Archive | News

Absolutely unimaginable this could happen in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Straight Marine Punched After Defending Gay Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Continue Reading

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

From Gawker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Universal Axes Homophobic ‘Bill and Ted’ Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authors conclude:

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

 

From THINKPROGRESS

Continue Reading

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

Al Sharpton, via Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

FROM THEATLANTICCITIES.COM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Airline Apologizes for Antigay Message on Passenger’s Luggage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

From Gaystarnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While not a scientific survey, here are the responses:

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

Continue Reading

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

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

President Of National Organization For Marriage Launches Secret International Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

Bilerico’s John Becker sums it up like this:

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Why Being “The First” Matters

MICHELLE SILVERTHORN,(Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Former Obama Official Calls Out GOP Senator’s Anti-Obamacare Hype: ‘You’re Worried People Are Going To Like It’

A former Obama Administration official and MSNBC contributor confronted Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) for suggesting that Democrats “jammed through” the Affordable Care Act “on a hundred percent partisan basis” during Morning Joe on Monday, and claimed that Republicans are trying to repeal reform within the context of a continuing resolution because they fear that it could actually work.

“We worked for 14 months to get bipartisan support and nine months until September 2009, where Senator Baucus was working with Senators Grassley and others to try to get bipartisan support, and we had one word from the Republicans, ‘nyet,’” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, reminded Johnson. “And then we went it alone.”

EMANUEL: We had another election, the 2012 election on Obamacare. Obama won. The country has said over and over we are going to support this reform. The Republicans have never given a coherent alternative that controls cost, expands access to health care to everyone in the country and improves quality. We have Obamacare, we have the Affordable Care Act and it will go into law. And what you are worried about is people are going to like it. That it is going to solve the problem of access and cost. That’s why we have all the heated rhetoric.

Indeed, even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recently reminded his fellow Republicans that Obamacare was debated for weeks in Senate committees and received 25 days of debate on the Senate floor. Senators from both parties filed 506 amendments and took 34 roll call votes. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee debated reform for a month and even accepted 164 Republican amendments.

“We fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner and we lost. And one of the reasons is because we are in the minority. And in democracies almost always the majority governs and passes legislation,” McCain said. He added that health care was also a key issue in the 2012 election. “Well, the people spoke. They spoke, much to my dismay, but they spoke and they re-elected the President of the United States.”

Continue Reading

CPUC Should Fine PG&E, Orrick Law Firm Millions for Gas Pipeline Safety Cover-Up Says City of San Bruno

CPUC Should Sanction and Fine PG&E and its law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Attorney Joseph M. Malkin in Public Gas Line Safety Cover-up

San Francisco, Calif. – City of San Bruno officials this week called on the California Public Utilities Commission to sanction Pacific Gas & Electric’s legal team for deliberately covering up for PG&E after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

In a filing late Sept. 26 with the CPUC in response to an order to “Show Cause Why It Should Not Be Sanctioned,” San Bruno asked that PG&E’s legal team, including top attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, be sanctioned for discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nine months after a gas leaked revealed those pipelines. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of on July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, as a strategy to hide the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

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

“Gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in a fatal tragedy in our community, and now we’re discovering that PG&E is paying its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E and its lawyers continue to play Russian roulette with people’s lives, and we are calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated. How many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first?”

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

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

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

At a Sept. 6 hearing at the CPUC, state regulators pressed PG&E attorney Joseph Malkin over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $250,000 for its mistake, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

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

At the Sept. 6 hearing, the PG&E legal team was selectively unresponsive to questions posed by the CPUC’s administrative law judges, invoking “attorney-client privilege,” which allowed them to dodge tough questions. Attorneys for San Bruno are asking that the CPUC conclude that PG&E waived its attorney-client privilege.

“Enough is enough. San Bruno will not sit by and watch PG&E willingly take advantage of public trust any longer,” Ruane said. “Three years after tragedy struck our community, we will continue to serve as a vigilant watch dog for public safety so that what happened in our community never happens again anywhere.”

Continue Reading

Seven Things You Should Know About the Wackiest “Fiscal Crisis” Yet

From Bill Moyers and Company

Sometime in the next week, Congress will either get it together to pass a new budget resolution or the government will shut down (all but essential services). Two weeks after that, the federal government will reach its debt limit. If it is not raised, nobody really knows what will happen. The only sure thing is that it would roil the financial markets and cause some damage to the global economy.

So, we have another fiscal cliff. This contrived crisis is even more irrational than those of the past few years because Republicans in Congress have not only taken a hostage that they can’t shoot, but are demanding that Democrats ditch their signature achievement of the Obama presidency: the Affordable Care Act.

