Archive | Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Transgender first-grader wins the right to use girls’ restroom

(CNN) — A transgender first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl has won the right to use the girls’ restroom at her Colorado school.

The Colorado Rights Division ruled in favor of Coy Mathis in her fight against the Fountain-Fort Carson School District.

Coy’s parents had taken her case to the commission after the district said she could no longer use the girls’ bathroom at Eagleside Elementary. In issuing its decision, the state’s rights division said keeping the ban in place “creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.”

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund praised the ruling that was filled under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. Michael Silverman, the group’s executive director, called the ruling “a high-water mark for transgender rights.”

This is the first of it’s kind ruling in the country regarding the rights of transgender students. No court, no tribunal has ever said what the Colorado Division of Civil Rights has said today which is that trangendered students must be treated equally. They specifically referenced the outmoded concept of separate but equal and told us that separate but equal is very rarely equal and it is certainly not equal in Coy’s case

Coy’s mother, Kathryn Mathis, said she’s pleased that Coy can return to school and put this behind her. The first-grader has been home schooled during the proceedings

“We’re very thrilled that Coy is able to return to school and have the same rights that all the other girls had, that she should have had and was afforded by law to begin with. We’re extremely happy that she’s going to be treated equally and we thank the civil rights division for coming to this conclusion,” Kathryn Mathis said. “We’re very grateful to the voters of Colorado for putting its laws into place to begin with.”

A girl’s life

For most of the past year, Coy has dressed as a girl.  Coy’s passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.

Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are Mathis said she got a call “out of the blue” from the school in December saying that Coy could use the boys’ bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse’s bathroom, but not the girls’ facilities.

The district “took into account not only Coy, but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older,” a letter the family’s attorney received in December said

“However, I’m certain you can appreciate that, as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.

CNN was unable to reach the school district early Monday for comment on the ruling. But in February, the district’s attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said: “The district firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue.”

A little-studied group

Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is based on their anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities, experts say.

For the general public, transgender identity may be a new concept, though many might recall Chaz Bono, the child of entertainers Sonny and Cher. Born female, Bono underwent a transition in his 40s to become a man. He wrote in his book “Transition” that, even as a child, he had been “aware of a part of me that did not fit.”

He appeared last year as a man on “Dancing with the Stars,” in part, he said, to destigmatize being transgender. Being transgender no longer a mental ‘disorder’ in diagnostic manual.

Comprehensive data and studies about transgender children are rare. International studies have estimated that anywhere from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000 people are transgender.

Some children as young as age 3 show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children say.  These children are not intersex — they do not have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though experts do not agree on whether it’s psychologically or physiologically based.

Many transgender people report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.

Transgender job seekers face uphill battle. Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. The difference is that “gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.

Children around age 3 are probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children who look like they will be transgender in early childhood turn out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Differences in schools. School policies toward transgender students vary across the United States. In New York, for example, the law says students can’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity.

But in Maine, a court ruled in November that a school district did not violate a transgender student’s rights when she was told she couldn’t use the girls’ bathroom.  Gender nonconformity is not a disorder, group says Dude, the Colorado school district’s attorney, has said there is nothing in that state requiring public schools to permit transgender students to use restrooms intended for the gender with which they identify

At the time, he argued that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District adheres to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act in all respects: “Coy attends class as all other students, is permitted to wear girls’ clothes and is referred to as the parents have requested.”

On Monday, Silverman underscored what he described as the unfairness of Coy’s situation.  ”By denying Coy the right to use the little girls restroom like all the other little girls at school it had created an environment that was hostile, discriminatory and unsafe. Coy was treated in what was referred to as an exceptional way, which limited her educational opportunities. In the end, we’ve been saying from the start, that Coy wants the same dignity, respect and opportunity, and deserves that, as every other student in Colorado. The state of Colorado has now said that’s exactly what she deserves,” Silverman said.

Continue Reading

Justice Ginsburg Slams Supreme Court’s ‘Hubris’ In Fiery Dissent On Voting Rights Act

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the fierce dissent against the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Tuesday to invalidate a key section of the Voting Rights Act, accusing the conservative justices of displaying “hubris” and a lack of sound reasoning.

“The Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making,” wrote the leader of the court’s liberal wing. “Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices, Ginsburg scolded the conservative majority and its rationale for throwing out Section 4 of the law — which contains the formula Congress has used to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today,” she wrote. “The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.”

Congress has renewed the Voting Rights Act four times — most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, argued that “[o]ur country has changed” particularly in the mostly southern jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act.

“In my judg­ment,” Ginsburg wrote, “the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.”

She lambasted the majority for “disturbing lapses” in its reasoning, citing as one example its failure to explain why the plaintiff in the case, Shelby County of Alabama, should be freed from preclearance despite its history of voter discrimination.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg wrote.

The Clinton-appointed justice said there was a “sad irony” to the Supreme Court throwing out a piece of the law it admits has been effective at reducing discrimination.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” she wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed. … With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”

From Talking Point Memo

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Dolan, Originally published on PsyPost.

