if I’m parsing it right, is that evolution is illegitimate because the Bible is the only reliable account of how we got here. If Ham peddles that, Nye should mop the floor with him.

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This Is What San Francisco Could Look Like In 2033

It’s been a wild year for San Francisco. Batkid took over the city, the tech community came under attack and the only thing people can agree on is that the rent is too damn high.

But if the city’s big plans are any indication, the future looks bright — projects are underway from the Embarcadero to the beach. Take a look through some renderings of what San Francisco could look like 20 years from now. Happy New Year to the cool, gray city of love.

1. Warriors Waterfront Arena
NIMBY concerns notwithstanding, the Golden State Warriors’ potential move to San Francisco would bring a 18,000-seat waterfront arena to piers 30-32. The plan faces obstacles from affordable housing advocates and environmental groups, but the stated goal of the project is to “restore the crumbling pier, build a new event pavilion and create nearly eight acres of new public open space on the waterfront –- the equivalent of three new Union Squares.” And, of course, bring the Warriors across the bay to San Francisco.
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2. Transbay Transit Center
Envisioned as the “Grand Central Station of the West,” this transit hub will replace the Transbay Terminal with a new structure near Second and Mission Streets connecting eight Bay Area counties through 11 different transit systems. Scheduled for completion in 2017, the Transbay Transit Center will feature a rippling metal facade, a column allowing natural light into the station and a rooftop City Park with gardens, trails, an open-air amphitheater, a children’s play space, a restaurant and a cafe. Following the transit center’s completion, planners will begin developing a surrounding residential and business neighborhood and extend Caltrain and California High Speed Rail underground.
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Project Architect Pelli Clarke Pelli. Renderings courtesy of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

3. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Set to open in 2016, the new SFMOMA will tower seven levels and double the former museum’s capacity for art presentation. A threefold expansion of its schoolchildren education program and nearly 15,000 square feet of art-filled space aims to make SFMOMA a stronger pillar of the community, while an environmental design puts it on track to achieve LEED Gold certification.
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4. Candlestick Park
It was one heck of a game. The Atlanta Falcons led the San Francisco 49ers 27-24 and, with less than two minutes on the clock, Atlanta recovered an onside kick, priming the team for victory. But with a deflection and a miracle interception, San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman ran 89 yards for a game-winning touchdown: one final victory for Candlestick Park’s final game.

The San Francisco 49ers head to a new stadium in Santa Clara this year and, though the departure is bittersweet, San Francisco has big plans for the old site. Part of the Hunter’s Point Shipyard project, the park will become an outdoor commercial center with shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues. The center will anchor the massive neighborhood redevelopment plan — the largest development project in the city since the 1906 earthquake. The neighborhood will be home to apartment complexes, affordable housing, community facilities and office space.
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5. Hunter’s Point Shipyard
The decommissioned naval shipyard was closed in 1974 and has since been used by the Shipyard Artists Community. While the artist community will remain, thousands of homes, parks and commercial space will soon rise up around it.

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6. The Fisherman’s Wharf Public Realm Plan
The Fisherman’s Wharf Public Realm Plan reimagines the popular tourist destination with more waterfront access, improved walkability, a stronger identity and more diverse activities to attract locals. The central element of the plan is a revamped Jefferson Street — the most widely used route through the wharf — with widened sidewalks allowing for cafe seating and public recreation space. With improved appearance and street schemes, Danish urban design firm Gehl Architects visualizes a destination that takes advantage of its waterfront access and welcomes tourists and strengthens the community with a clear heart, or center, of Fisherman’s Wharf.
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7. Geary Bus Rapid Transit
The Geary BRT project aims to improve transportation and street conditions on the heavily used Geary Corridor, which includes Geary Boulevard, Geary Street and O’Farrell Street and brings riders from the Richmond district to Downtown. Proposals include lanes exclusively for buses with transit-signal priority and all-door boarding, high-visibility crosswalks with corner “bulb-outs” and medians with improved lighting and stations, landscaping and added trees. The approximately $240 million project is aiming for a 2018 opening.
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8. Central Subway
Already underway, the Central Subway Project will create a light-rail connecting the Bayshore and Mission Bay areas to downtown with stops in SOMA, Yerba Buena, Union Square and Chinatown. The 1.7 mile, $1.56 billion project is expected to open to the public in 2019.
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WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who for the past forty-seven years has served as a weekend scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, angrily resigned from that position yesterday, effective immediately.

