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Key ‘Obamacare’ provision delayed until 2015

from maddowblog

News from the Obama administration about the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Actcaused quite a stir last night, but it’s worth pausing to appreciate the extent of the impact.

In a significant setback for President Obama’s signature domestic initiative, the administration on Tuesday abruptly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in his health care law’s mandate that larger employers provide coverage for their workers or pay penalties. The decision postpones the effective date beyond next year’s midterm elections. [...]

While the postponement technically does not affect other central provisions of the law — in particular those establishing health insurance marketplaces in the states, known as exchanges, where uninsured Americans can shop for policies — it threatens to throw into disarray the administration’s effort to put those provisions into effect by Jan. 1.

Well, maybe. Let’s back up and recap what this policy is all about, because I think some of the reactions to the one-year delay have been a little excessive. Maybe it’ll be easier to tackle this in Q&A form.

What’s the employer mandate? In practical terms, the policy name is a bit of misnomer — there is no actual “mandate.” Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees are told they need to offer health care coverage to their employees, but those who choose not to pay a fairly modest tax penalty. As of last night, that penalty won’t kick in, at the earliest, before 2015.

Won’t this mandate discourage those businesses from hiring? It’s been an important part of the criticism, but Obamacare extends all kinds of breaks to these employers to help subsidize the insurance and soften the blow of increased costs.

So is it a good policy or a bad policy? Opinions vary, of course, but plenty of folks, including some center-left health care advocates, have never been crazy about the idea, and see alternative approaches that can help reach the same goal.

But if the policy is delayed, won’t that mean a whole lot of Americans won’t get coverage until 2015? The problem is with the “whole lot” part of the question. The vast majority of employers in this category (about 96%) already offer health insurance to their workers, and the delay won’t affect them at all. What’s more, the delay won’t affect the creation of the exchanges, which should help bridge the gap — folks working for businesses that don’t offer coverage will still be eligible for subsidies they can use to buy insurance in their state marketplace.

But what if the exchanges aren’t ready in time? Well, that would be a bit of a problem. The fact that most of the nation’s Republican governors still hope to sabotage the law and deny Americans coverage has forced officials to scramble and there is an open question about whether the marketplaces will be ready in time.

If these affected workers are going to get subsidized coverage through the exchanges anyway, why have the policy at all? Primarily, the employer mandate helps pay for the Affordable Care Act. In fact, with the policy delayed, Obamacare will still reduce the deficit, but by about $4 billion less than previously estimated.

Does yesterday’s announcement have anything to do with the individual mandate we’ve heard so much about? No, that’s something different, and it remains very much in place.

Who benefits from the delay? As a political matter, Republicans are crowing about implementation troubles, but as a substantive matter, this appears to be a win for employers who’ve complained bitterly about the measure. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said repeatedly that this provision is discouraging private-sector hiring. (I rather doubt that’s true, but if it is, these employers should start hiring more in light of the newly announced delay.)

If the provision is proving to be some troublesome, why not replace it with an alternative provision? Plenty of reform proponents, including some credible folks on the left, would be happy to do this, but it would require Congress to work on a solution — and Congress is such a mess it can’t do much of anything anymore. In particular, congressional Republicans don’t want to correct Obamacare’s glitches to benefit consumers and employers; they want to destroy the law and go back to the dysfunctional mess that existed before.

Does the Obama administration have the authority to simply delay implementation of part of the law unilaterally? Apparently so. Ideally, the White House would work with Congress on something like this, but again, Congress no longer functions so the administration is using its regulatory authority, effectively telling the IRS, “Don’t enforce this part of the law.”

So what’s the bottom line? The newly announced delay doesn’t look good, and arguably causes the White House some political troubles, but as Jonathan Cohn explained, “In short, delaying the employer mandate probably won’t do much damage to the law’s basic goals — making health insurance more available and, over time, containing the rise of health care costs.”

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Homeland Security Formalizes End Of Ban On Green Cards For Gay Couples

“Effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse,” Napolitano writes.

 

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday formalized the end of the ban on gay married couples being able to receive green cards based on their marriage.

The move followed news this weekend that at least one such petition — for a Florida same-sex couple married in New York — already had been approved.

In a statement, Napolitano said:

After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.

The change is a direct effect of the Wednesday Supreme Court decision ending the Defense of Marriage Act’s ban on the federal government recognizing same-sex couples’ marriages.

In addressing the first petition known to have been approved, the couple’s attorney, Lavi Soloway, told BuzzFeed on Saturday, “The approval of this petition demonstrates that the Obama administration’s commitment to recognizing same-sex couples’ marriages after the Supreme Court ruling is now a reality on the ground.”

In a Frequently Asked Questions section abut the implementation of Wednesday’s DOMA ruling, DHS answers two key questions:

Q1: I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national. Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?

A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.

Q2: My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not. Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?

A2: Yes, you can file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward.

 

From BuzzFeed

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Opponents of same-sex marriage are gearing up for a national battle to block gays and lesbians from tying the knot, saying the country is “perilously close” to legalizing such unions in all 50 states after recent Supreme Court decisions.

Those rulings last week allowed same-sex marriage to resume in California (the Proposition 8 case) and struck down a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barred federal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages in the District of Columbia and the 13 states where such unions are legal.

“It’s very difficult to read the majority opinion in the Windsor case (DOMA) and not conclude that a majority of the court wants to impose same-sex marriage,” said Frank Schubert, political director of the National Organization for Marriage, which has led the fight to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“We need to redouble our efforts to engage the American people in a large movement to preserve marriage, one that would serve notice to the court that if they seek to constitutionalize same-sex marriage they risk a massive public revolt,” he added. “It’s imperative on us to mobilize people across the country who believe in marriage and to explain to them how close we are to losing it.”

In the days since the court decisions, groups opposed to same-sex marriage have been meeting to craft the contours of what that national battle may entail, said Schubert. He declined to provide specifics but said it could include legislative and court actions

One thing is clear: they’ll need money to do that, Schubert said, particularly given how successful the same-sex marriage camp has been at raising cash for state by state contests.
All of the four votes on the issue last November went to the same-sex camp, which significantly outraised groups fighting gay marriage.

“One thing we need to do is figure out a way to tap into the broad community of faith and raise money,” Schubert said Friday. “And if we’re not successful at that, then we’re going to have a very difficult time being competitive in the state campaign marketplace.”

Other opponents of gay marriage have announced plans in the wake of Wednesday’s rulings: House Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced legislation on Friday to amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, while Indiana Gov. Mike Pence urged the state legislature to approve a popular vote for 2014 to ban gay marriage.

Pence wrote online that he was disappointed with the court decisions but grateful that the justices “respect the sovereignty of states on this important issue. These decisions preserve the duty and obligation of the states to define and administer marriage as they see fit. Thirty-five states have done just that, and the justices didn’t touch DOMA’s Section 2 – which allows states to define marriage. But questions quickly arose in the aftermath of the rulings about how gay and lesbian couples who legally wed in one state would be treated in another where same-sex marriage is banned.

“It’s a very natural follow-up lawsuit,” said Ken Klukowski, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, in a speech on Thursday. “I would be concerned as to how that case would come up. So I think we are right now one case away from Section 2 of DOMA likewise being struck down.” With that in mind, NOM’s Schubert said they have to adapt to the “new reality” and see what “changes we need to make in our approach.”

“We’ve got to meet the challenge of making this a national issue because that’s what it is now,” he said. “The reality prior to these decisions was that… if you want to win on marriage, you have to win it at the state level. And that is certainly still true, but it’s also true that we are perilously close to having the United States Supreme Court impose a view of marriage that we very much disagree with.”

