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‘More Americans lost their lives from firearms in the past 45 years than in all wars involving the US.’

From the Guardian, London

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company’s concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald’s case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with the Specialty Coffee Association of America‘s recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.

Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from icasualties.org, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the US is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious, “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterise so much of American life.

Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving and build safety features into highways, as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record; by 2015, forecasters predict that for first time road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms (32,036 to 32,929).

Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe. Recently, a Democrat senator from Arkansas named Mark Pryor ran a TV ad against the gun-control campaign funded by NY mayor Michael Bloomberg – one of the few politicians to stand up to the NRA lobby – explaining why he was against enhanced background checks on gun owners yet was committed to “finding real solutions to violence”.

About their own safety, Americans often have an unusual ability to hold two utterly opposed ideas in their heads simultaneously. That can only explain the past decade in which the fear of terror has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in wars, surveillance and intelligence programmes and homeland security. Ten years after 9/11, homeland security spending doubled to $69bn . The total bill since the attacks is more than $649bn.

One more figure. There have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, you can bet your last pound that the State Department would be warning against travel to that country and no American would set foot in it without body armour.

But no nation sees itself as outsiders do. Half the country is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the second amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery. Astonishingly, when owning a gun is not about ludicrous macho fantasy, it is mostly seen as a matter of personal safety, like the airbag in the new Ford pick-up or avoiding secondary smoke, despite conclusive evidence that people become less safe as gun ownership rises.

Last week, I happened to be in New York for the 9/11 anniversary: it occurs to me now that the city that suffered most dreadfully in the attacks and has the greatest reason for jumpiness is also among the places where you find most sense on the gun issue in America. New Yorkers understand that fear breeds peril and, regardless of tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the DC naval yard, the NRA, the gun manufacturers, conservative-inclined politicians and parts of the media will continue to advocate a right, which, at base, is as archaic as a witch trial.

Talking to American friends, I always sense a kind of despair that the gun lobby is too powerful to challenge and that nothing will ever change. The same resignation was evident in President Obama’s rather lifeless reaction to the Washington shooting last week. There is absolutely nothing he can do, which underscores the fact that America is in a jam and that international pressure may be one way of reducing the slaughter over the next generation. This has reached the point where it has ceased to be a domestic issue. The world cannot stand idly by.

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Poll: Shutting down government over Obamacare really, really unpopular

Once again, the American people have spoken. Defunding Obamacare is not what they want. But even the minority who does want it think shutting down government or defaulting on the national debt to do so is a bad idea.

The CNBC All-America Economic Survey of 800 people across the country conducted by Hart-McInturff, finds that, in general, Americans oppose defunding Obamacare by a plurality of 44 percent to 38 percent.Opposition to defunding increases sharply when the issue of shutting down the government and defaulting is included. In that case, Americans oppose defunding 59 percent to 19 percent, with 18 percent of respondents unsure. The final 4 percent is a group of people who want to defund Obamacare, but become unsure when asked if they still hold that view if it means shutting down the government.

Even most Republicans, who support defunding Obamacare by a 51 percent margin, oppose doing so through a government shutdown or default, 48 percent to the 36 percent who support it. Three guesses who the 36 percent is. Yep, teabaggers, “the only demographic measured in the poll with such a majority.” Does that sound familiar? It should, it’s what Pew Research found last week.

So a tiny sliver of the voting population, who are critical to Ted Cruz’s 2016 plans, are driving Republicans over the cliff. And taking the rest of the country with them.

Stand with Daily Kos and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in denouncing Republicans who would completely shut down the government just to destroy Obamacare.

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Media Tends to Sensationalize ObamaCare Reality

Not confused enough yet about how much health insurance might cost some of us next year when the consumer protections in Obamacare kick in? Just wait. It’s likely you’ll soon be far more confused — and alarmed — than you already are.

Take, as an example, the CNNMoney story from last week, headlined, “Where Obamacare premiums will soar.” The subhead was equally scary: “Get ready to shell out more money for individual health insurance under Obamacare … in some states, that is.”

The first thing you should keep in mind when you read such stories is that very few Americans will be affected by how much insurers will charge for the individual policies they’ll be selling in the online health insurance marketplaces beginning Oct. 1. The CNN story doesn’t mention, as it should have, that in a country of 315 million people, only 15 million — less than five percent of us — currently buy health insurance on our own through the so-called individual market because it’s not available to us through the workplace.

Although the CNN story focused exclusively on the individual market, nowhere in the story was it explained that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of Americans — about 55 percent of us — are enrolled in health insurance plans sponsored by our employers. Another 32 percent of us are enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. That means that almost 9 out of 10 of us will not be affected at all by rates insurers will charge next year in the individual market.

The Americans who will be affected most by Obamacare are the millions who are uninsured because they either cannot buy coverage at any price today as a result of pre-existing conditions or they cannot afford what insurers are charging.

Although the CNN story didn’t mention that one of the main reasons for Obamacare was to make it possible for the uninsured to at long last buy affordable coverage, it is the uninsured who will be most directly affected by the reform law, and most likely to benefit. That’s because insurers next year will no longer be able to refuse to sell coverage to people who’ve been sick in the past. And because most people shopping for coverage on the online marketplaces will be eligible for federal subsidies to offset the cost of the premiums.

Not until deep in the CNN story are we informed that “Americans with incomes up to $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four will be eligible for federal subsidies.” That’s a huge point to bury, especially considering that the median household income in this country is still just around $50,000. It’s just a small percentage of folks buying coverage through the online insurance marketplaces that will have to pay the full premium price on their own.

Below the headline of the CNN story was a startling graphic showing the states of Ohio and Florida with the numbers 41 percent and 35 percent right below them, leading one to believe that all residents of those states would see their health insurance premiums skyrocket.

As I did my own research of those claims, I found that not only did those numbers apply to just the individual market, but they did not take into account the subsidies that will be available. So not only will very few Ohioans and Floridians see their premiums increase by that much, many if not most will pay less than they do today thanks to the sliding-scale subsidies.

I also found that officials in those states were being disingenuous in the way they calculated their “Obamacare” figures. Ohio and Florida and many other states permit insurers to sell policies today that are so inadequate they will be outlawed beginning Jan. 1. The reason those kinds of policies are being outlawed is because, even though they are profitable for insurers that sell them, people who buy them often find out when it’s too late — after a serious illness or accident — that their policies are essentially worthless.

As The Miami Herald noted in a story about the projected rates announced recently by Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, the source for the CNN graphic, “The OIR compared ‘apples to oranges’ by failing to factor into its projections the fact that statewide averages for pre-Obamacare premiums included a wide variety of low-value plans — including plans with extremely limited benefits, such as no prescription drug coverage; and high-deductible plans, where the insured first must pay hefty out-of-pocket costs before the insurer begins to cover services.”

Considering all the intentionally misleading information we are being subjected to about Obamacare from politicians and special interests with an obvious agenda, it will be vitally important for reporters to be more responsible in their reporting. Sensational media stories with attention-grabbing headlines but inadequate analysis will only add to Americans’ confusion about a

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Big Banks Trying to Destroy Credit Unions?

 

The Move Your Money project was born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in September 2011. The impetus was the announcement by Bank of America that they were going to impose a $5 dollar monthly fee for debit card users. On November 5, 2011, customers were to close their accounts at major banks and open new ones in community banks or in credit unions.  Already infuriated by Wall Street’s recklessness leading to the 2008 financial collapse, the idea caught on like wildfire across the nation.

The effort worked, and Bank of America abandoned the debit card fee plan.

For the months leading to November 5, 2011 — and for several months after – millions of customers closed their accounts at the major banks and transferred their deposits to smaller ones and credit unions. Since then, credit union membership has been steadily growing. As of March of this year, credit union membership has increased to more than 95 million members and they hold 6 percent of the financial assets of United States to the tune of $1 trillion dollars.

Now the major banks want to destroy them.

This month the banking industry, via their lobbying group the American Bankers Association, started a huge lobbying effort to end the tax break credit unions receive as non-profit organizations – a tax break that allows them to run as a non-profit and offer their members services at a much lower rate. Credit unions received federal tax exempt status due to the 1934 Federal Credit Union Act, which was established in large part due to the economic collapse of the Great Depression (they still pay state and local taxes). The banks feel that the federal tax exemption is giving credit unions an unfair advantage.

