Archive | Politics

Why Democrats Might Cave On Social Security Cuts

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday opened the door to Social Security cuts as part of a budget deal with congressional Republicans. But Durbin pushed back against GOP calls for entitlement cuts as the negotiating price to curb or extinguish the economically damaging sequester cuts.

“If this is the bargain that the Republicans are now pushing for, that we have to cut Medicare to avoid cuts at the Department of Defense, they need to take a step back,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Congress is currently negotiating a new budget, with a December deadline. The talks were mandated by last week’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown.

Also speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) explicitly offered up trading some of the short-term cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, known as the sequester, for long-term Social Security and Medicare cuts. He argued that Republicans had the tactical advantage on such an exchange.

“If you’re in a divided government and you’re arguing against the law, you’re at a disadvantage,” Blunt said, noting the failed GOP effort to defund Obamacare that resulted in a government shutdown. “The Budget Control Act is the only thing we’ve found that actually controls spending.”

Blunt said that if Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate over “entitlement savings versus some additional spending,” to ease the sequester, then Democrats will have to live with the sequester cuts.

Durbin said that Republicans had to put tax revenue on the table to get entitlement cuts. Fox host Chris Wallace noted that Durbin has previously supported entitlement cuts, and asked why Republicans should have to give up tax increases to get something that many Democrats support. President Barack Obama has repeatedly endorsed Social Security cuts as part of budget deals, and Durbin acknowledged that he did support Social Security reforms.

“Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years,” Durbin said. “The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don’t wanna see that happen.”

Social Security will not run out of money in 20 years. The program currently enjoys a surplus of more than $2 trillion. Social Security will, however, be unable to pay all benefits at current levels if nothing is changed. If a 25 percent benefit cut were implemented in 20 years, the program would be solvent into the 2080s.

 From Huffington Post
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Republicans, Just Admit It — You Lost

 By , FORWARD PROGRESSIVES

boehner-lost

Pride is a funny thing.  It often gets a lot of people in trouble and can cause people to look absolutely foolish.  And it’s ultimately what caused this government shutdown to begin with.

Well, that and a whole lot of lies.

First you had Ted Cruz whose entire stance against “Obamacare” seemed to be built on one lie after another.  But that doesn’t really matter much for him — he really has no desire to govern as a senator.  The only reason he even became a United States Senator was to put himself in a position to run for president in 2016.  And his strategy for that seems simple — pander to the Republican base in hopes of securing the GOP candidacy for president.

Knowing that the Republican base is comprised mainly of people who desire to be told what they want to hear instead of the truth, “facts” really don’t matter to Ted Cruz.

But for the Republican party as a whole, pride is what kept this shutdown going.  Sure, it was the right-wing rhetoric from Cruz which triggered this whole mess to begin with, but make no mistake about it — pride is what kept it going.

After a day or two, Republicans should have just admitted they had no chance at reaching their goal of delaying or defunding “Obamacare.”  I mean, they knew going into this they really had no chance at doing either one of those things, but after the government had been shut down, they should have just admitted this shutdown was utterly pointless.

But they didn’t.  Instead they sat there, repeated the same worn out talking points, and stretched this thing out to nearly the last minute.

All because they were too proud to simply say, “We can’t win.”

Sure, some are saying that they couldn’t get what they wanted, but even then many of them are putting the blame on others.  Some have blamed the media while others are blaming specific Republicans like Ted Cruz.  But this entire fiasco should be spread across the entire Republican party.

They’re the ones who handed over power to the tea party.  They’re the ones who sold their souls to the most radical reaches of their base in hopes of doing anything to defeat President Obama.  And now that they’ve unleashed the monster known as the tea party, they can’t seem to rid themselves of it.  In fact, it seems to be growing in influence over the GOP, with many Republicans afraid of facing a primary challenger in their next election.

But make no mistake, there were no “winners” here.  Millions of Americans suffered, our country looks foolish and even the deal that was reached is only temporary.  Meaning that a few months from now, we might be facing this same level of idiocy yet again.

Yet, even with the majority of Americans blaming Republicans for this shutdown, most members of the GOP can’t admit that they lost.

I’m sure in the coming days you’ll see Republicans try to spin this as some sort of “victory” for their party.  They’ll try to say that they won something.  Exactly what will they have won?  Who knows.  I’ve given up trying to understand exactly what goes on in the fantasy wonderland where many Republicans seem to mentally reside.

But with the majority of Americans putting the blame on their party, “Obamacare” fully funded, the debt ceiling raised and almost no goal Republicans had hoped to achieve in this shutdown having been reached — pride will still get in the way of Republicans admitting one simple thing…

They lost, and they tried their damndest to bring the entire country down with them.

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Tea party ringleader admits the GOP shut down the government for nothing

From The Jed Report at DailyKos

What if I told you that one of the leaders of the tea party strategy to stop Obamacare by shutting down the Federal government didn’t actually believe it was possible to repeal Obamacare until 2017 at the earliest but pushed forward with his plan anyway?

You’d probably get pretty mad, right? Shutting down the government over an unrelated policy dispute is bad enough, but if the people shutting the government down didn’t even believe that their strategy would work, then they’d be guilty of inflicting pain and creating chaos for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

It might be hard to believe that anyone would admit to such a thing, but Wednesday morning on Fox News, that’s exactly what Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham did. He started out by explaining that Republicans had shut down the government because they don’t want to “allow” Obamacare to “go forward” because they believe it must be stopped “before January 1″:

The reason the government is shut down is Obamacare is unfair, it’s unaffordable, it’s unworkable, every single day there’s more evidence of that coming out. House Republicans have remained strong in saying we are not going to let this bill go forward. We’re not going to allow this to be inflicted on the American people. [...]
I think that almost every member of the House Republican conference, if not all of them, is deeply concerned about Obamacare, and knows that we have to do something before January 1 to stop it.

Then, less than sixty seconds later, he admitted that this strategy was doomed:
Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.

Well, as infuriating as the GOP nihilistic strategy has been, one thing is for sure: It’s now a whole lot less likely that come 2017, they’ll still be in control of the House—let alone the Senate or presidency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 16 myths about the health care law

By Angie Drobnic Holan

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the new health care law.

PolitiFact has been fact-checking claims about the federal health care law since lawmakers started drafting the legislation in 2009. Long controversial, the law has been no stranger to attacks by detractors. Here are 16 of the biggest falsehoods PolitiFact has rated.

( Fact-checks are listed in no particular order. The links will take you to a full report and a source list for each fact-check.)

1. The health care law rations care, like systems in Canada and Great Britain. False.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, July 2, 2012, in an interview on Fox News

The health care law is not socialized medicine. Instead, it leaves in place the private health care system that follows free market principles. The law does put more regulations on health insurance companies. It also fines most large employers who fail to provide insurance for their employees, and it requires all individuals to have health insurance. This is unlike the systems in either Britain or Canada. In Britain, doctors are employees of the government, while in Canada, the government pays most medical bills as part of a single-payer system. The U.S. health care law has neither of those features. PolitiFact has rated this claim and others like it False.