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Raw Story

Continue Reading

You Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent The Supreme Court’s terrible—and dangerous—ruling this week on the Fifth Amendment.

By Brandon L. Garrett, Daily Kos

On Monday, in a case called Salinas v. Texas that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your peril. The court said that this is true even before you’re arrested, when the police are just informally asking questions. The court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous—because it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions.

Here are the facts from Salinas: Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses—only shotgun shell casings left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Miranda warnings. Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.

At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his reportedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: He had remained silent, and the Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions. This time around, however, Justice Samuel Alito blithely responded that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent. But somehow, without a lawyer, and without being told his rights, he should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions. Two other justices signed on to Alito’s opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia joined the judgment, but for a different reason; they think Salinas had no rights at all to invoke before his arrest (they also object to Miranda itself). The upshot is another terrible Roberts Court ruling on confessions. In 2010 the court held that a suspect did not sufficiently invoke the right to remain silent when he stubbornly refused to talk, after receiving his Miranda warnings, during two hours of questioning. Now people have to somehow invoke the right to remain silent even when they’re not formal suspects and they haven’t been heard the Miranda warnings. As Orin Kerr points out on the Volokh Conspiracy, this just isn’t realistic.

The court’s ruling in Salinas is all the more troubling because during such informal, undocumented, and unregulated questioning, there are special dangers that police may, intentionally or not, coax false confessions from innocent suspects. I have spent years studying cases of people exonerated by DNA testing. A large group of those innocent people falsely confessed—and many supposedly admitted their guilt even before any formal interrogation. Take the case of Nicholas Yarris, who was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003, after 20 years in prison. He had been convicted and sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for the murder of a woman found raped, beaten, and stabbed near her abandoned Chrysler Cordoba.

When informally questioned, police said, Yarris volunteered that he knew the victim had been raped, and that the victim’s Chrysler had a brown “landau” roof (a vinyl fake convertible look). That was a striking detail, especially since the police had kept it out of the press. No tape was made of the interrogation. The police didn’t even produce notes. And now that DNA has cleared Yarris, we know his confession was false, and that he must not have volunteered the fact about the car roof at all.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Salinas encourages the kind of loosey-goosey, and easily contaminated, police questioning that led to Yarris’ wrongful conviction. Salinas may very well have been guilty of the two murders. But in many cases, as in this one, there are no eyewitnesses and not much other evidence of guilt: That is why the police may desperately need a confession. And that makes it crucial for them to handle interrogations and confessions with the utmost care. The court appreciated none of the pressures police face, and how they can squeeze an innocent suspect. Alito and the other conservatives were not troubled that there was no video to confirm that Salinas was in fact uncomfortable as well as silent. If Salinas had answered the question by exclaiming that he was innocent, could police have reported that he sounded desperate and like a liar? The court’s new ruling puts the “defendant in an impossible predicament. He must either answer the question or remain silent,” Justice Stephen Breyer said in dissent (joined by the other three liberal-moderates). “If he answers the question, he may well reveal, for example, prejudicial facts, disreputable associates, or suspicious circumstances—even if he is innocent.” But if he doesn’t answer, at trial, police and prosecutors can now take advantage of his silence, or perhaps even of just pausing or fidgeting.

Questions first, rights later is the approach the court’s majority now endorses. And by giving the police more incentive to ask questions informally, the new ruling will also undermine the key reform that police have adopted to prevent false confessions: videotaping entire interrogations. Why not try to trap a suspect before the camera starts rolling? In only a few cases like Yarris’ will there be DNA to test. The likely result of the court’s embrace of shoddy interrogation tactics: more wrongful convictions.

Continue Reading

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Continue Reading

Still Believe Nature Got It Wrong? Top 10 Health Benefits of Marijuana

From Realfarmacy.com, Marco Torres

There is no plant on Earth more condemned than marijuana. We’re talking about a living organism which governments have taken upon themselves to designate as an illegal substance. Despite no existing evidence of anyone ever dying of a marijuana overdose, possession of this plant is still illegal in many parts. Marijuana has been found to suppress cancer, reduce blood pressure, treat glaucoma, alleviate pain and even inhibit HIV. It is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. Can you understand more now why it’s illegal?


No Independent Study Has Ever Linked Marijuana To Psychosocial Problems

Cannabis is one of the most powerful healing plants on the planet. Dozens of studies have made pseudoscientific attempts to indicate that young people who use cannabis tend to experience psychological, social problems and mental decline. However, there is no evidence that marijuana use is directly linked with such problems, according to the results of a study published in The Lancet.

“Currently, there is no strong evidence that use of cannabis of itself causes psychological or social problems,” such as mental illness or school failure, lead study author Dr. John Macleod of the University of Birmingham in the UK told Reuters Health.

“There is a great deal of evidence that cannabis use is associated with these things, but this association could have several explanations,” he said, citing factors such as adversity in early life, which may itself be associated with cannabis use and psychosocial problems.\

Macleod and his team reviewed 48 long-term studies, 16 of which provided the highest quality information about the association between illicit drug use reported by people 25 years old or younger and later psychological or social problems. Most of the drug-specific results involved cannabis use.