Did I mention that commercial banks hold 93 percent of the financial assets of the United States?

In spite of controlling most of the financial assets and basically cornering the market on financial services, banks feel that the credit unions’ non-profit status does not allow banks to compete on a level playing field.

They feel that if credit unions act like banks then, well, they should be taxed like banks.

The trouble is they aren’t banks.

Credit unions are non-profit member cooperatives. Members are usually part of a labor union (i.e. teachers, postal workers), reside in a geographical area, or are part of a certain organization (i.e. a university). The term “non-profit” does not mean they cannot make money – it means that any profits must be used for the purpose of the organization. In this case, it is used for the benefit of their members, allowing credit unions to offer many financial products for lower costs and at a lower interest rate. There are also strict rules as to which financial products they can offer and how much of their assets can be used for those products.

In contrast, banks are for and about profit. All financial products are designed to maximize return for the benefit of share holders. Banks are also much easier to access than since there are no membership requirements.

So why does the banking industry wish to destroy them?

The answer can probably be found in a bill sponsored by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) called the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Creation Act which would allow credit unions to increase the percentage of their assets that can be sued for small business lending. Credit unions are traditionally focused on community development by providing financial services to generally under-served populations. This act would allow them to spend more of their assets to help members with business loans. Currently they are allowed to use 12.25 percent. This law would allow that to increase to 27.5 percent. This could make almost $13 billion dollars available for small businesses.

Commercial lending is the cornerstone of the banking industry.

If credit unions could increase their business loans – at a lower interest rate – this could make a real difference in communities. More money would be put back into local economies, more jobs would be created, putting more money into the pockets of residents, which they could then deposit into the credit union.

It’s money that would not go to the banks.

In the end, this push by the banking industry is all about greed.

While the numbers do show that more people are realizing the benefits of credit union membership, they are little more than a stop gap to a complete oligarchy of a few banks controlling all of the financial assets of the United States and giving customers – often lower and middle income – an alternative to higher cost financial services. Whatever competition there is, it is limited. Furthermore, by virtue of their non-profit status, they are held to a much higher standard than banks. Eliminating the tax exemption would make credit unions unable to offer competitive rates and provide loans to people the banks ignore.

In other words, they would become banks.

Both groups are spending a great deal of time, and money, to lobby Congress and win the public relations war. Credit unions are fighting back with a campaign focusing on their community benefits and the need to provide alternatives for consumers. They are also encouraging their customers to contact their representatives.

While much of the rhetoric is about the tax exempt status, there is little indication at this point that Congress, or the president, is interested in eliminating the break. However, we are about to enter the campaign period for the 2014 congressional elections. Plus, there is a big budget battle looming and the estimated $2 billion in annual revenue that is estimated from eliminating the tax exemption has already been floated as a possibility.

If that happens, banks that are claiming they are too big to fail would become too big to control.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/big-banks-start-campaign-to-destroy-credit-unions.html#ixzz2fYGr8wT8

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Two SFMOMA Photography Exhibitions Will Travel to Six California Communities, Deepening Engagement with Modern and Contemporary Art throughout the State

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents a statewide tour of two exhibitions drawn from its internationally acclaimed photography collection that will travel to six cities throughout California. Venues include Bakersfield, Riverside, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and Stockton, with an additional location to be announced. Launching in September 2013, an exhibition tour of this scale within California is unprecedented in the museum’s history, providing greater access to its collection and enabling SFMOMA to collaborate with museums throughout the state.

“It is a tremendous privilege to make these photographs available to a wide range of new audiences and forge fruitful relationships with institutions throughout the state,” says Corey Keller, SFMOMA curator of photography, who is organizing the tour. “We are truly grateful to our sponsors, particularly The James Irvine Foundation, for their generosity and foresight in making this extraordinary opportunity possible.” Each venue’s exhibition costs are generously funded by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation and by Bank of America.

The tour’s exhibitions—Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA and The Provoke Era: Japanese Photography from the Collection of SFMOMA—are a part of the museum’s extensive array of off-site programming taking place while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction from the summer of 2013 until early 2016. Featuring the photographic traditions of Mexico and Japan, the exhibitions highlight particular strengths of SFMOMA’s holdings and explore themes resonant with California’s diverse communities. The tour’s first exhibition, Photography in Mexico, opens at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa on September 28, 2013.

SFMOMA is distinguished as one of the first museums in the United States to recognize photography as an art form, and for more than 75 years, it has been home to innovative scholarship about the medium as well as in-depth exhibitions of the practice. Drawn from SFMOMA’s collection of more than 16,000 photographs—its largest collection of objects—this statewide tour of exhibitions expands opportunities for the public to encounter and understand the history of photography.

Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA

SFMOMA has a longstanding commitment to collecting and presenting works of Latin American modernism. Featuring approximately 100 photographs, Photography in Mexico reveals a distinctively rich and diverse tradition of photography in Mexico. The show begins with works from the medium’s first artistic flowering in the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) and goes on to explore the explosion of the illustrated press at midcentury; the documentary investigations of cultural traditions and urban politics that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s; and more recent considerations of urban life and globalization. Photography in Mexico includes work by Lola Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Carrillo, Alejandro Cartagena, Graciela Iturbide, Elsa Medina, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Edward Weston, and Mariana Yampolsky, among others. Many of the photographs in the exhibition are recent gifts from Los Angeles collectors Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser.

Photography in Mexico will travel to the Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa (September 28, 2013–January 12, 2014); Bakersfield Museum of Art (September 11, 2014–January 4, 2015); and the Haggin Museum, Stockton (dates TBD).

The Provoke Era: Japanese Photography from the Collection of SFMOMA

SFMOMA is home to the largest collection of Japanese photography in the United States and has been actively acquiring the work of internationally recognized artists including Masahisa Fukase, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama, and Shōmei Tōmatsu since the 1970s. The Provoke Era begins with the avant-garde tradition that emerged in Tokyo in the 1960s and 1970s, and explores its influence on the diverse photographic practice that continues today. The tumultuous period following World War II proved fertile ground for a generation of Japanese photographers who responded to societal upheaval by creating a new visual language dubbed “Are, Bure, Boke”—rough, blurred, and out of focus. Named for the magazine Provoke, which sought to break the rules of traditional photography, this exhibition traces how Japanese photographers responded to their country’s shifting social and political atmosphere.

The Provoke Era will travel to the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento (October 12, 2014–February 1, 2015) and the California Museum of Photography, UC Riverside (March 28–August 15, 2015).

The California tour of Photography in Mexico and The Provoke Era is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The presentation of these exhibitions is made possible by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation. Major support is provided by Bank of America.

Photography at SFMOMA

SFMOMA’s renowned photography program traces the medium’s transformation from a scientific development in the 1930s to one of today’s most publicly accessible art forms. Creating a dynamic forum for photography, SFMOMA leads the field with groundbreaking publications, collection stewardship, and landmark exhibitions. The museum has continually collected and presented important artists in great depth and context, highlighting its strengths related to California and the West, the European avant-garde, postwar Japan, and American Modernism.

Earlier this year, SFMOMA premiered the most comprehensive retrospective of Garry Winogrand, featuring more than 300 photographs—many of which have never been seen or printed before. In addition, the museum recently announced promised gifts of 473 photographs, amplifying its holdings of such major photographers as Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Daido Moriyama, and Shōmei Tōmatsu. As SFMOMA undergoes its current expansion program, the museum continues to invest in its photography resources with plans to establish one of the largest and most sophisticated photographic destinations of any museum in the world.

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Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

Pope Francis, who has said the church should be a “home for all,” on Sept. 4 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

From the NY Times

Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.

In remarkably blunt language, Francis sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “home for all” and not a “small chapel” focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope told the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The interview was conducted in Italian during three meetings in August in the pope’s spartan quarters in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse, and translated into English by a team of translators. Francis has chosen to live at Casa Santa Marta rather than in what he said were more isolated quarters at the Apostolic Palace, home to many of his predecessors.