2. The health care law has “death panels.” Pants on Fire.

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor, Aug. 7, 2009, in a message posted on Facebook

Back in 2009, it was a popular talking point to claim that the health care law had “death panels” to determine if individuals are worthy of receiving health care coverage. The claim was widely debunked and named PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. The talking point started in reaction to an idea for Medicare, that the Medicare program for seniors should specifically cover doctor appointments for seniors who wanted to discuss do-not-resuscitate orders, end-of-life directives and living wills. The visits would have been completely optional and only for people who wanted the appointments. After controversy, the provision was dropped from the final legislation. We rated the “death panels” claim Pants on Fire.

3. Muslims are exempt from the health care law. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, May 29, 2013

A widely circulated chain email claims that the word “dhimmitude” is on page 107 of the health care law, and it means Muslims will be exempt. Actually, the health care law does not include the word “dhimmitude” (a recently coined word that seems to refer to non-Muslims under Muslim rule). Also, the health care law doesn’t exempt Muslims. There is a “religious conscience exemption,” but it applies to groups that disavow all forms of insurance, including Social Security. Muslim groups have supported the Affordable Care Act. We rated the chain email’s claim Pants on Fire.

4. The IRS is going to be “in charge” of “a huge national database” on health care that will include Americans’ “personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets.” Pants on Fire.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., May 15, 2013, in an interview on Fox News

The Internal Revenue Service does have a role to play as part of the health care law, but it’s not the role suggested here. If you buy insurance on the marketplace and you get a subsidy, officials will check tax records to make sure you qualify. That communication with the IRS happens via a data hub that’s also connected to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s important to note, though, that the hub isn’t a database. The IRS isn’t running it. And it doesn’t include “intimate” health data. The hub is for signing up for health insurance, not for storing medical records. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

5. Congress is exempt from Obamacare. False.

Chain email, Jan. 6, 2013

Even a few sitting lawmakers have repeated this claim, but it’s not true. Congress is not exempt from Obamacare. Like everyone else, lawmakers are required to have health insurance. They’re also required to buy insurance through the marketplaces. The idea is to have lawmakers and their staff buy insurance the same way their uninsured constituents would so they understand what their constituents have to deal with. Most Americans who already get insurance through work are left alone under the law; members of Congress have insurance through work but are treated differently in this regard. Recently, a rule was added so that lawmakers’ could keep the traditional employer contribution to their coverage. But they weren’t exempt from requirements that other Americans face. We rated this claim False.

6. Under Obamacare, people who “have a doctor they’ve been seeing for the last 15 or 20 years, they won’t be able to keep going to that doctor.” Mostly False.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., July 31, 2013 in a Fox News interview

Some have suggested that Obamacare would interfere with doctor-patient relationships. Actually, there’s no more interference than what existed before Obamacare. Right now, patients can lose access to their doctors when their insurance policies change. This typically happens when employers switch plans or when workers switch (or lose) jobs. Under Obamacare, some patients who buy health insurance through the marketplace could lose access to their current doctor, but it’s difficult to predict how many. And it would be because they have a new insurance plan. We rated this claim Mostly False.

7. The health care law is a “government takeover” of health care. Pants on Fire.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, Feb. 20, 2010, in a speech to Pinellas County Republicans.

“Government takeover” conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed relies largely on the free market. It’s true that the law significantly increases government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market. The majority of Americans will continue to get coverage from private insurers. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

8. “All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free health care services.” Pants on Fire.

Chain email, July 28, 2009

The health care law does not provide free health care services to anyone, and especially not to people in the United States illegally. Illegal immigrants may not enroll in Medicaid, nor are they eligible to shop on the marketplace for health insurance. Permanent legal residents are eligible for health insurance subsidies on the marketplace, as are U.S. citizens. Current law says that hospital emergency rooms must stabilize illegal immigrants with medical emergencies, but that law predates Obamacare. We rated this claim Pants on Fire.

9. Because of Obamacare, health care premiums have “gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years.” False.

President Barack Obama, Oct. 3, 2012, in a presidential debate

The historical data for health care premiums only goes back 14 years; there’s no evidence to support the idea that premium increases are at a 50-year low. Overall health care costs have slowed down, but even there, Obama exaggerated the impact of his health care law. Experts say slowing costs are due to a variety of reasons, including the recent recession. Giving all the credit to the new law overstates the case. We rated the statement False.

10. Under Obamacare, “75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.” Pants on Fire.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., July 25, 2013 in a FoxNews.com op-ed

Suggestions that business are laying off workers because of the health care law have so far proven to be largely unfounded. Most small businesses — those with fewer than 50 employees — do not have to provide health insurance to their employees. (In fact, some very small businesses with fewer than 25 employees may qualify for tax credits under the law.) The claim here that 75 percent of small business were reducing their workforce was based on a misreading of a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The study actually found that less than 10 percent of small businesses said they will be forced to reduce their workforce or cut hours. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

11. “At age 76 when you most need it, you are not eligible for cancer treatment” under the health law. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, June 3, 2013

Some misinformation about the health care law has been specifically aimed at seniors, even though the law largely leaves the Medicare program alone. This particular claim, that older cancer patients will go without treatment, is wrong on several levels. For one thing, the health care law didn’t make changes to patient benefits in the Medicare program. Cancer treatment will still be covered by Medicare. Also, there are no changes in the law aimed at people 76 or older. This claim seems to have been invented out of whole cloth as a scare tactic. We rated it Pants on Fire.

12. The health care law includes “a 3.8% sales tax” on “all real estate transactions.” Pants on Fire.

Chain email, July 24, 2012

An anonymous chain email claims that the health care law puts a 3.8 percent tax on home sales. This is not correct. The law does include new taxes, but the taxes are primarily on the health care industry and on investment income for the wealthy. For middle-class homeowners, there are long-standing tax exemptions on the profits from home sales, and the health care law didn’t change them. We rated this statement Pants on Fire.

13. “Obamacare is . . . the largest tax increase in the history of the world.” Pants on Fire.

Rush Limbaugh, June 28, 2012, on his radio show

Radio host Rush Limbaugh and others have claimed the health care law includes historically high tax increases. While there are new taxes in the health care law — representing the first significant federal tax increases since 1993 — they are not the largest increases in the history of the United States, much less the world. When accounting for the size of the overall economy, tax increases signed into law by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were larger than the tax increases in the health law. We rated this statement Pants on Fire.

14. A “hidden” provision in the health care law taxes sporting goods as medical devices. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, June 12, 2013

A chain email claims that common sporting goods equipment — fishing rods, outboard motors, tackle boxes — will be taxed at 2.3 percent under Obamacare. There is a 2.3 percent tax in the law, but it applies to medical devices, not sports equipment. Also, the medical devices tax applies to manufacturers and makers, not consumers. This chain email seems to stem from a mistake made at Cabela’s, a Nebraska-based retail store that sells sporting goods. At the beginning of 2013, Cabela’s accidentally started taxing its sales and labeling it a medical excise tax. But that move was in error, and the company quickly reversed itself the same day. As for the chain email, we rate its claim Pants on Fire!

