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Profits crumbling, sales shrinking: McDonald’s to close at least 900 stores

McDonald’s is in even worse shape than we realized. Profits are crumbling, sales are shrinking and guest traffic is declining all around the world. That’s leading McDonald’s to close at least 900 of its restaurants worldwide.

Consumers are defecting for healthier and fresher options like Chipotle, the burrito chain that McDonald’s sold off almost a decade ago.

The world’s largest burger chain announced more depressing results on Wednesday, April 22nd for the first three months of 2015.

The company vows a turnaround plan is coming. It will reveal the “initial details” on May 4th. In a preview of what might be coming, McDonald’s has announced that it’s closing at least 900 struggling restaurants, mostly in Japan, the U.S. and China.

Just how bad is it at McDonald’s? First-quarter profits tumbled by nearly $400 million, or roughly a third. That’s a steeper pace of profit declines than all of last year.

No wonder McDonald’s changed its CEO in late January. As if the burger chain didn’t have enough to deal with, it’s getting hit by the strong U.S. dollar. All those foreign restaurants aren’t helping the bottom line since the company is taking a hit on currency exchange.

The good news for McDonald’s is that investor expectations are low at this point. The stock is actually jumping over 2% Wednesday as investors are hopeful that new CEO Steve Easterbrook gets it and will bring a strong plan. They are also happy that total sales didn’t fall by more than feared.

Keep in mind the stock is roughly flat in the past year, compared with a 12% gain for the S&P 500 and a 27% surge for Chipotle.Macdonald’s Restaurant In London

So far, Easterbrook is working to improve McDonald’s tarnished brand by focusing on customer service and food quality. The company recently announced a pay hike for restaurant workers and plans to cut back on chicken raised on antibiotics.

McDonald’s is now testing all-day sales of breakfast items, selling sirloin burgers and perhaps even kale eventually, at least according to one analyst.

It’s also cutting back on restaurants that aren’t adding to the company’s profits.

But don’t expect the negative trends to change just yet. McDonald’s warned that its global sales are likely to fall in April as well.

from govtslaLves.info

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S.F. Archbishop Cordileone Priest Joseph Illo was Focus of Abuse Lawsuit: Star of Sea School Parents Demand Removal

 

Ft. Joseph Illo: Emotional Abuse Lawsuit Comes to Light

Ft. Joseph Illo: Emotional Abuse Lawsuit Comes to Light–Star of Sea Parents Demand Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone Remove Priest

Canonical and court documents have come to light from 2003 and 2005 that cast a negative light on the ministry of Priest Joseph Illo during his time in the Stockton, Calif., diocese — including a court ruling that he inflicted “intentional emotional distress” on an 11-year-old girl — have further enraged parents at San Francisco’s Star of the Sea School who have sought the priest’s removal as Star of Sea Parish administrator, according to news stories on KGO Radio and in the National Catholic Reporter and the San Francisco Examiner.

“We do not want Father Illo around children or in our community,” said Christy Brooks, a Star of the Sea parent.  “The details of this past lawsuit are deplorable. There is no one, who after reading this lawsuit, would want to have their children near Father Illo.  Archbishop Cordileone should remove him immediately from our school and parish. The safety and well-being of our children must be paramount.”

“We believe Archbishop Cordileone was aware of this verdict against Ft. Illo for intentional infliction of emotional distress on a child and still knowingly placed him in our community with foresight and knowledge of his history.  That is shocking and unforgivable,” Brooks added.  She and a group of parents from Star of the Sea have written and phoned the Archbishop demanding Illo’s removal.

The facts of the 2005 lawsuit against the priest, Father Illo, which required him to pay $14,000 for therapy for the young girl he traumatized, are as follows:

An 11-year-old girl came to Father Joseph Illo in confidence to report an incident of sexual abuse by one of the priests in Illo’s parish in Modesto.

Upon listening to the child’s report of abuse, Father Illo responded by yelling at the child, calling her a liar and calling the character of the child’s mother into question.

Father Illo then invited the offending priest into his office, where the two of them further confronted the child.

It was only after Father Illo invited his secretary in the room and she found the child in a hysterical state that she was removed and the mother was called.

Father Illo has a sworn duty to immediately report all allegations of abuse to the police.

As part of the case, church documents detailing an internal canonical investigation were subpoenaed. This report raises questions about Father Illo’s leadership and referring to his personality as being “dictatorial, manipulative and insensitive.” Another report for the court in Modesto said Father Illo had “a Jekyll and Hyde” personality. The canonical report recommended counseling for Father Illo.