Ryan Anderson, who opposes same-sex marriage and is a fellow at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, said in an opinion piece published in The Daily Caller that those who share his views would need to “take a long view” that didn’t “look to immediate wins or losses.” He wrote they would have to “redouble” their “efforts at explaining what marriage is, why marriage matters and what the consequences are ofredefining marriage. The left wants to insist that the redefinition of marriage is ‘inevitable,’” he wrote

While opponents plot the way forward, same-sex marriage supporters said the wins gave them fuel. They aim to have a majority of Americans living in states where same-sex marriage is legal by 2016, and they believe the Supreme Court will ultimately give a final resolution to the issue.

They celebrated Wednesday night, but already had plans to get back to work the next day, said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry. They, too, are focusing on state contests – such as trying to reverse bans in Michigan and Ohio, as well as push through same-sex marriage in Illinois and New Jersey.

“We need to put together smart, strategic campaigns but at the center of those campaigns are loving and committed couples who are making the case,” he said. “Honestly, that’s the secret weapon that our side has that our opponents don’t have. We have families who can share their real stories about why marriage is important to them … and our opponents can point to some amorphous fear that they have.”

Though the court’s decisions were disappointing for the anti-gay marriage side, Schubert did see a potential silver lining to them as they work to make their national case.

“We have an opportunity to play in states that are much stronger for us and (to) be able to engage people there in a way that we couldn’t before because in the past there’s not been a credible threat to marriage in Texas or South Carolina or any of these other states. Now there is,” he said. “Now the wolf is at the door and we are going to meet the challenge as aggressively as we can.”

 

From NBC News

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BART Strike Update: Former BART Director Michael Bernick Calls for Parties to Continue Negotiations, Not Strike

Oakland–Former BART Director Michael Bernick today called for BART management and unions to continue negotiations, if no agreement is reached by 12:00 a.m. July 1, according to a news release just issued by the transit district and its communications agency Singer Associates Public Relations and Public Affairs.

 “In 1991, 1994 and 2009 the parties continued negotiating past the strike deadline, and a settlement was reached without a strike. The same process at least should be tried this time,” said Bernick, who formerly served as  a director of the BART transit system.

The former director noted that the collective bargaining process by which the parties negotiate with the threat of a Bay Area transit strike needs to be changed by the state legislature. The same dynamics of negotiations to the end and threat of a transit strike have occurred in each of the negotiations over the past three decades. The current process is a disservice to Bay Area residents, and over the past negotiations has not resulted in better settlements for the BART workers.

Regarding the structure of a settlement,  Bernick noted that Governor Brown has set a structure for pension contributions that should guide BART negotiations.

Bernick also urged other politicians to stay out of the process. “The BART Board is a responsible body and should be given the authority to handle the negotiations.”

Bernick was elected to the board of directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system in 1988 and soon began to note the lack of land development linked to rail. With UC Berkeley Professor Robert Cervero, he established a research center at UC-Berkeley focused on the link of land use and transit, and together they published a series of articles leading to their 1996 book, Transit Villages in the 21st Century.  The book helped to develop and popularize the transit village concept.

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California Man Faces 13 Years In Jail For Writing Anti-Big Bank Messages In Chalk

Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old man from San Diego, Calif., will face jail time for charges stemming from anti-big bank messages he scrawled in water-soluble chalk outside Bank of America branches last year.

The San Diego Reader reported Tuesday that a judge had decided to prohibit Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.”

With that ruling, Olson must now stand trial on 13 counts of vandalism, charges that together carry a potential 13-year jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.

“Oh my gosh,” Olson said on his way out of court on Tuesday. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

In an interview with San Diego’s KGTV, Olson maintained that “free speech is protected” and said he “was encouraging folks to close their accounts at big Wall Street banks to transfer their money local nonprofit, community credit unions.”

The Reader first broke news of the case over the weekend, reporting that Olson and his partner had been active in the campaign to encourage people to move their money as early as 2011. During one protest outside of a Bank of America branch, they drew the ire of Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who accused them of running a business with their demonstration.

Olson later began showing his opposition with chalk drawings outside various Bank of America branches. Security camera footage from the banks apparently recorded his actions, and he eventually got a call from San Diego’s Gang Unit in August 2012, when he gave up the artistic protests. The Reader reports that Freeman aggressively pressured city attorneys to bring charges against Olson until they announced that they would do so in April.

UPDATE: 6/26 – The San Diego City Attorney’s office emails along a statement on the case of People v. Olson:

1. This is a graffiti case where the defendant is alleged to have engaged in the conduct on 13 different occasions. The trial judge has already held that, under California law, it is still graffiti even if the material can be removed with water. Most graffiti can be removed. Also, the judge and a different pre-trial judge held that the First Amendment is not a defense to vandalism/graffiti. 2. The defense is trying to make this case into a political statement, which it is not. This is just one of some 20,000 criminal cases that are referred to us annually by the police department. We have prosecutors who decide whether to issue cases. They are professionals. The City Attorney was not involved in deciding whether to issue this case as is typical practice in prosecution offices for most cases. He hadn’t heard of this case until it was in the media. 3. The defense is whipping up hysteria about the prospect of 13 years in custody. This is not a 13 year custody case. It is a standard graffiti case compounded by the fact that the defendant is alleged to have done it on 13 separate occasions. Because there were 13 different occasions when the defendant allegedly engaged in the conduct, the law requires them to be set out separately in the complaint. This increases the maximum sentence, but it still is a graffiti case and nothing more. The courts routinely hear graffiti cases and handle them appropriately using judicial discretion. 4. It is not unusual for victims to contact police or prosecutors about a case. Our prosecutors are trained to focus only on their ethical standards in deciding whether to file a case. 5. We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be. We don’t decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks. That would be wrong under the law and such a practice by law enforcement would change our society in very damaging ways.

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Morality study finds conservatives show a ‘general insensitivity to consequences’

When it comes to topics like abortion or assisted suicide, there seems to be no common ground between conservatives and liberals. Why is there such a noticeable rift between the two political orientations?

Research published June in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that religious individuals and political conservatives think about moral issues in a fundamentally different way than liberals.

The study by Jared Piazza of the University of Pennsylvania and Paulo Sousa of Queen’s University Belfast, which included a total of 688 participants, found religious individuals and political conservatives consistently invoked deontological ethics. In other words, they judged the morality of actions based on a universal rule such as, “You should not kill.” Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoked consequentialist ethics, meaning they judged the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes.

“Does being religious or being conservative promote a rule-based ethic or does having a rule-based ethic promote religiosity and/or conservatism?” Piazza told PsyPost. “This question is difficult to answer definitively without running a longitudinal study, since you cannot really manipulate religious orientation, or being in possession of a deontological orientation, and then look at the consequences.”

The study’s cross-sectional methodology makes it impossible to say anything more than religion and conservativism are associated with deontological ethics. However, Piazza said prior research suggested that being religious underlies the adherence to deontological ethics

“I think it is more likely that being religious — and being religious in a particular way — is what promotes deontological commitments, and not the other way around,” he told PsyPost. “In a recent unpublished study I conducted with my colleague Justin Landy at Penn, we found that it is a particular sub-class of religious individuals that are strongly opposed to consequentialist thinking. Specifically, it was religious individuals who believe that morality is founded upon divine authority or divine commands, and that moral truths are not obtained via human intuition or reason, who were strong deontologists (i.e., they refused to find various rule violations as permissible even when the consequences were better as a result).”

“This suggests that not all religious individuals are non-consequentialists; that is, religion does not necessarily promote a deontological ethic, though many religious institutions do promote such an orientation,” Piazza added. “Instead, it may be that people who are skeptical about the capacity for human beings to know right from wrong in the absence of divine revelation that tend towards a rule-based morality. Though this begs the question of why some religious individuals tend to see morality in terms of honoring divine commands, while others accept that human intuition or reason may be an equally, if not more reliable, foundation. This is an interesting and complex psychological question which we don’t currently have an answer to.”

The participants in the study provided their moral position on killing, assisted suicide, torture, incest, cannibalism, malicious gossip, stealing, lying, deception, betrayal, breaking a promise, breaking the law, and treason. The researchers discovered that religious individuals and political conservatives showed a “general insensitivity to consequences.”