15. Obamacare will question your sex life. Pants on Fire.

Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, Sept. 15, 2013, in an op-ed in the New York Post

In the op-ed, McCaughey claimed the law pressures doctors into asking about people’s sex lives and recording those answer in electronic health records. Actually, it was the economic stimulus that created incentives for doctors to move to electronic health records. And, none of the criteria require questions about people’s sex lives. Instead, doctors are asked to record standard diagnostic criteria like vital signs, diagnoses, medications and the like. Privacy advocates do have concerns about electronic health records, but it’s not about people getting asked embarrassing questions about their sex lives. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

16. An Obamacare provision will allow “forced home inspections” by government agents. Pants on Fire.

Bloggers, Aug. 15, 2013

State lawmakers in South Carolina got this one going by claiming they were concerned that the health care law allowed forced home inspections. People can relax, though: There are no forced home inspections. What got people concerned is an optional home health care program that sends nurses on house calls to the homes of pregnant, poor women. The idea is that the nurses will check on the moms and offer prenatal advice in a comfortable environment. And the program is not mandatory. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

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The Last Act in Alternative-Reality Land

Occasionally, a single incident can characterize an entire era. Rosa Parks sits down near the front of a bus. Gary Cooper drops his badge in the dust. Warren Beatty is riddled with bullets.

And then, most recently, a Congressman berates a park ranger for monitoring the closure of a national park he had voted to close.

It is more than likely that historians years from now will cite this incident as the perfect illustration of American politics in the early 21st century. For it is this disjunction, this dislocation from reality, that represents our age. Politics have been dominated by a minority movement that creates its own counter-reality, rejects science, denies established facts, and produces untruthful narratives to justify behavior at odds with reality.

This could all be dismissed as an aberration and an amusement, except when it brings the government of the United States to a standstill. This Congressman, and others like him, did not connect the decision to shutter the government with the closure of national parks administered by that government. Nor apparently did they think a majority of Americans would be outraged by young cancer patients being denied treatment, or veterans losing medication, or the elderly losing home nutrition, or any of hundreds of things the government of the United States, as ordered by Congress, does every day.

If you live in a vacuum-packed world of talk radio, right-wing dominated town halls, and campaigns financed by anti-government billionaires, and if that’s the only Kool-Aid you drink, it must be a shock when you confront the real world. “Why is this park closed?” “Because you closed it, Congressman.”

If the “big government” you oppose is not the one that creates and operates revered national monuments, but is one that provides food stamps, unemployment compensation, breakfasts for poor school children, and rent subsidies and you can’t actually say that’s what you are against, because you believe, wrongly, that it’s mostly people with darker skins who benefit, it makes real-world politics difficult to deal with.

So what’s a Congressman operating in a closed-circuit vacuum, who only hears his own echoes 24/7, to do? What does he do when he finds out that his gerrymandered solid red district dominated by a minority is neither the real America nor the real world? You intimidate your Speaker and you threaten — or more likely have others threaten — your wavering, moderate colleagues with a primary campaign by a fire-breathing, alternative-reality version of yourself.

There is only one way three or four dozen alternative-reality Congresspersons can shut down the United States government: fear. Fear of what? Fear of not being a Congressperson. Fear of losing your job. Fear of not having a staff to look after your every wish. Fear of not being cheered at the next town meeting composed of people you’re already afraid of. Most of all, fear of returning to everyday life back home. But, of course, there is always the lucrative alternative of lobbying, where you can stay in Washington, go to all the parties and fundraisers, write the checks instead of taking the checks, and hobnob with all those other former members of Congress who, like you, decided not to go home.

But even that little promise of nirvana is subject to the perpetuation of the world of alternative-reality. And that world must come to an end. Because the day will come, sooner or later, when men and women of stature, honor, and conviction will say, as Joseph Welch said to Joe McCarthy and the park ranger should have said to our Congressman: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

From HuffingtonPost.com

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Day 6: Shutdown Drags On As Country Feels Effects of Citizens United

Since the beginning of the government shutdown, radical Republicans have dictated the agenda for the rest of their party, unilaterally steering their party towards a prolonged shutdown in the effort to defund Obamacare. In day six of the closure of the Federal government, the cause of this rule by minority is becoming clear: the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision.

The case, familiar to many during the election season, not only radically altered campaign financing, but has changed how a political party decides its priorities. Instead of depending on polling of its constituency or whether a vote is better for the party as a whole, spending by the billionaire Koch brothers (unleashed by the Citizens United decision) has given Republicans two options: Vote to defund Obamacare or get primaried.

In an article in The New York Times today, the government shutdown is traced to a meeting of conservative lawmakers, along with the Koch brothers, who came up with a plan to defund Obamacare through any means necessary, including a prolonged shutdown of the Federal government.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” David Wasserman, who works for a non-profit that monitors House campaigns, told the Times. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

Wasserman is referring to Representative Mark Meadows, who has positioned himself at the center of the fight to defund Obamacare. And while the Citizens United decision has essentially enabled minority rule, another campaign spending case was taken up by the Supreme Court this week with the chance to destroy what little campaign finance regulations remain.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which began hearings this week, is a challenge to whether private citizens could put huge amounts of money directly into the hands of politicians. Slate explains, “Federal law currently caps at $48,600 the total amount than an individual can give to all federal candidates for office during a two-year election cycle.”

If the Supreme Court decides to overturn limits on personal donations, the final barriers separating billionaires from essentially appointing the Congress (through either well-funded primaries against incumbents, or the threat of a primary) will be destroyed. While Chief Justice John Roberts will most likely be the deciding vote, his opinion on Citizens United does not bode well for supporters of campaign finance regulation. Then again, perhaps in an attempt to keep the Republican party from destroying itself through Tea Party radicalism, Roberts might vote to maintain the regulations.

Either way, the full effect of Citizens United is on display in the ongoing shutdown, rearing its head outside of an election cycle, seriously crippling the standing of the Federal government.

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Why Being “The First” Matters

MICHELLE SILVERTHORN,(Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Obama’s Brilliant Strategy No One Seems To Recognize

From FreakoutNation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Oracle Team USA also was fined $250,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

America’s Cup: Jury Rigged?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drunken Republican Says It Was Gay Marriage That Made Him Operate Vehicles Under The Influence

FROM ADDICTINGINFO.COM

There is no shortage of indiscretions when it comes to politicians these days, and here is yet another. However, this one didn’t seem to learn his lesson the first time, which makes things even worse… for him, at least.

Meet Rep. Don Dwyer (R-MD). He pleaded guilty just a little while ago to operating a boat while drunk. The crash that resulted from that debacle resulted in injuries for seven people, including a five-year-old-girl. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the boat was named “The Legislator,” showing that Dwyer is, if nothing else, obnoxiously arrogant.

Now, he is making headlines again, only this time it was a car he was operating while intoxicated, not a boat. The car’s tags and registration were also expired, The Huffington Post reports. Luckily, this time, no one was hurt. Dwyer was stopped on Route 100 at about 12:45 AM this morning, due to erratic driving. According to the police report, he appeared glassy-eyed, with slurred speech. He also reportedly failed three field sobriety tests.  The hearing for the boating incident is scheduled for October 25 of this year.