Controversy has dogged Father Joseph Illo since he was appointed by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to Star of the Sea Parish and School in late 2014.  After taking charge of the San Francisco parish he banned altar girls, saying only boys can be altar servers. The move sparked criticism along with his statements to parents that he planned on replacing the school’s teachers with nuns from Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist order, the same nuns that walked out on students at Marin Catholic High School last week to protest an event to prevent bullying of LGBT youth.

The Star of the Sea parents have contacted Archbishop Cordileone and his staff by mail and phone and have “respectfully demanded that Father Illo be immediately and completely removed from his involvement at Star of the Sea,” according to the Star of the Sea parents group.

Just earlier this month, Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese resigned after a canonical review of Finn to determine if he violated church law by failing to report suspected child sexual abuse in connection to former priest in that diocese.  Many parents are wondering if the same fate will befall Archbishop Cordileone since he placed Father Illo at Star of the Sea school with the knowledge that Father Illo had a history of emotional abuse of children.

Prominent Catholic leaders have written Pope Francis and took out a full page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle requesting the Pontiff remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for “fostering “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.”

 

 

 

 

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Straight High-Schooler Invites Gay Best Friend To The Prom

It’s prom season, so we expected to read a lot of stories about lonely teenagers asking celebrities to be their dates.

What we didn’t expect is the totally awesome Jacob Lescenski of Las Vegas to ask his best friend Anthony Martinez to prom.

Jacob is straight, and Anthony is gay, but Jacob figured who better to go to the dance with than someone he considers a brother?

Jacob popped the question by unfurling a giant banner that read “You’re hella gay, I’m hella str8, but you’re like my brother so be my d8!”

Anthony is on the student council, and is often responsible for planning school dances, but lamented that he never gets asked to go.

“He’s a real man,” Anthony said of Jacob in a post, “given that he has the guts to fulfill my gay student council dream of always helping out planning dances, and never getting asked. I couldn’t ask for a better person in my life.”

The guys’ story has gone viral, and Twitter has blown up with messages of support for these two classy bros.

Dan Avery, Newnownext.com

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He Holds The Patent That Could DESTROY Monsanto And Change The World!

If there’s anything you read – or share – let this be it. The content of this article has potential to radically shift the world in a variety of positive ways.

And as Monsanto would love for this article to not go viral, all we can ask is that you share, share, share the information being presented so that it can reach as many people as possible.

In 2006, a patent was granted to a man named Paul Stamets. Though Paul is the world’s leading mycologist, his patent has received very little attention and exposure. Why is that? Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, this patent represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.” And when the executives say disruptive, they are referring to it being disruptive to the chemical pesticides industry.

What has Paul discovered? The mycologist has figured out how to use mother nature’s own creations to keep insects from destroying crops. It’s what is being called SMART pesticides. These pesticides provide safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects – and all thanks to the ‘magic’ of mushrooms.

Paul does this by taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroys insects) and morphs it so it does not produce spores. In turn, this actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out!

This patent has potential to revolutionize the way humans grow crops – if it can be allowed to reach mass exposure.

To tolerate the use of pesticides in modern agriculture is to deny evidence proving its detrimental effects against the environment. Such ignorance really can no longer be tolerated. For example, can you imagine a world without bees? Monsanto’s chemical concoctions which are being sprayed all over farmers’ fields around the world are attributed to the large-scale bee die off. While a growing number of countries are banning Monsanto, it’s still being used in in nations who should be aware of its dangers. To say that new methods need to be implemented before it is too late is an understatement.

Monsanto presently generates $16 billion dollars per year (as reported in 2014), therefore you can be certain they do not want anything interrupting that flow of revenue. Such income gives them nearly limitless resources and abilities to suppress information that may be damaging their reputation.

But by becoming educated on the benefits of growing sustainable, organic, and bio-dynamic food, sharing articles like this, and boycotting GMO & herbicide-sprayed crops, the corporate demon may soon get the message.

From EarthWeAreOne

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Losing my religion for equality

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter, from The Age

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Rich Neighbors Refused To Let George Lucas Build Studio, So He’s Building Affordable Housing Instead

George Lucas is best known as the man behind “Star Wars,” but for many people it will be his incredible passion for philanthropy that will define his legacy.

Having already pledged to give away half of his vast fortune when he dies, Lucas doubled down by handing over nearly all of the billions he made when he sold the rights to “Star Wars” to Disney. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Unlike other rich people, Lucas wasn’t content to just give money – he wanted to make a tangible difference in people’s lives directly.

Lucas had spent years unsuccessfully trying to develop an expansion to his production company’s studio in California’s wealthy Marin County. The socialites who lived there fought him tooth-and-nail, and he eventually decided to drop the project. Instead, he announced plans to build affordable housing on the property – and foot the bill.