The interview was released simultaneously on Thursday morning by 16 Jesuit journals around the world, and includes the pope’s lengthy reflections on his identity as a Jesuit. Pope Francis personally reviewed the transcript in Italian, said the Rev. James Martin, an editor-at-large of America, the Jesuit magazine in New York. America and La Civiltà Cattolica together had asked Francis to grant the interview, which America is publishing in its magazine and as an e-book.

“Some of the things in it really surprised me,” Father Martin said. “He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought — creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit.”

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are “clear” to him as “a son of the church,” he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

From the outset of his papacy in March, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight to focus instead on the church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalized. He has washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a center for refugees and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences.

His pastoral presence and humble gestures have made him wildly popular, according to recent surveys. But there has been a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who have taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage. Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis” because he had not spoken about abortion. “Many people have noticed that,” the bishop was quoted as saying.

The interview is the first time Francis has explained the reasoning behind both his actions and omissions. He also expanded on the comments he made about homosexuality in July, on an airplane returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he had celebrated World Youth Day. In a remark then that produced headlines worldwide, the new pope said, “Who am I to judge?” At the time, some questioned whether he was referring only to gays in the priesthood, but in this interview he made clear that he had been speaking of gays and lesbians in general.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told Father Spadaro. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

The interview also serves to present the pope as a human being, who loves Mozart and Dostoevsky and his grandmother, and whose favorite film is Fellini’s “La Strada.”

The 12,000-word interview ranges widely, and may confirm what many Catholics already suspected: that the chameleon-like Francis bears little resemblance to those on the church’s theological or political right wing. He said some people had assumed he was an “ultraconservative” because of his reputation when he served as the superior of his Jesuit province in Argentina. He pointed out that he was made superior at the “crazy” young age of 36, and that his leadership style was too authoritarian.

“But I have never been a right-winger,” he said. “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

Now, Francis said, he prefers a more consultative leadership style. He has appointed an advisory group of eight cardinals, a step he said was recommended by the cardinals at the consistory that elected him. They were demanding reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, he said, adding that from the eight, “I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”

The pope said he has found it “amazing” to see complaints about “lack of orthodoxy” flowing into the Vatican offices in Rome from conservative Catholics around the world. They ask the Vatican to investigate or discipline their priests, bishops or nuns. Such complaints, he said, “are better dealt with locally,” or else the Vatican offices risk becoming “institutions of censorship.”

Asked what it means for him to “think with the church,” a phrase used by the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, Francis said that it did not mean “thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

He said he thinks of the church “as the people of God, pastors and people together.”

“The church is the totality of God’s people,” he added, a notion popularized after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which Francis praised for making the Gospel relevant to modern life, an approach he called “absolutely irreversible.”

And while he agreed with the decision of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, to allow the broader use of the traditional Latin-language Tridentine Mass, he said that the more traditional Mass risked becoming an ideology and that he was worried about its “exploitation.” Those who seek a broad revival of the Tridentine Mass have been among Francis’s harshest critics, and those remarks are not likely to comfort them.

In contrast to Benedict, who sometimes envisioned a smaller but purer church — a “faithful fragment” — Francis envisions the church as a big tent.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

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Chevron: “Game Over” in Ecuador Fraud Case with New Legal Ruling

An international arbitration tribunal yesterday issued a Partial Award in favor of Chevron (CVX) and its subsidiary, Texaco Petroleum Company (TexPet). The Tribunal found that the Settlement and Release Agreements that the government of Ecuador entered into with TexPet released TexPet and its affiliates of any liability for all public interest or collective environmental claims. The Lago Agrio plaintiffs’ lawyers have repeatedly admitted, and the relief in the Lago Agrio judgment makes clear, that their claims are exclusively collective and not individual. The arbitration stems from the government of Ecuador’s interference in the ongoing environmental lawsuit against the company and its courts’ failure to administer justice in a trial that has been marred by multiple instances of fraud.

“The game is up. This award by an eminent international tribunal confirms that the fraudulent claims against Chevron should not have been brought in the first place. It is now beyond question that efforts by American plaintiffs lawyers and the government of Ecuador to enforce this fraudulent judgment violate Ecuadorian, U.S., and international law,” said Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice president and general counsel. “Continuing to support this fraud only increases the government of Ecuador’s growing liability to Chevron and we urge Ecuador to reconsider its position and pursue a more responsible course.”

Convened under the authority of the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty and administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the Tribunal found that the Settlement and Release Agreements that the Government of Ecuador entered into with TexPet in 1995 and 1998 released TexPet and its affiliates of any liability for all public interest or collective environmental claims. In its decision, the Tribunal found that: 1) Chevron and TexPet are “Releasees” under the 1995 Settlement Agreement and the 1998 Final Release; 2) Chevron can invoke and enforce its contractual rights as a Releasee; and 3) the Government settled all public interest or collective environmental claims, including collective claims asserted by third parties.

This Award comes after the Tribunal’s February 2013 finding that Ecuador is in breach of its obligation to “take all measures necessary to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement” of the Lago Agrio judgment—an obligation that the Tribunal had imposed on Ecuador in 2011, andreinforced and expanded in 2012, but which Ecuador has continuously ignored. In prior rulings, the Tribunal put the Republic of Ecuador on notice that if Chevron’s arbitration ultimately prevails, “any loss arising from the enforcement of (the judgment) may be losses for which the (Republic) would be responsible to (Chevron) under international law.”

The next arbitration hearing regarding the collusion between the Ecuadorian courts and the Lago Agrio plaintiffs and their lawyers is scheduled for January 2014.

Chevron filed the international arbitration claim against the government of Ecuador on September 23, 2009, claiming violations of Ecuador’s obligations under the United States-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, investment agreements, and international law. Chevron’s subsidiary, TexPet, participated until 1992 as a minority member of a consortium that explored for and produced oil under contracts with Ecuador and Ecuador’s government-owned oil company, Petroecuador. Through the arbitration, Chevron seeks to hold Ecuador accountable for the denial of justice that occurred through the Lago Agrio court’s actions during the litigation and the issuance of the fraudulent $19 billion judgment.

Chevron Corporation is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies, with subsidiaries that conduct business worldwide. The company is involved in virtually every facet of the energy industry. Chevron Corporation’s subsidiaries explore for, produce and transport crude oil and natural gas; refine, market and distribute transportation fuels and lubricants; manufacture and sell petrochemical products; generate power and produces geothermal energy; provide energy efficiency solutions; and develop the energy resources of the future, including biofuels. Chevron Corporation is based in San Ramon, California. More information about Chevron is available atwww.chevron.com.

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Convicted Pastor Who Raped Boys To Make Them Straight Will Serve No Time In Jail

An Iowa pastor who is married and has four children was convicted of raping boys, in an apparent attempt to turn them straight — but he’ll serve not a day in prison. Arrested in 2011, “rape away the gay” pastor Brent Girouex reportedly told the cops that “when they would ejaculate, they would be getting rid of the evil thoughts in their mind.” Girouex’s rapes reportedly go back as far as 2007.

Girouex claimed the rapes were his duty “to help [them] with homosexual urges by praying while he had sexual contact with [them],” UPI reported. Girouex was originally “arrested on 60 counts of suspicion of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist.”

While those 60 counts involved four teens, more have stepped forward, possibly because Girouex’s sentence of 17 years has been suspended by a judge “to allow Girouex to get sex offender treatment and probation. Girouex’s probation will last five years — the maximum allowed by law.”

Many, including Girouex’s own wife, are furious, as KCCI reported:

Erin Girouex, the pastor’s wife, said Thursday probation is not enough. She joined the victims to say they are frustrated. She also said victims of sexual misconduct should not be afraid to come forward, despite what happened in court.

Erin Girouex said she never expected to hear that sort of news. Nor did the families of Brent Girouex’s victims.

“We were clueless,” said Emily Baker, the wife of one of the victims.

Given what happened, Baker and Erin Girouex said Girouex should have been sentenced to prison.

“I think what victims need in any situation is a sense of justice, and we didn’t have a sense of justice (Wednesday),” Baker said.