The real doozy comes when we examine the supposed reasoning or the drunken boating. Dwyer was interviewed by the Capital Gazettein which he attributed his behavior on the boat to his own marriage falling apart, and to his feeling “betrayed” by fellow lawmakers who backed marriage equality legislation in Maryland. Dwyer said to the Gazette:

“I felt a tremendous amount of pressure in my family. You take those personal issues [and] add betrayal on the professional side, and it really gets to be overwhelming.”

Now, I am reasonably sure that Rep. Dwyer’s drinking likely has something to do with his marital troubles. I mean, I know that now that so many states have marriage equality, all of those straight marriages are just crumbling left and right, but come on. You can’t blame us for every troubled marriage. Oh, and as for those other lawmakers? Nothing personal, sir, they are just doing what they believe to be right.

Dwyer’s recent drunk driving incident includes some 15 charges, including but not limited to  driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless and negligent driving, displaying expired and suspended registration, and driving 70 mph in a 55-mph zone.

Something tells me it is about time for you to step down, Mr. Dwyer. I think you have too many personal problems to be an effective legislator. Oh, and while you’re at it, stop driving and hit up an AA meeting or two in all that spare time you’ll have on your hands.

 

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Should the US Boycott Sochi? — From David Mixner

The simple answer is a very strong ‘no’.

While the behavior of the Russian government, Putin and Putin punks are abhorrent, nothing will be changed by boycotting the Sochi Winter Games. In fact, those who are appalled by the treatment of LGBT Russian citizens will lose an incredible opportunity for the world to show their disgust.

The reasons America shouldn’t boycott the games are very powerful:

1. Young Athletes, including our own, have prepared all their lives at great sacrifice for this moment. To deny them the opportunity to achieve their life dreams were be wrong and in the end not change a great deal.

2. In reality, the period between now and the end of the games is the prime organizing opportunity to draw international attention the plight of our Russian brothers and sisters. By withdrawing, we lose that opportunity and the story shifts to the relationships between nations instead of the suppression in Russia.

3. The Winter Games provide us a six month window to mobilize the athletes of the world including some of the most famous individuals in their nations to support LGBT rights, fight Putin and his policies and be visible.

4. Over the decades of our epic battle for LGBT equality, the community has learned that coming ‘out’ and being visible is one of our most powerful weapons. By mobilizing the athletes, the media and average citizens, we can bring light to these dark policies.

5. Entities like NBC Sports and sponsors of the games must take a stand against the horror that is taking place in Sochi and if the Games are boycotted we lose that ability to really affect powerful change.

6. By having, in the most defiant way, the Rainbow flag be everywhere where there is a camera including on the athletes, in the village and among spectators will be a powerful message to the world and a huge story that won’t happen if we boycott the games.

7. Remember in the 1936 games the big story in “Hitler’s Olympics” was that a black runner named Jessie Owens is the most remembered athlete and hero from those games. Our LGBT athletes will be competing for all of us and they deserve our support.

8. Not showing up never works but showing up in force, visible and well organized will be Putin’s humiliation and all the world will know of the plight of LGBT in Russia.

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Study: Single-payer healthcare system would save billions

Expanding the nation’s Medicare program to cover people of all ages would save the government billions of dollars, according to a new study released Wednesday.

The study found that a single-payer health care system based on the principles of legislation by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, would save the federal government about $592 billion in one year.

That’s more than enough to pay for comprehensive benefits for all Americans at a lower cost to the public, according to Physicians for a National Health Program, which circulated the study. The extra money would go to paying down the national debt.

The savings would come from slashing administrative waste and negotiating drug prices.

The study was conducted by Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Paradoxically, by expanding Medicare to everyone we’d end up saving billions of dollars annually,” Friedman said. “We’d be safeguarding Medicare’s fiscal integrity while enhancing the nation’s health for the long term.”

The study comes as Republicans in Congress are pulling out all the stops to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul. Tea Party Republicans have in recent weeks vowed to oppose any measures to keep the government running after the current funding bill runs out on Sept. 30 if it also means funding ObamaCare.

Republicans have generally opposed the idea of a single-payer health care system in the past.

 

By Lara Seligman, The Hill

 

 


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Pope Francis Says He Will Not Judge Gay Priests

From TalkingPointsMemo

Pope Francis blesses faithful as he is driven through the crowd with his popemobile in St. Peter's Square prior to the start of his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.Pope Francis blesses faithful as he is driven through the crowd with his popemobile in St. Peter’s Square prior to the start of his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip. 
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Francis’ remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.

He was funny and candid during his first news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. He didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.

Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.

Francis was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities. Italian media reported this year that the allegations contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign.

Stressing that Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.

Francis was responding to reports that a trusted aide was involved in an alleged gay tryst a decade ago. He said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.
And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.
“We don’t have the right to not forget,” he said.

The directness of his comments suggested that he wanted to put the matter of the monsignor behind him as he sets about overhauling the Vatican bank and reforming the Holy See bureaucracy.

Speaking in Italian with occasional lapses in his native Spanish, Francis dropped a few nuggets of other news:
— He said he was thinking of traveling to the Holy Land next year and is considering invitations from Sri Lanka and the Philippines as well.
— The planned Dec. 8 canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will likely be postponed — perhaps until the weekend after Easter — because road conditions in December would be dangerously icy for Poles traveling to the ceremony by bus.
— And he solved the mystery that has been circulating ever since he was pictured boarding the plane to Rio carrying his own black bag, an unusual break from Vatican protocol.

“The keys to the atomic bomb weren’t in it,” Francis quipped. Rather, he said, the bag merely contained a razor, his breviary prayer book, his agenda and a book on St. Terese of Lisieux, to whom he is particularly devoted.

“It’s normal” to carry a bag when traveling, he said. “We have to get use to this being normal, this normalcy of life,” for a pope, he added.

Francis certainly showed a human, normal touch during his trip to Rio, charming the masses at World Youth Day with his decision to forgo typical Vatican security so he could to get close to his flock. Francis traveled without the bulletproof popemobile, using instead a simple Fiat or open-sided car.

“There wasn’t a single incident in all of Rio de Janeiro in all of these days and all of this spontaneity,” Francis said, responding to concerns raised after his car was swarmed by an adoring mob when it took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic.

“I could be with the people, embrace them and greet them — without an armored car and instead with the security of trusting the people,” he said.

He acknowledged that there is always the chance that a “crazy” person could get to him. But he said he preferred taking that risk than submitting to the “craziness” of putting an armored wall between a shepherd and his flock.

Francis’ news conference was remarkable and unprecedented: Pope John Paul II used to have on-board press conferences, but he would move about the cabin, chatting with individual reporters so it was sometimes hit-or-miss to hear what he said and there were often time limits. After Benedict’s maiden foreign voyage, the Vatican insisted that reporters submit questions in advance so the theologian pope could choose the three or four he wanted to answer and prepare his answers.

For Francis, however, no question was off the table, no small thing given that he is known to distrust the mainstream media and had told journalists en route to Rio that he greatly disliked giving news conferences because he found them “tiresome.”

Francis spoke lovingly of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, saying that having him living in the Vatican “is like having a grandfather, a wise grandfather, living at home.” He said he regularly asks Benedict for advice, but dismissed suggestions that the German pontiff was exerting any influence on his papacy.