Citing California’s increasingly nightmarish cost of housing, Lucas said his goal is to give regular families a chance to live in homes that they can actually afford.

“We’ve got enough millionaires here. What we need is some houses for regular working people.”

The plan would put hundreds of poor or lower middle-class people into great homes in a safe, affluent area.

As The Washington Post explains:

The 224-unit affordable housing complex would go on Grady Ranch, where his once-planned studio expansion would have been, according to a plan being submitted to the Marin County Development Agency this week, the Contra Costa Times reported. The plan, which would allow development on 52 acres, includes workforce and senior residences, as well as a community center, pool and an orchard.

Income requirements could be set so eligible residents had to make less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, the paper reported. The median household income for Marin County is $90,839, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

He is also considering setting aside certain houses for teachers and local employees who are particularly vulnerable to housing costs but are absolutely vital to any community.

In a sadly unsurprising turn, the rich residents of Marin county have not taken the news well. They apparently believe that their expensive houses entitle them to be separated as far as possible from the lower classes.

When the plan was first mentioned by Lucas in 2012,  Lucas and county officials were inundated with hate mail from residents suggesting allowing poor people to live in the county will ruin it for everyone:

Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: “We got letters saying, ‘You guys are going to get what you deserve. You’re going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.’ ”

Some neighbors even accused Lucas of doing this just to hurt them over bitterness about his studio project being cancelled. It’s an idea that Lucas denies. (Although helping hundreds of families get homes as a form of revenge would still be pretty great.)

After all, every year wasted fighting with neighbors means another spike in the cost of housing. The affordability crisis has been shown to be disastrous for the economy, and is often considered one of the number one contributors to wealth inequality in the United States. If all of your money is going to just keeping a roof over your family’s heads, you probably aren’t going out and spending money at businesses or paying for vital, but costly services like healthcare.

Lucas has clearly had enough of waiting. Since 2012, Lucas has grown tired of trying to garner support for the proposal, and now plans to just do it himself at the cost of $200 million. In this way, he can pretty much get things going without outside help. Thankfully, even with his massive donations to charity, he still has plenty of money to finance the thing by himself – but don’t expect his neighbors to be pleased.

And here you thought you couldn’t be any more excited about seeing the new Star Wars film.

 

From Addicting Info, Jameson Parker

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S.F. Archbishop Faces New Controversy: His Nuns Boycott Anti-Bullying Program at Catholic High School

Here’s a tough question to answer: What anti-bulling event does McDonald’s, Target, Disney, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Google and the NBA support, but Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s hand-picked Nuns oppose?

The answer: an anti-bullying event program intended to protect gay and lesbian high school teens from bullying.

goetia_girls_gremory_gamori_nightgaunt_nun_succubus_of_faustus_crow

Just after 100 of the most prominent Catholics in San Francisco signed an open letter to Pope Francis asking that Archbishop Cordileone be removed, Cordileone proved the signers of the petition right. He is out of step and out of his league in San Francisco.

These are the same Nuns that the Archbishop imported to the Bay Area from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Cordileone and his controversial Star of the Sea Parish priest Father Joseph Illo have publically said they want to replace current Star of the Sea teachers with these same “pro-bullying” nuns from out of state—which has ignited a firestorm by parents at the school.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross just reported this latest disaster for Archbishop Cordileone in their column.

Here’s what Matier and Ross wrote:

The divisions within the Bay Area’s Catholic community over gay rights hit Marin Catholic High School full force the other day, when a group of nuns walked out of their classes to protest the sponsors of a program intended to protect gay and lesbian teens from bullying.

The five members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary order exited their classrooms Friday as students began handing out flyers at the Kentfield school promoting a nationwide Day of Silence.

Their walkout came one day after 100 prominent local Catholics attracted national attention by taking out a full-page ad in The Chronicle calling on the pope to oust Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in part for trying to get teachers at Catholic schools to sign off on a morality clause that characterizes homosexual relations as “gravely evil.”

Marin Catholic High President Tim Navone and Principal Chris Valdez tried to put out the latest brushfire with a letter to parents about “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

At issue was Friday’s annual Day of Silence, promoted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — whose corporate sponsors include McDonald’s, Target, Disney/ABC, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Google and the NBA. It bills itself as a group of “students, parents, and teachers that tries to effect positive change in schools,” but the nuns at Marin Catholic High see it as anti-Catholic.

The school declined to participate in the Day of Silence. Instead, a morning prayer was read over the school’s PA system “to acknowledge and pray for students everywhere who have the experience of being ostracized, marginalized or silenced by bullying,” school officials wrote in their letter.

“Our intention was not to take part in a Day of Silence, but rather take a moment in the morning to pray together as a school community,” the letter to parents said.