For instance, religious individuals and political conservatives tended to say that lying was never acceptable under any circumstances, while political liberals tended to say that lying was permissible or even obligatory if it resulted in greater good than bad.

There was a notable exception. When it came to torture, Piazza described American conservatives as “full-blown consequentialists.” But the same could not be said of religious individuals.

“In other words, political conservatives found torture acceptable when it brought about a greater good, but religious individuals found torture less acceptable even when it was a means to a greater good,” he told PsyPost. “Past research by Kevin Carlsmith and Avani Sood have shown that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view torture in the context of military interrogation as a form of retributive justice (i.e., the detainee ‘deserves’ to be punished because of their involvement in previous criminal activity), which may promote their more permissive stance towards torture, at least in this context. So one possibility is that conservatives in our study conceived of torture in the context of harsh military interrogations (i.e., it was the primary form of torture that came readily to mind), and this is what explains their consequentialist stance towards it.”

Eric Dolan, Originally published on PsyPost.

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McConnell: ‘Absurd’ to ban corporations from having same rights as ‘people’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Friday said that he opposed a constitutional amendment to ban corporations from having the same rights as people because the idea was “absurd.”

Speaking to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, McConnell accused President Barack Obama’s administration of using a “culture of intimidation” to stifle free speech.

Following the remarks, the Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay asked McConnell for his thoughts on a constitutional amendment proposed by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) to clarify that corporations are not “people” and restore Congress’ ability to limit corporate influence in elections.

“Well you have to give them some points for not hiding it,” McConnell quipped. “They are uncomfortable with corporate free speech obviously.”

“They were not uncomfortable with corporate free speech when corporations that owned newspapers or television stations were engaging in it. They only become uncomfortable with it when the Supreme Court said, why should there be a carve out for corporations that own the media outlet and for no one else?”

The Kentucky Republican concluded: “Its an absurd proposal and it won’t go anywhere.”

From the Raw Story

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Tester’s Constitutional Amendment: CORPORATIONS ARE NOT ‘PEOPLE’

 

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today introduced a Constitutional Amendment clarifying that corporations are not “people,” restoring the right of Congress to limit corporate influence in elections.

In introducing his amendment, Tester is heeding the call of Montana voters, who voted overwhelmingly in November to direct Montana’s Congressional delegation to amend the U.S. Constitution to empower Congress to limit corporate spending in elections.

Tester’s amendment would overturn Citizens United, the unpopular 2010 Supreme Court decision which allows corporations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns with no transparency.

“Montanans expect real people and their ideas -not corporations and their money-to decide our elections,” Tester said. “The Citizens United decision undermines Montana values and distorts the democratic process. Montanans rejected corporate control of elections a century ago, and I’m proud to join them in standing up for our long-held values.”

Tester, a consistent critic of Citizens United, said today at a press conference that unlimited and undisclosed corporate spending warped 2012′s elections. He said holding corporations accountable would empower voters and support leaders willing to tackle the tough issues facing the country.

Tester is also co-sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment introduced by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. Udall’s amendment specifically authorizes Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, while letting states oversee spending at their level.

Montana’s efforts to stand up to corporate influence in elections date back to the early 1900s, when wealthy mining corporations used their money to buy election outcomes. In response, Montana voters in 1912 passed an initiative limiting corporate influence-a law recently upheld by Montana’s Supreme Court, but overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

To alter the U.S. Constitution, an amendment must pass both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives by two-thirds majority before being ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Tester’s Constitutional Amendment, which is co-sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), is available online HERE. Udall’s amendment is available online HERE.

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Diving Great Greg Louganis to Marry in Fall

Greg Louganis, right, with Johnny Chaillot at a movie premier earlier this month.

(AP) Former Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis plans to get married this fall.  People magazine says the 53-year-old Louganis will marry paralegal Johnny Chaillot.

The four-time gold medalist is the only man to win consecutive Olympic titles in springboard and platform diving — in 1984 at Los Angeles and 1988 at Seoul.

After his diving career ended, Louganis revealed he was gay in 1994 and announced he was HIV-positive a year later.

Louganis is helping Olympic hopefuls as an athlete mentor for USA Diving. He’s also been featured as a coach on ABC’s reality diving competition “Splash.”

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2013 Alaska Heat Wave: Record-Breaking Temperatures Bake 49th State

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A heat wave hitting Alaska may not rival the blazing heat of Phoenix or Las Vegas, but to residents of the 49th state, the days of hot weather feel like a stifling oven — or a tropical paradise.

With temperatures topping 80 degrees in Anchorage, and higher in other parts of the state, people have been sweltering in a place where few homes have air conditioning.

They’re sunbathing and swimming at local lakes, hosing down their dogs and cleaning out supplies of fans in at least one local hardware store. Mid-June normally brings high temperatures in the 60s in Anchorage, and just a month ago, it was still snowing.

The weather feels like anywhere but Alaska to 18-year-old Jordan Rollison, who was sunbathing with three friends and several hundred others lolling at the beach of Anchorage’s Goose Lake.

“I love it, I love it,” Rollison said. “I’ve never seen a summer like this, ever.”

State health officials even took the unusual step of posting a Facebook message reminding people to slather on the sunscreen.

Some people aren’t so thrilled, complaining that it’s just too hot.

“It’s almost unbearable to me,” said Lorraine Roehl, who has lived in Anchorage for two years after moving here from the community of Sand Point in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. “I don’t like being hot. I’m used to cool ocean breeze.”

On Tuesday, the official afternoon high in Anchorage was 81 degrees, breaking the city’s record of 80 set in 1926 for that date.

Other smaller communities throughout a wide swath of the state are seeing even higher temperatures.

All-time highs were recorded elsewhere, including 96 degrees on Monday 80 miles to the north in the small community of Talkeetna, purported to be the inspiration for the town in the TV series, “Northern Exposure” and the last stop for climbers heading to Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain. One unofficial reading taken at a lodge near Talkeetna even measured 98 degrees, which would tie the highest undisputed temperature recorded in Alaska.

That record was set in 1969, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the online forecasting service Weather Underground.

“This is the hottest heat wave in Alaska since ’69,” he said. “You’re way, way from normal.”

It’s also been really hot for a while. The city had six days over 70 degrees, then hit a high of 68 last Thursday, followed by five more days of 70-plus.

The city’s record of consecutive days with temperatures of 70 or above was 13 days recorded in 1953, said Eddie Zingone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who has lived in the Anchorage area for 17 years.

The heat wave also comes after a few cooler summers — the last time it officially hit the 80 mark in Anchorage was 2009. Plus, Tuesday marked exactly one month that the city’s last snow of the season fell, said Zingone, who has lived in Anchorage for 18 years.

“Within a month you have that big of a change, it definitely seems very, very hot,” he said. “It was a very quick warm-up.”

With the heat comes an invasion of mosquitoes many are calling the worst they’ve ever seen. At the True Value Hardware store, people have grabbed up five times the usual amount of mosquito warfare supplies, said store owner Tim Craig. The store shelves also are bare of fans, which is unusual, he said.

“Those are two hot items, so to speak,” he said.

Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said it’s gotten up to 84 degrees at his home in the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River, where a tall glass front lets the sunlight filter through.

“And that’s with all the windows open and a fan going,” he said. “We’re just not used to it. Our homes aren’t built for it.”

Love or hate the unusual heat, it’ll all be over soon.

Weather forecasters say a high pressure system that has locked the region in clear skies and baking temperatures has shifted and Wednesday should be the start of a cooling trend, although slightly lower temperatures in the 70s are still expected to loiter into the weekend.