Cannabis use was not consistently associated with violent or antisocial behavior, or with psychological problems.  In another study, Scientists from King’s College, London, found occasional pot use could actually improve concentration levels.  The study, carried in the American Journal of Epidemiology, tested the mental function and memory of nearly 9,000 Britons at age 50 and found that those who had used illegal drugs as recently as in their 40s did just as well, or slightly better, on the tests than peers who had never used drugs.

‘Overall, at the population level, the results seem to suggest that past or even current illicit drug use is not necessarily associated with impaired cognitive functioning in early middle age,’ said lead researcher Dr Alex Dregan.

Dr Dregan’s team used data on 8,992 42-year-olds participating in a UK national health study, who were asked if they had ever used any of 12 illegal drugs. Then, at the age of 50, they took standard tests of memory, attention and other cognitive abilities.
Overall, the study found, there was no evidence that current or past drug users had poorer mental performance. In fact, when current and past users were lumped together, their test scores tended to be higher.

The Age of Deception is Ending
In 2003, the U.S. Government as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services filed for, and was awarded a patent on cannabinoids. The reason? Because research into cannabinoids allowed pharmaceutical companies to acquire practical knowledge on one of the most powerful antioxidants and neuroprotectants known to the natural world.

 

Continue Reading

Opinion: Gay After Tomorrow

Frank Bua, Huffington Post

It should come as no surprise that the Supreme Court did not issue rulings today on two critical gay rights cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor. According to the bible for Supreme Court junkies, SCOTUS Blog, landmark decisions require greater deliberation and tend to come out during the final day(s) of the court’s session — which this year is “penciled in” as June 24. Make no mistake: Gay D-Day is coming soon to a theater near you, its release inexorably and poetically linked with New York City’s Pride celebrations. When the decisions come down, any progress will likely be tempered with disappointment that more sweeping change didn’t take place. And this shouldn’t surprise anyone either.

For the LGBT community and our allies, the past month has been a whirlwind of success and setback; we may not have always enjoyed the ride, but we’ve certainly had a front seat on the roller coaster. The Boy Scouts allowed gay boys to join but will still kick them out when they turn 18. Immigration reform is making its most successful revival since 1986, but the Uniting American Families Amendment (UAFA) was rather ceremoniously excluded from the Gang of Eight’s bill and the Senate Judicial Committee’s markup. The Land of 10,000 Lakes completed the most stunning same-sex turnaround since Ken Mehlman came out, yet the Land of Lincoln failed to get the Democratic-controlled Illinois House to even vote on a marriage measure. Hate crimes and HIV are back to levels that we haven’t seen since the 1980s. And that’s to say nothing of harmful international revelations of the obvious: The Vatican has a gay lobby, and Russian freedom is taking a page from the Soviet playbook.

There are always roadblocks to change, and President Obama understands this better than most. The most memorable line of his second inaugural address, “from Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall,” was more than a pretty alliteration, or historic recognition of the LGBT movement in a broader civil rights context: It demonstrated his understanding of time as an agent of change. The women’s suffrage and civil rights movements had a not-coincidental three-generation gestation period; the amount of time between Seneca Falls’ Declaration of Sentiments and the passage of the 19th Amendment was 72 years. Likewise, 69 years passed between the creation of the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Furgeson and the March to Selma, which placed an exclamation point on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In such cases, as the older generation dies off, it takes with it the oppositional ignorance that was too ingrained to accommodate. The intermediate generation develops relationships with people from the minority group and begins to question the premise for — and justification of — discriminatory behavior simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” The next generation comes of age with a different worldview and frankly can’t understand what the problem was to begin with. Stonewall was 43 years ago; we may have to pave some more roads (and dig some more graves) before we find ourselves at the end of the rainbow.

Chief Justice John Roberts may find people falling all over themselves to support our movement, but 38 states still do not allow gays and lesbians to marry — and our movement is about more than just marriage. We need to push for inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in immigration reform to protect same-sex binational couples (paging Sen. Chuck Schumer); demand that Congress pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification; educate our youth that while HIV may be treatable, it is not curable; and move the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) into law so that the 400,000 children in foster care can be placed in homes with loving — and yes, even gay — parents. We need to give our youth the mechanisms to steer clear of hatred of others and themselves, and to take care of the LGBT elders who were on the front lines of our movement long before many of us were born. We need our president to issue his long-promised executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, and we need to exercise the power of the purse by frequenting LGBT-friendly businesses, avoiding others (as if the Valdez spill wasn’t enough of a reason to avoid ExxonMobil) and supporting candidates (Christine Quinn for mayor of New York, Corey Booker for U.S. Senate) who speak to our issues.

I too am eager to find out the decisions in Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor, but our journey for equality will continue beyond these important cases. In the end, it is the court of public opinion that matters most — and the WIlliams Institute indicates we are doing pretty well there.

After all, it’s about time.

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Continue Reading

With the FBI On Her Trail, Michele Bachmann Raises Money For Non-Existent Reelection Bid

An FBI investigation into money laundering, wire fraud, and mail fraud has not stopped Rep. Michele Bachmann from continuing to raise money for a reelection campaign that she isn’t running.