“If that’s what it takes to get him away from people, then yes,” said Erin Girouex. “I don’t want (my children) anywhere near him.”

Erin Girouex said that what they want is for other victims of sexual misconduct to stand up and speak out before it’s too late.

“We just encourage other victims that you have what it takes, you have a voice, and to come forward and to report what’s happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Baker said.

One final note: This story has been in the news for the past few years, and resurfaced this week after the UPI report, which offered no new information. Now it’s being published on many sites, and we felt an obligation to provide a full set of facts, which others may not have. His sex offender status is here. Image via Iowa Sex Offender Registry.

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Owner of Cleveland Gay Bar Told to Stop Calling Police Reporting Hate Crimes

Cleveland police have delivered a letter warning the owner of a local gay bar to end his frequent calls for police assistance, despite several documented instances of antigay hate crimes committed outside the bar in recent weeks.

After apparently calling the police nine times in the past year, in some cases to report anti-LGBT disturbances outside Cocktails Lounge, the gay bar’s owner received a letter from the Cleveland police warning that “repeated calls to the same property place an undue and inappropriate burden on the taxpayers of the City of Cleveland.” The letter, obtained by Towleroad, orders owner Brian Lyons to submit an action plan to police within 10 days “outlining your strategy to eliminate the problems at this location.” Should Lyons fail to “address these issues, resulting in future calls for police service,” public safety director Martin L. Flask wrote, Lyons will be “scrutinized for appropriate administrative or law enforcement action.”

Over Labor Day weekend, a gay man was beaten by a group of as many as 20 young people as he walked to Cocktails Lounge. Jared Fox suffered a bruised and lacerated face and a ruptured eardrum as a result of the attack. The assailants reportedly took Fox’s phone, so he had to call the police from inside the bar. Three other calls reporting disturbances near the bar were also made that same night, according to police.

This week Cocktails released video showing a group of young people throwing rocks — some the size of cantaloupes — over the bar’s fence at patrons standing on the patio. Customers inside the bar stepped outside and reportedly chased away the would-be attackers. One 13-year-old boy was arrested in connection to the attack, reports Towleroad.

At least six antigay attacks have been reported at or near the bar, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In an editorial published in today’s paper, the Plain Dealer notes that the increasingly violent antigay climate in Cleveland could have a dire impact on the 2014 Gay Games, set to take place in the city next August.

Calling the string of recent attacks outside a “bleak and badly lit stretch of Detroit Ave.” a “reality check on what’s really happening in some of our neighborhoods,” the editorial calls for increased education, tolerance, and acceptance. “One of the lessons of the games is the need to foster diversity,” reads the editorial. “That message needs to be delivered as well to the young people who live near West 91st and West 93rd streets and Detroit Avenue.”

Cleveland’s News Channel 5 reached out to the police department for a statement, where a spokesperson called the letter’s timing an “unfortunate coincidence,” said the incidents referenced in the letter were not the alleged hate crimes, and also claimed the department has since rescinded the letter.

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President Obama’s Brilliant Strategy No One Seems To Recognize

From FreakoutNation

As the media interprets recent events as Obama’s march to war, America and the world falls for it hook, line and sinker. Say what you want about Obama but he is a very smart man. He would never ask permission he did not need from Congress to launch a strike on Syria unless he knew beyond a doubt he could get it. That is if his real intentions were to actually carry out military operations. But why on earth does it appear he wants this war?

After agonizing over this question over and over I began to realize there is only one logical explanation. He does not. Only a month ago the GOP was accusing Obama of being weak for not acting when the “red line” was crossed. There was pressure for him not only from the US but from the world as well. The reputation of the great American defender was on the line. Still it was obvious at the time Obama did not want to rush into another quagmire, bogging down the rest of his tenure as our nation’s leader. But the evidence kept rolling in. He had to do something not only for his reputation as a world leader but for the United States as well.

Cue the British Parliament to provide Obama with the perfect out. Just days after Britain’s governing body eliminated any joint action with the US to participate in a coalition to strike the Assad regime, Obama made a surprising and decisive move. Against the advice of all his advisors, he put any US participation in the hands of our do-nothing Congress with no chance they would give him the approval he needed. Not because it isn’t the right thing to do but because Obama was asking for it. The outcome is a given if you just take a step back and look at the situation rationally. And there is no way Obama is going to launch this attack once Congress says no. It would be political suicide. Bush may have gotten away with it but America is not going to let it happen again. The fallout would signal the end of any and all effectiveness the Obama administration for the remaining years of his presidency. And history would place him with the likes of war criminals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Let me repeat this. Obama is not that stupid!

So why then does our president appear to be beating the drums of war? The simple answer is he is now regarded as a hawkish leader before the US and the world. And he does so without having to fire a shot. He appears wholeheartedly in favor of a strike and is playing the part well. The hawk stands upon his perch without lifting a talon as Congress now takes any and all responsibility for lack of action on the part of the US. And during this entire debacle, he even manages to make republicans come out as anti-war; something even no one thought possible only a month ago.

If this sounds like an improbable scenario I ask that you to ponder for a moment the potential outcome:
No war
Obama and America look strong and world leaders should not doubt Obama’s willingness to take action
Congress was made to do their job
Congress will take the responsibility of inaction
Republicans have to pretend they are anti-war
Americans comes out against any further wars thereby providing the beginning of the end to our perpetual war
Puts pressure on the UN to take other action
Suddenly the UN is eager to accept other harsh non-military actions against Syria

And there is even the added bonus that the GOP weakening the push to shut down the government over the debt ceiling will not proceed with the intense battle anticipated. Next week Congress returns for only nine days. Nine days to act on the Syrian War, the debt ceiling, immigration, the Voting Rights Acts and many other important issues.

Seeing they can barely rename a post office, Congress will not have the ability to once again play games with by demanding cuts and further tax cuts for corporations. It will have to accept a reasonable offer or be blamed for damage to our nation’s credit rating. Republicans are very aware they will face blame and backlash should this happen.

Tell me this isn’t the best outcome ever. And I honestly think this was Obama’s intention from the beginning. You know damn well if he didn’t do anything, Republicans would be calling him weak because of the corner he had painted himself in when he talked about the red line.

Granted, Obama made a mistake with his “red line” comment, but by acting in a calm savvy manner, he can come out looking the part of the tough guy without even taking a swing. And he smiles as Congress does for him what he wanted in the first place.

If America could just set down their pitchforks and torches for a moment, they would be able to see what brilliant strategy this is.

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Anti-gay MSP who said gay love isn’t ‘equal’ to straight love resigns seat over wife beating offences

MSP Bill Walker, who is a vocal opponent to gay equality, has resigned from Scottish Parliament after being convicted of a series of domestic abuse offences against his three ex-wives.

More than half of Scotland’s 129 MSPs had backed a motion calling for him to go.

The independent MSP for Dunfermline said a “media onslaught” had made it impossible for him to continue.

In August, Bill Walker was found guilty of 23 charges of assault, and one breach of the peace at several addresses in Edinburgh, Stirling, Midlothian and Alloa. The incidents took place between 1967 and 1995.

Sheriff Katherine Mackie found Walker guilty of all charges at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. She said the evidence brought against him found him to be controlling, domineering, demeaning and belittling towards his three ex-wives.

Russel McPhate made a statement on behalf of the MSP, saying: “Mr Walker is obviously disappointed to be convicted of all the charges today. The verdicts, in particularly the comments of the sheriff, will be very carefully considered.

“In the meantime, he’d like to thank his wife, his family, his colleagues, his staff and his friends, who have supported him throughout this ordeal, which of course has lasted since March last year and is not over yet.

“Because the case has not concluded, it would not be appropriate for Mr Walker to answer any questions or make any further statement today.”

Sentencing has been deferred to 20 September.

Walker, who has since denied being a “bigot”, said of an anti-homophobia logo: “I regarded that as quite intimidating actually because … it reminded me of the pre-war Nazi-type stuff banning things”.

Gay rights campaigners called the remarks offensive and pointed to the fact that gay men and lesbians were persecuted by the Nazis. He later withdrew his comment.