Unfortunately, the administrators said, the school’s message was “compromised and misinterpreted” the night before when it was linked on Facebook to the campaign by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, “an activist group with which we are not affiliated.’’

When some Marin Catholic High students began handing out Day of Silence-related stickers and flyers on campus Friday morning, the five nuns felt “felt compromised, offended and uncomfortable,” Sister Clare Marie, one of the teachers, later wrote in a lengthy e-mail to her students.

She said the sisters “do not support bigotry or any kind of prejudice,” but that they were compelled to act out against an event promoted by a group that “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

Her e-mail also accused the group’s members of speaking out “against Christians who do not share their views” and handing out materials that “say that any church which teaches homosexuality is sinful is an ‘oppressor’ and should be opposed.”

Valdez told us in an interview that the sisters — who make up a small portion of the school’s 60 teachers — stayed away from the campus for the rest of the day, but had informed him of their intentions before they left.

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group “actively promoted” homosexuality in the classroom.

“We are not trying to convert anyone,” she said. “We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.”

Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for antibullying and antidiscrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.

School officials told parents that the walkout by the five nuns “further confused the students and created some false rumors about the sisters not caring for students who feel bullied, ostracized or marginalized.”

Valdez told us that the school is working hard to cut through the politically charged atmosphere to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus” in hopes of healing any rifts between the students and sisters.

 

 

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George Lucas Epically Trolls Rich Neighbors By Building Affordable Housing For The Poor

After his wealthy neighbors opposed his effort to build another studio, George Lucas decided to build affordable housing for the poor instead with his own money. Now they’re enraged.

In 2012, the Star Wars creator wanted to build a studio on Grady Ranch in Marin County, California. But the project failed after Lucas’ rich neighbors opposed the effort, citing “environmental and traffic concerns” according to the Washington Post.

In fact, the wealthy community opposed the plan so much that they threatened to file a lawsuit against Lucas to stop. So, Lucas decided to drop the plan, and his LucasFilms company released a statement critical of Marin County residents who fought it.

“We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough. We have several opportunities to build the production stages in communities that see us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.”

Deprived of the opportunity to build another studio, Lucas decided to get even more creative with his property. If he couldn’t improve Marin County by building another workplace, he would improve it another way.

So, he decided to build environmentally friendly affordable housing for the poor, much to the dissatisfaction of the wealthy neighbors who killed Lucas’ prior proposal. Bet they wish they had approved of it now.

According to the Contra Costa Times,

“A plan that will be submitted to the county Community Development Agency this week calls for 120 two- and three-bedroom workforce residences in one four-story cluster and two two-story clusters on the site, and 104 one- and two-bedroom residences for seniors in a four-story cluster, as well as four parking garages.

The proposal includes a community center and pool, terraced gardens, an orchard and a “micro farm” or community garden, and a barn. It limits development to a 52-acre tract of the 1,039-acre ranch, 800 acres of which already have been dedicated as open space.”

George Lucas attempted to build affordable housing back in 2012 but the plan fell through after financial backers withdrew from the project. But Lucas is tired of waiting to do something good for the less fortunate people in the area, which is why he is paying for the $150 million project out of his own pocket.

He certainly has the financial power to do this considering he sold LucasFilms and the Star Wars franchise to Disney for over $4 billion in 2012.

The Times also reports that the housing units will be available to applicants such as teachers and nurses who “earn less than 80 percent of median income, and senior renters falling somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of the median.” According to the US Census Bureau, the median income fro households in Marin County is $90,839. After doing the math, that means applicants who make less than $72,000 a year will be eligible for housing.

How do George Lucas’ rich neighbors feel about this? They’re pissed off, of course. They are literally whining about the project, accusing Lucas of waging class warfare and claiming that the project will bring drug dealers, crime, and “lowlifes” to the area. Because apparently, rich people think anyone making a living working a real job shouldn’t get to live in a nice neighborhood. But Lucas isn’t backing down. He’s going to be a champion for the working poor whether the wealthy residents of the community like it or not.

“We’ve got enough millionaires here,” Lucas said through his attorney. “What we need is some houses for regular working people.”

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The Truth Behind Swimming with Dolphins

Throngs of Americans are heading south to the Caribbean right now, for the balmy sunshine, intoxicating evening breeze, turquoise waters … and the opportunity to swim with dolphins. But despite their popularity, swim-with-the-dolphin programs have a dark underbelly, and those on the inside are starting to speak out against them.

Swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) programs can be found all over the world, but they’ve become exceptionally popular in the Caribbean in the past decade or so. A former dolphin trainer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Dodo that these programs are inherently problematic — and cetaceans simply do not belong in captivity.