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Top CPUC Attorney Calls upon Attorney General Kamala Harris to Investigate Charges Against Him of Unethical Action in PG&E San Bruno Explosion Case

This evening there is a growing firestorm in the California Public Utilities Commission legal department as attorneys are openly questioning the ethical behavior of the CPUC’s General Counsel Frank Lindh in removing attorneys from the penalty phase against PG&E for its gross negligence in the San Bruno explosion and fire.

The top public safety division attorneys quit the case this past week after spending nearly three years of their careers attempting to bring Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to justice for the death and destruction caused by its failure to maintain its pipeline in the center of the City of San Bruno.

The safety division attorneys rebelled and had refused to put their names to a CPUC document because they told the CPUC General Counsel Frank Lindh of its illegality.  Insiders say the overwhelming majority of attorneys in the CPUC are now lining up against Lindh and in support of their colleagues.  They are privately raising issues of conflict of interest between CPUC President Michael Peevey, PG&E and Frank Lindh, who formerly was a PG&E employee prior to joining the CPUC.

A number of news stories by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jaxon Van Derbeken, NBC 11 investigative reporters Tony Kovaleski and Liz Wagner, Mercury News Reporter Joshua Melvin and editorials in the Merc News and Sacramento Bee have shed light on CPUC conflicts and now the State agency appears to be spinning out of control.

Last night a special investigative report by NBC 11 reporters Kovaleski and Wagner showed CPUC President Peevey at a PG&E employee union event honoring him for his ‘leadership in safety’ which raises questions about conflict of interest as well as video footage that shows his possibly illegal ex-parte contact with CPUC safety division director Jack Hagen.

There is a growing revolt and more news and action is expected this week from attorneys inside the CPUC as well as parties in the case against PG&E, which includes its own Division of Ratepayer Advocates,  consumer advocate TURN, the City and County of San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and the City of San Bruno, which has called upon attorney General Kamala Harris—followed by the same call from Lindh—to investigate the CPUC immediately.

The conflict has broken out into an open dispute this week when Lindh found he was talking to an unfriendly forum—his own staff—when he gave the keynote speech Monday at a legal conference his agency is hosting, according to a report first published by The Recorder reporters Max Taves and Cheryl Miller yesterday and picked up today in the American Bar Association Journal and Law.Com.

Attendees from around the country watched as top in-house CPUC lawyer Frank Lindh was heckled during his speech about staff attorneys at a “hypothetical” utility regulator who lacked judgment and loyalty, the Recorder reports.

Specifically, his speech discussed what duty of loyalty is owed by a staff lawyer who strongly disagrees with a client’s legally permissible position on a rate-setting proposal.

“My solution in this circumstance would be to ask for a reassignment, but also to take steps to make sure I am not leaving my client in the lurch by withdrawing at the last minute,” said Lindh. “In the end, it all comes back to loyalty.

Under the canons of ethics, I simply cannot be disloyal to my client, even in the circumstance where I disagree strongly with my client’s wishes.”

His comments at the National Conference of Regulatory Attorneys conference in San Francisco were apparently relevant to the recent reported reassignment of an entire team of CPUC lawyers. They were responsible for handling litigation over Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s culpability in a 2010 natural gas explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

The four-lawyer team had taken a position that supported the city of San Bruno’s call for more than $2 billion in fines to be imposed on the gas company, and the city asked earlier this month for the state attorney general and lawmakers to look into the lawyers’ reassignment.

In a Friday interview, Lindh also said the AG should investigate—to set the record straight—and said he “begged the attorneys to stay on the case,” the Bay Area News Group reported in an article published by the San Mateo County Times.

They withdrew from the case,” Lindh said, “and they left me with the obligation to fill in behind them.”

However, in an email to Lindh leaked to the newspaper that was also sent Friday, assistant CPUC general counsel Harvey Morris said the team had not sought reassignment. He said they had refused to sign a brief they believed to be unethical, apparently over concerns that it made unlawful recommendations about the penalties that should be assessed against the gas company in the San Bruno case, according to the Bay Area News Group article and other media reports.

Because you did nothing to resolve our ethical concerns, one attorney asked to be taken off the case, and then you claimed that all of us asked to be reassigned,” Morris wrote.

Frank Lindh, CPUC General Counsel Accused of Conflicts with PG&E, calls upon California Attorney General to Investigate Him, CPUC Actions

 

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Bank of America Lied to Homeowners and Rewarded Foreclosures, Former Employees Say

Pauline Kiel, ProPublica

Bank of America employees regularly lied to homeowners seeking loan modifications, denied their applications for made-up reasons, and were rewarded for sending homeowners to foreclosure, according to sworn statements by former bank employees.

The employee statements were filed late last week in federal court in Boston as part of a multi-state class action suit brought on behalf of homeowners who sought to avoid foreclosure through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) but say they had their cases botched by Bank of America.

In a statement, a Bank of America spokesman said that each of the former employees’ statements is “rife with factual inaccuracies” and that the bank will respond more fully in court next month. He said that Bank of America had modified more loans than any other bank and continues to “demonstrate our commitment to assisting customers who are at risk of foreclosure.”

Six of the former employees worked for the bank, while one worked for a contractor. They range from former managers to front-line employees, and all dealt with homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure through the government’s program.

When the Obama administration launched HAMP in 2009, Bank of America was by far the largest mortgage servicer in the program. It had twice as many loans eligible as the next largest bank. The former employees say that, in response to this crush of struggling homeowners, the bank often misled them and denied applications for bogus reasons.

Sometimes, homeowners were simply denied en masse in a procedure called a “blitz,” said William Wilson, Jr., who worked as an underwriter and manager from 2010 until 2012. As part of the modification applications, homeowners were required to send in documents with their financial information. About twice a month, Wilson said, the bank ordered that all files with documentation 60 or more days old simply be denied. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” he said in the sworn declaration. To justify the denials, employees produced fictitious reasons, for instance saying the homeowner had not sent in the required documents, when in actuality, they had.

Such mass denials may have occurred at other mortgage servicers. Chris Wyatt, a former employee of Goldman Sachs subsidiary Litton Loan Servicing, told ProPublica in 2012 that the company periodically conducted “denial sweeps” to reduce the backlog of homeowners. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said at the time that the company disagreed with Wyatt’s account but offered no specifics.

Five of the former Bank of America employees stated that they were encouraged to mislead customers. “We were told to lie to customers and claim that Bank of America had not received documents it had requested,” said Simone Gordon, who worked at the bank from 2007 until early 2012 as a senior collector. “We were told that admitting that the Bank received documents ‘would open a can of worms,’” she said, since the bank was required to underwrite applications within 30 days of receiving documents and didn’t have adequate staff. Wilson said each underwriter commonly had 400 outstanding applications awaiting review.

Anxious homeowners calling in for an update on their application were frequently told that their applications were “under review” when, in fact, nothing had been done in months, or the application had already been denied, four former employees said.

Employees were rewarded for denying applications and referring customers to foreclosure, according to the statements. Gordon said collectors “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.” Other rewards included gift cards to retail stores or restaurants, said Gordon and Theresa Terrelonge, who worked as a collector from 2009 until 2010.

This is certainly not the first time the bank has faced such allegations. In 2010, Arizona and Nevada sued Bank of America for mishandling modification applications. Last year, Bank of America settled a lawsuit brought by a former employee of a bank contractor who accused the bank of mishandling HAMP applications.

The bank has also settled two major actions by the federal government related to its foreclosure practices. In early 2012, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government crafted a settlement that, among other things, provided cash payments to Bank of America borrowers who had lost their home to foreclosure. Authorities recently began mailing out those checks of about $1,480 for each homeowner. Earlier this year, federal bank regulators arrived at a settlement that also resulted in payments to affected borrowers, though most received $500 or less.

The law suit with the explosive new declarations from former employees is a consolidation of 29 separate suits against the bank from across the country and is seeking class action certification. It covers homeowners who received a trial modification, made all of their required payments, but who did not get a timely answer from the bank on whether they’d receive a permanent modification. Under HAMP, the trial period was supposed to last three months, but frequently dragged on for much longer, particularly during the height of the foreclosure crisis in 2009 and 2010.