According to the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog, Nearly two weeks after announcing she would not seek a 5th term from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, Republican Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign website is still locked and loaded to take in money. The campaign’s donation page is still featured and functional.” The donation page is still claiming that, “Obama and the Democrats are targeting Michele for speaking out against their extreme liberal agenda. They will do, say and spend whatever it takes to defeat her.”

According to David Shuster, the FBI may be in the process of gathering evidence against Bachmann herself, “According to sources close to the criminal investigation of Bachmann’s presidential campaign, the FBI has now been given sworn testimony and documents alleging Bachmann approved secret payments to Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson in exchange for his help and support in that state’s 2012 Presidential caucuses. Ethics rules explicitly prohibit Iowa lawmakers from accepting payments from Presidential campaigns or PACs. Investigation sources tell Take Action News the FBI is examining money laundering allegations against Bachmann, as well as possible wire fraud and mail fraud.”

If this is the case, it is very clear why Bachmann high tailed it out of the House by announcing her “retirement.”

Usually, it wouldn’t be a big deal for a “retiring” member of Congress to continue to raise a small sum of money before they leave office. However, when the person raising the money is possibly facing mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges, it looks pretty bad to have a message up on your website soliciting donations for a reelection campaign that doesn’t exist.

It could be that Team Michele is distracted by other things, like the fact that members of her own presidential campaign team are possibly giving evidence against her to the FBI, or it could just be one of those things that Bachmann just hasn’t gotten around to yet.

When the FBI is investigating you for potential money laundering, it probably isn’t the best idea to be raising money by using a reelection campaign that no longer exists.

It is possible that Bachmann could change her mind and run for reelection, but after her “retirement” announcement the ethical thing to do would have been to change the language of the fundraising pitch on her website.

Then again, a lack of ethics is what got Michele Bachmann into this mess in the first place.

From POLITICSUSA

Continue Reading

Elizabeth Warren: SEC ‘Actively Reviewing’ Big Bank Settlement Policy

The new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Monday that she is reviewing whether her enforcement division has been too lax on Wall Street by allowing banks to settle enforcement actions without going to trial.

“I am actively reviewing the scope of the Commission’s neither-admit-nor-deny settlement policy with the leadership of the Division of Enforcement to determine what, if any, changes may be warranted and whether the SEC is making full appropriate use of its leverage in the settlement process,” Mary Jo White told Warren in the letter, provided to HuffPost.

The letter is in response to questions Warren raised in May letters to the SEC, , Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

“Have you conducted any internal research or analysis on trade-offs to the public between settling an enforcement action without admission of guilt and going forward with litigation as necessary to obtain such admission and, if so, can you provide that analysis to my office?” Warren asked on May 14.

Earlier this year, Warren embarrassed bank regulators by pressing them during a Senate hearing whether any had taken a bank to trial. A video of the senator’s vigorous questioning went viral online. Many of the regulators struggled for answers, pledging to get back to Warren with more information. (White had not yet been appointed SEC chairwoman.)

“There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,’” Warren said at the hearing.

From the Huffington Post

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Many Faces of Theresa Alvarado

Continue Reading

The Quiet Closing of Washington

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.

It’s as if an entire branch of the federal  government — the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law — has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.

The window of opportunity for the President to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.

But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.

Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85%, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.

California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote is likely in November).

On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Governor Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost 5 percent.

Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.

The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.

Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.

The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in fourteen states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally. And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.

Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.

A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

From NATION OF CHANGE via Robert Reich’s Blog

Continue Reading

Pentagon Has No Idea What 108,000 Contractors Are Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times

 

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Centerplate has bargained in good faith and offered union members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

PG&E: San Bruno Mayor Says “We Won’t Let Pacific Gas & Electric Off the Hook” for San Bruno Explosion and Fire, Deaths and Destruction

San Bruno–Mayor Jim Ruane reacted strongly this evening to a PG&E filing with the California Public Utilities Commission, in which the utility company rejected the a call for major fines and penalties for its explosion and fire of Sept. 9, 2010, in San Bruno that killed eight, harmed dozens of residents and destroyed a community neighborhood.  This is the official statement issued by the City of San Bruno:

“The City of San Bruno finds the PG&E filing with the California Public Utility Commission today deeply disappointing and of great concern.  PG&E continues to downplay its systematic failures and its personal and corporate responsibility for the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire.

“Eight people died in our community, scores more were injured and a giant hole was created by PG&E in the heart of our community.  Yet, as we near the third anniversary of this great tragedy, PG&E continues to fail to acknowledge its responsibly for this catastrophe.  The explosion and fire would have never occurred if the company hadn’t diverted monies meant for pipeline safety and had performed safety work that was legally, scientifically, contractually and morally required of them by the California Public Utility Commission, which also bears responsibility for this tragedy for its failure to regulate the utility company.