Justice Scalia quit his post in a terse resignation letter that read, in part:

“Some of the happiest memories of my adult life have been as a scoutmaster. Huddling under blankets around the campfire, and so forth. But now, all of that has been ruined. Ruined.”

Shortly after sending the letter, Justice Scalia destroyed his scoutmaster uniform in the blazing fireplace of his Supreme Court office.

Later, he went across the hall to share his decision with his close confidant on the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, telling him, “There’s nowhere I feel safe anymore, Clarence. The military? The N.B.A.? Nowhere. I guess the only p\lace I still feel safe is the Supreme Court. This is still a safe place, isn’t it?”

Justice Thomas said nothing in reply.

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GOP support for modern biology drops

When it comes to polling Americans’ views on science, surveys often offer very different results based on the wording of the question. Gallup, for example, has published a series of reports over the years that suggest a plurality of Americans is, in effect, creationists.
A new Pew Research Center report approached the issue a little differently and found slightly less discouraging results: a 60% majority of Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33% reject evolutionary biology, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Whether one is relieved or discouraged that “only” a third of the country doesn’t believe in modern biology is a matter of perspective.
But as is often the case on so many issues, there are stark partisan differences within the results. Among Americans who identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, support for biology has been rather steady since the last Pew Research poll on this issue in 2009, with about two-thirds of each group on board with life evolving over time.
Among self-identified Republicans, however, acceptance of biology has suffered a noticeable drop, from 54% four years ago to 43% now. Indeed, note that in 2009, most Republicans believed in evolution, while in 2013, most Republicans don’t.
In other words, there’s a science gap driven by politics – the Democratic advantage on embracing modern biology is now 24 points – and it’s getting worse, not better.
This does help explain, by the way, why prominent Republican officials – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, et al – seem entirely comfortable making public comments expressing skepticism, if not outright hostility, towards evolution. They apparently realize they’re simply keeping pace with their party’s rank-and-file supporters.
Regardless, the larger trend just isn’t healthy for anyone. There are so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans, but scientific truths need not be one of them. We’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue,” abandoned altogether by Republicans hostile to reason and evidence.
As we discussed in November, a few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that only 6% of self-identified scientist say they tend to support Republican candidates. That total now appears likely to drop to new depths in the coming years.
Asked to explain the trend, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, recently told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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FIrst Openly Gay Bishop Rt. Rev. Otis Charles of San Francisco Dies April 24, 1926 – December 26, 2013

The Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, born April 24, 1926 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, died peacefully on December 26, 2013 at San Francisco’s Coming Home Hospice following a brief illness.  Charles was with family at his bedside at the time of his death.

Charles was the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Soon after his retirement in 1993 he came out as an openly gay man, making him the first openly gay bishop of any Christian denomination in history. Soon after he and his wife divorced. He relocated to San Francisco, where he helped to found Oasis California, the LGBT Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California. which seeks to open dialogue between LGBT communities and the congregations in which they worship.

Originally from New Jersey, he served first as a priest in Washington, Connecticut. From 1968 until 1982 he was a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, which developed the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. In 1971, he was elected Bishop of Utah. He was active in the peace movement, and opposed Nevada and Utah being launching sites for the MX missile. In the >House of Bishops, Charles was chair of the Prayer Book Committee and a member of the Bishops’ Committee on Racism. Charles became Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985. Charles also has significant academic achievements, including a Doctorate of Divinity, and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology.