“Dolphins are beautiful and amazing creatures in their natural habitat,” says the former trainer, who requested anonymity because he still works in the Caribbean hotel industry. “But stick them in a cage, and you watch them change.”

One trainer’s story

Born and raised in the Bahamas, the trainer says he was employed at two swim-with-the-dolphin facilities in the Caribbean, and his concerns grew over his tenure. The dolphins’ holding pens were not only excessively shallow, but also far too small. At one facility, he says, more than 40 dolphins were caged in three compact cells.

In the open sea pens — as opposed to enclosed pools within a resort — debris like nails and fish hooks would float in from the ocean, he adds.

“Because they didn’t have a vet or any type of veterinary care at [this particular] facility, the dolphins would swallow things, and there would be nothing you could do about it,” he says. Though he witnessed the enclosed pens being cleaned, he claims the smell of the chlorine was so strong, it would “choke” the trainers — and that some of the animals eventually went blind because of its use.

He also maintains that many of the dolphins suffered from “psychosis,” a behavior not unheard of in marine mammals forced to swim in small pens all day long. They were also under extreme pressure to perform, which may have made them dangerous to humans, he says: “They did 10 interactions a day … the same motions, the same speech, the same signals over and over. They would get frustrated … and aggressive to guests or knock food buckets out of our hands.”

The former trainer’s most troubling allegation, however, is that some female dolphins prevented their new babies from breathing — by stopping them from coming to the surface. The trainer, who isn’t a scientist, said he and his colleagues deduced the mothers did this because they didn’t want their babies to “live in captivity.”

Though that allegation can’t be proven, another former trainer has echoed other concerns. Moreover, studies have pointed to some issues with dolphin captivity in general. According to a World Animal Protection/Humane Society of the United States report called “The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity,” cetaceans in captivity are routinely given antibiotics and ulcer medications, are in need of vitamin supplements because they are being fed nutrient-deficient frozen fish and have a history of premature death from a variety of causes.

The report also notes that, for many dolphins, enclosure sizes are less than 1 percent of their natural habitat range.

What’s wrong about swimming with dolphins?

“Swim with the dolphins” (SWTD) is a general term for a variety of dolphin-themed itineraries. Besides swimming with a dolphin (or two), you can be photographed with a dolphin, pulled through the water by a dolphin (the “dorsal tow”), smooched by a dolphin or pushed by the beak of a dolphin. You can even pay to be a dolphin “trainer,” complete with a whistle and training manual.
There are some 30 dolphinariums in the Caribbean, says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). They can be found at a number of tourist meccas, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Tortola, Grand Cayman, the Dominican Republic and Cancun.

Even more facilities are being built in the region, including one that recently opened in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and others are being proposed in Turks and Caicos and St. Lucia, says Courtney Vail, the campaigns and program manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), who has been campaigning against cetacean captivity for 16 years.

The WDC documented many welfare incidents in the Caribbean in a 2010 paper called “Captivity in the Caribbean.” In one facility in Antigua, dolphins were found to be “unusually dark” due to shallow enclosures and subsequent sunburn; some were found to be held in isolation for training purposes; and some were exposed to polluted water.

“Although some Caribbean countries have developed legislation to address these captive dolphin programs, regulations are rarely enforced, and facilities operate under the radar in most, due to the lack of capacity and oversight,” Vail told The Dodo.

Ceta Base is a site that logs the capture, transport and death rates of captive dolphins around the world. At The Dodo’s request, Ceta Base estimated there are some 240 dolphins — both wild-caught and captive-bred — in facilities across the Caribbean, and that most of the wild dolphins hailed from Cuba, Honduras and the Gulf of Mexico.

A dolphinarium’s view

Forty of these dolphins are at Dolphin Cay, a popular facility at Atlantis, a resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Opened in 2007, Dolphin Cay is a 14-acre lagoon with “seven million gallons of natural Bahamian ocean water,” says Greg Charbeneau, vice president of Marine Operations.

The first dolphins to live at Dolphin Cay were relocated from the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The transfer was well-publicized and was also the subject of a 2007 book, “The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket To Paradise.”

Since Atlantis is one of the most popular facilities, The Dodo reached out for a response to welfare concerns with SWTD programs. Atlantis prioritizes the well-being of its dolphins with a team of 90 specialists and veterinarians to “ensure their safety and comfort at all times,” said Charbeneau in an email to The Dodo. He also explained that dolphin programs help teach people about marine mammals and conservation, and it is one of Atlantis’ passions to conserve marine life.

Atlantis is accredited by both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and is also a member of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association, he notes.

The facility has had 16 successful dolphin births since 2007 and one dolphin mortality. Its interaction coves, says Charbeneau, are 10 feet deep.