On the contrary, Francis said he had tried to encourage Benedict to participate more in public functions at the Vatican and receive guests, but that he was “a man of prudence.”

In one of his most important speeches delivered in Rio, Francis described the church in feminine terms, saying it would be “sterile” without women. Asked what role he foresaw, he said the church must develop a more profound role for women in the church, though he said “the door is closed” to ordaining women to the priesthood.

He was less charitable with the Vatican accountant, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who has been jailed on accusations he plotted to smuggle €20 million ($26 million) from Switzerland to Italy and is also accused by Italian prosecutors of using his Vatican bank account to launder money.

Francis said while “there are saints” in the Vatican bureaucracy, Scarano wasn’t among them.

The Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, has been a focus of Francis’ reform efforts, and he has named a commission of inquiry to look into its activities amid accusations from Italian prosecutors that it has been used as an offshore tax haven to launder money.

Asked if closing the bank was a possibility, Francis said: “I don’t know how this story will end.”

“But the characteristics of the IOR — whether it’s a bank, an aid fund or whatever it is — are transparency and honesty.”

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Harvey Fierstein’s Interview with the Hollywood Reporter

The playwright and actor tells THR why he likens Putin to Hitler in the pages of The New York Times, and singles out Chris Christie and “Ender’s Game” author Orson Scott Card for encouraging homophobia in the U.S.

In a searing indictment on the op-ed page of Sunday’s New York Times, four-time Tony-winning Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein took the world to task for staying silent as Russian presidentVladimir Putin signed into law a series of unprecedented anti-gay measures that trampled the civil rights of that country’s LGBT citizens.

The latest legislation, which went into effect July 3, prohibits the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but to any citizen of a country where same-sex marriage is legal in any form. Days before that, Putin signed a law granting Russian police the right to arrest and detain any tourist or foreign national if they are deemed to be gay, lesbian or “pro-gay.” In June, the president signed into law another bill that classified anything considered “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. That vague bill grants the state the right to arrest and/or fine anyone — teachers, judges, politicians — who denies that homosexuality is evil. A forthcoming bill would forcibly remove children from their families if either parent is suspected of being gay or lesbian.

With Russia hosting the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, now less than six months away, the Kinky Boots playwright likens the current situation to Germany in 1936, when the world attended the Olympics and “few participants said a word about Hitler’s campaign against the Jews.”

The Hollywood Reporter spoke by phone on Monday to Fierstein about his op-ed.

The Hollywood Reporter: Your op-ed opened many eyes to a horrific situation in Russia, and one that feels all too familiar. How can history change its course?

Harvey Fierstein: There’s only one way to change somebody like Putin and that’s in the pocketbook. You can’t get him with angry words. He feeds on that and his followers feed on that. You make the West angry, they’re thrilled. You can’t get them that way. You can’t get them through a U.N. sanction: “Oh boy, the U.S. is mad at me. I’m shaking all the f–k over.” There’s only one way and that’s in the pocketbook. You hurt them in the pocketbook, they shut the f–k up and back the f–k down.

THR: What does the world’s silence, or its support of the upcoming Olympics, mean for the larger picture of human rights?

Fierstein: I happen to be American, so I talk to my country first, but any country that puts money into Russia, and that’s what doing the Olympics is, [is guilty]. You can say, “It’s national pride and we’ll go there and we’ll take all the gold medals and show them.” But you’ve just pumped billions of dollars into their economy. You are the enemy, you are the enemy, you are the enemy. And people have to understand that: You go along with them, you are a collaborationist. You go to Russia and spend your money there, you are part of the problem. You go and entertain there, even if you stand up on that stage and say, “I love gay people,” you have pumped millions of dollars into their economy. You send film crews there, you send reporters there, you send trainers there.

THR: What have the Olympics organizers done so far to protect participants in the upcoming Winter Games?

Fierstein: The International Olympic Committee has gotten a promise that [the Russian authorities] will not arrest any gay Olympians. That doesn’t say anything about trainers or reporters or friends or fans of anything else. And what the f–k does it matter, anyway? You shouldn’t be arresting people because they’re gay. You shouldn’t! And going along with it is wrong. I don’t know what the Olympic Committee will do because the Olympic Committee has blinders on and cares only about itself. And Olympic athletes, I understand: You’ve worked your asses off for this for years, but there are still bigger things than you hanging something around your neck. There are bigger things in this world. I speak to the unions. I think that our entertainment unions should not allow people to go — they should not be sending cameramen, they should not be sending reporters. It’s billions of dollars we would spend there.

THR: In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a stirring speech on Human Rights Day in Geneva in which she stressed to the world that gay rights and human rights are one and the same. Isn’t it up to our own high-ranking politicians to make a similar speech now?

Fierstein: Hopefully they will. I have a lot of faith in President Obama. The thing that seems to be true of him is that he doesn’t speak when you would expect him to speak. He’s very measured in his response to things. He likes to get all the facts first before he shoots his mouth off. It makes me crazy, it makes a lot of people crazy. I have a lot of black friends who were very angry that he didn’t speak out immediately about Trayvon Martin, but when he did, he spoke unbelievably powerfully. And so I am hoping that he will get involved in this.

I’m actually going on Monday to D.C. to testify to Congress on another matter, but I’m hoping while I’m there to grab a couple of people and I’m deciding whether I should Xerox some copies of my op-ed piece and bring it along. … I’m a big-mouth angry faggot, and so I shoot my mouth off and I don’t get along well with many politicians. I doubt that there’s three that I’ve met who have nice things to say about me because I will back them against a wall and give them shit. I’ve done it to [JoeLieberman, [AlGore, Mrs. Clinton. I just don’t like politics. My rule is if I can put a spotlight on something, I’ll do that. But to go speak to a politician, I think they all suck. Because they have to raise money to run. That’s not the reason we elected you, to run for another term. We elected you to do the job this time.

THR: Did the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding marriage equality restore some of your faith in the system?

Fierstein: I didn’t say I didn’t have faith in the system, I said I don’t like politicians. There’s a huge difference there. I have great faith in the system. I believe that we will win everything that we need to win in the United States and it will be done through the courts, and it may be done through some elections or whatever, but we’re well on our way. That train is unstoppable. I have great faith in the United States. It’s the only country I would ever live in.

THR: Turning to our own shores, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-gay hate crimes lately, many in New York City. What do you make of that?

Fierstein: We win these battles and there’s all this positive gay press, right? But then you turn on the TV and there’s [Cardinal Timothy Dolan] of New York speaking hatred about gays. There’s [New Jersey Governor] Chris Christie saying he’ll sign [a bill legalizing] gay marriage over his “dead body.” And that was a quote: “Over my dead body.” So why would you expect that there wouldn’t be some backlash from idiots when there’s backlash from these people who supposedly know better?

Look at that asshole [Orson Scott Card] that wrote this new Harrison Ford movie [Ender's Game]. I think that you can have any opinion you want, but at least be willing to take the consequences of your opinion. It’s like, “Well, I hope that people will be more understanding,” or what did he say? “More tolerant of my views.” The quotes that got me about him weren’t against gay marriage — he wanted homosexuality criminalized in the United States. That’s what he called for. You want me to be tolerant of you wanting to criminalize homosexuality? F–k you on your grave, you piece of shit.