A former SNP member for Dunfermline, a seat he won in 2011, which would automatically go to a by-election if he is jailed for over a year,Walker was kicked out of the SNP following the allegations of abuse.

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Americans are no longer interested in policing the world, Mr. Obama

From The Guardian

After 12 years of endless war; after Afghanistan, after Iraq, after Libya, after the drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the American people have had enough. There is perhaps no better explanation for the rather remarkable situation unfolding right now in Washington. President Obama has gone to the US Congress to ask for a military authorisation for the use of force against Syria after its international-norm-breaking use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Such requests are something of a pro forma exercise for US presidents. When the commander-in-chief wants to go to war, Congress is usually happy to comply (if it is even asked for permission, which is rare). This time, Congress is refusing to bite. Whip counts in the US House of Representatives indicate overwhelming opposition and not just among the president’s political opponents in the Republican party but also among Democrats. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are strongly against US involvement in Syria.

What is perhaps most surprising about this is that the Obama administration is seeking authorisation for a rather limited use of force. It is loudly proclaiming that there will be no US boots on the ground, no effort at regime change, no direct engagement in the Syrian civil war – just a few cruise missiles to uphold a global norm and teach Bashar al-Assad a lesson. Yet, while Obama will speak to the American people and make his case for military intervention on Tuesday, few political observers believe he will win the day (though one cannot fully discount the possibility).

It is an extraordinary turn of events and one that goes so strongly against the currents of recent history that it may come to represent a sea change, not just in how the US employs military force in the future but in the very construct of American foreign policy. No longer, it appears are Americans and Congress willing to give the commander-in-chief a virtual blank cheque.

So why is this happening?

Part of the reason is undoubtedly politics. Republicans, who in recent years have rarely met a military engagement they didn’t enthusiastically support, would sooner cut off their right arms then give Obama anything that he actually wants. Yet their opposition to involvement in Syria also reflects a growing division within Republicans, between the party’s neoconservative national security elite and its long-dormant isolationist wing. Indeed, the congressional vote on Syria may preview a titanic struggle over the foreign policy direction of the Republican party.

As for Democrats, particularly liberals who opposed the Iraq war and were ambivalent about the Afghanistan surge, even party loyalty may not be enough to get them to go along with the White House’s plans. Unlike Obama, members of Congress will be on the ballot in 2014 and few of them are going to want to stick their neck out for a military strike that has little public support.

Beyond the political gamesmanship, opposition is due in large measure to the fuzziness of the White House’s strategic plan. While norm enforcement and deterring future chemical attacks can be a justifiable rationale, the idea that the US would engage Syria over one category of weapons while doing nothing to stop the civil war that has taken 100,000 lives seems to many to be illogical. Moreover, the lack of clear strategic objectives, or a vital US national interest or even a fallback plan if Assad is not deterred from continuing to gas his people, is raising real doubts about the efficacy of intervention. And truth be told: the White House has done a dreadful job of making the case for war.

In August 2012, Obama laid down his infamousred line about the use of chemical weapons on Syria. Everyone assumed this meant that the US would engage militarily. But in the year since, he has made virtually no effort to prepare the public for that possibility. There was, from all appearances, little private consultation with Congress lining up support for a possible response and the administration position on Syria has long oozed with indifference about US involvement.

But when videos appeared showing hundreds of Syrians lying dead from an apparent chemical attack, the administration grabbed the biggest hammer in the toolbox and immediately started talking about launching cruise missiles and dropping bombs on Damascus. They completely misread the public’s appetite for yet another war and were further blindsided by David Cameron’s stunning failure to properly manage a parliamentary vote authorising British involvement in a military strike.

Obama’s decision to go to Congress for authorisation reflected belated recognition of the emerging political reality and, at the time, looked like an inspired political move. But confidence that Congress would obediently go along with the president’s plan (if one wants to be generous and call it that) was misplaced. Faced with growing congressional opposition, the administration is now taking the low road of fearmongering that a failure to punish Assad will embolden Iran, put Israel in danger or perhaps allow chemical weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists.

The White House finds itself in a political no-man’s-land. Winning a vote in Congress will mean squandering political capital and twisting Democratic arms – all in pursuit of a military strategy that will, by the White House’s own admission, do little to stop the bloodletting in Syria. Lose the vote and risk becoming a weakened lame duck three years before Obama’s second term is up. Of course, Obama could ignore Congress, but then he risks entering into impeachment territory.

Yet, for all the short-term political fallout, the apparent train wreck on Syria might be the best thing to happen in American politics in a long time.

Since 11 September 2001, armchair generals (inside and outside government) have planned one military engagement after another and confidently predicted success – and then dodged accountability after repeated failures. The result has been quagmire after quagmire, trillions of dollars in costs and tens of thousands of dead and maimed Americans.

Those chickens have come home to roost. No matter how defensible the plan for military action in Syria might be; no matter how strong the impulse to punish the use of long-banned weapons; no matter how many assertions of limited engagement are made, Americans and their representatives in Congress appear finally resistant to buying the war-makers’ tonic (some might say 10 years too late).

The desire of America’s foreign policy elite to continue to demand that the US remain the indispensable nation and the world’s policeman has come face to face with a public tired of war and tired of foreign policy failure. And the American people look poised to win this round.

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Walmart Fuming After ‘Living Wage’ Bill Approved By D.C. City Legislators

Despite threats from Wal-Mart, the Washington, D.C. legislators have approved the “living wage” bill. One supporting council member, Vincent B. Orange (D), said, “The question here is a living wage; it’s not whether Wal-Mart comes or stays.” He continued, “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.”

It is unclear yet what kind of chances the bill has of being signed into law. There may be opposition in the form of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who has argued in the past in favor of Wal-Mart’s entry. If Wal-Mart follows through and backs out of D.C., that would mean the cancellation of three proposed sites. There are three more already being constructed, and Wal-Mart plans to look at the costs of not opening them, assuming the bill is signed. ‘

The Washington Post reports, “The vote sets up a high-profile veto decision for Gray, who has supported Wal-Mart’s entry into the city, arguing that the company would bring badly needed jobs and retail stores to neighborhoods in need of both. The three stores that the company has pledged definitively not to pursue are all in the city’s eastern half, in areas largely devoid of quality retail.” They go on to say, “Gray, who has met recently with Wal-Mart representatives, reiterated serious concerns over the lost jobs and retail opportunities for District residents that the bill will cause,’ in a statement released after the council vote.”

It is unclear at this time what level of “quality retail” Wal-Mart would provide, and Gray’s support of the retail giant doesn’t bode well for the future of the living wage bill, which specifically targets large, profitable employers, forcing them to give employees enough to live on (or closer to it) so that the taxpayers can stop subsidizing the working poor, forcing cheap and greedy corporate employers to pick up the tab instead. Stores with corporate sales totaling more than $1 billion and larger than 75,000 square feet would have to pay $12.50 per hour, 50 percent more than the city’s minimum wage, $8.25.

In preparation for the battle, Wal-Mart is paying David W. Wilmot, a local lobbyist, $10,000 to try and work things out. They’ve also spent quite a bit of money trying to improve their image and local support:

Well before it had any solid plans to open stores in the District, Wal-Mart joined the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and began making inroads with politicians, community groups and local charities that work on anti-hunger initiatives.

The campaign was matched with cash. Through its charitable foundation, Wal-Mart made $3.8 million in donations last year to city organizations including D.C. Central Kitchen and the Capitol Area Food Bank, according to a company spokesman. (Source)

Wal-Mart can definitely afford a wage increase. The question of whether they will support one is determined by which they care more about, profits or people — and they’ve clearly shown, again and again, which of those it is.

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The 18th Annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival

Buoyed by record-breaking crowds every year and ever-increasing corporate support, this year’s 18th Annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival (www.sfdragonboat.com) on Saturday & Sunday, September 14 & 15 takes place in the midst of an unprecedented focus on San Francisco Bay. Occurring during the final week of America’s Cup sail boat racing and in the shadow of the newly completed Bay Bridge eastern span, this year’s Festival, also caps a successful fundraising effort including new major sponsorship from Raytheon Corporation (www.raytheon.com).