Sam Duncombe, the director of reEarth, a Bahamian grassroots organization that was behind the closure of another SWTD facility in the Bahamas last year, disagrees with some of Charbeneau’s claims. Born and raised in the area, Duncombe told The Dodo she’s been fighting against the development of dolphinariums — including the Atlantis — for nearly 25 years.

“[The Katrina dolphins] were bought, not rescued,” Duncombe says. “It was greenwashing in a big way.” Duncombe also maintains that the cells the dolphins are in are “horrible.”

“When I saw what they had built [for the dolphins], I cried,” she said. “The bloody fish in the aquarium have more than [them], with corals and rocks. These dolphins just have bare white concrete pools.”

In fact, Duncombe’s concern about the depth of the pools is shared by scientist Naomi Rose, from AWI, who says that dolphins routinely dive to 60 feet.

Ten feet, she argues, “is far too shallow!”

All aboard: the role of the cruise ship

How did dolphinariums in the Caribbean get so popular? In short: the cruise ship. “Every proposal for a new swim-with-dolphin facility was premised on the need to meet the demand from cruise ship tourism,” says Rose, who notes the trend really took off in the 2000s. Some dolphinariums, she points out, don’t even have parking lots: Tourists simply debark, swim with the cetaceans, then re-board their giant boat.

Statistics gathered from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association show there’s no sign of a slow down. Its most recent report ranked the Caribbean the most popular cruise destination, owning about 37 percent of the market share in 2014, up 3 percent from the year before.

“Unless you stop the demand side, which is those great many cruise ship passengers and North American tourists, you will continue to see dolphinariums open in the Caribbean,” says Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which has protested dolphinariums in Jamaica.

How wild dolphins end up in captivity

McCaulay told The Dodo that one of her biggest concerns is the process of capturing dolphins in the wild: It is “very traumatic,” she says.

“They are chased into nets … they are rounded up, the ones they want are selected, then they are lifted up into a boat and transported,” she explains, adding that female dolphins are preferred because they are more “trainable.”

A December 2014 letter jointly written by the AWI and WDC in protest of a proposed St. Kitts dolphinarium at Bird Rock Beach details how dolphins are caught in the wild:

Individuals may become entangled in the capture nets and suffocate or suffer stress-related conditions associated with the trauma of capture. In addition, captures from the wild can negatively impact already depleted dolphin populations by removing breeding (or otherwise important) members from the group.
The letter points out that scientific data from 1995 have shown that the mortality rate of captured bottlenose dolphins is dramatically increased during capture and transport.

Moreover, “methods used to transport cetaceans can also be inhumane, and many individuals have died as a result of injury and stress brought about by efforts to supply captive facilities around the world.”

A review of Ceta Base shows just how often dolphins are transported. One dolphin, for example, named Tamra, has been transported 14 times. According to Ceta Base, she is currently at Atlantis.

The endless cycle: breeding for captivity

Although some places still capture dolphins from the wild, many in the Caribbean stock their facilities with captive-bred animals. Another prominent company in the Caribbean is Dolphin Cove, based in Jamaica. Dolphin Cove Ltd. owns a number of dolphinariums in the region and has won a World Travel Award — “the Oscars of the travel industry” — since 2011.

The owners of Dolphin Cove, Stafford and Marilyn Burrowes, recently told The Jamaica Observer that the company launched a captive dolphin breeding program four years ago. Five of its dolphins have since given birth. “These days it is almost impossible to get dolphins from the wild because of the actions of animal rights groups,” Stafford Burrowes told the newspaper. Dolphin Cove did not respond to The Dodo’s request for comment.

reEarth’s Duncombe says one of her numerous concerns about breeding is that the captive-bred dolphins are losing their instincts: “What these facilities are doing … is creating a whole substructure of animals who have no way of living in the wild.”

In the end, Duncombe hopes that the public will pay more attention to the plight of the dolphin in captivity. But to the tourist who is still thinking about swimming with dolphins, she says bluntly:
“Your desire to be with them — is killing them.”

Christina Russo, The Dodo

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Texas Woman Claims It’s Her ‘Religious Freedom’ To Be Able To Feed The Homeless Even If It’s Illegal

In recent days, spurred by the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Law, the term “religious freedom” has come to mean discrimination against gay people.

Of course, Indiana isn’t the only state with such a law but its law is the most extreme. Texas has its own version and, in a twist sure to confuse conservatives, a woman who believes that her religion guides her to help people, not discriminate against them, is citing the law to protect her right to feed the homeless.

Joan Cheever has been feeding the homeless every week since 2005 in a San Antonio park from her non-profit food truck. For the first time, she was ticketed last week by four bike-patrol officers.