Following his coming out, Charles retained his voting seat in the 300-plus member House of Bishops. Before and following his announcement, he was an active and forceful advocate on behalf of LGBT communities. In 1979, Charles was one of 17 dissenting bishops when the Episcopal Church’s General Convention stated that practicing homosexual clergy were prohibited from ordination  – a decision that continues to generate controversy to this day.  In 1999, Charles was arrested and led away in handcuffs for his civil disobedience at the Church’s General Convention in Denver, Colorado during a protest against what demonstrators described as the Church’s long history of oppression against lesbian and gay peoples.

Charles married Dr. Felipe Sanchez-Paris on September 29, 2008. Sanchez-Paris died on July 31 of this year.  The two appear in the documentary film Love Free or Die, testifying about a resolution directing the Episcopal Church to create a provisional rite for the blessing of same-gender relationships at its General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 2009.

Charles is survived by his first spouse, five children, 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, four children of Sanchez-Paris and his San Francisco family.

A memorial service and celebration of the life of Otis Charles will be held at on Saturday, January 11, 2pm at San Francisco’s St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (500 De Haro Street).

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Where did we go wrong?

Which country do people around the world think is the biggest threat to peace today? The US.As 2013 draws to a close, pollsters have been finding out how people feel about the state of their lives and the coming 12 months.
Pollsters interviewed nearly 68,000 people in 65 countries.

The research also found that the #US#Australia and#Canada where the most desirable destinations for those who want to move country.

 

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San Francisco Christmas Eve Day Toy Drive for Children at Handlery Hotel by Firefighters is a Success

 

San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 held a successful toy drive to make sure no child went without a toy in San Francisco this Christmas, thanks to Jon Handlery and his family’s landmark San Francisco hotel.

 

Dressed as Santa Claus, San Francisco Firefighter Bob Cuff and costumed characters accompanied by off-duty firefighters were in front of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, 351 Geary (between Powell and Mason), San Francisco from 9 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Eve day.

 

Beloved hotel owner Jon Handlery and Handlery hotel staff served as “Santa’s Helpers” and assisted with the collection of thousands of toys for needy San Francisco kids.

 

The Handlery Hotel has raised $3,500 and donated two barrels of toys to the drive this year to ensure no kid were without a Holiday present.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 asked people to bring unwrapped toys which were collected in front of the Handlery Hotel. Everyone who brought a toy got free pictures with Santa and many children brought their lists of Christmas wishes to Santa in person.

 

An additional toy drive was held just next door to the hotel at Lefty O’Doul’s bar and pub, a property which is also owned by the Handlery family.

 

SF Firefighters Local 798 Toy Program

 

The Local 798 San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program is celebrating its 64th year of providing toys to San Francisco children in need during the holidays.  The San Francisco Firefighter’s Toy Program is San Francisco’s largest and the nation’s oldest program of its kind.  Since 1949 it has evolved from a few firefighters repairing broken toys and bikes for 15 families to, in 2012, 300 firefighters and friends volunteering their time to distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children.

 

Besides helping individual families in need, the Toy Program serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units.

 

The Toy Program is made possible through public donations and the efforts and contributions of Local 798 members.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 wishes to thank Jon Handlery & the staff of the Handlery Union Square hotel for welcoming the Toy Program at their property.

 

 

The Handlery Union Square Hotel

 

Located at Union Square, the Handlery Union Square Hotel offers the perfect San Francisco lodging for vacationers and business travelers.  As a fourth generation family-owned hotel, the Handlery has created great experiences for guests by offering personal service, beautifully appointed rooms, and a warm atmosphere.  Ideally located right next to the world famous Powell Street cable car line, the Handlery Union Square Hotel is a beloved San Francisco institution.

 

 

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An Open Letter to “Duck Dynasty” and Supporters

Dear Duck Dynasty and Supporters (Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, etc.),

Last week two members of the all-woman band “Pussy Riot” were being freed from prisonafter serving over a year because they had the audacity to peacefully protest the Russian government and its oppressive policies.