ProPublica began detailing the failures of HAMP from the start of the program in 2009. HAMP turned out to be a perfect storm created by banks that refused to adequately fund their mortgage servicing operations and lax government oversight.

Bank of America was far slower to modify loans than other servicers, as other analyses we’ve cited have shown. A study last year found that about 800,000 homeowners would have qualified for HAMP if Bank of America and the other largest servicers had done an adequate job of handling homeowner applications.

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Olympic Committee Says Russia’s Antigay Bill Won’t Affect LGBT Olympians

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has officially announced it will welcome open LGBT Olympians when they travel to Russia to compete at the winter games in 2014, reports Gay Star News.

The news comes shortly after the lower house of Russia’s Parliament passed the “non-traditional relationships propaganda” law last week by a 436-0 vote.

Though the measure still needs to be approved by Parliament’s upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, it is expected to pass easily by the end of the month. Under the  so-called gay propaganda law, any foreigner who is perceived to be promoting homosexuality would face a jail sentence of 15 days and deportation.

However, the IOC hopes to quell the fears that openly gay and lesbian athletes will be targeted at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics and they have released an official statement addressing the issue.

An IOC spokesman told Gay Star News they were “concerned” about the bill becoming law and they remain committed “to non-discrimination against those taking part in the Olympic Games.”

“The IOC is an open organization and athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games,” said the spokesman.

 

From The Advocate

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Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not Be Patented

By ADAM LIPTAK, NY Times

Isolated human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.

The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad’s patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test “should come down significantly,” said Dr. Harry Ostrer, one of the plaintiffs in the case decided Thursday. The ruling, he said, “will have an immediate impact on people’s health.”

The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.

The decision hewed closely to the position of the Obama administration, which had argued that isolated DNA could not be patented, but that complementary DNA, or cDNA, which is an artificial construct, could. The patentability of cDNA could limit some of the impact on industry from the decision.

Myriad’s stock price was up about 10 percent in early trading, a sign that investors believed that Myriad had retained the ability to protect its business from competition.

“I think everybody that was paying close attention to this case pretty much guessed what they were going to do,” said Robert Cook-Deegan, a research professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, who has closely followed the case and the issue of gene patenting.

Dr. Cook-Deegan said he thought Myriad would now face competition for testing for the breast cancer risk genes.

“I think there might be some blustering or saber rattling, but I would be really surprised if they sue anybody for patent infringement for a diagnostic test,” he said about Myriad.

He said that there were only a small number of diagnostic companies that relied on isolated DNA patents to protect their business, and that the impact of the decision on the broader biotechnology industry might be limited.

The central question for the justices in the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, was whether isolated genes are “products of nature” that may not be patented or “human-made inventions” eligible for patent protection.

Myriad’s discovery of the precise location and sequence of the genes at issue, BRCA1 and BRCA2, did not qualify, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” he said. “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.”

“Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria” for patent eligibility, he said.

But manipulating a gene to create something not found in nature, Justice Thomas added, is an invention eligible for patent protection.

He also left the door open for other ways for companies to profit from their research.

They may patent the methods of isolating genes, he said. “But the processes used by Myriad to isolate DNA were well understood by geneticists, ” Justice Thomas wrote. He added that companies may also obtain patents on new applications of knowledge gained from genetic research.

 

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Russian Parliament Approves Anti-Gay Bill, Dozens of Protesters Detained

 A bill that stigmatizes Russia’s gay community and bans the distribution of information about homosexuality to children was overwhelmingly approved by the lower house of parliament Tuesday.

More than two dozen protesters were attacked by anti-gay activists and then detained by police, hours before the State Duma approved the Kremlin-backed legislation in a 436-0 vote.

The bill banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” still needs to be passed by the appointed upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, but neither step is in doubt.

Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Police officers detain gay rights activists as they gathered near the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament chamber, in Moscow, Russia
Ivan Sekretarev, AP
An anti gay right activist (center, in blue shirt), grapples with a pro gay rights activist outside the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament chamber, in Moscow on Tuesday.
Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Detained gay rights activists shout from a police bus near the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament chamber, in Moscow on Tuesday.

The measure is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against Putin’s rule.

The only parliament member to abstain Tuesday was Ilya Ponomaryov, who has supported the protest movement to the aggravation of the leadership of his pro-Kremlin party.

Before the vote, gay rights activists attempted to hold a “kissing rally” outside the State Duma, located across the street from Red Square in central Moscow, but they were attacked by hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups. The mostly burly young men with closely cropped hair pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs.

Riot police moved in, detaining more than two dozen protesters, almost all of them gay rights activists. Some who were not detained were beaten by masked men on a central street about a mile away.

The legislation will impose hefty fines for providing information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors or holding gay pride rallies. Breaching the law will carry a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for an individual and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media organizations.

After the bill was given preliminary approval in January, lawmakers changed the wording of “homosexual propaganda” to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” which backers of the bill defined as “relations not conducive to procreation.”

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but anti-gay sentiment remains high. Russia also is considering banning citizens of countries that allow same-sex marriage from adopting Russian children.

Earlier Tuesday, dozens of anti-gay activists picketed the Duma. One of them held a poster that read: “Lawmakers, protect the people from perverts!” while others held Orthodox icons and chanted prayers.

Russian and foreign rights activists have decried the bill as violating basic rights.

“Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition,’ but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people,” Graeme Reid, LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday in a statement.

Russian officials have rejected the criticism. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the bill in February, saying that Russia does not have any international or European commitment to “allow propaganda of homosexuality.”The widespread hostility to homosexuality is shared by much of Russia’s political and religious elite.

Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled.

An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, while after their death their hearts should be burned or buried.

The bill’s adoption comes 20 years after a Stalinist-era law punishing homosexuality with up to five years in prison was removed from Russia’s penal code as part of the democratic reforms that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse.

 

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Cornell Study — Sexually Active Women Can’t Get a Break

New research into the science of slut-shaming has found that promiscuous women can’t get a break—even from other promiscuous women. For a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers from Cornell University asked college women to read a vignette describing a hypothetical female peer, “Joan,” then rate their feelings about her personality. To one group of women, Joan was described as having two lifetime sexual partners; to another group, she’d bedded 20. The study found that women—even women who were more promiscuous themselves—rated the Joan with 20 partners as less competent, emotionally stable, warm, and dominant than the Joan who’d only boasted two.

Slutty Joan is just another statistic tossed onto the mounting pile of evidence of girl on girl crime, in which sexism is inflicted on women by other women. But lately, the public fascination with female infighting has threatened to let men—and really, the society we all live in—off the hook for hating on ladies who get around.

Take the press coverage of the Cornell study, which has focused heavily on female attitudes toward promiscuous women while sliding over the male attitudes unearthed in the research. While researchers were quizzing women about Joan, they presented a group of men with identical descriptions of a male peer, “Jim.” In opposition to the female response, the young men actually rated Slutty Jim as more competent and emotionally stable than Prudish Jim. The men did see Slutty Jim as a threat to their own sexual security—what the researchers call “mate guarding”—but that threat didn’t translate into perceiving Jim as a bad person.

That finding could be interpreted as evidence that men engage in social policing of sexual behavior less than women do. But it’s really just that they’re saving their judgment for women like Joan instead of for each other. The Cornell study itself didn’t rate male attitudes about promiscuous women (or vice versa), but as lead author Zhana Vrangalova told Science, that’s partly because “study after study has found that sexually permissive women are discriminated against by potential romantic partners.” And as UCLA sociologist Jessica Carbino recently told Ann Friedman at The Cut, “men and women both agree that men should actively pursue female partners and that women should be passive recipients to their advances,” and that “when women do not adhere to these scripts they are viewed negatively.”

Lately, whenever I write about social stigma against women who sleep around—from social media shaming in the wake of Steubenville to the science on the social barriers that hold women back from pursuing casual sex—I hear from men who tell me, “Men don’t slut-shame women. We’d love for women to have more casual sex with us.” But liking the fact that a woman wants to have sex doesn’t translate to actually liking the woman herself—especially if she’s mostly interested in doing it with another guy, like Jim. Slut-shaming isn’t just an instance of girl-on-girl crime, much as we love that Mean Girls narrative. It’s everyone against girls.

From Amanda Hess, SLATE

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Fox News Speculates Trayvon Martin Could Have Killed Someone with Skittles and an Iced Tea

On the first day of George Zimmmerman’s murder trial, a Fox News guest suggested that the defense may be able to establish that Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, because “you could probably kill somebody” with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.

To earn an acquittal, Zimmerman’s defense team must establish that he used reasonable force when he shot the unarmed teen. “There’s certainly a very good argument to be made that the force used was out of proportion to what was going on, and the kid was unarmed,” Fox guest Doug Burns, a former federal prosecutor, told the Fox host in an online interview. But then he ventured that in a “totally different case, let’s say the kid had a gun.”

Martin, of course, did not have a gun. He was found with only Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea can.

“I know everybody keeps sarcastically saying about he Skittles,” Burns said. “You could probably kill somebody with Skittles.”

Fox host Jamie Colby replied, “But he didn’t take that iced tea and bang Zimmerman over the head with the bottle.”

“The thing is, yeah, you’re spinning a lot of hypotheticals,” Burns said. “And you could break a bottle of iced tea, right, with the jagged edge, and you could kill somebody with it.”

Last year, Fox and Friends host Geraldo Rivera sympathized with Zimmerman and prompted widespread protest over his remark that “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” As the case gained national attention, many used Skittles and iced tea to protest how Florida police handled the case.

Before the trial began, Zimmerman’s attorney also went on Fox to discuss “new evidence” about Martin’s life, which experts say was an attempt to pollute the jury.

Source: Think Progress

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California Center for Sustainable Energy Rolls Out Plug in Vehicle Presentation in San Francisco

San Francisco residents learned about recent advancements in the electric vehicle revolution sweeping across California this week at a presentation by California Center for Sustainable Energy.  The event featured presentations and an owner panel discussion on plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as well as test-drives of some of the newest models for 2013.

“The Future is Electric: Plug In and Get There” was sponsored by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, SF Environment and San Francisco Clean Cities Coalition.

California is the nation’s largest PEV market with roughly 35 percent of the U.S. total. During the fourth quarter 2012, sales of PEVs in California reached a record-setting 2.5 percent of all new cars purchased or leased in the state.

During the workshop, Colin Santulli a CCSE transportation program manager outlined the financial and environmental benefits of PEV ownership and the currently available incentives. CCSE administers the statewide Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, a program of the California Air Resources Board. Since 2010, CCSE has issued more than $42 million in vehicle incentives and helped to educate Californians on the availability and benefits of zero-emission vehicles.

“By making the switch to cleaner, more efficient plug-in electric vehicles, individuals can reduce their use of petroleum and help create cleaner air for all of us,” Santulli said. “This workshop was a great opportunity for people to learn about the first-hand experiences of their neighbors who already own PEVs.”

Representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric and ICF International gave presentations aimed at consumers considering making the switch to a PEV. After the presentations, a PEV fair on Fulton Street included vehicle displays and test-drives and exhibit booths featuring PEV technologies, car-sharing and alternative transportation. Cars available included the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, BMW ActiveE and Ford Focus.

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent, nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions including administration of the statewide Clean Vehicle Rebate Project for the California Air Resources Board. For more information and workshop listings, visit www.energycenter.org or call 858-244-1177.

 

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Santa Clara Supervisor Candidate Teresa Alvarado Lobbied for PG&E—Now Advocates Reform, but in the Past She Lobbied for 37% Energy Rate Hikes

Currently promoting herself as ‘the candidate for reform,’ District 2 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors candidate Teresa Alvarado was once a lobbyist for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., where her job was to defend residential and commercial utility price increases of up to 37 percent for Bay Area residents, records show.

Today, Alvarado likes to position her role at PG&E as an advocate for solar energy, but records show she was also a government relations lobbyist for the monopoly utility. One of her jobs was to advocate for rate hikes and urge consumers to reduce energy consumption to decrease utility bills.

Just months before PG&E would announce that it was declaring bankruptcy, records from the Los Altos City Council meeting of Feb. 27, 2001, note that “Teresa Alvarado, Public Affairs Representative from Pacific Gas and Electric, provided the Council with a history of deregulation in the industry and identified one of the major reasons for the electric and gas shortages and increased costs as supply and demand, noting that energy demands have grown faster than anticipated. She distributed and summarized a pamphlet entitled “An Important Energy-Saving Message from Pacific Gas and Electric Company” as well as an outline of her comments, as well as an outline of her comments, dated February 27, 2001, which were incorporated into the record.”

The Los Altos Town Crier newspaper reported that when Alvarado was a lobbyist for PG&E, PG&E had a program called “Riding out Summer 2001,” where she explained rate increases PG&E sought from the State of California.  At that time, the California Public Utilities Commission set new electric rates which increased small commercial users’ bills an average of 37 percent. Residential customers saw an average increase of 7 to 37 percent depending on usage.

“This is not a pleasant discussion,” said Teresa Alvarado, PG&E representative told the The Los Altos Town Crier in its May 23, 2001 edition. “We have a crisis this summer and you can make a difference by reducing 10 percent of your energy use.”

These days, Alvarado, a candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors District 2 in a run-off election with Cindy Chavez, to succeed disgraced former Santa Clara County District 2 Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., is running to reform county government that she said allowed Shirakawa’s secretive ways to thrive, while Chavez is running on her accomplishments as a two-term San Jose City councilwoman.

One of Alvarado’s first direct mail pieces to voters in District 2 says one of her platforms to move half the Supervisor’s meetings from the daytime until after 6 p.m. “when community members can attend—not just paid lobbyists.”

Alvarado’s mailer positions her as “The Reformer We Need.”  Whether she is a reformer or a lobbyist cloaking herself in reformer’s clothing remains to be seen.

 

The Many Faces of Theresa Alvarado

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Republican IRS agent says Cincinnati began ‘Tea Party’ inquiries

(Reuters) – A U.S. Internal Revenue Service manager, who described himself as a conservative Republican, told congressional investigators that he and a local colleague decided to give conservative groups the extra scrutiny that has prompted weeks of political controversy.

In an official interview transcript released on Sunday by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, the manager said he and an underling set aside “Tea Party” and “patriot” groups that had applied for tax-exempt status because the organizations appeared to pose a new precedent that could affect future IRS filings.

Cummings, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducting the probe, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the manager’s comments provided evidence that politics was not behind IRS actions that have fueled a month-long furor in Washington.

“He is a conservative Republican working for the IRS. I think this interview and these statements go a long way toward showing that the White House was not involved in this,” Cummings told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on,” he added.

Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said he would release a full transcript of the committee’s interviews with IRS officials by the end of this week, if the panel’s Republican chairman, Representative Darrell Issa, does not.

Issa has released his own excerpts of interviews with IRS employees the committee is conducting jointly, which the Republican says suggests the added attention given to Tea Party groups originated from Washington, D.C. and had political motivations.

Issa vowed to press ahead with the investigation and said the IRS manager’s comments “did not provide anything enlightening or contradict other witness accounts.”

“I strongly disagree with … Cummings’ assertion that we know everything we need to know about inappropriate targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS,” the California Republican said in a statement released by his office.

Revelations that the tax agency set aside conservative groups for scrutiny has raised a political furor over the past month, leading President Barack Obama to fire the IRS commissioner. The House oversight panel, several other congressional committees and the FBI have launched investigations.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report on the matter last month finding no evidence of involvement beyond IRS officials.

Still, Republicans have raised questions about whether the scrutiny was directed politically at Obama’s opponents and have sought evidence of any White House involvement.

The House oversight committee has now completed five lengthy interviews with IRS employees, including four based in the Cincinnati office where applications for tax exempt status are handled.

Cummings said congressional investigators now know what happened based on these interviews.

CINCINNATI SOUGHT ADVICE FROM WASHINGTON

The excerpts of interviews with IRS workers released by Cummings indicate that the IRS manager and an underling first decided to contact Washington, D.C. IRS officials for guidance on the cases from groups aligned with the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

They did so to consolidate them, as they might be precedent-setting for future cases, the manager said, according to the interview transcripts.

It was an unidentified Cincinnati IRS worker who reported to the manager, identified as John Shaferby committee aides, who identified the first Tea Party case. That individual has not been interviewed by the committee yet.

Investigators asked Shafer if he believed the decision to centralize the screening of Tea Party applications was intended to target “the president’s political enemies.”

“I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do, other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development,” the manager answered, according to a transcript released by Cummings.

Asked if he believed the White House was involved, the manager replied: “I have no reason to believe that.”

John Shafer could not be reached for comment.

“They wanted to make sure that it was handled in a way whereby when other cases came behind it that were similar, that they would be treated in a consistent way,” the lawmaker said.

Another Cincinnati screener who worked for Shafer, Gary Muthert, indicated in committee interviews released in part by Issa last week, that “Washington wanted some cases,” to review.

Democratic committee staff said Muthert’s involvement came later, after the initial screener and Shafer first sought advice from Washington about the legal aspects of the newly-emerging cases.

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Harry Saved Me from Gay Hate Attack: Prince in extraordinary showdown with troops who threatened gunner

From the Daily Mail

 

Royal protection: Prince Harry stepped in to defend an openly homosexual soldier who was threatened by other troops

A gay soldier told last night how Prince Harry bravely rescued him from a terrifying homophobic attack by squaddies from a rival regiment. The Prince stepped in to save Trooper James Wharton after he was confronted by six soldiers threatening to ‘batter’ him.  Trooper Wharton fled to find Harry – who was his tank commander – and tearfully told the Prince what had happened.

‘I told him, “I think I’m going to be murdered by the infantry.” I climbed into the turret and talked Harry through exactly what had happened. He had a complete look of bewilderment on his face.

‘I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. He said, “Right I’m going to sort this s*** out once and for all.”

He climbed out of the tank and I poked my head out of  the turret a few moments later to see him having a go,’ Wharton said Harry, a Troop Commander in the Blues and Royals, confronted the tormentors, warning them they would face severe discipline if they continued their violent threats.

‘I could see he wasn’t holding back,’ said Wharton, who was 21 at the time.

After taking on the gang, Harry briefed a senior officer before returning to assure Wharton the situation had been ‘sorted’.  The soldier, who quit the Army earlier this year, said: ‘I will always be grateful to Harry and I will never forget what happened. Until he went over and dealt with everything I was on track for a battering.’

The remarkable incident reinforces the view of Harry as an officer with unfailing commitment to the troops under his command.   The confrontation came on a training exercise in Canada in September 2008 and is detailed in a book Wharton has written about his ten-year military career, Out In The Army – exclusive extracts from which appear in today’s Mail on Sunday 

Yesterday Prince Harry, 28, received widespread praise for his actions. Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: ‘The whole country will applaud Prince Harry. Our Forces should reflect the modern-day Britain they fight so hard to defend.’  Tory MP Colonel Bob Stewart, who led British troops in Bosnia, added: ‘Well done Harry, excellent leadership. It’s typical of him and typical of young officers in the British Army today, really superb.’

And Ben Summerskill, of the gay and lesbian charity Stonewall, said: ‘I take my hat off to him for protecting James Wharton.’

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Pentagon Has No Idea What 108,000 Contractors Are Doing

The number of contractors working in Afghanistan now vastly outnumbers American troops stationed there, according to a Congressional Research Service report. CRS, along with the Government Accountability Office, also determined that the Pentagon is unable to properly document the work these contractors are doing. And the information DOD is receiving is often unreliable and inaccurate.

According to CRS, there are now 108,000 private workers in Afghanistan, a workforce that dwarfs the 65,700 American troops still stationed there. That means there are 1.6 contractors for every American soldier in Afghanistan. This is an increase from last month, when The Fiscal Timesreported that there were 1.4 contractors per American soldier.

Given the size of the private forces, it’s not surprising that CRS found that in recent years, the Defense Department spent more than any other agency to support contractor work.

“Over the last six fiscal years, DOD obligations for contracts performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation were approximately $160 billion and exceeded total contract obligations of any other U.S. federal agency,” CRS found.

The CRS report comes in the wake of a recent GAO report that the United States spent $195 billion for contractor services in 2010, or twice what it spent on contractors in 2001, before the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The increase in the contractors to troop ration is yet another indication that although the vast majority of troops are leaving Afghanistan, a private army will remain in the country for years.

But the CRS and GAO reports did more than simply document how much was being spent on contractors. They also explored contractor oversight and DOD’s ability to track contractor work.

Taken together, they amount to yet another indictment of how the Pentagon deals with private workers. CRS found that the Pentagon lacked the ability to document the work each contractor is performing. It also found even when the government has information on contractors, it’s often inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the actual work being done. This leaves the Pentagon unable to determine if the hundreds of billions it’s spending are leading to effective results.

GAO found a number of faults with DOD’s contracting process, beginning with their inability to account for work being done in each branch. It attributes this problem to one that has hamstrung the Pentagon’s financial auditing process: Different branches of the military use different systems to track contractor work.

“DOD components used various methods and data sources, including their inventories of contracted services, to estimate contractor [full-time equivalents] for budget submissions, but GAO’s analysis found that the contractor [full-time equivalents] estimates have significant limitations and do not accurately reflect the number of contractors providing services to DOD.”

Each report found that the inability to track contractor work makes it nearly impossible for DOD to budget in an effective way. But they also made clear that failures to properly monitor contractors ultimately hurt readiness on the battlefield.

“Given current concerns over the reliability of contracting data, the information in the central database may not be sufficiently reliable for decision making at the strategic level. This lack of data makes it difficult to determine to what extent the billions of dollars spent … have contributed to achieving the mission,” CRS found.

DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times

 

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City of San Bruno Calls for $3.85 Billion Penalty Against PG&E for San Bruno Blast and Fire

The City of San Bruno today filed its legal arguments today with the California Public Utilities Commission to levy the maximum financial pre-tax fine and penalty of $3.85 billion against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for its gross negligence that caused the largest natural gas disaster in U.S. history on Sept. 9, 2010.

San Bruno’s filing is in response to the CPUC safety division’s proposed penalty of $2.25 billion, which was announced with much fanfare in May, but has since been revealed to provide huge credits and significant tax benefit rewards to PG&E.

This week all the CPUC safety division attorneys refused to sign the CPUC’s $2.25 billion penalty recommendation of Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety division, and all have resigned in protest over what one of them called Hagen’s “unlawful” proposal that was “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.”

PG&E should be forced to pay the maximum for its systematic safety failures that caused the 2010 explosion and fire, which took the lives of eight citizens of our city, injured countless more, destroyed 38 homes, and left a hole in the heart of San Bruno,” said Mayor Jim Ruane.

“We challenge the CPUC to not let PG&E off the hook for this devastating and entirely avoidable man-made disaster,” Ruane said. “The state and the nation are watching whether the CPUC, the agency tasked with protecting public safety, is capable of carrying out its duty.”

Given the scope and magnitude of PG&E’s misconduct, San Bruno is calling on PG&E to absorb the maximum financial consequences that the CPUC safety division experts determined it can bear.  To avoid giving PG&E the benefit of significant state and federal tax breaks, San Bruno’s legal filing calls for PG&E to be penalized $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars – a total of $3.8 billion –with no credits for past expenses.

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

This week’s filing comes on the heels of significant turmoil at the CPUC after the resignation of the CPUC’s safety division attorneys who worked on the case since the beginning of the CPUC process, leaving no CPUC legal experts with detailed knowledge of the case during the final penalty phase against PG&E.

Ruane said the resignations of the CPUC’s safety division attorneys underscore the Commission’s ongoing illegal and unethical actions.  He called for an immediate investigation by the California Attorney General and the State Legislature to restore transparency and fairness.

Robert Cagen, one of the attorneys who resigned, told the media that he could not continue working on the San Bruno penalty briefs after  concluding that the CPUC safety division’s  recommendations were unlawful and contrary to what his team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.

Unlike a traditional “fine,” which is not tax deductible and is to be paid to the State of California, the CPUC’s so-called penalty is  100 percent tax-deductible and would be reduced to $1.3 billion after taxes, meaning state taxpayers will lose–not gain–tax revenues as a result. PG&E would also be allowed to reduce its penalty by amounts already spent to date on safety improvements since 2010, resulting in the overall penalty falling by another $900 million.

Ruane said if the CPUC’s five-member commission adopts the CPUC recommendation, PG&E would literally walk away from this man-made disaster without consequence.

“Nearly three years after this devastating tragedy, the only way to prevent future tragedies is by penalizing PG&E to the maximum,” Ruane said. “Unfortunately, the only way to ensure PG&E will finally take public safety seriously is by jeopardizing their bottom line.”

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Recognized Business and Community Leader Dennis Wu Elected Chair of Recology Board of Directors

Internationally recognized business leader and accountant Dennis Wu is the newly elected chairman of Recology, the leading independent employee-owned recycling and landfill diversion services company in the western United States.

Mr. Wu is the managing partner and co-founder of WuHoover & Co., a professional CPA firm, and has served as a member of the Recology board for the past five years.

He founded WuHoover after a 37-year career at Deloitte & Touche where he served as partner-in-charge of Deloitte’s Enterprise Group in Northern California, managing partner of the San Francisco Emerging and Midsize Business Group, national managing partner for its Southeast Asia Desk Program, and national managing partner for its Greater China Desk Program. He is a former president of the Commonwealth Club and a former member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Ballet.

“We are pleased and honored that Dennis is the new chair of our board,” said Recology President and CEO Michael Sangiacomo. “Dennis’s knowledge of our business, coupled with his independent and visionary thinking, brings the type of independent leadership we are seeking for our board of directors.”

Wu’s experience ranges from serving start up, privately held, high growth, and publicly listed companies in a variety of industries including not-for-profit, distribution, electric and gas, financial services, health care, manufacturing, service oriented, and venture capital companies. He also led numerous diversity projects while at Deloitte and served as one of five national leaders for the firm’s Diversity initiative as well as regional diversity leader for Northern California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest.

In April, insurance executive Larry A. Colton, CEO of G2 Insurance Services, and recycling executive George P. McGrath, EVP and COO of Recology, were named to Recology’s board of directors.

Recology is an employee owned integrated resource recovery and landfill diversion company that provides collection, recycling, compost, consulting and disposal services to homes and businesses in the western United States.

The company manages municipal processes and services, including urban cleaning services, collection, sorting, transfer, recovery, and landfill management.

The company name, Recology, reflects its unique success record in driving resource recovery to unparalleled levels through recycling and composting.

Recology companies operate in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington coordinating dozens of recycling programs to recover a variety of materials. Recology programs have been replicated throughout the country and serve as a national model for resource recovery initiatives.

Recology is:
• The largest employee-owned company in the resource recovery industry, partnered with over 116 communities;
• Parent to over 40 subsidiaries that provides integrated services to over 670,000 residential and 95,000 commercial customers in California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington;
• Recognized as the industry leader in resource recovery, having established the first and largest curbside yard trimmings and food scraps collection program in the country.

Recology is 100 percent owned by the Recology Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and not by any outside investors.

Recology has been honored multiple times by the national Employee Stock Ownership Plan Association for the quality of its ownership program and its positive impact on corporate performance.

The Recology ESOP makes it easy for Recology to focus on providing long-term, sustainable solutions to our customers. It strengthens teamwork and collaboration by tying employees’ performance to the overall success of the company.

As the largest employee-owned company in our industry, Recology believes that its individual and collective hard work and dedication directly correlates to its long term success

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Strike by Concession Workers at AT&T Park Will Not Impact Fans, Centerplate Says of Unite Here Local 2 One Day Strike at San Francisco Giants Game

San Francisco—AT&T Park concessionaire Centerplate said a strike at today’s baseball game by Local 2 Unite Here will not interrupt service to fans at the ballpark.

“Centerplate is prepared with senior managers and additional staff to ensure fans enjoy today’s baseball game and can get hotdogs, garlic fries, beer, soft drinks and other foods as they normally would,” said Centerplate spokesman Sam Singer.

Centerplate believes “this labor action by Local 2 is unnecessary, unfortunate and illegal.  The timing of the strike, coming as it does on Memorial Day Weekend, continues a disturbing pattern of disrespect for the military, veterans and servicemen and servicewomen by the UNITE HERE leaders.  Remember this is the same union whose President previously made derogatory remarks against veterans and veteran’s organizations during negotiations,” Singer said.

“Centerplate values our employees. That is why they are already the highest paid staff in the concession business, earning between $15 and $20 an hour, receiving full healthcare and other benefits for their part time work,” he added.

Centerplate has bargained in good faith and offered union members:

  • A 4.5 percent ratification bonus for those who worked more than 40 games in 2012
  • A 1.7 percent annual wage increase on top of the best compensation package in the industry
  • Increased contribution of 9.2 percent to the Unite Here benefit plans
  • Employer paid health care for employees and their families

Centerplate this week filed a lawsuit against Local 2 Unite Here for attempting to illegally mandate the signing of a “successor addendum” that would bind any future concessionaire at AT&T Park to the same terms Local 2 negotiates with Centerplate. This action is illegal under the federal labor laws, Centerplate officials said.

The lawsuit says Local 2 President Michael Casey seeks to end Centerplate’s relationship with nonprofit organizations, forcing out such groups as St. Teresa Music and Arts, Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Athletes Committed to Academics, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, the United States Navy, and other nonprofits, from working at the stadium to raise money for their charitable works.

“Local 2’s President scoffed at the value of the (nonprofit) program, stating that the U.S. Navy did not need to work a stand at the ballpark to pay for prosthetic limbs for wounded Veterans,” the lawsuit states. “Casey also quipped about the Marines, “‘Why don’t you have them man a boat and they can sell hot dogs on the water,’” according the Centerplate lawsuit against Local 2.

The nonprofits make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through partnering with Centerplate at baseball games by staffing concession stands and earning commissions based upon sales for their charitable work. Local 2 is now demanding Centerplate pay a penalty of $200 for each volunteer used for charitable work, which would eliminate Centerplate’s ability to partner with nonprofits.

“Local 2 has overstepped the bounds of the law and of humanity,” said spokesman Singer. This past week, Local 2 union leaders walked out on contract negotiations with Centerplate and a Federal Mediator, refusing to accept or to even make an economic counter proposal and thereby denying, for the time being, Centerplate’s employees at AT&T Park the economic benefits that would flow from a new contract.

Centerplate, which manages concessions at 300 ballparks and arenas, said its current contract as well as its new offer keeps AT&T Park employees the highest paid in the concession business.

Local 2 Unite Here publically acknowledged that Centerplate’s employees are already the highest paid workers in the concession industry. In a YouTube video posted on May 12, the union spokesperson is quoted saying, “so what if they’re (the employees) the best paid…that doesn’t mean anything.”

Centerplate said it wanted to make clear that this strike is a dispute between Local 2 Unite Here and Centerplate and not the San Francisco Giants.

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