“This Festival is the largest family friendly event in Northern California,” said Linda Cheu, Festival Director of the California Dragon Boat Association that sponsors the event. “Raytheon’s support this year is a perfect compliment to an event so focused on youth participation, especially with Raytheon’s commitment to math and science education.”

Raytheon will be sponsoring the Raytheon Math Moves U area within Dragon Land, the children’s pavilion at the Festival, featuring a series of interactive math-oriented activities for kids.

“Raytheon is supporting this year’s festival to excite San Francisco area youth about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers,” said Christine Shimizu, Vice President of Information Technology for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services business. “We are keenly aware that investing in math and science education is critically important for a strong economy.”

Raytheon Company, with 2012 sales of $24 billion and 68,000 employees worldwide, is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, security and civil markets throughout the world. With a history of innovation spanning 91 years, Raytheon provides state-of-the-art electronics, mission systems integration and other capabilities in the areas of sensing; effects; and command, control, communications and intelligence systems; as well as a broad range of mission support services. Raytheon is headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.

This year’s Festival features several an unprecedented number of novice teams, representing a wide range of corporations such as Google, Wells Fargo, KPMG, AT&T, and PG&E, hospitals such as Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation, San Francisco General, St. Mary’s Medical Center, and Chinese Hospital, and an array of community serving organizations including schools, labor unions, and other non-profits. There will also be dozens of visiting teams from around the United States and Canada.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee will help kick-off the event on Saturday as he visits the teams, including one, “the Golden Serpents,” representing City Hall and ChinaSF, the Mayor’s China business initiative. Both days of the Festival feature racing from 8am – 5pm, and an on-land Festival of Dragon Boat cultural and related activities from 10am – 5pm. Entrance to the Festival is free and open to the public, as is viewing of the races. The festival provides an exciting array of activities off the water as well, from food trucks to entertainment to children’s activities and is a very family friendly event.

Cheu notes that dragon boating has continued to grow in popularity throughout the country – and world — citing as evidence the growing number of international competitors.

“The California Dragon Boat Association again expects record attendance in all divisions this year,” said Dave Chen, President of the California Dragon Boat Association and also a longtime dragon boat paddler. “It’s going to be another great weekend of good, hard racing, excellent entertainment and food, and great times on and off the water!”

In 1996 a handful of paddlers came together with the vision to build an organization to foster the growth and development of dragon boating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Each had little experience in starting up a non-profit organization most were relatively new to the sport themselves. With only commitment and their faith in dragon boating becoming a great activity for the community they moved forward to promote a sport people knew little about in an area already saturated with team sports.

So, what exactly is Dragon Boating?

For those unfamiliar with the sport, dragon boating simply put, is a boat of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steers person paddling to cross the finish faster than their competition. It’s a team sport in its purest form that encompasses the elements of power, speed, synchronization and endurance.

With its beginnings in Southern China, dragon boating today is the fastest growing international team water sport. Each year, race festivals are held around the world in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States, one of the largest festivals in the North America is held right here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The appeal to dragon boating is mainly contributed to the sport’s ability to accommodate a wide spectrum of skill levels ranging from novice to competitive,” Chen explains. “At the novice and recreational level, teams often form as a means of social outlet, team building and an alternative means of exercise. For the spectator, the true display of the sport’s intensity and skill is witnessed in the competitive ranks.”

Dragon boat racing is one of the earliest known forms of aquatic competition and is celebrated at festivals and races throughout the world. This mythical celebration is a symbol of Chinese culture and spirit and is one of the three largest festivals in that country, with its roots going back over 2,000 years.

Legend has it that Qu Yuan, a scholar and advisor to the emperor of the Chu Kingdom, jumped into the Mei Lo (Mi Luo) River in despair and protest against government corruption. Local fishermen raced out in their boats to save him. They beat drums and pounded their paddles on the river’s waters and threw rice dumplings wrapped in silk into the river to distract the water dragons and keep them from eating from Qu Yuan’s body. Dragon boating evolved from the re-enactment of this legend at annual festivals.

After 18 years, the California Dragon Boat Association is now the largest dragon boating organization in the Bay Area and organizes one of the largest competitive dragon boat festivals in the United States. In addition, the Association oversees the largest high school and college dragon boat program in the nation.

“No one who has discovered dragon boating – either on the water or as an on land volunteer leaves unchanged,” says Cheu. “Only recently are people outside of Asia beginning to see and experience the magic team and community building aspects of this ancient sport.”

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Bakery that Refused to Make a Cake for a Same-Sex Couple Closes its Doors

The Oregon bakery that is the target of a discrimination complaint for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding, has closed its doors.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore., closed its storefront Saturday, after owners Aaron and Melissa Klein said they would operate their business out of their home.

Sweet Cakes owner Aaron Klein

 

 

“This will be our last weekend at the shop we are moving our business to an in home bakery. I will post our new number soon. Email will stay the same,” read a post on the bakery’s Facebook page.

The Kleins are at the center of a complaint filed with the OregonDepartment of Justice last month citing an alleged possible violation of the state’s human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation andgender identity in places of public accommodation.

The complaint, filed by Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, stated that Aaron Klein called them “abominations unto the Lord,” and said their money wasn’t equal.

Klein said he sells cakes to customers of all sexual orientations, but draws the line, however, at wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

The Sweet Cakes websitereinforces the Klein’s belief in marriage as between one man and one woman, and a sign posted on the door of their now closed bakery read, “The fight is not over.”

The Klein’s say their religious freedom is being violated.

The 2007 Oregon law provides an exemption for religious organizations and parochial schools but does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

If state investigators find substantial evidence of discrimination, the complaint could lead to a settlement or proceedings before an administrative law judge.

The amount of the damages that could be awarded isn’t capped and depends on the circumstances of each case, said bureau spokesman Charlie Burr.

Last week, a Portland bar owner was ordered to pay about $400,000to a group of transgender patrons he banned from his establishment last year, a violation of the same human rights law the Kleins are accused of violating.

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Drakes Bay Oyster Co: Judge Slams Majority Opinion, Calls it a “Hand Waving” decision

INVERNESS, CALIF. — Owners of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company today said they strongly disagree with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to eject the historic oyster farm, and that attorneys for Drakes Bay are now reviewing all options before announcing the farm’s plans moving forward.

The Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel ruled 2 to 1 today against the oyster operation, with Justice Paul J. Watford writing a dissenting opinion in support of the oyster farm. In the dissent, Watford wrote that Drakes Bay should have prevailed on its claim that Secretary Salazar’s decision was, “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Watford also stated that the majority opinion consisted of “hand waving” containing “nothing of any substance”, and that the injunction should have been granted (see pg. 47 from the Ninth Circuit decision).

The well-loved oyster farm asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to prohibit the Federal Government from ejecting Drakes Bay from its property, destroying its business and taking away the jobs of its 30 employees before the case was even fully litigated.

“As community farmers and environmentalists, we continue to hold firmly in our belief that we have taken the appropriate measures to protect and preserve the waters of Drakes Estero and the wildlife that calls the National Seashore home,” said Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay.

For years, Drakes Bay has been fighting against false science and unsupported accusations from the Interior Department and the National Park Service in their attempts to close down the farm.  In a decision made last November, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to issue a permit to allow Drakes Bay to continue farming upon the expiration of its 40-year-lease. The lease allowed the farm to operate on public land within the Point Reyes National Seashore, which was created decades after the oyster farm’s inception.

Drakes Bay asserts that the Ninth Circuit panel failed to consider several critical issues in their decision. Drakes Bay alleges that Salazar illegally determined that the Estero’s “potential wilderness” designation prevailed over Congress’ more recent direction, which authorized the renewal of the farm’s permit due to the fact that Salazar’s decision relied heavily on scientific misconduct and false science.