“We have only made a quick review of the voluminous PG&E filing today and expect to make further comments and filings of our own as part of the penalty phase by the CPUC against PG&E.  We will not let PG&E off the hook for the damage they have done to our community, to their reputation and the deep concern they have created throughout California about pipeline safety,” said Mayor Jim Ruane, City of San Bruno.

Continue Reading

Local 2 UNITE HERE Union Leader Mike Casey Denigrates Navy, Marines, Disabled Veterans: Sued by Centerplate For Violation of Federal Labor Law, Attempt to Eliminate Nonprofits In San Francisco AT&T Park Labor Dispute

 Local 2 UNITE HERE President Mike Casey: No Need for Military Veterans to Have Prosthetic Limbs

San Francisco– Centerplate, the concessionaire at AT&T Park today filed a dynamic lawsuit against Local 2 Unite Here union for violations of national labor laws and for attempting to block charity groups and nonprofits from raising money at the ballpark.

Centerplate said Local 2 is attempting to illegally force the San Francisco Giants into signing a “successor addendum” that would bind the baseball team, and any future concessionaire at AT&T Park, to the same terms Local 2 negotiates with Centerplate. This action is illegal under the federal labor laws, Centerplate officials said.

Normally, the legal charges as Centerplate made today are filed with the National Labor Relations Board, but Centerplate said immediate action is necessary by the legal system to protect the Giants, Centerplate and nonprofits from Local 2’s illegal activities, which could harm all the parties. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and seeks damages and declaratory relief.

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

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

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

“Local 2 has overstepped the bounds of the law and of humanity,” said a spokesman for Centerplate.  “They are illegally attempting to force the Giants into a labor dispute between Centerplate and the union and wrongly trying to harm the many nonprofits that rely upon income from their charitable work at AT&T Park. We are going to fight to win this battle for Centerplate, our employees, our customers and the charitable causes which we support.”

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

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

As a seasonal, part-time labor force, Centerplate’s employees currently earn the highest wages in the nation, making an average of approximately $15 to $20 per hour. These part time employees also receive some of the best benefits, with fully paid healthcare individually and for their families. To ensure seamless exceptional service for fans, Centerplate has made an offer than includes:

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

Since early this year, Centerplate has been in negotiations over a new contract. The previous one expired in 2010 but was continued from year to year when Unite Here failed to request new negotiations. Even after it sought to make changes to the existing agreement, Local 2 dragged its feet and delayed negotiations for months. Throughout this time, Centerplate has been encouraging Local 2 to move quickly to find a solution.

“Nothing is more important to Centerplate than our employee partners and the customer service experience we provide guests. Local 2’s threats are an attack against our guests and the community groups we partner with at AT&T Park. It is time for Local 2 to come back to the table and focus on a realistic agreement,” spokesman Sam Singer said.

Centerplate said in the unfortunate event of a strike by Local 2 that “protecting the guest experience at AT&T Park is paramount and it will not be disrupted as the company has contingency plans in place in the event of a labor action.”

Continue Reading

San Francisco Giants AT&T Ballpark Union Local 2 Refuses to Negotiate, Walks Out on Centerplate, Federal Mediator

Unite Here Local 2 union leaders have walked out on contract negotiations, refusing to accept or to even make an economic counter proposal and thereby denying, for the time being, Centerplate’s employees at AT&T Park the economic benefits that would flow from a new contract.

The union unilaterally left negotiations with Centerplate and a federal mediator last Thursday, refusing to make a counter offer to Centerplate’s economic package, which improves upon the industry leading compensation already received by Centerplate’s employees.

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

For AT&T Park’s seasonal, part-time labor force, Centerplate’s employees currently earn the highest wages in the nation, making an average of approximately $15 to $20 per hour. These part time employees also receive some of the best benefits, with fully paid healthcare individually and for their families. To ensure seamless exceptional service for fans, Centerplate has made an offer than includes:

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

Since early this year, Centerplate has been in negotiations over a new contract. The previous one expired in 2010 but was continued from year to year when Unite Here failed to request new negotiations. Even after it sought to make changes to the existing agreement, Local 2 dragged its feet and delayed negotiations for months. Throughout this time, Centerplate has been encouraging Local 2 to move quickly to find a solution.

“Nothing is more important to Centerplate than our employee partners and the customer service experience we provide guests. It is time for Local 2 to come back to the table and focus on a realistic agreement,” spokesman Sam Singer said.

Centerplate said in the unfortunate event of a strike by Local 2 that “protecting the guest experience at AT&T is paramount and it will not be disrupted as the company has contingency plans in place in the event of a labor action.”

Continue Reading

Patton Boggs Law Firm Sued by Chevron for Fraud and Deceit in Ecuador Lawsuit: Did Patton Boggs Know of ‘Ghostwriting’ of Fraudulent Ecuador Judgement?

Since late 2010, Washington, D.C. law firm Patton Boggs has been poking a sleeping tiger. It has filed three peculiar federal lawsuits — in its own name, not on behalf of any client — against Chevron, the third-largest corporation in the United States. These cases have fared poorly; two were quickly dismissed, and a federal magistrate judge recommended tossing the third in March.