That would never happen in this country. What we call–and you yell–”Freedom of Speech” is meant to protect the right of any citizen to say whatever they wish (within reason of public safety) without repercussions from the government.

Though it’s certainly a heated debate, the spirit of freedom of speech is in protecting the opinion of the minority on an issue–whether that be a minority of background or population or power. It’s meant to give everyone the chance to voice their opinion.

And although your opinion on homosexuality is now in the minority in this country, your privilege as straight folks to say things that perpetuate dangerous myths and hatred has helped keep in place laws that treat those in the LGBT community as second class citizens.

The First Amendment ONLY guarantees the government can’t oppress you for your opinions, it does not dictate to private entities what they can and cannot do in regards to the words that come out of your mouth.

So, when you say stupid shit like “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.” or “whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later, you see what I’m saying?” or literally compare non-Christians to Nazis, a private company like A&E has every right to can your ass, regardless of who does and does not agree with them.

Further, I’ve noticed a strange absence of that much-heralded “let the free market do its job” commentary that was so prevalent when folks were boycotting Chick-fil-A for their anti-gay bigotry. Now, that A&E has literally made a decision in response to the market, you’re crying foul. What happened to capitalism being a driving force for social equality?

You absolutely have freedom of speech, but you do not have the right to a guaranteed audience or freedom from criticism or freedom from private sector consequences.

So, please take your duck whistles and complaints to the nearest Chick-fil-A and let the rest of us celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and actual bravery in free speech with those folks from Pussy Riot.

 From Charles Clymer, Huffington Post
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You Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent

On Monday, in a case called Salinas v. Texas that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your peril. The court said that this is true even before you’re arrested, when the police are just informally asking questions. The court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous—because it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions.

 Here are the facts from Salinas: Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses—only shotgun shell casings left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Miranda warnings.  Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.

At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his reportedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: He had remained silent, and the Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions. This time around, however, Justice Samuel Alito blithely responded that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent. But somehow, without a lawyer, and without being told his rights, he should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions. Two other justices signed on to Alito’s opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia joined the judgment, but for a different reason; they think Salinas had no rights at all to invoke before his arrest (they also object to Miranda itself). The upshot is another terrible Roberts Court ruling on confessions. In 2010 the court held that a suspect did not sufficiently invoke the right to remain silent when he stubbornly refused to talk, after receiving his Miranda warnings, during two hours of questioning. Now people have to somehow invoke the right to remain silent even when they’re not formal suspects and they haven’t been heard the Miranda warnings. As Orin Kerr points out on the Volokh Conspiracy, this just isn’t realistic.

The court’s ruling in Salinas is all the more troubling because during such informal, undocumented, and unregulated questioning, there are special dangers that police may, intentionally or not, coax false confessions from innocent suspects. I have spent years studying cases of people exonerated by DNA testing. A large group of those innocent people falsely confessed—and many supposedly admitted their guilt even before any formal interrogation.  Take the case of Nicholas Yarris, who was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003, after 20 years in prison. He had been convicted and sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for the murder of a woman found raped, beaten, and stabbed near her abandoned Chrysler Cordoba.