THR: If someone read your op-ed, grew understandably upset and wants to take action, what can they do about the situation in Russia?

Fierstein: The biggest thing you can do is make sure you put no money toward Russia at all. Check and see what Russian products are and refuse to [buy them]. Write up on your social media — copy the story about the young man that was killed, copy the story about the [four Dutch tourists] arrested, copy the stories about the adoptions and these poor people whose hearts have been ripped open by the stupid laws that [Putin is] passing. Copy anything and just make sure that people know. Then write to your representative and say, “I don’t want you whitewashing this shit. I want a condemnation of Russia. I don’t want any of my tax money going to Russia.” You’ve got to write to the Olympic Committee and say, “I think we should boycott.” People in our industry should write to our unions. We have a TV union, there are lots and lots of unions that will be involved in the Olympics and our unions should refuse to let our union members go. That’s the only way to stop this, is to starve the rat. I’m telling you.

THR: What about NBC, which carries the Olympics and stands to make millions off the games? 

Fierstein: I don’t think of it in terms of NBC. I think of it in terms of America. Whoever is going from America. It’s not a company-by-company thing. NBC did not buy the rights to the Olympics because they were backing Russia. Now that this is happening, they have to make other decisions.


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Prince William and Kate’s Royal Baby Boy is Third in Line to British Throne

Prince William’s wife Kate gave birth to a boy on Monday, the couple’s first child and the third in line to the British throne, heralding celebrations in London and messages of goodwill from across the world.

“We could not be happier,” Prince William said in a brief statement, after he witnessed the birth of his son at 4:24 p.m. (11:24 a.m. ET), an event that sparked an international media frenzy and the illumination of London landmarks in blue.

His office said Kate and the baby, weighing 8 lbs 6 oz (3.8 kg) and to be publicly named at a later date, were both doing well and would stay in hospital overnight.

Prince William phoned his grandmother the queen to give her the news, and also contacted his father Prince Charles and brother Prince Harry, all of whom were said to be delighted. The addition to the family is third in line to the throne after Prince Charles and William.

It might take some time for the name to emerge however. The announcement of William’s name took more than a week, but bookmakers make George the favorite, followed by James.

As the birth of the queen’s third great-grandchild was announced, a loud cheer went up from the well-wishers and media gathered outside St. Mary’s Hospital in west London, where William was also born to the late Princess Diana in 1982.

“It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” said Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

Within minutes, messages of congratulations began flooding in, while crowds gathered outside the queen’s London residence Buckingham Palace where an official notice was placed on a gold-colored easel at the main gates.

U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the first world leaders to welcome the birth.

“Michelle and I are so pleased to congratulate The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the joyous occasion of the birth of their first child,” he said. “We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings.”

The royal couple, officially known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, had arrived at the hospital shortly before 6 a.m. and entered through a back door to avoid massed ranks of British and international media camped outside the main entrance.

Kate and William, both aged 31, met when they were students at St. Andrews University and were married in April 2011 in a spectacular wedding broadcast around the world.

FRENZY

The royal birth has provoked a similar frenzy, with media keeping up a deluge of speculative reports for days beforehand and particularly throughout Monday.

“Right across the country and indeed right across the Commonwealth people will be celebrating and wishing the royal couple well,” Prime Minister David Cameron told waiting reporters in Downing Street.

“It is an important moment in the life of our nation but I suppose above all it’s a wonderful moment for a warm and loving couple who got a brand new baby boy.”

Outside Buckingham Palace, there was a party atmosphere with well-wishers laying flowers and teddy bears, singing “God Save the Queen” and “Happy Birthday”, and children waving flags.

“The build up to the birth has been so big I’m just happy it’s finally come. I’m pleased it’s a boy, you always want a boy really,” said Alice Durrans, who rushed from a nearby restaurant after hearing the news.

Deborah Beeson, a banker from the United States, was ecstatic.

“It’s wonderful. I got chills. I cried,” she said. “You know America loves Kate. She’s just beautiful, she has dignity.”

There will be a 41-gun salute at London’s Hyde Park and 62 rounds fired at the Tower of London on Tuesday to herald news of the birth.

The baby arrives at a time when the royal family is riding a wave of popularity. An Ipsos Mori poll last week showed 77 percent of Britons were in favor of remaining a monarchy over a republic, close to its best-ever level of support.

DARK DAYS

The dark days for the House of Windsor after the death of William’s mother Princess Diana in 1997, which led to public anger at the royals, have been replaced with outpourings of support for William and Kate’s wedding and the Diamond Jubilee for the queen last summer.

“It’s been a remarkable few years for our royal family,” Cameron said.

The couple, who have been living in a cottage in north Wales where William is based as a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, will eventually take up residence with their baby at Apartment 1A at London’s Kensington Palace when a 1 million pound refurbishment is completed later this year.

The palace was also William’s childhood home.

The young royal couple have become global stars after some 2 billion people tuned in to watch their glittering marriage ceremony in 2011, while Kate is seen as a fashion icon.

(Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Sarah Young, Limei Hoang and Mark Anderson; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Michael Roddy and Eric Beech)

 

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Virginia GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Wants To Outlaw Oral Sex, Even For Married Couples

Virginia Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is now obsessed with oral sex in addition to his obsession with anal sex. Apparently he wants to spy on everyone’s bedrooms and arrest people who engage in either legal act, even if they are married couples.

Cuccinelli unveiled a new website on Wednesday dedicated to his cause of forever banning consenting adults from having oral and anal sex in the privacy of their bedrooms

His goal is “to reinstate Virginia’s unconstitutional Crimes Against Nature law,” ThinkProgress reports. “The rule, which makes felons out of even consenting married couples who engage in oral or anal sex in the privacy of their own homes, was struck down by federal courts after Cuccinelli blocked efforts to bring it in line with the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling.” That ruling struck down laws that intrude upon the personal and private lives of consenting adults. In other words, it is unconstitutional to arrest people for engaging in private sexual acts.

According to the Crimes Against Nature Law that Cuccinelli supports,

If any person carnally knows in any manner any brute animal, or carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Cuccinelli claims the law is only aimed at child predators, prostitution, non-consenting actions, and public sex, but the problem is that there are provisions in the law, like the one above, that still criminalize sex acts performed by consenting adults, even though the Supreme Court has effectively struck those particular provisions down. But Cuccinelli wants to defy the Court and reinstate the law anyway.

One has to wonder how Cuccellini knows so much about “carnal knowledge” and why he is so obsessed with it. Did Cuccinelli have bad experiences in the past that led him to try and outlaw these sex acts for everyone? Perhaps he feels that since he can’t have a good time, no one else should be allowed to? Is he simply jealous? It just boggles the mind to wonder why Cuccinelli is so adamant about regulating what people do in the privacy of their own homes. And that brings us to another question. How will he enforce his law if he gets what he wants?