 

On Friday, the tiger awoke. Chevron (CVX) sought a federal judge’s permission to bring counterclaims against the 455-lawyer firm for alleged fraud and deceit for its conduct in representing the Amazon Defense Front, which obtained a $19 billion environmental judgment against the oil giant in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, in February 2011. Chevron also seeks to charge the firm with “malicious prosecution” for having pursued its three lawsuits in bad faith. Chevron seeks to hold the law firm liable for any damages Chevron suffers from the Front’s allegedly fraud-infested litigation, plus punitive and treble damages.

 

In a statement, Patton Boggs wrote: “Chevron’s proposed complaint against Patton Boggs is perhaps the starkest example yet of how Chevron will use its limitless resources to intimidate and harass anyone that dares to help the Ecuadorian Plaintiffs in their 20-year battle for justice … Patton Boggs has acted conscientiously, ethically and in good faith at all times since becoming involved in this case in 2010, and will not be intimidated by Chevron’s scare tactics.” (See the full document here.)

 

Patton Boggs began representing the Front in February 2010. The firm is being paid on a partial contingency fee basis, under an agreement that gives it a 2.4% stake in the Ecuadorian judgment, according to earlier filings by Chevron. Thus, the law firm theoretically stands to make about $450 million if the Ecuadorian judgment can ever be collected. (Chevron has virtually no assets in Ecuador.)

 

Patton Boggs’s team working on the Lago Agrio case has been led by James Tyrrell, Jr., a regional managing partner of the firm’s New York and New Jersey offices and a member of its executive committee.

 

At the time Patton Boggs got involved in the matter, Chevron’s lawyers had just begun filing a series of U.S. court proceedings, known as Section 1782 actions, to attempt to expose fraud, fabrication of evidence, and other chicanery that Chevron claims the Front engaged in to obtain the Ecuadorian judgment. Patton Boggs’s task was, among other things, to assist the Front in resisting Chevron’s efforts to unearth such evidence.

 

Notwithstanding the Front’s and Patton Boggs’s efforts, Chevron eventually did obtain much of the evidence it sought, and in February 2011 it filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case in Manhattan against the Front’s leaders, including its top U.S. lawyer and strategist, Steve Donziger. Last July, in a ruling on a partial summary judgment motion in that case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found that the March 2011 Ecuadorian judgment was, in fact, “unquestionably … tainted” by fraud. More recently, in a discovery order in March 2013, he also found that there was “probable cause” to believe that Front representatives “bribed the Ecuadorian judge to obtain the result they wanted and, as part of the deal, wrote the judgment to which the judge put his name.”

 

(The Front has repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought to remove Judge Kaplan from the case, accusing him of bias in strident and borderline contemptuous terms.)

 

One of the reasons Judge Kaplan found it likely that the Ecuadorian judgment was ghostwritten by the Front’s lawyers is that it incorporates large passages that appear to have been lifted verbatim from internal Front legal memoranda that were never introduced into the Ecuadorian court record. In the proposed complaint, Chevron alleges that at least one of the lifted passages incorporates Patton Boggs’s own work product.

 

Thus, it alleges, “Patton Boggs either knew in advance of the ghostwriting of the judgment against Chevron or must have become quickly aware of it once Chevron began to make the evidence known, and yet Patton Boggs continued to further the fraudulent scheme … Despite the uncontradicted evidence to the contrary, Patton Boggs has falsely asserted in the U.S. that this judgment is legitimate and not the product of a corrupt process in which Patton Boggs and/or its co-counsel colluded with the Ecuadorian court or court experts.”

 

Another focus of Chevron’s proposed complaint is Patton Boggs’s alleged role in “direct[ing] the creation of a declaration” signed by Front lawyer Pablo Fajardo that was filed in a Section 1782 action in Denver federal court in May 2010.

 

In his March 2013 ruling, Judge Kaplan called the Fajardo declaration “a seriously misleading account of what had happened” and, again, found “probable cause” to believe that “at least some” of the Front’s representatives “had committed mail and/or wire fraud and obstructed justice … by formulating and filing” it. The Front later filed the Fajardo declaration in at least eight other U.S. courts around the nation, including Kaplan’s.

 

Also in dispute is a strategy Patton Boggs allegedly “orchestrated” of hastily seeking testimony from seven newly hired experts — known internally at Patton Boggs as the “cleansing” experts — and introducing their written testimony into the Ecuadorian court record in late 2010 in an effort to give the Ecuadorian court something to base its opinion upon other than a court-appointed expert’s report that Chevron alleges (and appears to have proven) was secretly ghostwritten by the plaintiffs lawyers.

 

Chevron alleges that the cleansing experts in fact simply relied on the fraud-tainted report and that Patton Boggs’s lawyers tried to conceal that fact.

 

Chevron also takes issue with Patton Boggs’s continuing attempts to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment in foreign courts, including, so far, those of Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, “despite overwhelming and un-rebutted evidence that the Ecuadorian judgment itself, and the [court-appointed expert's report] upon which it is based, were fraudulently ghostwritten by the LAPs’ own team.”