There was nothing unusual about last Tuesday. She always feeds between 25 and 75 people from her truck, but on that particular day she was stopped and the ticket said she needed a permit.

“They said because what you’re doing is illegal, and it’s against the city ordinance,” Cheever told News 4 San Antonio.

Cheever tells News 4 San Antonio the officer told her if she wanted to feed the homeless she’d have to bring her food truck to the park. Cheever, who has a certified food manager certificate, had packed the hot meals in a regular pick-up truck. “And I said restaurants deliver take out delivery.”

“One of the police officers said, ‘Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church,’ And I said, ‘This is how I pray. When I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate,” Cheever went on to say.

The ticket is hefty too. At its max, it could cost her $2,000. Court is still a couple of months away but her argument will be that by feeding the homeless, she is practicing her own religious beliefs, which are protected, she says, under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Law.\

Wendy Gittleson, Addicting Info

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There’s A Reality About Hillary Clinton That Many Liberals Need To Face

Let me list a few numbers for everyone: 78 80 80 83 .

Those are the ages that Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be when the next president is sworn in, respectively. The next president we elect (assuming he or she serves two terms) could very well be the individual who selects four Supreme Court Justices.

Now, in a world where we’ve all seen how powerful the Supreme Court can be concerning the laws that impact all of us, who on the left wants a Republican such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz or Scott Walker potentially selecting four Supreme Court Justices?

Listen, I know quite a few people on the left aren’t huge Hillary Clinton supporters. I personally like her, but I understand that a lot of people don’t. Even as a supporter, I know she’s far from perfect – but there’s a harsh reality that Hillary haters on the left need to face.

First, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) isn’t going to run for president. I repeat, Elizabeth Warren is not going to run for president. The only way I think she might is if Clinton decided not to run. Considering that isn’t going to happen, I will repeat once again – Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run for president.

And if you don’t believe me, here she is – several different times – stating that she’s not going to run for president.

Besides, she’s best suited for the Senate. She’s a warrior who can get much more done fighting Republicans as a senator than she could as president. We need her voice in the Senate.

Then there are those people who want Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to run. Listen, I love Sanders, but he’s never going to be president – ever. He’ll be 75 in 2016, meaning that if he served eight years he’d be 83-years-old. Even if you get past his age, which many wouldn’t, he’s also a self-described socialist. If you really think this country is going to elect a self-described socialist to the White House, you really don’t know much about politics. Furthermore, Sanders is also best suited for the Senate – just like Elizabeth Warren.

Outside of those three, it’s too late in the game for anyone to sneak in and make a big name for themselves. If someone worth electing was planning to run, they would already be a big name with a lot of momentum. Liberals might not like hearing this, but it’s going to be Hillary Clinton or a Republican in 2016.

It really breaks down to these two options:

Either get on board with Hillary Clinton, even if she’s not everything you’ve dreamed of. – or –

Whine and cry because Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run, become apathetic, then let Republicans win the White House in 2016; likely replace four Supreme Court Justices over the following 8 years; start a war with Iran; ruin the planet; destroy our economy again; and undo all the good that’s been done these last 6 years.

Yes, it’s really that simple.

The question is, would you rather have a candidate who supports 60-70 percent of what you support, or almost none of it?

And spare me this, “I’ll vote for an independent because Americans need to move away from the two-party, corrupt system that’s ruining this country” nonsense. Look, if you want to waste a vote based on principles, that’s your choice. I’m telling all of those people right now, Republicans won‘t. In fact, Republicans are hoping that’s exactly what many liberals and independents will do.

The system is what it is and it’s unlikely to ever change. We’ve mostly been a two-party system since the founding of this nation, and definitely have been for the last century and a half. While some liberals will go off and pout in a corner, pointlessly carrying on about how their wasted vote is a “stance against a system they don’t support,” you know what Republicans will be doing? Voting for Republicans and destroying this country.

Republicans overwhelmingly won this past November, not because they were popular or ran the better candidates, but because liberals let them win. For every liberal who didn’t cast a vote, that was essentially a vote for a Republican. The GOP thrives on lower voter turnout and a disjointed Democratic party. Hell, they count on it.

So, while I understand that Hillary Clinton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I can promise you this much – she’s a hell of a lot better than any Republican alternative. So to all of you liberals who loathe her and feel that voting for her would be “selling out,” do you really want a Republican president potentially replacing four Supreme Court Justices?

It all goes back to one simple fact: If liberals don’t want to get behind whomever is the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, then a Republican is going to occupy the White House after President Obama. This isn’t me trying to sensationalize anything or using hyperbole, I’m just telling you the truth.