Here are seven things you need to understand about how wacky all of this really is.

1. The plan …

Political observers expect to see some serious kabuki theater in the next few weeks. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) caved in to tea party pressure and passed a budget resolution last week that includes a measure “defunding” the act.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have been attacking House Republicans for not passing such a bill. In all likelihood, they will now filibuster the bill they have been begging for in order to try to block Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) from stripping out the defunding language, which he can do with a simple majority.

Because many Republican senators think this is all crazy – John McCain referred to Cruz as a “wacko-bird” a few months back, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he won’t support the effort — the filibuster will only be a delaying tactic. In the final days or hours before the government shuts down, the Senate will send a budget to the House. At that point, Boehner will either attract enough Republican votes by promising a showdown over the debt limit in a couple of weeks and pass the budget with a bunch of Democratic votes or let the government shut down.

Then there’s the debt limit. Boehner has promised his members that they will get another bite of the Obamacare apple, but he faces a big problem: Obama’s insistence that it is Congress’ duty to pay the bills it ran up, and his refusal to negotiate on the matter.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reports that Boehner may hold a vote this week on a bill laden down with conservative goodies — including the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Medicare means testing, tax reform and a one year delay of all the health care act’s provisions — in order to get his caucus to raise the debt limit through 2014, but it is not clear whether any debt limit hike can attract 218 Republican votes, especially one that would be dead on arrival in the Senate.

2. Everyone knows this is all a scam …

Everyone in Washington knows that these budget shenanigans have zero chance of success because the vast majority of the funding for the health care act is “mandatory spending,” which means that a shutdown will have no effect. Only a bill passed by the (Democratically controlled) Senate and signed by Obama could defund the health care law, which is about as likely as the Loch Ness monster singing the national anthem at this year’s World Series.

But as The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin notes, the outside groups pushing the effort — Freedomworks, the Heritage Action Committee and the Senate Conservatives Fund – are raising big bucks from all this drama. In fact, according to The Huffington Post, the Senate Conservatives Fund “raised its largest-ever monthly total for a non-election year this August.” Democrats are reportedly getting in on the action as well.

3. Plan B …

Ted Cruz offered an alternative this week when he urged the House to continue sending bills funding various elements of government to the Senate. “If Harry Reid kills this bill in this Senate, I think the House should hold its ground and begin passing smaller continuing resolutions one department at a time,” Cruz told Fox News this week. “It should start with a continuing resolution focused on the military. Let’s see if Harry Reid is willing to shut down the military just because he wants to force Obamacare on the American people.”

As Roll Call noted, the House approved a defense authorization bill back in July.

4. “Clean” budget isn’t that clean …

The goal here is to get a “clean” budget resolution through both chambers of Congress and onto the president’s desk. But largely missing from the discussion is the fact such a budget would maintain the crushing cuts of the sequesterrepresenting a significant victory for conservatives.

Democratic congressional staffers told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that they would not pick a fight over the sequester-level funding because the budget resolution is temporary — it will only keep the government afloat for three months — and they do not want to shift blame away from Republicans if a shutdown or default occurs.

5. Republicans are deluding themselves about the public’s opinion of Obamacare.

“The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want Obamacare,” John Boehner said after the House passed its bill. “The House has listened to the American people.” This is a common refrain from Republicans who support the effort to defund the law, and it is a product ofbeing stuck in the conservative media bubble.

The truth is that while Americans are divided on the health care law – with slightly more opposing it than supporting it – poll after poll shows that large majorities disapprove of the effort to defund it by threatening a shutdown or messing with the credit of the US government.

6. No leverage.

John Boehner has all but begged the White House to enter into negotiations to raise the debt limit. But he has no leverage, for two reasons. First, he is on record saying that not raising the debt ceiling would lead to “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.” And second, because more than twice as many Americans would blame Republicans in Congress for that disaster than would blame the president.

It’s a weak hand. But he is really caught between a rock and a hard place: He has got little control over his caucus but is set up to be the fall guy if it all goes badly. It is no wonder that it has been widely rumored that he is not interested in another term as speaker.

7. Not raising the debt limit in a timely manner will increase the national debt …

Former Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chair Judd Gregg, R-N.H., explained this irony in an op-ed urging Republicans not to play “Russian Roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded”…

A default would lead to some level of chaos in the debt markets, which would lead to a significant contraction in economic activity, which would lead to job losses, which would lead to higher spending by the federal government and lower tax revenues, which would lead to more debt.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that games over the budget and debt ceiling are already hurting the economy.

 

Continue Reading

‘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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

Continue Reading

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

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading