Archive | Politics

Is Rick Scott Guilty of Murder?

Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims. Charlene Dill was a hardworking Florida woman, who moved down to Florida when she was just 18 years old. To help make ends meet, Charlene worked at various fast food restaurants, at Disney World, and even cleaned houses and babysat. As the years went by, Charlene found herself, as a single mother, struggling to raise 3 children.  Last year, Charlene made just $11,000 cleaning houses and babysitting. She used that money to help put food on the table for her children, and to put a roof over their heads.

Then Charlene discovered she had a severe heart problems that needed to be managed.  And she couldn’t afford to get it treated right, because Charlene didn’t have health insurance. Charlene fell into what’s called the “Red State Donut Hole,” created by Republican lawmakers like Rick Scott. It says that if you make over $5,400 and less than $11,400, you get no health insurance.

Below the $5,400, Charlene would have qualified for Florida’s pretty pathetic Medicaid program. Over $11,400, she would have qualified for free health insurance under Obamacare because of the subsidies for low-income people. But because she only earned $11,000, she made too little to qualify for Obamacare, but too much to qualify for Florida Medicaid.

This isn’t, of course, how the Obamacare law was written. But this giant Swiss Cheese hole was drilled into Obamacare by John Roberts, when the Supreme Court said that states could refuse to take federal money to pay to cover people who don’t earn enough to qualify for insurance subsidies but make more than state Medicaid programs will cover.  It was into that hole that Charlene fell.

Twenty-three states which are either controlled by a Republican governor or a Republican legislature have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to their citizens under Obamacare.  This is pure politics, an effort to sabotage Obamacare by cutting the working poor out of the program. Republicans are hoping that working poor people like Charlene will be so upset that they can’t get Obamacare, and won’t realize that it was the Republican governors who refused their eligibility, that they’ll be angry with Obama and the Democrats and vote Republican in 2014 and 2016.

It’s all about politics. These states are literally playing politics with people’s lives, and Charlene is one of the people they’ve now killed.  Around 5 million Americans won’t have access to healthcare in 2014, because they fall into the “Red State Donut Hole,” just like Charlene.

Since she didn’t have insurance, Charlene couldn’t afford a regular doctor or regular treatment. In 2012, Charlene went to the emergency room because of a flare-up with her heart. Doctors there told her to start taking medicine, and to be routinely monitored. But she couldn’t afford it, because she only made $11,000 a year and had to feed three kids, and Rick Scott wouldn’t let her have the free health insurance that working poor people in every Democratically-controlled state in America have.

Rick Scott was willing to let her to die so he could score political points against President Obama. Back in December, Charlene again went to the emergency room, this time because of abscesses in her legs. Shortly after that trip to the ER, Charlene picked up another job as a vacuum cleaner saleswoman, on top of babysitting and house cleaning, to help provide for her family and to pay for her ER bills, which weren’t covered because Rick Scott and the Florida Republicans refused to let the federal government pay for her Medicaid.

This past Friday, Charlene was supposed to go see one of her close friends, so their children could play together. Charlene never made it to her friend’s house. Charlene died during one of her vacuum cleaner sales appointments that day. The hardworking and loving single mother of three young children was just 32-years-young.

Charlene died because multimillionaire Republican and Florida Governor Rick Scott chose to play politics, rather than protect the lives of the Florida citizens he is supposed to be serving. And unfortunately, if Republicans across the country continue playing politics with peoples’ lives, Charlene won’t be the only one to die.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the City University of New York found that as many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of Republican states refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.  Samuel Dickman, one of the authors of the study, told Morning Call that, “The results were sobering. Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.”

Unfortunately, Republicans like Rick Scott don’t give a rat’s ass that their political decisions have life-and-death consequences.  Consequences like three young children losing their mother. They just want to smear Obama, and don’t care who dies, just so long as it’s just working poor people.

But enough is enough. Some things are more important than politics, and life is certainly one of them. Republicans say that they’re pro-life, but that’s a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid. If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they’re going to burn in hell. Deservedly.

From Thom Hartmann

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Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control

When the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases about birth control on Tuesday, few observers doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia’s sympathies will be the Christian business owners who charge that the mandate violates their religious liberties.

The Reagan-appointed jurist is a devout Catholic who has extolled “traditional Christian virtues” and insists the devil is “a real person.” He even has a son who’s a Catholic priest. He voted in 2012 to wipe out Obamacare in its entirety and has been President Barack Obama’s most outspoken foe on the Supreme Court.

And yet, Scalia’s past jurisprudence stands contradictory to the argument for striking down the Obamacare rule in question, which requires for-profit employers’ insurance plans to cover contraceptives (like Plan B, Ella and intrauterine devices) for female employees without co-pays.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness.

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Cornell, also addressed the tension.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Smith case offered a number of grounds for the conclusion that the Free Exercise Clause does not entitle religious objectors to exceptions from neutral laws of general application,” Dorf wrote in SCOTUSblog, observing that Scalia also posited that judges weren’t “competent” to decide which religions were deserving of exemptions.

In response to Scalia’s decision, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which says any law that “substantially burden[s]” a person’s exercise of religion must demonstrate a “compelling governmental interest” and employ the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. That’s the basis under which Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two businesses with religious owners, are suing for relief from the birth control rule.

And that might offer Scalia an escape hatch. Experts say he could conceivably decide that the First Amendment doesn’t protect a religious person’s entity’s to an exemption from the law but that RFRA suffices to let Hobby Lobby and certain others off the hook from the birth control rule. But even then, the RFRA argument isn’t clear-cut. Nineteen Democratic senators who voted for the law in 1993 have filed an amicus brief insisting that it doesn’t — and was never intended to — give for-profit companies a pass on the law.

It’s up to Scalia and the other justices to parse that question. If he axes the mandate on the basis of RFRA, he still has to contend with his earlier argument that such an outcome carries grave dangers for the rule of law.

“To permit this,” he wrote in Smith, quoting from an old court decision, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

SAHIL KAPUR, TPM

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RNC Rolls Out Its Millennial Pitch

As Republican Party officials know very well, they’re facing a series of demographic challenges, including a generational problem:Americans under 30 are the only generation that self-identifies as more liberal than conservative. On top of the party’s gender gap and difficulties connecting with minority groups, the GOP is also finding that younger voters reject the Republicans’ far-right message.
But the party is making an outreach effort in the hopes of turning things around. In fact, this week – exactly one year after the “autopsy” report said Republicans have to start doing better with younger voters – the RNC rolled our two new ads intended to appeal to millennials, which will air in 14 states this election year.
I’m neither a millennial nor a messaging guru, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the flaws in the ads.
The first shows a young man named Scott Greenberg in his car, apparently reading cue cards, talking about energy policy.
“I shouldn’t have to check my bank account before I fill up my car, but so much of my paycheck ends up going to gas. We haven’t even talked about my heating bill at home. So when it comes to energy policy for this country, I’m for everything – solar, wind, shale gas, oil, whatever. I’m a Republican because we should have an all-of-the-above energy policy.”
Putting aside questions about whether this is really what millennials care about – don’t young adults drive less than any generation, and less than previous generations of young adults? – it’s also worth noting that President Obama is pushing for an all-of-the-above energy policy, and he’s a Democrat. The White House repeats the phrase all the time.
Scott Greenberg is a Republican because he agrees with Obama on energy policy? For that matter, since when do Republicans support solar and wind? Just two years ago, the party’s presidential candidate said the opposite.
The second RNC ad features Greenberg, still awkwardly reading cue cards, this time at a gas station.
“I feel pretty lucky to have a job. So many people I know are unemployed. It’s like their lives are stuck in neutral. So I get ticked off at politicians who say they want to help the unemployed and then vote for regulations that make it impossible to hire anyone.
“Listen, you can’t help the unemployed by hurting the people who could employ them. I’m a Republican because my friends need a paycheck, not an empty promise.”
First, blaming unemployment on “regulations” is pretty silly. Second, asking a little more from the wealthy in order to invest in job creation is more than an “empty promise”; it’s a sound economic policy.
Alex Pareene wrote a compelling message to Scott Greenberg.
[Y[ou know, it’s sort of weird that your sympathies lie with the people who could employ your friends but don’t, because they are mad at the government. I am just saying. Millennial to millennial.
In fact, millennial to millennial, one thing that connects both of your little messages here is that you seem to be saying you are a Republican because you support policies that will increase the profitability of certain Republican-allied industry interests, like business owners and energy companies, instead of just supporting direct action to help your fellow millennials deal with the real problems of high transportation costs and unemployment. Maybe instead of increased energy production and “not hurting job creators” we could try increased access to (and more reliable) public transit and, I dunno, having the government subsidize the hiring of (or directly hire) people who want to work? Just spitballing.
The RNC’s focus groups must have liked the ads or the party wouldn’t be airing them in states with competitive Senate races. For that matter, there’s nothing wrong with Republicans launching an outreach effort to a constituency that’s quickly moving away from them.
But I have a hard time imagining Democrats watching the RNC’s ads and feeling nervous.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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McConnell fundraiser: Wives owe their husbands sex even if they’re not in the mood

Quite the charmer Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hosting fundraisers for him. Dennis Prager is a talk radio host who thinks that one of the “mutual obligations” of marriage is for women to have sex with their husbands based on the husband’s wishes and not the wife’s “mood.”

Writing on TownHall.com in December of 2008, Prager compares a man’s obligation to go to work, regardless of his “mood,” to a woman’s obligation to have sex with her husband.“Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?” he writes.

“What if your husband woke up one day and announced that he was not in the mood to go to work?”

He goes on to compare a wife’s commitment to meeting the needs of their children or parents or friends even when not in the mood to having sex with her husband, asking that, because the woman is doing what’s “right in those cases, rather than what their mood dictates,” “Why not apply this attitude to sex with one’s husband?”

Why not? Um, because sex is a more intimate act than remembering to buy milk at the store? Because while people (husbands, wives, whoever) are paid to go to work and be professional about it, sex is supposed to be a mutual thing? Do men not benefit if their wives actually wantto have sex rather than doing it out of a sense of obligation?

I don’t know, just spitballing here. Maybe I’m crazy and sex really is the wife’s version of having a job. Except … no, that doesn’t make sense if you consider it in the context of how Republicans generally view sex workers; if you view the wife as a form of property it makes a little more sense, though. And what if the wife also has a job? Then does she get to say “hey, I go to work regardless of my mood, just like you, so that means I get to say I’m not in the mood to have sex right now”?

It would probably take 3,000 words to unpack all the noxious assumptions about gender roles, sex, and marriage in those few short paragraphs, so let’s leave it at this: Mitch McConnell is happy to have Dennis Prager’s name attached to a Mitch McConnell fundraiser.

 

From Dailykos.com

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Alabama Republican: McCarthy ‘turned out to be right’

In Alabama, state Sen. Scott Beason (R), who’s also currently running for Congress, told his local newspaper over the weekend that he has some concerns about a commonly used high school literature textbook (thanks to reader A.M. for the tip).
Beason put his own flag on “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials. The senator thinks it’s unfair that the textbook attached a sidebar asking students about parallels between the witch trials and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s, in which numerous writers and others – including Arthur Miller – were accused of having communist sympathies.
McCarthy was right about most of the people he accused, Beason claims.
“So we’re comparing the McCarthy investigations of the 1950s, in which he turned out to be right, with the Salem witch hunts,” Beason said.
No, Joe McCarthy did not turn out to be right, though it’s alarming how many have come to the same conclusion as Beason.
For quite a while, the American mainstream recognized the fact that McCarthyism was a dangerous mistake – and the Senate was right to censure McCarthy in 1954 – but as Republican politics moved sharply to the right, the former senator’s witch hunt got a second look by much of the conservative movement.
And they decided they liked what they saw.
To be sure, for most of the political world, including many Republicans, McCarthyism is still seen as something of a tragedy. When the word is used, it’s not intended to be complimentary.
But there are exceptions. In Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told msnbc in 2008 that she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America.”
A few years ago in Texas, conservative activists rewriting the state’s curriculum recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.
And one year ago next week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked whether McCarthy is someone he personally admired. The senator refused to answer.
When thinking about the differences between the contemporary Republican Party and how much it’s changed over the last generation, look no further than those who’ve decided McCarthyism wasn’t so bad after all.
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House GOP Fights for Food-Stamp Cuts

Ordinarily, when conservative policymakers complain about “fraud” and “cheating” in federal programs intended to help poor people eat food, they’re referring to individuals accused of abusing the system unfairly. But over the last few days, congressional Republicans are using familiar rhetoric in an unfamiliar way.
Republican leaders are threatening to take congressional action to stop state governors from flouting the food stamp cuts contained in the 2014 farm bill.
The governors of at least six states – New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana and Oregon – have now taken measures to protect more than a combined $800 million in annual Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and more states are expected to follow suit. Their actions threaten – over time – to wipe out the more than $8 billion in cuts over 10 years to the food stamp program that were just passed by Congress as part of the 2014 farm bill.
But those who initially supported the food stamp cuts are warning that retaliatory actions may be coming.
As a policy matter, the underlying change is a little tricky. Republicans successfully cut food aid to the poor – though not nearly as much as they’d hoped – which mostly affected 17 states that participate in the “Heat and Eat” program, which connects federal LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) assistance with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
At last count, six of the affected governors – five Democrats and one Republican – have decided to start fiddling with the books, moving money around so low-income constituents won’t lose their food benefits. Other governors appear eager to do the same.
And this has apparently outraged Republicans on Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters late last week that he wants Congress to “try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who helped write the relevant legislation, wants a full congressional investigation and new measures intended to guarantee food-stamp cuts.
Remember, the “cheating” and “fraud” is in reference to state officials trying to help low-income residents access food.
For its part, the Obama administration seems a lot less concerned than Congress.
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) expressed anger Friday over the possibility that none of the cuts to the SNAP program would be realized and asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during an appropriations hearing whether he had any inside knowledge that states would nullify the benefit reductions.
Vilsack said he didn’t know or suspect what the states would do, but defended their right to take action.
“Frankly, as a former governor and former state senator, I respect the role of governors and legislatures to make decisions that they think are in their state’s best interests,” Vilsack said.
GOP lawmakers found this unsatisfying. Expect to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Politician accused of buying sex toys with taxpayers’ money as expenses scandal hits Italy’s South Tyrol

An expenses scandal has broken out in the normally staid region of South Tyrol in northern Italy – after a female politician was accused of using taxpayers’ money to pay for a vibrator and other sex toys.

Ulli Mair, 39, a member of the centre-Right Freiheitlichen party in the German-speaking, autonomous region on the border with Austria, is suspected of buying the €65 items and then trying to claim them back as legitimate expenses.

She said the items were bought as a joke birthday present for a friend and denied that she had tried to claim back the cost of them from public funds.

They were purchased in May 2012 from a sex shop in Bolzano, the capital of the South Tyrol region, which retains a strong Germanic identity. The region, annexed to Italy after the First World War from Austria, has traditionally looked down its nose at the rest of Italy – particularly the south, which it regards as a hotbed of corruption.

Politicians across the country have been caught out claiming for items for their personal use, stoking anger among ordinary Italians.

One of the most ludicrous claims was for a pair of green underpants, bought on a visit to the United States by Roberto Cota, a senior politician from the Right-wing, secessionist Northern League.

The claim caused amusement in Italy because green is the official colour of the League, which has in the past campaigned for northern Italy to secede from the rest of the country.

In Rome, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s party was castigated for buying a brand new four-wheel-drive vehicle after the capital was hit by a highly unusual snowstorm. He claimed he needed the vehicle to get around the city, even though the snow lasted less than 48 hours.

According to a report released in December, corrupt officials cost Italian taxpayers €2 billion in 2013.

Politicians at national, regional and provincial level were accused of claiming state money for a range of fripperies such as truffle tastings, Tiffany jewellery and even lap dances.

In Calabria, politicians claimed for lottery scratch cards while in Campania a male politician put in for hair dye – despite the fact that he was nearly bald.

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Arkansas Judge Mike Maggio Outed for Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Posts

An Arkansas judge, Mike Maggio, was outed for making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments online. Here are some of the posts that he made thinking that nobody would figure out who he was:

The most controversial comments appeared on a Louisiana State University message board called Tiger Droppings. In one comment, Geauxjudge made fun of the name of a University of Alabama football player who is black, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix. He questioned the wisdom of parents giving such irregular names to their children: “I do agree about names may not be predictors of future success but in reality: How many doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or Ha-Ha? How many bankers do [you] hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the ‘common names.’”

Maggio’s candid views on marriage and divorce:

“I see it every day. A woman makes [an] emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father and husband . . . then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.”

“Men have two needs. Feed me and f— me. Take care of both we will be good. Whichever one you don’t then the man will find. Women have need for security. So man take care of that and will be OK.”

He also compared women having sex with dogs as just a small step from “TGGLBS” sex and disclosed certain proceedings of the adoption by Actress Charlize Theron of a Black kid. Maggio withdrew from an appellate race after being outed.The New York Daily News notes that he posted these confidential proceedings related to Theron’s adoption two months before they became public knowledge.

Starcasm put up another post where Maggio said Khloe Kardashian was “black by injection.”

The site Blue Hog Report was the site which originally outed Maggio and has even more nuggets, including these:

He also opines on relations post-marriage,  makes that same “joke” about bulges many times, why a man should sell Mary Kay,   repeats the wisdom about “golden vaginas”, explains why women generally shouldn’t get alimony, thinks that you should “raise your own kids” instead of paying for childcare, refers to “Vitamin P”, implies that American education is failing because all the easy girls major in education, laughing about “riding” bi-polar women, talks about gynecology, says women are ridiculous because they want husbands who don’t work all the time, refers to wives as “chattel”,  references his own sexual shortcomings, and . . . whatever the hell this is.

There are many more such posts at this link. Blue Hog also cites these set of ethical rules for judges:

   Rule 1.2. A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.    Official Comment [2]: A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code.

Official Comment [6]: Actual improprieties include violations of law, court rules or provisions of this Code. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.

Rule 3.1. A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this Code. However, when engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not: [*]
(C) participate in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.

Official Comment [3]: Discriminatory actions and expressions of bias or prejudice by a judge, even outside the judge’s official or judicial actions, are likely to appear to a reasonable person to call into question the judge’s integrity and impartiality. Examples include jokes or other remarks that demean individuals based upon their personal characteristics.

The Associated Press reports that he is under investigation by that state’s judicial commission.

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Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls For Six New Constitutional Amendment

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has a new book out,  Six Amendments: How And Why We Should Change The Constitution, with some really outstanding ideas.

The publisher says of the book:

For the first time ever, a retired Supreme Court Justice offers a manifesto on how the Constitution needs to change.

SIX AMENDMENTS is an absolutely unprecedented call to arms, detailing six specific ways in which the Constitution should be amended in order to protect our democracy and the safety and wellbeing of American citizens.”

Any constitutional amendment is an impossible dream, of course. It requires two-thirds of the members of both houses of congress and then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The country couldn’t even pass an amendment saying women have the same rights as men, hard to see red states and blue states agreeing on any significant change.

But it is still a tantalizing possibility.

Here are Justice Stevens six great ideas by Josh Blackman, a critic of Justice Stevens who reviewed the book. When you read #1 think Rick Perry refusing to allow same-sex military spouses to apply for benefits or the Missouri legislature considering a law allowing the arrest of any law enforcement agent attempting to enforce federal gun laws. The rest are fairly straight forward.

    • The “Anti-Commandeering Rule” (Amend the Supremacy Clause of Article VI) This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges and other public officials. in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
    • Political Gerrymandering – Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
    • Campaign Finance – Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.
    • Sovereign Immunity – Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution
    • Death Penalty- (Amend the 8th Amendment) Excessive Bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.
    • The Second Amendment – (Amend the 2nd Amendment) A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

book

You can see by his amendment wish list that there’s a reason Justice Stevens was known as the “Liberal Lion” of the Court.

I would gladly embrace any one of Justice Stevens suggestions. But it struck me that the one change we need to make before we could possibly address the other five is and end to gerrymandering.

The reality is, we will never end the practice of carving up states into safe red or blue districts on a national level. The men and women who benefit from it will never let that happen. But we might be able to do it state by state. Once that was done, the rest might be possible.

We complain about it enough. But I have never heard of a grass roots campaign to change the way even a single district has been drawn.

Why haven’t we tried?

 

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Ecuador Plaintiffs, Steven Donziger, Committed Fraud against Chevron in Ecuador Case

Berlinger and Donziger

Joe Berlinger’s (left) Film “Crude,” paid for by Ecuador Plaintiff Attorney Steven Donziger, ultimately led to a crushing victory for Chevron Corporation in the Ecuador Case

Chevron Corporation won a major victory today when a New York federal judge ruled that the case against the oil company in Ecuador was procured by fraud.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found that lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger used bribery, coercion, fraud and other illegal means to create a fraudulent case against Chevron in Ecuador.

Donziger, whose fraudulent lawsuit was supported by environmental organizations such as AmazonWatch in San Francisco, Rainforest Action Network, Earthrights International, and other alleged environmental groups, might have gotten away with the crime if it were not for the sloppy work of Hollywood movie director Joe Berlinger.

Berlinger, who was paid by the plaintiffs to produce a film that lambasted Chevron for alleged pollution in Ecuador, ultimately and ironically, became Chevron’s savior.

Berlinger’s movie “Crude” produced evidence that led Chevron to its important court victory today in New York.

In making his ruling, Judge Kaplan  said Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs used “corrupt means” to secure a multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp in Ecuador, giving a major setback for attorneys hoping to collect on the award.

Kaplan said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that attorney Steven Donziger’s legal team bribed an Ecuadorean judge to issue an $18 billion judgment against the oil company in 2011.

The villagers had said Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, contaminated an oil field in northeastern Ecuador between 1964 and 1992.  Ecuador’s high court cut the judgment to $9.5 billion last year.

Kaplan’s decision bars Donziger and environmental groups like AmazonWatch and public relations agent Karen Hinton from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States. It may also give Chevron legal ammunition in other countries where the plaintiffs could try to go after Chevron’s assets.

At a six-week trial last year, Chevron accused Donziger of fraud and racketeering and said Texaco cleaned up the site, known as Lago Agrio, before handing it over to a state-controlled entity.

Below is the full text of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s opening judgement today against Steven Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs:

“Steven Donziger, a New York City lawyer, led a group of American and Ecuadorian lawyers who brought an action in Ecuador (the “Lago Agrio” case) in the names of 47 plaintiffs (the“Lago Agrio Plaintiffs” or “LAPs”), on behalf of thousands of indigenous peoples of the Orienté region of Ecuador, against Chevron Corporation (“Chevron”).

They claimed that Chevron was responsible for extensive environmental damage caused by oil activities of Texaco, Inc. (“Texaco”), that ended more than twenty years ago and long before Chevron acquired Texaco’s stock.

After years of pressuring Chevron to settle by a variety of both legitimate and illegitimate means, Donziger and his clients obtained a multibillion dollar judgment (the“Judgment”) in the Ecuadorian courts and now seek to enforce it around the world.

Chevron then brought this action, contending among other things that the Judgment was procured by fraud.  Following a full trial, it now seeks equitable relief against Donziger and the two of his Ecuadorian clients who defended this case in order to prevent any of them from profiting from the alleged fraud or from seeking to enforce the Judgment in the United States.

This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more. The evidence is voluminous.

The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.

Upon consideration of all of the evidence, including the credibility of the witnesses– though several of the most important declined to testify – the Court finds that Donziger began his involvement in this controversy with a desire to improve conditions in the area in which his Ecuadorian clients live. To be sure, he sought also to do well for himself while doing good for others, but there was nothing wrong with that. In the end, however, he and the Ecuadorian lawyers he led corrupted the Lago Agrio case.

They submitted fraudulent evidence. They coerced one judge, first to use a court-appointed, supposedly impartial, “global expert” to make an overall damages assessment and, then, to appoint to that important role a man whom Donziger hand-picked and paid to “totally play ball” with the LAPs.

They then paid a Colorado consulting firm secretly to write all or most of the global expert’s report, falsely presented the report as the work of the court-appointed and supposedly impartial expert, and told half-truths or worse to U.S. courts in attempts to prevent exposure of that and other wrongdoing. Ultimately, the LAP team wrote the Lago Agrio court’s Judgment themselves and promised $500,000 to the Ecuadorian judge to rule in their favor and sign their judgment. If ever there were a case warranting equitable relief with respect to a judgment procured by fraud, this is it.

The defendants seek to avoid responsibility for their actions by emphasizing that the Lago Agrio case took place in Ecuador and by invoking the principle of comity. But that warrants no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here. The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here.  The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.1

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador – and they knew it. Indeed, one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, “apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”2

It is time to face the facts.”

Link to the judgement: http://tinyurl.com/o8p6gve

 

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Why Russia No Longer Fears the West

The West is blinking in disbelief – Vladimir Putin just invaded Ukraine. German diplomats, French Eurocrats and American pundits are all stunned. Why has Russia chosen to gamble its trillion-dollar ties with the West?

Western leaders are stunned because they haven’t realized Russia’s owners no longer respect Europeans the way they once did after the Cold War. Russia thinks the West is no longer a crusading alliance. Russia thinks the West is now all about the money.

Putin’s henchmen know this personally. Russia’s rulers have been buying up Europe for years. They have mansions and luxury flats from London’s West End to France’s Cote d’Azure. Their children are safe at British boarding and Swiss finishing schools. And their money is squirrelled away in Austrian banks and British tax havens.

Putin’s inner circle no longer fear the European establishment. They once imagined them all in MI6. Now they know better. They have seen firsthand how obsequious Western aristocrats and corporate tycoons suddenly turn when their billions come into play. They now view them as hypocrites—the same European elites who help them hide their fortunes.

Once Russia’s powerful listened when European embassies issued statements denouncing the baroque corruption of Russian state companies. But no more. Because they know full well it is European bankers, businessmen and lawyers who do the dirty work for them placing the proceeds of corruption in hideouts from the Dutch Antilles to the British Virgin Islands.

We are not talking big money. But very big money. None other than Putin’s Central Bank has estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion exiting Russia in 2012 might be traceable to illegal activities. Crimes like kickbacks, drug money or tax fraud. This is the money that posh English bankers are rolling out the red carpet for in London.

Behind European corruption, Russia sees American weakness. The Kremlin does not believe European countries – with the exception of Germany – are truly independent of the United States. They see them as client states that Washington could force now, as it once did in the Cold War, not to do such business with the Kremlin.

When Russia sees Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal outbidding each other to be Russia’s best business partner inside the EU (in return for no mention of human rights), they see America’s control over Europe slowly dissolving.

Back in Moscow, Russia’s hears American weakness out of Embassy Moscow. Once upon a time the Kremlin feared a foreign adventure might trigger Cold War economic sanctions where it hurts: export bans on key parts for its oil industry, even being cut out of its access to the Western banking sector. No more.

Russia sees an America distracted: Putin’s Ukrainian gambit was a shock to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. They prefer talking about China, or participating in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Russia sees an America vulnerable: in Afghanistan, in Syria and on Iran—a United States that desperately needs Russian support to continue shipping its supplies, host any peace conference or enforce its sanctions.

Moscow is not nervous. Russia’s elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner – everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.

The Kremlin sees its evidence in the former leaders of Britain, France and Germany. Tony Blair now advises the dictatorship in Kazakhstan on how to improve its image in the West. Nicholas Sarkozy was contemplating setting up a hedge fund with money from absolutist Qatar. And Gerhard Schroder is the chairman of the Nord Steam consortium – a majority Gazprom-owned pipeline that connects Russia directly to Germany through the Black Sea.

Russia is confident there will be no Western economic counterattack. They believe the Europeans will not sanction the Russian oligarch money. They believe Americans will not punish the Russian oligarchs by blocking their access to banks. Russia is certain a military counterattack is out of the question. They expect America to only posture. Cancel the G-8? Who cares?

Because Putin has no fear of the West, he can concentrate on what matters back in Russia: holding onto power. When Putin announced he would return to the presidency in late 2011, the main growling question was: why?

The regime had no story to sell. What did Putin want to achieve by never stepping down? Enriching himself? The puppet president he shunted aside, Dmitry Medvedev, had at least sold a story of modernization. What, other than hunger for power, had made Putin return to the presidency? The Kremlin spin-doctors had nothing to spin.

Moscow was rocked by mass protests in December 2011. More than 100,000 gathered within sight of the Kremlin demanding Russia be ruled in a different way. The protesters were scared off the streets, but the problem the regime had in justifying itself remained. Putin had sold himself to the Russian people as the man who would stabilize the state and deliver rising incomes after the chaos of the 1990s. But with Russians no longer fearing chaos, but rather stagnation as the economy slowed – it was unclear what this “stability” was for.

This is where the grand propaganda campaign called the Eurasian Union has come into its own. This is the name of the vague new entity that Putin wants to create out of former Soviet states — the first steps toward which Putin has taken by building a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and he had hoped with a Ukraine run by Viktor Yanuvokych. This is not just about empire; it is about using empire to cover up the grotesque scale of Russian corruption and justify the regime.

Russia would rather have swallowed Ukraine whole, but the show must go on. Russian TV needs glories for Putin every night on the evening news. Russian politics is about spin, not substance. The real substance of Russian politics is the extraction of billions of dollars from the nation and shuttling them into tropical Western tax havens, which is why Russian politics needs perpetual PR and perpetual Putinist drama to keep all this hidden from the Russian people. Outraged Putin has built up a Kremlin fleet of luxury aircraft worth $1 billion? Angry that a third of the $51 billion budget of the Sochi games vanished into kickbacks? Forget about it. Russia is on the march again.

This is why Crimea is perfect Putin. Crimea is no South Ossetia. This is not some remote, mountainous Georgian village inhabited by some dubious ethnicity that Russians have never heard of. Crimea is the heart of Russian romanticism. The peninsula is the only part of the classical world that Russia ever conquered. And this is why the Tsarist aristocracy fell in love with it. Crimea symbolized Russia’s 18th and 19th-century fantasy to conquer Constantinople and liberate Greek Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule. Crimea became the imperial playground: In poetry and palaces, it was extolled as the jewel in the Russian crown.

Crimea is the only lost land that Russians really mourn. The reason is tourism. The Soviet Union built on the Tsarist myth and turned the peninsula into a giant holiday camp full of workers sanitariums and pioneer camps. Unlike, the Russian cities of say northern Kazakhstan, Crimea is a place Russians have actually been. Even today over one million Russians holiday in Crimea every year. It is not just a peninsula; this is Russia’s Club Med and imperial romanticism rolled into one.

Vladimir Putin knows this. He knows that millions of Russians will cheer him as a hero if he returns them Crimea. He knows that European bureaucrats will issue shrill statements and then get back to business helping Russian elites buy London town houses and French chateaux. He knows full well that the United States can no longer force Europe to trade in a different way. He knows full well that the United States can do nothing beyond theatrical military maneuvers at most.

This is why Vladimir Putin just invaded Crimea.

He thinks he has nothing to lose.

 

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Maine Republican regrets saying men should rape women if abortion is legal

A Republican state lawmaker from Maine says he regrets making decades worth of offensive comments about gays, rape, and abortion that were compiled recently by a liberal activist.

Blogger Mike Tipping dug up several offensive comments made by state Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst) from old news reports he posted on the Bangor Daily News website, which has spurred Democratic calls for the lawmaker’s resignation.

In one of the quotes posted on the blog, Lockman falsely suggested HIV and AIDS could be spread by bed sheets and mosquitos, and he also said the progressive movement helped spread the virus by claiming “the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.”

The post also quoted a 1995 press statement by Lockman, then part of the Pro Life Education Association, comparing abortion to rape.

“If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman?” Lockman said. “At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

The blogger also found a 1996 article that featured Lockman dressed as a vampire outside the Federal Building in Bangor to protest the IRS and its “police-state” taxation methods.

Although most of the comments were at least 15 years old, Maine’s Democratic Party chairman asked for the lawmaker’s resignation, saying the remarks were “hateful, vicious and offensive.”

“[Lockman is a] disturbed individual who holds some of the most abhorrent beliefs ever heard from a public official in Maine,” said Ben Grant, the state’s Democratic Party chairman in a statement Tuesday.

The lawmaker issued his own statement Wednesday, saying his previous comments did not inform his public service.

“I have always been passionate about my beliefs, and years ago I said things that I regret,” Lockman said. “I hold no animosity toward anyone by virtue of their gender or sexual orientation, and today I am focused on ensuring freedom and economic prosperity for all Mainers.”

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) also issued a statement rebuking Lockman.

“I do not condone these or any statements that are intentionally hurtful toward others on account of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation,” Fredette said.

Lockman is known as a divisive figure in the Statehouse who has baselessly accused colleagues of conflicts of interest and makes other outlandish statements during floor debates.

 

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Texas ban on marriage equality ruled unconstitutional, Rick Perry upset

A federal judge on Wednesday declared Texas’ ban on equal marriage unconstitutional; the judge also ruled that the state’s refusal to recognize the unions of gay couples married in other states to be unconstitutional.

As the San Antonio Express News notes, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia stayed the decision pending the state’s appeal, meaning that the state ban on marriage equality remains in effect for now.

“Regulation of marriage has traditionally been the province of the states and remains so today,” Garcia wrote in the ruling. “However, any state law involving marriage or any other protected interest must comply with the United States Constitution.”

Gov. Rick Perry, if you can believe it, is upset by the decision and has vowed to appeal it:

Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens. The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.

One of the couples behind the suit, Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon celebrated the decision as “a great step towards justice for our family.”

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” they said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”

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Mayor Lee & Senator Leno Announce Legislation To Amend State Ellis Act Law To Protect Long-Time Tenants

Closing Loophole in State Law to Prohibit Real Estate Speculators From Using the Ellis Act to Displace Tenants in San Francisco

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee and State Senator Mark Leno joined State and local leaders, including Assemblymember Phil Ting and Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos along with tenant advocates, labor groups and business leaders to announce legislation closing a loophole in the Ellis Act that allows speculators to buy rent-controlled buildings in San Francisco and immediately evicting long-term tenants. To counter a recent surge in Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco, Senate Bill 1439 authorizes the City to prohibit new property owners from invoking the Ellis Act to evict tenants for five years after the acquisition of a property, ensures that landlords can only activate their Ellis Act rights once, and creates penalties for those who violate the law.

“We have some of the best tenant protections in the country, but unchecked real estate speculation threatens too many of our residents,” said Mayor Lee. “These speculators are turning a quick profit at the expense of long time tenants and do nothing to add needed housing in our City. These are not the landlords the Ellis Act was designed to help, and this legislation gives San Francisco additional tools to protect valuable housing and prevent Ellis Act speculator evictions, which already displace working families and longtime San Franciscans. This carve out is a good policy for San Francisco, and I thank Senator Leno for being a champion on this issue. Together we have built a large coalition of renters, labor and business leaders to fight this battle in Sacramento to support middle income and working families here in our City.”

“The original spirit of California’s Ellis Act was to allow legitimate landlords a way out of the rental business, but in recent years, speculators have been buying up properties in San Francisco with no intention to become landlords but to instead use a loophole in the Ellis Act to evict long-time residents just to turn a profit,” said Senator Leno. “Many of these renters are seniors, disabled people and low-income families with deep roots in their communities and no other local affordable housing options available to them. Our bill gives San Francisco an opportunity to stop the bleeding and save the unique fabric of our city.

Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco have tripled in the last year as more than 300 properties were taken off the rental market. This spike in evictions has occurred simultaneously with huge increases in San Francisco property values and housing prices. About 50 percent of the City’s 2013 evictions were initiated by owners who had held a property for less than one year, and the majority of those happened during the first six months of ownership.

In light of the growing problem of speculative Ellis Act evictions, Mayor Lee joined Senator Leno, Assemblyman Ting, Supervisors Chiu and Campos and a diverse coalition of supporters, including business leaders, property owners and developers, to reform the Ellis Act in Sacramento. Senate Bill 1439 was the result of this effort.

“Rents in San Francisco are at an all-time high. My former neighbors and I, working families and seniors, were displaced from the place we called home for several decades,” said evicted senior Gum Gee Lee. “Those that have yet to receive an Ellis Act notice continue to live in fear, fear that they too will be evicted from their homes. For seniors such as myself who rely on public transportation and access to social and health services within our community, Ellis evictions cut our lifeline, our independence to thrive. For working class families such as my former neighbors from Jackson Street, they continue to struggle to survive in San Francisco. San Francisco is our home.”

Enacted as State law in 1985, the Ellis Act allows owners to evict tenants and quickly turn buildings into Tenancy In Common (TIC) units for resale on the market. In San Francisco, the units that are being cleared are often rent controlled and home to seniors, disabled Californians and working class families. When these affordable rental units are removed from the market, they never return.

SB 1439 will be heard in the State Senate Policy Committees this Spring.

 

 

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Judge Strikes Down Law Allowing Keystone XL Pipeline To Run Through Nebraska

A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through the state, a victory for opponents who have tried to block the project that would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the route. Stacy agreed with opponents’ arguments that the law passed in 2012 improperly allowed Heineman to give Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. the power to force landowners to sell their property for the project. Stacy said the decision to give TransCanada eminent domain powers should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the state will appeal the ruling. Heineman said he supports the decision to appeal.

“This is an important issue for the State of Nebraska,” he said.

Stacy’s decision could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline, which is critical in Canada’s efforts to export its growing oil sands production. It also comes amid increased concerns about the dangers of using trains to transport crude oil after some high-profile accidents — including a fiery explosion in North Dakota last month and an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada last year.

A spokesman for pipeline developer TransCanada said company officials were disappointed and disagreed with the decision, which came in a lawsuit filed by three Nebraska landowners who oppose the pipeline. The company planned to review the ruling before deciding how to proceed.

“TransCanada continues to believe strongly in Keystone XL and the benefits it would provide to Americans — thousands of jobs and a secure supply of crude oil from a trusted neighbor in Canada,” said spokesman Shawn Howard.

Foes say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming and are also concerned about a possible spill.

The proposed pipeline route would cross through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which have already approved their segments, and company officials have previously argued that cutting through Nebraska was the most direct, practical way to transport the oil. A reroute around Nebraska could bring more states into the mix and would lead to further expensive delays.

For the Nebraska Public Service Commission to act, state lawmakers may have to pass a new pipeline-sitting law. If they do, it’s not yet clear how long the five-member PSC might take on the issue or whether it would approve the pipeline. Staff members were still reviewing the ruling Wednesday, said Angela Melton, the commission’s attorney.

Dave Domina, the landowners’ attorney, said in a statement that the ruling means TransCanada has “no approved route in Nebraska.”

“TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this state,” he said.

The Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. In its latest environmental analysis, the U.S. State Department raised no major environmental objections to the $7 billion pipeline. Opponents disagree, saying the pipeline threatens ground- and surface water and would disrupt soil in the Nebraska Sandhills, a region of grass-covered dunes used as ranchland.

The Nebraska Legislature gave Heineman the ability to approve the route after landowners complained that the pipeline posed a threat to the Sandhills. Heineman approved a new route that went around an area designated as the Sandhills, although opponents insist it still traverses the delicate soil.

Domina said the ruling means that the governor’s office has no role to play in the pipeline, and decisions within the state must be made by the Public Service Commission. The commission was created in 1890s to prevent governors from granting political favors to railroad executives who wanted to expand through private property.

The decision on a federal permit still rests with President Barack Obama.

Pipeline opponents called Wednesday’s ruling a victory for landowners.

“TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: Never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said it would be difficult to comment on the ruling because the Canadian government doesn’t yet have the details. MacDonald said the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and noted the U.S. State Department has concluded it is a project that is in the interest of both countries.

U.S. State Department spokesman Douglas Frantz said officials were aware of the Nebraska ruling but would not comment because the case was ongoing.

Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy with left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, said Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will probably wait until Nebraska has legally approved the pipeline route before making any decision on whether to approve the permit.

“This court decision provides more uncertainty for pipeline proponents, and more time to organize for pipeline opponents,” Weiss said.

U.S. Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, a Republican supporter of the pipeline, said he was confident the ruling would be overturned. Terry also said the ruling shouldn’t stop Obama from approving a federal permit.

“This is a terrible decision and if upheld lead to increased dependence on foreign sources of oil, continued unemployment and lost economic impact for thousands of Nebraskans and our communities,” he said.

Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher and a leading plaintiff in the lawsuit, praised the ruling. Thompson became involved in the dispute after he was notified that the original Keystone XL route would have crossed his parents’ 400-acre farm in Merrick County. He said he doesn’t think TransCanada should be able to use the course to force landowners to sign pipeline contracts through eminent domain.

“They came out here like a bunch of bullies and tried to force it down our throats,” Thompson said. “They told us there was nothing we could do to stop it.”

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Michele Bachmann Accidentally Tells the Truth: No Immigration Reform Because Immigrants Aren’t Republicans

Michele Bachmann does it a lot — she projects the desires and intentions of herself and likeminded people on the President and Democrats.  This time it’s the subject of immigration reform, saying her party should block it because these immigrants are unlikely to vote for Republicans.

That would be an outrageous enough reason by itself for standing in the way of fixing a law which obviously needs to be dealt with, but she couldn’t leave it at that, she had to go on to say that the President and Democrats want reform because any potential new citizens would be likely to vote for Democrats.

“It’s a terrible idea to go forward, because we have again about 7 million Americans that are looking for employment right now, so our problem is not lack of workers to do jobs.  We have a lot of people who would like to work there just aren’t jobs,” Bachmann said, speaking to Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro.

She went on to make the completely false claim that every immigration reform bill that has been proposed would open the borders and completely change the nation forever.

But then she slips up and tells Shapiro why she really is opposed to immigration reform.

“Let’s face it,” she said.  “If these were conservative Republicans that were coming illegally into the United States, the last thing President Obama would do is seek to give amnesty and citizenship and legal voting status to the people who were coming into the country.”

There you have it, in her mind the only reason that the President and Democrats want to fix the problem is because any new immigrants, when they become citizens, are likely going to be Democratic voters.  She would be all for it if she thought that they might vote for her ideology, and therefore thinks that the Democrats are looking at it the same way.  Classic projection.

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President Obama calls out Bill O’Reilly and Fox News for promoting conspiracy theories

On Sunday, Bill O’Reilly got the chance to sit down and interview the president of the United States before the Super Bowl. For a political journalist, landing such an interview before such a large audience is in itself kind of like performing at the Super Bowl. It’s a big, big stage, and a great opportunity to ask important questions of the most powerful politician in the world.

So, obviously, Bill O’Reilly decided to spend the majority of his one-on-one with President Obama talking about the stuff that really matters — like Benghazi and the IRS.

When it came to Benghazi, O’Reilly asked the president whether he was told, in the moments following 2012′s attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, that it was an act of terror.

Obama noted that in his first official comments following the attack, he referred to it as an act of terror. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is; this is the same argument the presidenthad with Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate of the 2012 election.)

“Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign didn’t want that out,” O’Reilly continued. “That’s what they believe.”

“And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that,” Obama quickly responded, with evident frustration.

As the interview continued, O’Reilly continued to focus his questions on right-wing conspiracy theories, turning next to the so-called targeting of conservatives by the IRS. (Like “questions” about the president’s response to Benghazi, this story is not only extremely old news, but has been thoroughly debunked.)

“What some people are saying,” O’Reilly began, “is that the IRS was used at a local level in Cincinnati, maybe other places ”

“Absolutely wrong. Absolutely,” Obama quickly interrupted.

“But how do you know that, because we still don’t know what happened?” O’Reilly responded

“Bill, we do — that’s not what happened,” was Obama’s exasperated response. “Folks, again, had multiple hearings on this.”

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Boehner eyes end to ENDA push

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was on the “Tonight Show” last week and reflected a bit about the challenges of his leadership post. “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill,” he told Jay Leno. “It’s hard to do.”
Often, that’s true, especially given the current circumstances and Congress’ lack of productivity reaching unprecedented levels. Even routine legislating hasn’t been this difficult in recent memory.
But sometimes, putting together 218 votes to pass a bill would be easy if only Boehner would actually bring legislation to the floor for a vote. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example, already passed the Senate fairly easily, and would likely pass the House if given a chance. All the Speaker has to do is schedule a vote.
That apparently isn’t going to happen.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) apparently told the 113-member LGBT Equality Caucus that there is “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would pass this year. According to Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who spoke with the Washington Blade, Boehner “said it wasn’t going to happen in this session.” The meeting took place sometime last week..
This isn’t exactly surprising, but it’s nevertheless disappointing for civil-rights proponents.
For context, note that Boehner’s previous public comments on ENDA, which would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, came in November.
“I am opposed to discrimination of any kind in the workplace or anyplace else, but I think this legislation … is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits,” Boehner said at the time. “People are already protected in the workplace.”
For the record, the Speaker was wrong – under federal law, employers can legally fire employees if they’re gay, or even if they think the employees are gay – and people aren’t already protected in the workplace.
And thanks to his decision to block a vote on ENDA, they’ll stay unprotected for quite a while longer.
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Is Fox News Dying?

This morning I woke up and had a piece ready to post on an America beyond our type of crony Capitalism. But then I stumbled onto a piece written by Frank Rich in the New York Magazine titled “Stop Beating a Dead Fox.” Why not start a Monday on a note of hope that a splinter will eventually be removed?

One must agree that a title like the above is going to peak one’s interest. Anything with Fox (News) in print or online generally does. After reading and digesting Frank Rich’s article, maybe it should not.

Early in the story Frank Rich wrote the following.

these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost.

He hits it on the nail. While the loudest person may get attention, many times they have nothing to say. Eventually only a few continue to react in any substantive manner to said noise maker or bully. One sees that as Chris Christie’s own bullying is tamed by reality and scandal. Bill Maher did a prescient New Rule skit on these tactics.

Frank Rich points out that as loud and disruptive as Fox News has been and still is, that has not turned into a net positive for the Right or Republicans.

a pair of political analysts wrote at Reuters last year, “When the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the ten presidential elections,” but since 1992, when “conservative media began to flourish” (first with Rush Limbaugh’s ascendancy, then with Fox), Democrats have won the popular vote five out of six times. You’d think they’d be well advised to leave Fox News to its own devices so that it can continue to shoot its own party in the foot.

In effect good solid straight fact based news is good for Democrats and Republicans alike. When American’s have fact based messages that resonate they react and vote for the best candidate they perceive at that  time, Democrat or Republican. In the aggregate, ultimately the charlatan loses and the Party is penalized.

Frank Rich points out a most important fact. The cable news audience is not all that large. So why is so much made of the relative strength’s between MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN?

But as Wolff also observed, “The cable audience, for all the attention heaped on it for its theoretical political sway, is not that large.” To put it mildly. As the overwhelming leader in its field, Fox draws just over a million viewers in prime time—a ­pittance and a niche next to even the ever-declining network newscasts, of which the lowest rated (CBS Evening News) still can attract a nightly audience as large as 8 million.

That the lowest rated broadcast news gets many times more viewers than the highest rated cable news show should be probative.

So exactly why is Fox News on a slow glide to irrelevance and broadcast death at least in its current form? Frank Rich gives the answer.

Hard as it may be to fathom, Fox Nation is even more monochromatically white than the GOP is, let alone the American nation. Two percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were black. According to new Nielsen data, only 1.1 percent of Fox News’s prime-time viewership is (as opposed to 25 percent for MSNBC, 14 percent for CNN, and an average of roughly 12 percent for the three broadcast networks’ evening news programs).

The above demographic gets worse every year. But it is not only about demographics. It is about culture. The American culture is changing. States legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage is anathema to everything Fox News is willing to report on objectively. This applies to many other societal issues.

Fox News is behind the curve in merging itself with New Media. It’s master, Roger Ailes is rather technophobic.

He doesn’t have a clue that his great cable-news innovation at Fox, The Crawl, is aging as fast in the day of Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr as ticker tape did with the advent of computer terminals. He is so tech-phobic that when Glenn Beck left Fox to start his own empire online, he pronounced him “crazy” because “no one walks away from television.”

Frank Rich gives some timely advice to those who continue to obsess on Fox News.He opines  that it is a waste of time that may actually be delaying necessary  progress in both the narrative and political battles to come.

while the right remains obsessed with fighting its unending war against a nearly lame-duck president, it behooves liberals to move on and start transitioning out of their Fox fixation. Paradoxically enough, the most powerful right-wing movement in the country, the insurgency in the Republican grassroots, loathes the Boehner-Christie-Rove-centric Fox News nearly as much as the left does. The more liberals keep fighting the last war against the more and more irrelevant Ailes, the less prepared they’ll be for the political war to come

One must admit that it is difficult to ignore the bully. It is difficult to ignore that loud, disruptive, and ever present voice. There is a middle ground however. As the current iteration of Fox News dies, one can help the demise of their misinformation by pointing it out and moving on without obsessing. One must remember however that as a star dies, it gets evermore so large and bright just before it is snuffed.

 

From Egberto Willies

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The Stealth War on Abortion

By Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone

On the morning of December 11th, Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic 42-year-old minority leader of the Michigan Senate, stood before her colleagues in the Statehouse in Lansing, and told them something she’d told almost no one before. “Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”

No one in the gallery said a word. Instead, with just hours to go before it broke for Christmas recess, Michigan’s overwhelmingly male, Republican-dominated Legislature, having held no hearings nor even a substantive debate, voted to pass one of the most punishing pieces of anti-abortion legislation anywhere in the country: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which would ban abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest, from virtually every health-insurance policy issued in the state. Women and their employers wanting this coverage will instead have to purchase a separate rider – often described as “rape insurance.” Whitmer, a Democrat known as a fierce advocate for women’s issues, described the new law as “by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve seen in the Michigan Legislature.”

And it’s not just Michigan. Eight other states now have laws preventing abortion coverage under comprehensive private insurance plans – only one of them, Utah, makes an exception for rape. And 24 states, including such traditionally blue states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ban some forms of abortion coverage from policies purchased through the new health exchanges. While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.

All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant.

Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade. “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front,” says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is currently litigating against some of the new anti-choice laws. “The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can’t come right out and say they’re trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place.”

Last June, the right’s stealth attack on abortion rights became front-page news, when, in an attempt to block a vote on a sweeping omnibus bill that included 20 pages of anti-abortion legislation, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis embarked on an 11-hour-plus filibuster in the Texas Statehouse. Wearing rouge-red Mizuno running shoes and an elegant string of pearls, the blond, blue-eyed Davis, a onetime single mother and a graduate of Harvard Law School, became an overnight symbol of what, in many states, is a growing popular resistance to the conservative anti-choice agenda. But Davis’ filibuster failed to prevent the Texas Legislature from holding a special session in July to pass the bill, despite widespread public opposition.

This was the latest failed battle to protect reproductive rights in a state that in the past few years has passed some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. Thanks to the cumulative impact of Texas law, a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure. This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when, in a specific attempt to defund Planned Parenthood – which operated only a portion of the state’s women’s-health clinics – the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screenings for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.

Much of the public outrage in recent years has revolved around extreme measures, like proposed “personhood amendments” that would have outlawed abortion outright, and banned many common forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. But the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business.

Twenty-six states, including Texas, have laws on their books requiring that abortion clinics become mini surgical centers, a costly proposition that would require clinics to widen hallways, expand parking lots, modify janitorial closets or install surgical sinks and pipelines for general anesthesia – regulations most providers say are unnecessary. Four states currently (and four more may soon) require that the doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which applies even in places where the nearest hospitals oppose abortion or are simply too far away to meet the state’s distance requirement. Sixteen states restrict medication-induced abortion; in 39 states, only licensed physicians – not their physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners – are permitted to hand out the drug. Fourteen states ban its use via telemedicine, which is often the only way a woman in a rural part of the country can consult with her doctor.

“It’s a brilliant strategy to package these laws as just making sure abortion is ‘safe,’ [and] in many states, they’ve been able to sell it that way,” says Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But abortion is already safe. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. By comparison, the mortality rate for colonoscopies, also commonly performed in outpatient clinics but not subject to similar restrictions, is about 20 out of 100,000.

This incremental approach to eviscerating abortion rights grew out of the recognition at the highest levels of the pro-life movement that their previous message – equating abortion with murder – and the accompanying extremist tactics weren’t working. “Twenty years ago, we’d storm a clinic and close it down for a day – and then I’d get thrown in jail,” says Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, the infamous Kansas-based anti-abortion group that made its name during the 1980s and early 1990s by blocking the entrances to clinics and holding noisy sit-ins – a practice Congress outlawed in 1994. Other tactics, which ranged from handing out pamphlets emblazoned with the image of aborted fetuses, to “naming and shaming” the friends and associates of abortion providers, proved equally unfruitful. “All of that just made the community angry – at me, at the clinic,” says Newman. “And I hated that. I don’t want to wave pictures on the street just to piss people off. I want to win.” So Newman stopped the overt harassment, and settled on a new plan to push for TRAP laws and document alleged abuses at abortion clinics and report them to the authorities. Today, there are only four clinics offering abortions in all of Kansas, which, like Michigan, has its own version of the “rape insurance” law, and has also imposed myriad other restrictions, including the criminalization of abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy. The so-called “20-week ban” violates one of Roe’s central provisions, that a woman has the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb – roughly 24 weeks by today’s medical standards. Nonetheless, nine states currently impose the ban, basing it on a theory that is widely disputed by medical groups, that a fetus is able to feel pain at five months.

Polls have consistently shown that support for abortion after the first trimester drops precipitously – 64 percent of the country opposes it during the second trimester, and 80 percent opposes it during the third trimester. This has allowed pro-life groups to strike a note that might on the surface seem reasonable, and as Newman points out, “once you start enforcing a second-trimester ban, the camel’s nose is in the tent.” Arkansas has banned abortion after 12 weeks. North Dakota recently passed a law to criminalize abortion after six weeks, a point when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.

Two Washington-based advocacy groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, are responsible for much of the model legislation restricting abortion, as well as for the grassroots organizing that’s been needed to pass it. Of the two, AUL, which describes itself as both the legal arm and “intellectual architect” of the movement, is chiefly responsible for the most recent and highly successful under-the-radar strategy.

“We don’t make frontal attacks,” AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest told the National Catholic Register in 2011. “Never attack where the enemy is strongest.” Some abortion-rights advocates have compared AUL to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter-suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus “pro-life playbook,” Defending Life, which it describes as “the definitive plan for countering a profit-centered and aggressive abortion industry, while laying the groundwork for the ultimate reversal of Roe.” Among its annual features is a 50-state “report card” on the state of anti-abortion legislation, as well as a step-by-step guide, Yoest says, to help lawmakers “understand that Roe v. Wade doesn’t preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.”

While “each state has a different scenario,” says Yoest, AUL’s central strategy is to make women – not the “unborn” – the focal point of its efforts. In the past few years, AUL has drafted numerous bills that claim to protect women, recently including them in a new package it has dubbed the “Women’s Protection Project.” Based on misleading facts and dubious medical information, the package is full of model legislation with names like the “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” (which requires parental notification or consent for underage abortions), the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” (imposes draconian regulations on abortion providers), the “Women’s Health Defense Act” (designed to protect women from the supposed physical and emotional health risks posed by later-term abortion) and the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” perhaps the most punishing measure in the package. To make it possible for a woman to give her “informed consent” before terminating a pregnancy, it requires that she view the fetus she is about to abort, justifying a mandatory ultrasound. “Forced ultrasounds tell a woman exactly what she already knows – that she’s pregnant,” says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “These laws aren’t intended to provide new or useful information; they are intended to force more burden and shame on women who are simply exercising a constitutional right.”

In 2012, Arizona became the first state to pass a version of the Women’s Health Defense Act, one of 65 “life-affirming” laws that AUL claims credit for in the past three years. According to the ACLU, during the 2013 legislative session AUL worked in at least 27 states to, among other things, ban later-term abortion in North Dakota, further limit access to abortion care in Kansas, tighten regulations on parental-consent laws in Arkansas and Montana, and restrict access to medication abortion in Mississippi, a state where unnecessary regulation has already shut down all but one abortion clinic.

While all of this speaks to the clever tactics of anti-abortion groups, it also speaks to the new culture of the Republican Party. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Michigan, where gerrymandering combined with term limits have handed the GOP a hammerlock on the state Legislature, at least one-third of whose members are freshmen during any given term. Because of this, abortion opponents like the National Right to Life Committee’s Michigan affiliate now have the kind of broad political influence they might have only dreamed of a few years earlier. “Right to Life of Michigan is looked upon by most Republican legislators – and probably some Democratic legislators – as one of the most coercive, if not the most coercive lobbying group in the state,” says former U.S. congressman Joe Schwarz, a self-described pro-choice Republican who served 16 years in the Michigan Statehouse, from 1987 to 2002. “The amount of pressure Right to Life both directly and indirectly puts on legislators in Michigan is considerable. And some legislators aren’t exactly profiles in courage when it comes to standing up to these guys.”

Right to Life of Michigan’s president, Barbara Listing, who also sits on the board of the national organization, is known as a savvy operator who has wielded power in the Michigan Statehouse for more than 20 years. As far back as the early 1990s, recalls former Republican legislator Shirley Johnson, Listing would show up in the gallery and tell pro-life legislators how to vote. “We’d be voting on an amendment, something that those members who vote Right to Life did not have the opportunity to read, and they would look right up there and she’d give them a thumbs up or thumbs down,” says Johnson. “Most of us were shocked, but we got used to it.”

Michigan’s “rape insurance” law was written by Right to Life, which had proposed it twice before – most recently in 2012. Two governors, including Republican Rick Snyder, vetoed the bill – Snyder, who opposes abortion, nonetheless said he felt the bill “went too far.” So Right to Life employed a rarely used provision in the state constitution that allows for a citizens’ initiative to bring a bill to the Legislature, provided a certain percentage of the electorate supports it. Michigan abortion opponents spent four months gathering the requisite 258,088 signatures to reintroduce the insurance ban, skirting the veto entirely. “We used the democratic process and we won,” says Right to Life of Michigan spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling.

After the vote, says Gretchen Whitmer, a number of her Republican colleagues approached her to say they wished they’d had the courage to vote against the bill. “That was a tough thing to hear,” she says. “Not one Republican stood up and defended what they were doing – not one. Every one of them will get up and defend a business tax cut. Not one of them defended this action.”

Of the 30 states that have been actively pursuing the anti-abortion agenda, most, like Michigan, are also anti-union right-to-work states, where the alliance of powerful donors and corporate interests has been steadily working to change the political game. Thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision, conservative dark-money groups have spent millions on political campaigns, much of it impossible to trace. “There’s a lot of money behind this effort, and you have to ask, ‘Why is that?’” says the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northup. “It’s been apparent to me for a long time that this is part of a huge, larger agenda, and we’re just the canary in the coal mine. What this is really about is democracy.”