 

Finally, Chevron faults Patton Boggs for having helped the Front secure funding for its allegedly fraud-tainted litigation by allegedly misleading the investment fund Burford Capital, which specializes in litigation finance. Burford has since renounced its interest in the case and has accused both the Front’s leaders and Patton Boggs’s Tyrrell of having made false representations to lure it into the case. (Patton Boggs has responded in the past that it is “fully confident that it has acted appropriately and ethically.”)

 

Chevron’s proposed complaint is based on documents already in its possession that relate to Patton Boggs’s role in the case, but it is already in the process of trying to obtain many more documents from the firm. In March Judge Kaplan ordered Patton Boggs to begin turning over millions of pages of files in the case, finding that any attorney-client privilege was pierced by the so-called crime-fraud exception. He wrote: “PB participated heavily in certain critical activities that make it likely that it is an important and, in many respects, unique source of evidence of the alleged fraud that is available nowhere else and that at least some of the materials in its possession or control were in furtherance of crimes or frauds regardless of whether PB was aware of them.”

 

Chevron’s new proposed claims against Patton Boggs are not being leveled in the RICO case itself, which is scheduled to go to trial in October, but rather as a counterclaim in a case Patton Boggs itself brought against Chevron in Newark last year, which was transferred to Manhattan earlier this year.

 

That case is the third of Patton Boggs’s suits against Chevron, which are the subject of Chevron’s “malicious prosecution” allegation against the firm. The string of Patton Boggs suits began in November 2010, when it sued Chevron seeking a preemptive declaration that Patton Boggs had no conflict of interest in representing the Front — though Chevron had not moved to disqualify it. (The potential conflict related to Patton Boggs’s July 2010 acquisition of the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, a lobbying firm that Chevron says was representing it with respect to its Ecuador litigation between 2008 and 2010.)

 

Patton Boggs later added Chevron’s main outside counsel, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, as a defendant, and also accused Chevron of “tortious interference with contract” for having allegedly interfered with the Front’s ability to find financing with which to pay Patton Boggs. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy, Jr., dismissed this and a second, nearly identical Patton Boggs suit against Chevron in April, July, and August of 2011, and an appeals court unanimously affirmed both dismissals in June 2012.

 

By then, Patton Boggs had filed the third suit against Chevron in Newark. This one had to do with a $21.8 million appeal bond that Judge Kaplan had required Chevron to post when, in March 2011, he granted a preliminary injunction barring the Front from trying to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment outside Ecuador. After the injunction was vacated by an appeals court in January 2012, Chevron asked Judge Kaplan to release the bond — i.e., give Chevron back the money it had posted.

 

Patton Boggs opposed Chevron’s motion, but instead of simply doing so in a motion before Judge Kaplan on the Front’s behalf, it filed an entirely new lawsuit in Newark on Patton Boggs’s own behalf. Later Patton Boggs added a “malicious prosecution” claim against Chevron for its having identified Patton Boggs as a “co-conspirator” (though not a defendant) in its RICO suit. In December 2012, Newark federal judge Esther Salas transferred the case to Judge Kaplan in Manhattan, criticizing Patton Boggs’s “jurisdictional maneuvering.” (Judge Kaplan released the bond in April 2012, and Patton Boggs has appealed that order.)

 

In March 2013, Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV in Manhattan recommended dismissal of Patton Boggs’s third suit, and Patton Boggs has appealed to Judge Kaplan. Chevron’s new claims against Patton Boggs for fraud and deceit, filed today, come as counterclaims in that case.

 

It seems likely that Patton Boggs was already losing money from its representation of the Front — that was an underlying premise for all three of its lawsuits against Chevron — and the counterclaim against it by Chevron cannot help its situation. Patton Boggs did not respond to a request for comment on whether the Front was in arrears on payments owed to it.

 

Last week another of the Front’s U.S. law firms, Houston’s, Smyser Veselka & Kaplan, asked to withdraw from the RICO case, saying it was owed almost $1.8 million in fees. At the same time, Donziger’s law firm in that case, Keker & Van Nest — which the Front had also been paying, under the terms of its retainer agreement with Donziger — also asked to withdraw, saying it was owed more than $1.4 million in fees.

 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Patton Boggs laid off 65 lawyers and staff in late February, after a decline in profits. Its annual revenues were down 6.5% in 2012, the article said, while its profits fell 14%.

 

By Roger Parloff-Fortune, May 13, 2013

 

Continue Reading

CPUC President Michael Peevey Caught in The Act: He Ducks California Senate Hearing for Napa Valley Drinks with PG&E Executives

The embattled president of the California Public Utilities Commission recently ignored the call to answer tough questions by state senators in Sacramento and instead decided to attend a conference at an exclusive Napa resort and a reception at an upscale winery in St. Helena, both of which were captured on hidden camera by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, headed by reporter Tony Kovaleski. See the shocking story that most likely will cost Peevey his job as head of the CPUC after Governor Jerry Brown sees this news video: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/LEGALPeeveys-Priority–205838301.html

Michael Peevey was asked to appear before the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review subcommittee on April 25 to justify keeping the job he has held for the past decade. The senate hearing was in response to growing conflict over a confidential report, uncovered by the Investigative Unit, which raises questions about the CPUC’s commitment to safety and its relationship with utility companies the agency regulates.