When informally questioned, police said, Yarris volunteered that he knew the victim had been raped, and that the victim’s Chrysler had a brown “landau” roof (a vinyl fake convertible look). That was a striking detail, especially since the police had kept it out of the press. No tape was made of the interrogation. The police didn’t even produce notes. And now that DNA has cleared Yarris, we know his confession was false, and that he must not have volunteered the fact about the car roof at all.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Salinas encourages the kind of loosey-goosey, and easily contaminated, police questioning that led to Yarris’ wrongful conviction. Salinas may very well have been guilty of the two murders. But in many cases, as in this one, there are no eyewitnesses and not much other evidence of guilt: That is why the police may desperately need a confession. And that makes it crucial for them to handle interrogations and confessions with the utmost care. The court appreciated none of the pressures police face, and how they can squeeze an innocent suspect. Alito and the other conservatives were not troubled that there was no video to confirm that Salinas was in fact uncomfortable as well as silent. If Salinas had answered the question by exclaiming that he was innocent, could police have reported that he sounded desperate and like a liar? The court’s new ruling puts the “defendant in an impossible predicament. He must either answer the question or remain silent,” Justice Stephen Breyer said in dissent (joined by the other three liberal-moderates). “If he answers the question, he may well reveal, for example, prejudicial facts, disreputable associates, or suspicious circumstances—even if he is innocent.” But if he doesn’t answer, at trial, police and prosecutors can now take advantage of his silence, or perhaps even of just pausing or fidgeting.

Questions first, rights later is the approach the court’s majority now endorses. And by giving the police more incentive to ask questions informally, the new ruling will also undermine the key reform that police have adopted to prevent false confessions: videotaping entire interrogations.  Why not try to trap a suspect before the camera starts rolling? In only a few cases like Yarris’ will there be DNA to test. The likely result of the court’s embrace of shoddy interrogation tactics: more wrongful convictions.

 

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Book bannings on the rise in US schools, says anti-censorship group

The Kids’ Right to Read Project investigated 49 book bannings or removals from school shelves in 29 states this year

An anti-censorship group in America has reported a flurry of attempted book bannings in the last quarter of the year and has said there are increasing numbers of books being taken off school shelves that deal with race or sexuality or are written by “minority” authors.

The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and says in November alone they dealt with three times the average number of incidents. To date in 2013, KRRP investigated 49 book bannings or removals from shelves in 29 states, a 53% increase in activity from last year. In the last half of the year the project challenged 31 incidents compared to 14 in the same period last year.

Acacia O’Connor of the KRRP said, “Whether or not patterns like this are the result of co-ordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask ‘what is going on out there?’”

Among the books which have been complained about were Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest EyeAlice Walker‘s The Color Purple, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Isabel Allende‘s The House of the Spirits and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.

Most of the challengers were parents of district students or library patrons, though a handful were local or state government officials. Of the more than two dozen incidents KRRP faced from September to December, the majority involved materials used in classroom instruction.

“It has been a sprint since the beginning of the school year,” said O’Connor. “We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block.”

However, the KRRP says it has also seen an increase in “challenged” books being returned to the shelves following the body’s involvement. This month saw two major victories: Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima was returned to English classrooms in Driggs, Idaho, and a ban on Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits was lifted at Watauga County Schools in Boone, North Carolina.

Among the other successes the KRRP counts was the situation involving the urban fantasy novel Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which wasremoved from the shelves at schools in Alamogordo, New Mexico, following a single complaint by a parent. The school board later reinstated the book.

Neil Gaiman said today: “I’m just glad that organisations like the Kids’ Right to Read Project exist, and that so many of these challenges have successful outcomes – it’s obvious that without them, the people who do not want their children, or other people’s, exposed to ideas, would be much more successful at making books vanish from the shelves.”

KRRP, co-founded by the NCAC and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and supported by the Association of American Publishers and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, says it is difficult to estimate exactly how many books are challenged or removed as many incidents go unreported.

The KRRP also successfully tackled the proposed banning of The Diary of Anne Frank from schools in Northville, Michigan, where one parent complained that passages detailing Anne’s descriptions of her own body were “pornographic”, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which was branded “anti-Christian”. The KRRP and NCAC “went to bat for [this book] more than any other work in 2013, facing challenges in Montana, New York, and two new cases in New Jersey and West Virginia.”

Sherman Alexie said censors are “punishing the imagination. That’s why we’re fighting them.”