In Michigan, Amway scion Richard “Dick” DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state’s “freedom to work” legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state’s “rape insurance” bill.

A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor’s mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public’s scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the “motorcycle-vagina bill,” as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state’s 16 abortion clinics.

Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”

Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.

“This is what progressives don’t understand,” says Tabachnick. “The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they’re in a place where regardless of what’s happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that’s helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up.”

This union has been the key to not just the success of pro-life legislation, but also the avalanche of other model legislation to defeat the federal government promoted by groups like ALEC, which receives heavy backing from the State Policy Network, the free-market coalition of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” with branches in every state. Though they maintain their focus is strictly economic, many lawmakers who serve as state ALEC chairs also happen to be the leading proponents of anti-abortion legislation. At an ALEC conference last August in Chicago, Wisconsin Democrat Chris Taylor, a state senator, recalls that AUL had a prominent booth in the exhibition hall. “The relationship isn’t formal,” she says, “but they are clearly working in conjunction to help change the face of the legislatures.”

The good news is that in states where some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation has been proposed, the public is fighting back. On Monday, January 6th, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing arguments from pro-choice organizations on why the Texas laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges and regulating how they can prescribe abortion-induced drugs were unconstitutional. And Wendy Davis, whose filibuster catapulted her to national prominence, is now running for Texas governor, hoping to reverse two decades of Republican control. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters rejected a 20-week ban that would have amounted to the first municipal abortion restriction in the country. But the victory, decided by 55 percent of Albuquerque voters, only came after abortion-rights groups poured close to $700,000 into defeating the measure, outspending anti-abortion organizations by more than three to one.

“Republicans are alienating women voters with these policies, and the number of women who are running and winning at the state and federal levels proves that women reject this regressive agenda,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to state and federal offices. But while some on the left think the right may have overplayed its hand, others see these defeats as simply incidental. “This type of thinking is how progressives delude themselves,” says Tabachnick. “The problem with the left is that it pretty much fights every battle from scratch. But the right is playing chess: They are willing to lose a pawn here or there to achieve the larger goal.”

This story is from the January 30th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

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Legal experts: Alleged Sandy extortion could be more serious than Bridgegate

Legal experts in New Jersey aren’t surprised at how quickly area U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman responded to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that the Chris Christie administration tried to extort her into supporting a development project if she wanted more Sandy relief funding.  They not only think there’s enough evidence to open a preliminary investigation (a BFD in and of itself)–but that in the long run, Christie may have more to fear from this than Bridgegate.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.

“Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious.”

Aidan O’Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office considering the gravity of Zimmer’s charges and the enormous public interest.

“You’re going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do,” O’Connor said. “The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation.”

He said the mayor’s journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration’s struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer’s memory of the encounters.

“At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor’s word at this stage,” O’Connor said.

But Cohen said the diary would be “a very important piece of evidence.”

“It adds credibility to the statement,” the Fordham professor said. “She took the trouble to write something down.”

Cohen went on to say that this case will almost certainly go to court, since it’s a slam dunk that there’s probably more evidence.  He also thinks that if there is something to these charges, other local officials will likely speak up.  And if this ends up going to trial, anyone involved in this could face some serious jail time–with some of the potential offenses carrying a minimum of five years in prison.

Zimmer outlined some of that potential evidence last night on Anderson Cooper 360.  She produced two letters that document how she claims the Christie administration was turning the screws on her.  She also revealed why she waited so long to come forward–she was afraid if she spoke up any sooner, it would cripple her city’s chances of getting more funding.  Watch part 1 of that interview here and part 2 here.

The first letter, dated April 23, says that given the damage to Hoboken’s infrastructure, the proposed development project would be a waste.  She told Christie in no uncertain terms, “Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken’s flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development.”  The second letter, dated May 8, was penned less than 24 hours after the already battered city was slammed by a rainstorm; much of the western half of the city was flooded.  Zimmer was aghast that Christie refused to greenlight any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan.  The implication–that funding was dependent on the development project.  According to the Jersey (City) Journal the Hoboken planning board effectively deep-sixed the project on the same day Zimmer sent her second letter.

I have to admit, I was surprised that this could potentially be more serious than Bridgegate.  After all, it doesn’t seem that you could get more serious than an act that not only willfully interferes with interstate commerce, but also puts people’s lives in danger.  But after reading those letters Zimmer provided, I have to agree that this mess is at least as egregious as Bridgegate.  If Zimmer is telling the truth, Christie and his people knew that an entire city was finding it hard to survive–and yet were still willing to play games with their livelihood.  That makes Christie look even more depraved than Bush 43 partying while the levees blew during Katrina–and I didn’t think that was possible.

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

Jack Hagan, CPUC Safety HeadElizaveta Malashenko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP support for modern biology drops

When it comes to polling Americans’ views on science, surveys often offer very different results based on the wording of the question. Gallup, for example, has published a series of reports over the years that suggest a plurality of Americans is, in effect, creationists.
A new Pew Research Center report approached the issue a little differently and found slightly less discouraging results: a 60% majority of Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33% reject evolutionary biology, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Whether one is relieved or discouraged that “only” a third of the country doesn’t believe in modern biology is a matter of perspective.
But as is often the case on so many issues, there are stark partisan differences within the results. Among Americans who identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, support for biology has been rather steady since the last Pew Research poll on this issue in 2009, with about two-thirds of each group on board with life evolving over time.
Among self-identified Republicans, however, acceptance of biology has suffered a noticeable drop, from 54% four years ago to 43% now. Indeed, note that in 2009, most Republicans believed in evolution, while in 2013, most Republicans don’t.
In other words, there’s a science gap driven by politics – the Democratic advantage on embracing modern biology is now 24 points – and it’s getting worse, not better.
This does help explain, by the way, why prominent Republican officials – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, et al – seem entirely comfortable making public comments expressing skepticism, if not outright hostility, towards evolution. They apparently realize they’re simply keeping pace with their party’s rank-and-file supporters.
Regardless, the larger trend just isn’t healthy for anyone. There are so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans, but scientific truths need not be one of them. We’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue,” abandoned altogether by Republicans hostile to reason and evidence.
As we discussed in November, a few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that only 6% of self-identified scientist say they tend to support Republican candidates. That total now appears likely to drop to new depths in the coming years.
Asked to explain the trend, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, recently told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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‘No fools on our ticket’

By Steve Benen,MSNBC
Just over the last few months, we’ve seen reports from the New York TimesBloomberg News, and theWashington Post on the simmering tensions between Corporate America and Tea Party Republicans, driving a wedge into the GOP coalition. With party primaries looming, talk of a “Republican civil war” abounds.
Some of the party’s major players are even putting their money where their mouths are. This Wall Street Journal piece yesterday was circulated far and wide in Republican circles.
Republican leaders and their corporate allies have launched an array of efforts aimed at diminishing the clout of the party’s most conservative activists and promoting legislation instead of confrontation next year. […]
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort – expected to cost at least $50 million – to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said the business group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
Though Reed did not specify who would qualify as a “fool,” it’s not hard to look back at major Senate races from the last couple of cycles and know exactly the kind of candidates he’s referencing (O’Donnell, Akin, Mourdock, Angle, et al). In other words, when Reed and the Republican Party’s Chamber of Commerce wing talk about “loser candidates” and “fools,” they’re obviously talking about right-wing Tea Party favorites.
Also note, there’s been ample analysis this year noting that Corporate America may want to overcome extremist candidates in GOP primaries, but if this wing of the party doesn’t commit real resources, Tea Partiers will prevail. It’s worth acknowledging, then, that $50 million in support of establishment candidates is a considerable sum.
But as word of the Chamber’s intentions spread, the backlash soon followed. “Special interests in Washington will do whatever it takes to protect big government Republicans,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins told TPM yesterday. “Their ability to get future bailouts, kickbacks, and other favors depends on it.”
Club for Growth senior fellow Tom Borrelli added, “This is a battle between the outsiders and insiders and insiders include big bucks and establishment Republicans.”
Remember, primary season hasn’t really begun in earnest, which means these disputes are likely to intensify very soon. For many Democrats, hoping to see Republicans at each other’s throats during an election year, the popcorn is already being popped.
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San Francisco Christmas Eve Day Toy Drive for Children at Handlery Hotel by Firefighters is a Success

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

SF Firefighters Local 798 Toy Program

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Handlery Union Square Hotel

 

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

 

 

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