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision to deny this injunction is a step backwards not only for Drakes Bay, but also for Marin County, proponents of sustainable agriculture and farmers around the country. Our attorneys are now reviewing all of our options before we announce our plans moving forward.” Lunny said.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Oyster farming in Drakes Estero, located in Point Reyes, Marin County, has been part of the region’s history for nearly 100 years. The Lunnys, a fourth-generation ranching family, purchased Drakes Bay in 2004 to revive a historical part of the local community and ensure the continued environmental health of Drakes Estero.  Drakes Bay currently employs nearly 30 community members, and farms sustainably in Drakes Estero, producing approximately one-third of all oysters in California. The Lunny family works hard to participate in keeping the agricultural economic system in West Marin alive. Drakes Bay actively participates in the creation of a more sustainable food model that restores, conserves, and maintains the productivity of the local landscapes and the health of its inhabitants. For more information, please visit www.drakesbayoyster.com.

 

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America’s Cup Race Jury Decision Makes Oracle Team USA Underdog in Most Contested America’s Cup in History

 

Oracle Team USA Now Is The Underdog in Most Heated America's Cup in History

 

An international jury has levied the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, docking defending champion Oracle Team USA two points in the finals against Emirates Team Zealand and expelling a key sailor.

The penalties announced against the syndicate Tuesday are for illegally modifying prototype boats in warmup regattas last year and earlier this year.

Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the silver trophy. Team New Zealand must still win nine races in the series, which starts Saturday on San Francisco Bay.

Dirk de Ridder, who trims the wing sail, is barred from sailing in the regatta, and two shore crew members also have been expelled. Grinder Matt Mitchell has been barred from the first four races.

Oracle Team USA also was fined $250,000.

“The rules infractions involved only a few of our 130 team members, and were done without the knowledge of either our team’s management or the skippers who were driving the boats,” said team CEO Russell Coutts in a statement. “While we disagree with the unprecedented penalties imposed by the Jury, we have no choice but to make the necessary changes to personnel on our race boat and do our best to use the next four days for the new team to practice and get ready for the start of the 34th America’s Cup.”

The scenario creates the most hotly contested America’s Cup race in the storied history of the sport, clearly placing the Oracle Team USA as the underdog in the series against Emirates Team Zealand.  Despite the stupidity of Team USA members for participating in the boat weighting affair, the hard lesson learned has created a more than healthy rivalry with the Kiwi team.

The Kiwi team and the New Zealand media may have overplayed their hand and protested too much, creating an animosity with the American team.  American’s fight best when they are down, and they are assuredly down now, having lost three members of their team and two match points.

The New Zealander team has been together for four years and now the Oracle Team USA has only been selected and together for four days.  That’s quite a contrast, and, combined with the jury’s penalties, puts them in a fight, win or die position.  And, it also adds excitement and a new angle to what has been, up until now, a rather lackluster sporting event in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hand it to Larry Ellison. Even when his team screws up, they make the best and most exciting things out of it.

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Republicans’ Devious Plan To Slow Down Obamacare Enrollment

Republican lawmakers who had criticized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for improperly targeting conservative nonprofits for additional scrutiny kicked off an investigation last week into community-based groups who received Navigator grants to help uninsured people enroll in the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, demanding that the organizations answer detailed questions and produce thousands of reams of documents.

Fifteen Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), are requesting detailed responses and thousands of pages of documents from approximately 60 percent of Navigator-recipients across the country by Sep. 13.

The tactic is reminiscent of the kind of practices Republicans had condemned over the summer, after news broke that the IRS subjected certain groups applying for 501 C4 nonprofit tax status to long, intrusive, questionnaires about their filings. Upton personally called such tactics a “thuggish abuse of power” and “simply un-American.”

But according to the GOP-backed letter, groups scrambling to begin enrolling individuals in coverage on Oct. 1, will have just two weeks to provide detailed written descriptions of their employees and activities, interactions with the Department of Health and Human Services, and “all documentation and communication related to your grant.”

Last month, the Obama administration distributed $67 million in federal grants to more than 100 hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups and local food banks “to help people sign up for coverage in new online health insurance marketplaces.”

The effort is just the latest attempt by Republicans to undermine enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee have previously sent letters seeking information to entities tasked with educating the public about the law, opened investigations into public relations companies that had been contracted to promote the law on popular television shows, and warned the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) against encouraging enrollment in the law.

An HHS spokesperson strongly condemned the committee’s request to Politico, noting, “This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years.”

 

BY IGOR VOLSKY, Thinkprogress.com

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America’s Cup: Is Emirates New Zealand Team Celebrating America’s Cup Jury Decision Too Soon?

America’s Cup: Jury Rigged?

The level of glee by the Emirates New Zealand  team and news media over foibles of Oracle Team USA has taken such a decidedly nasty turn that members of the International Jury have delayed their decision over what penalties, if any, should be given to defending America’s Cup champion team in the “weighting scandal.”

Clearly, Oracle Team USA made a serious mistake. Who in Hell puts weights on a ship to make it go faster? And, who in Hell does it in “pre-season” matches when it doesn’t matter in scoring America’s Cup races?

It was a stupid move by someone/s on Team USA, but it shouldn’t impact the most sought after silver trophy in the World, The America’s Cup.

But the New Zealand team, and the media down-under, have gone “John Bull Mad” over the alleged scandal and created such an ugly scene they have brought disrepute on themselves as much as Team USA. It’s embarrassing to read the ‘homer” news copy from the Kiwis.

The N.Z. media’s fawning stories about the “cheating scandal” and how it has harmed the sport are hogwash.  The America’s Cup is always controversial and the Kiwi’s namby-pamby media patter has made the entire sport look amateurish, low-class and soft.

The jury should make its decision and it should be fair and square–something that has not been so far with leaks from the Jury and other questionable allegations making their way into the media.

The Jury’s pending decision should not be delayed any longer and the decision must be commensurate with the alleged wrong doing: if no harm and no impact was had on the America’s Cup race itself, why should any of the sailors or Team USA be penalized? Really?

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NFL Veteran Poses Nude for NoH8.

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a 13-year veteran NFL linebacker who most recently played for the Baltimore Ravens, may be best-known for his LGBT advocacy. As a straight ally, Ayanbadejo’s support first came to prominence last summer when a Maryland state lawmaker, Emmett C. Burns, Jr., wrote a bigoted and scathing rebuke of Ayanbadejo to to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, and demanded he be silenced. Ayanbadejo of course refused.

 

 

Then, you’ll remember, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe responded to Burns with the world’s best-ever letter to a lawmaker, which used the now famous phrase, “lustful cockmonster.”

Ayanbadejo and Kluwe appeared together at the GLAAD Awards in New York City this year, and Ayanbadejo has continued his strong support of equality. He even has started to tour the country as a civil rights activist public speaker, and continues his work with LGBT organizations, as he did in the above image posted to Facebook by Adam Bouska’s NoH8 Campaign.

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Russia Raids Gay People’s Homes

Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev’s home was among the latest to be raided by prosecutors.

The Russian government’s new law condemning so-called gay propaganda has now encouraged people to report their LGBT neighbors to local authorities.

A notice allegedly from the government says any person who suspects that a neighbor or tenant disseminates “homosexual propaganda” should contact the police immediately, Gay Star News and O-Blog-Dee-O-Blog-Da report.

“Increase your vigilance when you talk to your neighbors, when you are checking your mail and in elevators,” the notice says, according to a translation. “You can easily become a target of homosexual propaganda. There is one step from being homosexual and to start propaganda of homosexualism and molesting decent people.”

Russian prosecutors reportedly raided the home of activist and lawyer Nikolai Alexeyev. According to Reuters, officials ransacked Alexeyev’s home and removed several pieces of electronic equipment.

“Do you think this is all legal?” Alexeyev said to reporters inside his apartment after the raid. “What if they now start raiding flats every day, for instance?

The raid was spurred by a Russian parliament member who lodged a complaint against Alexeyev.

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Thanks To Budget Cuts, The Forest Service Is Out Of Money To Fight Wildfires

The U.S. Forest Service has nearly depleted its budget for fighting wildfires at the peak of wildfire season, a development which hasforced the agency to divert $600 million in funds from timber and other areas to continue fighting fires.

As of Wednesday, the agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million this year on fighting wildfires. So far in 2013, 33,000 wildfires have burned in the Western U.S., spanning 5,300 square miles and destroying 960 homes and 30 commercial buildings.