 

From the Guardian

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Canvasback Missions Takes a Major Step in the Fight Against Diabetes in the Marshall Islands

By Alexander Hirata

Canvasback Missions has spent years working to reverse the diabetes epidemic in the Marshall Islands. They’ve brought specialty medical care to the islands for over 30 years, and have run the Diabetes Wellness Center on Majuro since 2006. Now, Canvasback is working to reverse the epidemic of diabetes in the Marshall Islands by preventing the onset of the disease before it begins.

 

Made possible by a generous grant from the World Diabetes Foundation, Canvasback is working with Antonia Demas, Ph.D., and Marshall Islands health officials to bring health education into the classroom. Dr. Demas has visited the Marshall Islands twice so far, traveling last with Canvasback co-founder Jacque Spence and employee Jaylene Chung to implement trials of the new food education curriculum in the public schools on Majuro and Ebeye in October. The team trained instructors how to teach from the curriculum, which involves special hands-on activities to engage children and make food education fun.

 

Dr. Antonia Demas studied education, nutrition, and anthropology at Cornell University. She has developed food-based curricula for schools for over 40 years, successfully implementing her “Food is Elementary” program in over 3,000 schools. Demas is also the founder and president of the New York-based Food Studies Institute, a not-for-profit created to improve children’s health through food education.

 

One of Demas’ key beliefs is that the food we eat directly affects our health. Processed foods have replaced natural ones, and chemical preservatives are now a regular part of our diets. Demas believes that children are the ideal group to teach food literacy to: they don’t have established diets that are difficult to change; they are open to new ideas, especially if taught using sensory (taste, touch, and visual) methods; and healthy habits now would prevent illnesses later.

 

Canvasback is proud to work with Demas, because both know that food education is essential to reverse diabetes in the Marshall Islands. It is cost-efficient, slipping into the existing educational system, yet its effects will last for a lifetime. And once established, local schools and teachers will be in full control of the program. The most difficult part of the program won’t be getting kids interested in healthy eating–it will be waiting years to see how well it pays off.

 

To learn more about the work of Canvasback Missions, contact them at: 940 Adams St., Suite R, Benicia, Calif. 94510. Phone: 800-793-7245 or email them at info@canvasback.org

 

 

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Let Me Explain Freedom of Speech to all the Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty Supporters

FROM FORWARD PROGRESSIVES

I’m sure by now most of you have heard about Phil Robertson’s anti-gay rant he went off on during an interview with GQ magazine, and the indefinite suspension by A&E that soon followed.

And wow, this situation has sure showcased how many people just don’t understand what “freedom of speech” means.  So I thought I’d explain it nice and simply to those who wrongfully believe this is some kind of attack on free speech.

You know, since apparently I wasn’t clear enough the first time.  Millions of people seem unable to grasp this simple concept.

Freedom of Speech: The legal means to say almost anything you want.  Meaning that as private citizens, we’re allowed to say nearly anything (with a few exceptions of course) that we want without fear of legal prosecution for it.

Unless I’ve missed something, Mr. Robertson faces no legal ramifications for what he said.  That’s what freedom of speech means.  Freedom of speech does not mean we can say anything we want without ramifications for what we say from our peers or employers.

We’re free to be racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic — pretty much anything we want.  We can be these things, no matter how ignorant, because that’s what the Constitution gives us the right to be.

But that doesn’t mean within a society we won’t face consequences for those “freedoms.”  The suspension of Phil Robertson is not an attack on Robertson’s right to believe how he wants.  It’s a consequence from an employer for him expressing an opinion which A&E feels represents them in a negative light.

When he signed his contract, it almost certainly included a clause that says he’s a representative of A&E and is expected to act accordingly.  All public figures, whether they want to be or not, are representatives of something.  Be it a company, a brand, a sports team or league – it’s the price that comes along with fame.

So, yes, he was free to say what he said – and now he’s paying the consequences for it.