Unless Cuccinelli plans to hire a police officer to stand guard outside the bedrooms of every man and woman in the state, he will fail to stop consenting adults from engaging in the sex acts he despises. Of course, he could always use drones, which is frightening to think about. Is Cuccinelli literally going to spy on our bedrooms to find people breaking his law? Either option would require unprecedented man power, not to mention millions of taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it’s a waste of time and money to worry about what consenting adults do with each other in private. The state would be far better off targeting child molesters and rapists which everyone agrees should be arrested and punished.

This is what the Republican Party has turned into. The once proud party of small government and privacy now wants to use government to literally regulate what Americans do in their bedrooms, and there is a fundamental reason why. It’s called religious extremism.

Ken Cuccinelli once said, “I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that.” By “natural law” Cuccinelli means Christian law or Biblical law. He wants to bring Biblical law to the state of Virginia and force everyone to abide by it whether they are Christians or not. Such laws would strip women of their reproductive rights, ban same-sex marriage, ban unmarried couples from having sex, ban unmarried couples from living together, ban birth control, force women to submit to their husbands, and ban any sexual activities that fundamentalist Christians disagree with, including oral and anal sex. Such laws are also entirely unconstitutional and would destroy the civil laws in which this country was founded.

If Virginians don’t want to be spied on or arrested for what they do in the privacy of their own homes, Ken Cuccinelli is not the person they should vote for as Governor. He would put Bob McDonnell, aka “Governor Ultrasound,” to shame. If Ken Cuccinelli hates anal and oral sex so much, the answer is simply. Just don’t do it. But don’t try to use government and police resources and taxpayer money to stop every other consenting adult from doing it. Republicans are hypocrites for trying to legislate what we can and can’t do in our bedrooms. That kind of government is not “small government.” Only big government, REALLY big government, has the power to do such a thing. Millions of people would have to be spied on and arrested in order for Cuccinelli’s “natural law” to work. It would turn Virginia into a police state where Biblical law supersedes the Constitution. Is that what Virginians really want for their state?

From addictinginfo.com

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Major Victory for Drakes Bay Oyster Co. as Marin Court Allows Farm to Remain Open Until Federal Lawsuit is Resolved

Amy Trainer, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin executive director, discredited by false statements against Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Court makes favorable  judgement for DBOC

A Marin County Superior Court Judge put two orders by the California Coastal Commission on the back burner that would have forced the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) to shut down prior to the resolution of a pending federal lawsuit.

“We are pleased that the court stayed the restoration order, recognizing that it was inappropriate for the Commission to act while the federal permit is still  under review by the Court,” said DBOC owner, Kevin Lunny.  “We are  troubled, however, that the Commission continues to misrepresent the oyster farm operations to the public and the Court. We are confident that theirmisrepresentations will be revealed for what they are—completely unfounded and contradictory with their own reports—when the hearing on the merits occurs,” he said.

In February 2013, the Commission issued a Cease and Desist Order and Restoration Order against Drakes Bay, alleging that the historic farm was not complying with required standards and was harming harbor seals, eelgrass and the environment of Drakes Estero. These allegations were  repeatedly proven to be false by the Nation’s top scientists and the Commission’s own reports.

A special Commission Trip Report, prepared in 2007, directly contradicts the two major claims the Commission has made in court. The Commission argued that the oyster farm harms harbor seals because “there are boats cruising around near harbor seals”, but its report admits that “servicing the oyster bags located several hundred yards away from the haul-out sites probably would not result in disturbance to the seals.”  The Commission also argued that DBOC is “expanding” operations, but its own report admitted that the historical production cap was 700,000 pounds/year, a recommended level of production which DBOC has not violated.

Even the Commission’s own vice-chair, Steve Kinsey, has called the Commission’s treatment of DBOC “morally disturbing.” Kinsey stated that the Commission has “repeated the same disproven assertions that the operation was harming harbor seals and eelgrass” and “chosen to portray the Lunnys as irresponsible operators to aid and abet the Park Service’s myopic interest in terminating the lease.”

“With the support of our employees, thousands of environmentalists, community members and elected leaders around the nation, we will continue to fight and remain confident and hopeful that we will be successful in the next stages of our legal battle,” Lunny stated.

Recently,  Amy Trainer, Director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, has been  exposed in a series of false statements against Drakes Bay Oyster Co.  Trainer has issued a series of false news releases and made statements regarding  the scientific evidence about the benefits of oyster farming.  She and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, were also behind the false statements that the DBOC was being funded by the conservative Koch brothers.  It has been proven there was no tie or link between the Koch brothers and DBOC and Trainer and her environmental group have been discredited.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

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

 

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Bob Schieffer Slams Republicans for Giving Out Corporate Welfare Instead of Helping the Poor

From ForwardProgressives

While millions of poor and middle class Americans vote Republican, GOP politicians make it clear where their allegiance lies—with the wealthy and big corporations.

They don’t even attempt to hide this fact.  They constantly oppose programs that would help the poor, and build their entire economic ideology upon policies which always benefit the rich.

So it should come as no surprise that Republicans would choose to approve billions of dollars being given to giant farm owning corporations, while not approving a single dollar for the poor.

Bob Schieffer called out GOP Representative Mike Kelly this past weekend after the House of Representatives did exactly that.

See, earlier this month House Republicans passed a bill which removed funding for SNAP, but went ahead and gave billions of dollars in farm subsidies to big farm owning corporations.  The Republican defense of this is of course that they “couldn’t pass a bill which included both provisions, so they decided to separate the two.”

Funny, they had no problem quickly approving a bill which hands over billions of dollars to big business, but they chose to leave out the part which would fund food stamps for hungry, poor people (many of which are children).

As Schieffer told Kelly, “It’s almost like welfare for the wealthy, but you don’t include a dollar for hungry people for food stamps. What kind of message is that?”

And I couldn’t agree more.  While I don’t doubt a compromise couldn’t be reached to pass a bill which included both farm subsidies and food stamps, it’s laughable that once again Republicans made sure they took care of big business first and put off helping the poor.

But even as Kelly tried to claim that the food stamp bill was coming, he continued the tired rhetoric Republicans often use by saying, “What bothers me is that one in six Americans is on this program.  We’re wasting billions on a program that’s not lifting people from poverty, but keeping them in.”

Interesting, he doesn’t seem to feel that way about the billions he just voted in favor of giving to big corporations.  Maybe it’s time we stop giving them welfare and maybe they will no longer “need it”—as Republicans claim.

It seems Republicans feel that welfare “keeps people addicted to poverty” while believing corporate welfare is “vital for the health of our nation’s economy.”  Only in the delusional world Republicans live in can corporations worth billions of dollars need government assistance, while millions of people living on less than $15,000 per year to support their entire family are just looking for a free handout.

Democratic Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin responded to Kelly’s ridiculous accusations about Americans on welfare by saying, “It’s because their wages and incomes are so low.  They’re working but they can’t feed their children. It isn’t a matter of defrauding American taxpayers.”

It never fails that if a bill must be passed, Republicans make damn sure that their big corporate buddies, or the wealthy, get taken care of while everyone else can fend for themselves.

Any time I think of the millions of Americans in this country, mostly poor and middle class, who continue to vote Republican (and essentially against their own self interests) it just blows my mind.And this farm bill showed once again exactly where Republican allegiances lie.  And it’s not with 98% of Americans, it’s with the top 2% and big business.