This year is the second consecutive year and the sixth year since 2002 that the Forest Service has had to divert funds for fighting fires. The Forest Service’s wildfire fighting budget was slashed by $115 million by automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this year. In addition, a wildfire reserve fund created in 2009, known as the FLAME Act has dropped from $413 million in 2010 to $299 million this year after sequestration. These cuts come as costs to fight wildfires each year are soaring: during the 1990s, the federal government spent less than $1 billion a year fighting wildfires, but since 2002, it’s spent a yearly average of more than $3 billion.

These cuts and the trend of the Forest Service’s depleting funds are made all the more troubling by warnings that wildfires will only become more intense and more frequent and as the climate warms — already, wildfire seasons last about two months longer than in previous decades.

Despite a tragic wildfire in Arizona, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, and major fires in Alaska and Idaho, this wildfire season has been less severe than last year in terms of acres burned. So far, wildfires have burned through about 3.5 million acres in the U.S., compared to last year’s 7.1 million acres burned at the same point. But large, explosive fires like the one that killed 19 firefighters in central Arizona earlier this summer are already becoming more common, and as climate change brings higher temperatures, severe drought and expanded insect infestations in many parts of the U.S., conditions are becoming more and more conducive to wildfires.

Despite this year’s relatively small loss of acreage to fires, 51 large, uncontained active wildfires are still burning in the U.S. today — in IdahoMontana, Oregon and an out-of-control fire in California that’s grown to 165 square miles and entered a remote area of Yosemite National Park on Friday. The blaze, known as the “Rim” wildfire, has prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown declare a state of emergency in Tuolumne County on Thursday, and has cost $5.4 million so far.

 

From ThinkProgress

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Did PG&E CEO Tony Earley Lie to Bloomberg News on Bankruptcy Statement on CPUC San Bruno Fine?

 

Did PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley Knowingly Mislead Bloomberg News and Wall Street?

 

Pacific Gas & Electric Company CEO Tony Earley’s statement to Bloomberg News this week has landed the utility executive between a rock and hard place.

The City of San Bruno today criticized statements by the top executive of Pacific Gas & Electric Company who told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that a proposed penalty and fine by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) for the deadly 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno could force the utility into bankruptcy – statements that contradict the sworn legal testimony of PG&E’s own finance expert.

PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley told Bloomberg in a news interview the proposed $2.25 billion penalty and fine for the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged the community could not be funded with equity alone. He told the news service the penalty would require PG&E shareholders to sell billions in additional stock and, if shares failed to sell, could land PG&E in bankruptcy.

San Bruno city officials said these comments contradict the findings of multiple experts, including PG&E’s own paid finance consultant.

“Mr. Earley’s comments are inconsistent with the company’s own sworn testimony made before the CPUC on March 5 this year,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E’s own expert said the company has the financial capability to withstand a penalty of this magnitude. We are deeply concerned that these comments could mislead the market, shareholders, and the public, and we hope these were not made in a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the ongoing penalty process.”

Earlier this year, PG&E’s paid expert, Eric O. Fornell of Wells Fargo Securities, said during a penalty proceeding under oath that it was “doable” for PG&E to issue equity or raise enough capital to cover a $2 billion penalty. His statements followed a separate, impartial report by Overland Consulting, independently commissioned by the CPUC in 2012, which similarly found that PG&E would be able to afford a $2.25 billion penalty without hurting its creditworthiness.

Meanwhile, PG&E stock prices remain strong. PG&E Corp.’s second-quarter earnings rose 39 percent as the utility reported stronger revenue and lower charges related to its natural-gas pipeline efforts, among other items.

The company’s solid financial footing and multiple expert findings are partly what guided the $2.25 billion recommendation of the CPUC’s safety division, which issued its revised penalty proposal in July. The proposed $2.25 billion penalty would fund ongoing safety improvements and include a $300 million fine to PG&E shareholders, which is not tax deductible and would be paid directly to the State of California’s general fund. In addition, the proposal also curtails PG&E’s ability to deduct “credits” for safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire – a provision San Bruno has advocated strongly for.

San Bruno officials said they support elements of the CPUC’s proposed penalty, but given the scope and magnitude of PG&E’s misconduct, they are pushing for a penalty of $3.8 billion, which would amount to $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars. This penalty would also fund ongoing safety improvements and give no credits for past expenses. San Bruno based its recommendation on the Overland report, which determined that PG&E could bear a maximum financial consequence of $2.45 billion and remain solvent.

San Bruno said it will also continue pushing the CPUC to direct PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures that will ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include $5 million per year for a “California Pipeline Safety Trust,” an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement and the installation of lifesaving Automated Shutoff Valves.

The CPUC’s five-member commission is expected to issue its final recommendation in coming months.

“As we approach the three-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy, we remain firm in our belief that the only way to prevent future accidents is by penalizing PG&E to the maximum,” Mayor Ruane said. “The independent experts – even PG&E’s – have agreed that PG&E is financially able to weather a penalty of this magnitude—and then some. We are now looking to the CPUC to do the right thing and penalize PG&E in order to send a strong message that public safety cannot be compromised by the bottom line.”

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Judge Allows Landmark Case Against Anti-Gay Religious Leader to Proceed

In a first-of-its kind case brought by a Ugandan LGBTI advocacy organization against a prominent U.S. anti-gay extremist, a federal judge on Wednesday ruled that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime against humanity and that the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people are protected under international law.

The ruling means that the case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), a Uganda-based coalition of LGBTI rights and advocacy groups, can move forward over defendant Scott Lively’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

 

Scott Lively

“Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms,” said U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor.

“The history and current existence ofdiscrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability,” Ponsor rule.

The lawsuit alleges that Lively’s actions over the past decade, in collaboration with key Ugandan government officials and religious leaders, are responsible for depriving LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental human rights based solely on their identity, which is the definition of persecution under international law and is deemed a crime against humanity.

This effort resulted in, most notably, the introduction of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill — widely know at the “Kill the Gays” bill — which Lively allegedly helped engineer.

Lively is also alleged to have been active in countries like Russia where a new law criminalizing gay rights advocacy was recently passed. In 2007, Lively toured 50 cities in Russia, where he reportedly recommended many of the measures that are now law.

“Today’s ruling is a significant victory for human rights everywhere but most especially for LGBTI Ugandans who are seeking accountability from those orchestrating our persecution,” said Frank Mugisha, the director of SMUG.

“We are gratified that the court recognized the persecution and the gravity of the danger faced by our clients as a result of Scott Lively’s actions,” said Pam Spees, and attorney for CCR. “Lively’s single-minded campaign has worked to criminalize their very existence, strip away their fundamental rights and threaten their physical safety.”

U.S. law allows foreign citizens to sue for violations of international law in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

The case, Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively, was originally filed in federal court in Springfield, Mass., in March 2012.

FROM www.lgbtqnation.com

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Final Nail in Coffin for Prop 8

In what is most likely the final chapter in the legal fight over California’s 2008 ban on gay marriage, the state Supreme Court has denied a petition by Proposition 8 backers to place a narrow limit on which marriages are legal.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil Sakauye rejected on Wednesday afternoon the final pro-Prop 8 lawsuit.  Plaintiffs argued that a federal judge’s rejection of the gay marriage ban only applied to the couples that filed that 2009 lawsuit — and not to any same sex couple wishing to be married.

That lawsuit was filed on July 12, a little more than two weeks after the historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the defense of Prop 8 by its political supporters.

The state’s highest court offered no explanation for its rejection of this last lawsuit, and few legal watchers had given the case much of a chance of success.

A separate case, filed by the clerk of San Diego County and asking for the power to not issue same sex marriage licenses, was also formally resolved Wednesday afternoon.  The high court accepted clerk Ernest Dronenburg’s request, filed earlier this month, to drop the case.

The long legal fight over Proposition 8 dates back to the lawsuit filed by two gay couples in the wake of its passage by voters in November 2008.  A federal judge ruled the state measure a violation of the U.S. constitution in August 2010.  The appeals over that ruling by Prop 8′s backers spanned almost three years, ending in the U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny their legal standing on June 26.

 

News 10 Sacramento

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