Just ask Alec Baldwin or Martin Bashir, two gentlemen who were fired (well, Bashir “resigned” but it’s clear he was forced to do so) for expressing their “freedom of speech” rights.  Hell, weren’t conservatives calling for Bashir’s firing?  So it’s absolutely hypocritical that they’re outraged by Robertson’s suspension.  Especially considering Bashir only had derogatory words for Sarah Palinwhereas Robertson ignorantly bashed tens of millions of homosexuals.

And Alec Baldwin’s show was canceled for anti-LGBT remarks as well.  I didn’t see many conservatives up in arms about that — but clearly it’s all about whose ox is being gored now, isn’t it?

So once again, we are given the freedom of speech to say almost anything we want without legal ramifications for those words.  But that does not mean that there aren’t any ramifications for what we have the freedom to say.

Until Mr. Robertson gets thrown in jail for saying what he said, his supporters need to stop crying about this being an “attack on free speech.”  Because when they do, they obviously prove how ignorant they are about what “freedom of speech” really means.

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Obama Jabs Putin, Picks Openly Gay Delegates For Winter Olympics In Russia

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his delegates to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. And, in what may be a thumb in the eye to Russian President Vladimir Putin over his crackdown on gay rights, two of Obama’s delegates are openly gay.

Billie Jean King, the tennis legend, and Caitlin Cahow, an Olympic medalist in women’s ice hockey, are both part of the U.S. delegation. Both are out lesbians.

Another member of the U.S. delegation, figure skating Olympic medalist Brian Boitano, routinely declines to answer questions about his sexuality, saying “everybody’s got their own path” to discovering who they are.

Others in the delegation include University of California President Janet Napolitano, the former Homeland Security secretary; U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors; Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and speed skating Olympic medalists Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.

In what may be another slight to the Russian president, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama will not attend the opening ceremony. This marks the first time since the 2000 Summer Olympic Games that a president, vice president, first lady or former president won’t be part of the opening ceremony.

Putin has faced international criticism for his persecution of Russia’s gay community. Over the summer, he signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples. He also signed a law that bans public discussion of gay rights and relationships where children might hear it. Under that law, which considers such talk “propaganda,” violators can be fined and foreigners can be deported.

Obama has denounced Putin’s treatment of gays and made a point to meet with Russian advocates of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender community during his September trip to St. Petersburg for the G20 Summit.

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California PUC to Consider Historic Fine Against PG&E and Orrick Herrington Law Firm Attorney in Faulty Gas Line Case

Joseph M. Malkin

PG&E and its Orrick Herrington Attorney are Facing Historic Fines and Legal Sanctions for Misleading the California Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission will vote on historic sanctions and a fine of up to $17 million against the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. Thursday, Dec. 19 for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

PG&E and its attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP law firm are facing a fine of up to $17 million for violating CPUC rules and discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nearly a year after a gas leak unexpectedly revealed faulty records for those pipelines.

Pipelines listed as “seamless,” as in the case of the line that ruptured in San Bruno, were in fact a 1929 vintage welded and reconditioned gas pipe with a strength test less than records showed. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, disclosing the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

The Commission will make this decision three weeks after PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley made a special presentation before the CPUC in an attempt to convince commissioners and the public of the company’s renewed commitment to safety. Earley was met with a skeptical commission, which challenged PG&E’s credibility in the face of mounting recordkeeping errors and threats to public safety. “We find ourselves here today with a public that doesn’t believe you and in many respects doesn’t believe us,” Commissioner Mike Florio said to Earley at the hearing.

City of San Bruno officials have agreed with the proposed fine against PG&E and are calling on the CPUC to uphold proposed sanctions against PG&E for deliberately covering up the facts after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

Calling the July 3 PG&E filing a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

City officials were shocked to discover that, after gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in the fatal tragedy in San Bruno, PG&E paid its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety. They are now calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Officials question how many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first.

Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.

In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.

In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for the company to admit – by way of the subtle “errata” filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.

At previous CPUC hearings, regulators pressed PG&E over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $17 million, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.

 

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