Passing legislation which helps the rest of us just seems to get in the GOP’s way.

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San Bruno Commends Improved CPUC Recommendation to Punish PG&E, Demands Even Tougher Remedies from Regulators

San Francisco—The City of San Bruno today commended the latest legal filing by the California Public Utilities Commission’s safety division and called the improved penalty and fine proposal of $2.25 billion against Pacific Gas & Electric Company “a step in the right direction” to punish the utility for its gross negligence that caused the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire.

 

San Bruno officials have long demanded that PG&E pay the maximum for the tragic explosion and fire that took eight lives, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged scores more.  The City today said it will continue its push for additional remedies, including lifesaving fully automated safety shutoff valves and an independent safety monitor to serve as a watch dog for the completion of required system safety improvements.

 

San Bruno is also asking that the CPUC mandate that PG&E fund a Pipeline Safety Trust in California, an independent group that would advocate for pipeline safety and would serve as a legacy to the tragic explosion.  San Bruno has until Aug. 1 to file its formal response to the CPUC.

 

“The latest penalty proposal is a long-awaited step in the right direction for public safety, and we commend the attorneys within the CPUC’s safety division for exhibiting the courage to significantly strengthen the division’s previous, and inadequate, penalty recommendation,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “While we wholeheartedly support the tougher penalty and fine, the City of San Bruno will continue to fight for additional and ongoing safeguards to protect the public and help us ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

 

The City cautioned that it just received the CPUC safety division filing this morning and needs to review it thoroughly before fully commenting on the revised proposal.

 

The CPUC’s revised $2.25 billion penalty and fine proposal replaces the CPUC’s original — and now discredited — recommendation announced with much hype by Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety division, in May but which was soon revealed to be 100 percent tax-deductible and littered with credits and perks to benefit PG&E, amounting in a net penalty of almost nothing for the utility.

 

Not one of the CPUC safety division’s senior attorneys agreed to sign the original penalty recommendation, calling it “unlawful” and “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.” Those attorneys were reassigned off the investigation as a result of their protest.

 

The shocking internal turmoil at the CPUC led San Bruno to call for an investigation by the California Attorney General and the State Legislature and, ultimately, forced the recusal of the CPUC’s chief counsel and the lead attorney on the case, Frank Lindh, a former PG&E attorney.

 

The formerly reassigned attorneys returned to the investigation and last week they requested to withdraw the old filing and “correct certain inaccuracies,” characterizing the events as “unorthodox.”

 

The amended filing not only imposes a tough penalty of about $2.25 billion that will fund ongoing safety improvements but it also incorporates a $300 million fine to PG&E shareholders, which is not tax deductible and would be diverted into the State of California’s general fund. In addition, the proposal also curtails PG&E’s ability to deduct “credits” for safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire – a provision San Bruno has advocated strongly for in the past.

 

And while city officials say they generally support the monetary component of the CPUC’s revised proposal, given the widespread dysfunction at the CPUC, they will continue to push for PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures to ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include funding for a California Pipeline Safety Trust advocacy organization, an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement, and the installation of lifesaving fully Automatic Shutoff Valves.   The City also opposes the proposed $435 million credit to PG&E shareholders which effectively reduces the  penalty against PG&E to $1.815 billion.

 

“While we continue to applaud those CPUC attorneys who displayed exceptional courage in their effort to uphold justice for the people and victims of San Bruno, we believe the level of chaos and disarray at the CPUC is proof that additional, going-forward remedies are needed, specifically an Independent Monitor to oversee the CPUC’s activities and correct the overly cozy relationship with the CPUC,” Ruane said. “We will continue to fight for additional safeguards so that, as the legacy of the City’s involvement in this process, we can feel confident that the state’s regulatory and public utility systems are changed for the better.”

 

 

Contact: Connie Jackson, City Manager

Phone: (650) 616-7056

Sam Singer, Singer Associates

Office: (415) 227-9700

 

 

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Elizabeth Warren Tries to Break Up Big Banks With New Legislative Push

A bipartisan group of Senators are proposing the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act” in an effort to curb the power of big banks by reinstating a Depression-era rule that separated commercial and investment banking. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Angus King (I-ME) proposed the bill on Thursday.

Enacted during the Great Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act prevented commercial deposit banks, which are insured by taxpayer money through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), from engaging in insurance and risky investment activities. These restrictions were repealed in 1999. The new bill would reinstate and update the separation between commercial and investment banking, giving financial conglomerates a five-year transitional period to split up their businesses to come into adherence with the firewall.

“Banks should be boring,” Warren argued in her initial public push for the bill, her first major banking measure in the Senate. The bill is more than a mere a reinstatement of the original 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, however. It would also bar commercial banks from some of the newer, more complex practices that they became infamous for in the wake of the recession, including trading complex derivatives and swaps or engaging in hedge fund and private equity activities. Warren explained in a conference call with reporters on Thursday that the new bill also seeks to close loopholes created by regulators’ interpretation of the original bill in the 1980s and 90s preceding its repeal.

The repeal of Glass-Steagall allowed banks to expand rapidly in size, to a stage where the top 0.2 percent of banks control nearly 70 percent of all banking assets. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, the biggest banks continued to grow. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized these banks for being not only too big to fail, but also too big for jail or for trial.

Support for restoring the banking firewalll has come from various corners since the 2008 financial crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argued at the height of the recession, that the repeal created a “high-risk gambling mentality.” Two former chairman of Citigroup, Richard Parsons and Sanford Weill — who once had a portrait of himself in his office called “The Shatterer of Glass-Steagall,” have endorsed restoring the firewall. Citigroup, which was bailed out during in 2008, was the first big beneficiary of the firewall’s repeal. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said that he agrees with reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act.

“Americans want safe banks,” Warren said when asked how she would respond to opponents of Glass-Steagall. “The banks that handle their checking and savings accounts should be rock-solid secure, and they should not be juicing their profits by taking those insured deposits and insuring them in wild financial schemes.” McCain echoed those comments in a statement, adding, “If enacted, the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act would not end Too-Big-to-Fail. But, it would rebuild the wall between commercial and investment banking that was in place for over 60 years, restore confidence in the system, and reduce risk for the American taxpayer.”

McCain voted for the bill that repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999, and one if its primary authors was a close economic advisor to his 2008 presidential campaign. But he changed his tune in 2009, when he and Cantwell began a similar effort to reinstate Glass-Steagall. The bill never made it out of committee. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a basic Glass-Steagall reinstatement bill in May on the 80th anniversary of the original bill, but it was overshadowed by other banking measures being considered at the time. Restoring Glass-Steagall has also historically not enjoyed White House support.

Warren said that she believed this bill would succeed where others failed because a bipartisan group of senators are willing to fight for it publicly. “People said we could never get the consumer protection bureau. But we fought for it, and now we have an agency protecting consumers from credit card and mortgage scams,” she said on the press call. “I’ve lived in this world where people say to me ‘You can’t do this,’ and when they say that, I just say to them, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We have done it.”
“I’ll be out there fighting, and here’ll be the fun part,” she added. “I’ll be fighting right next to John McCain.”

From Thinkprogress.com

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