“The governor needs to replace the president of the Public Utilities Commission,” Sen. Jerry Hill said in an interview with NBC Bay Area last month. “The current president has been there for many years and he has had a very cozy relationship with the utilities, which this report indicates.”

Hill’s call for change at the CPUC was recently echoed by two lawmakers.

“I think the question is, who should be leading this organization so the people of California are safe,” San Jose assemblywoman Nora Campos said at a recent legislative hearing.

At that same hearing Los Altos assemblyman Richard Gordon added, “I have come to the point where we need serious change in the leadership of the PUC to bring change.”

After calling for his job two weeks ago, Hill wrote Peevey a letter formally requesting his presence at the subcommittee hearing. The letter states, “For all the shortcomings under your leadership at the CPUC over the last ten years as documented by independent reports… it’s critical that you testify…to justify your continued appointment as the president of the California Public Utilities Commission.”

Instead of addressing the conflict, Peevey kept a prior engagement at the Silverado Resort and Spa in the heart of Napa. According to the agenda, the conference was about clean energy, and Peevey was scheduled to give a short five to seven minute presentation for the non-profit organization, California Foundation for the Environment and the Economy (CFEE).

Before the conference started, at around 11 a.m.—the same time he was expected in Sacramento—NBC Bay Area’s hidden cameras spotted Peevey mingling with guests in the resort conference center.  The day officially started at noon, with a catered lunch after invited guests such as a representative from Pacific Gas & Electric and, somewhat ironically, more than two dozen Sacramento lawmakers, checked in at the event. Peevey gave his presentation at 1:30 p.m.—two and a half hours after he was scheduled to speak in Sacramento.

After four hours of conference sessions Peevey boarded a luxury bus and drove through the Napa Valley to the next event on the agenda—a reception and dinner at St. Helena’s exclusive Merryvalewinery. For more than three hours, Peevey ended his day inside the facility along with more than 100 guests.

Following the reception, NBC Bay Area’s Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski met Peevey outside the winery to ask questions about his priorities, and the confidential report. Below is a transcript of a part of the conversation:

Tony Kovaleski: You were asked to speak to senators today about the safety of your PUC. Instead you spent your day here in Napa.

Michael Peevey: No, that’s not true.

Kovaleski: What is the message you sent by coming here to Napa instead of going to speak to the senate?

Peevey: You are very antagonistic you know. You are reading a script.

Kovaleski: Sir, I am not reading a script. I want to give you an opportunity to respond.

Peevey: But your questions are the wrong questions.

Kovaleski: You spent time here with the utilities you are paid to regulate.

Peevey: There’s no utilities here that I know of.

Kovaleski: PG&E was here. We saw them on the list.

Peevey: Oh, there may have been one person, I don’t know.

Kovaleski: That report said your agency is too cozy with utilities. Is that true?

Peevey: No. Stop. That’s one person who said that. That’s not what the report said. There was no conclusion in the report. It was an interview with various individual employees of the Public Utilities Commission.

Kovaleski: Sir, you have been asked by lawmakers to step down. Lawmakers have said you should be fired. Should you be fired, sir?

Man with Peevey: No, he shouldn’t be fired. They don’t have the authority.

(Peevey starts to walk away).

Peevey: You poor son of a b****. You have a job to do. It’s pathetic what you are doing. It’s pathetic.

(Peevey gets into a car).

Kovaleski: Sir, should you answer to lawmakers when they ask to speak with you? What’s the message you sent tonight by coming here?

(Car drives away).

NBC Bay Area asked to speak with Peevey about the confidential report prior to the conference in Napa, but did not receive a response to that request from the CPUC. The CPUC did provide a written statement about the report:

The CPUC has made safety an underlying principle in all its actions. As we work to instill a corporate culture in our regulated utilities that embraces safety as a tool and an enhancement to their mission, we must ensure we do the same at the CPUC. We have hired consultants to help us in our process of culture change across all the industries we regulate. As part of these efforts, our consultants conducted an informal survey of internal employees to see what they think safety means, how they see their role in safety, and how they think we can do better as an agency. The report is the result of the informal survey; it is not an analysis of our safety culture or conclusions by our consultants, but a reporting-back of what some employees said in informal focus groups. As the report says, “This report is not an evaluation of the objective truth of those views and perceptions.”  We will use the results of the report to help us define what we need to change, develop strategies and actions to implement the changes, and ensure accountability as the process continues.

This is not the first time Peevey has snubbed lawmakers for an all-expense paid event. He was asked to speak at an assembly committee meeting in 2011, but reports indicate he accepted a free trip to Sweden that was funded by the Swedish government and the California nonprofit, The Energy Coalition.

When asked by reporters in April about his confidence in the leadership of the CPUC, Gov. Jerry Brown said Peevey is “well-experienced.”

“He’s flawed like everyone else in this building,” Brown said, “but he has a lot of knowledge and he has great commitment.”

Continue Reading