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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

 

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

From the Guardian, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poll: Shutting down government over Obamacare really, really unpopular

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

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

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

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

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

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Media Tends to Sensationalize ObamaCare Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Banks Trying to Destroy Credit Unions?

 

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

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

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

Now the major banks want to destroy them.

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

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

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

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

The trouble is they aren’t banks.

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

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

So why does the banking industry wish to destroy them?

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

Commercial lending is the cornerstone of the banking industry.

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

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

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

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

In other words, they would become banks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA

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

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

The Provoke Era: Japanese Photography from the Collection of SFMOMA

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

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

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

Photography at SFMOMA

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

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

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Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

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

From the NY Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Obama’s Brilliant Strategy No One Seems To Recognize

From FreakoutNation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing has been deferred to 20 September.

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian

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

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

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

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

So why is this happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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