Even if we break this down to its simplest form, ignoring any mention of who is or isn’t running for president, then the question really comes down to: Who do you want potentially replacing four Supreme Court Justices in the next 8 to 10 years – a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights, health care and the separation of church and state, or a Republican who opposes all of that and then some?

By Allen Clifton, Forward Progressives

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Egypt Bans Gay Foreigners

Thinking of visiting Egypt’s majestic ancient pyramids? Think again or climb back in the closet because homophobic Egypt can now ban you from entering.

A local administrative court upheld a decision by the homophobic country’s Interior Ministry banning a Libyan student from returning to the Egypt on the grounds of his homosexuality.

The student, who was not named, was barred from returning to Cairo from abroad in 2008 and had appealed the decision hoping to continue his studies at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.

A judicial official says the ministry has the right to issue bans in such cases on grounds of protecting public interest, religious and social values. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.

Same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, but homosexuality is a social taboo and courts can prosecute gays on charges of debauchery and performing indecent public acts.
With this court ruling Egypt can now legally ban ANY gay individual from ANY country in the world from entering its borders which of course puts a strain on its relations with countries with out and proud diplomats and leaders.

From QueerLife South Africa

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To respond to California’s drought, we need to follow the facts

Beware simple reactions to complex issues. If anything has scarred the drought debate, it’s that.

People on all sides have sharpened their axes to grind on whatever they dislike, distorting data and reality and making it that much harder to find a fair solution. What’s needed is a cleansing moment of clarity.

For instance, critics of Big Agriculture like to say that farms use 80 percent of water, but sometimes gloss over that that number refers only to water for human purposes. Of California’s total water, about half is devoted to urban and agricultural use, while the other half goes to environmental purposes.

“The No. 1 user of water in California are trees in the Sierra Nevada,” says Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources. “Other uses include wild and scenic rivers, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, wildlife refuges and wetlands, and outflow to the ocean.”

You also hear claims that most of California’s rainfall “washes out to sea” because “liberal environmentalists” have prevented the state from building necessary dams and reservoirs.

“That’s not the least bit true,” Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water Foundation, told me. Those outflows keep ocean water from contaminating critical freshwater supplies such as the Delta, the complex tidal estuary that collects half of all the freshwater runoff in California. Very little water is actually dedicated to fish, a common misconception.

One big reason California hasn’t built a dam since 1979 is that every river already has at least one. “Building more requires going to more remote, expensive locations, which taxpayers, not environmentalists, have been unwilling to pay for,” said Fahlund, “and it would increase the state’s water yield by no more than 1 percent. We’re way past 1 percent in this drought.”

Others blame oil fracking and companies that bottle water for drawing down aquifers. Fracking operations across the state used 105 million gallons of water last year, figures show. Nestle used 80 million gallons. On average, the state gets 65 trillion gallons of water a year. Nestle and fracking operations are troubling, but halting them solves nothing.

Almonds are the new demon seed. One gallon to grow a single almond! But walnuts require five. So does broccoli. One orange takes 13 gallons, and an apple 18. The typical burger requires 660 gallons. A steak? 1,800. How far shall we take this?

According to California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman David Kranz, in previous droughts, critics condemned using water to grow “low-value crops.” Cotton was especially targeted. So what happened?

“Water prices went up and farmers responded,” Kranz said, “planting the highest value crops they could, like almonds, pistachios and walnuts.” Conversely, cotton acreage plummeted from more than 1 million in the 1990s to about 155,000 now.

The point is that California farmers have been very responsive to economic opportunities, but have also adapted to new technologies to be more efficient. Farmers produce 33 percent more in crops by weight, per unit of water, than they did 20 years ago.

“This isn’t about water per acre, it’s water per dollar value,” Parker said. Watering fields produces a crop that brings income. Watering your lawn doesn’t.

Critics claim that Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water reductions give farmers a free pass. Yet, last year they took a 30 percent cut in water supplied by water agencies and fallowed some 500,000 acres. This year, the Farm Bureau projects that fallowed acreage will double. For farmers, the drought started long before the governor’s edict.

All this says nothing about pricing water to more fairly reflect how precious it is, or about updating our shamefully antiquated way of measuring water resources, which makes enforcing water rights and groundwater rules enormously difficult.

But to start, let’s pipe down and put our pet peeves in proper context. Otherwise, we’ll never be able to ask the hard questions about accountability, who should make hard sacrifices and how much.

Bruce Maiman regularly fills in as a host on KFBK radio and lives in Rocklin. Contact him at brucemaiman@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Maimzini.

BY BRUCE MAIMAN, Sacramento Bee

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Robert Reich: Hillary’s values aren’t the problem

It’s a paradox.

Almost all the economic gains are still going to the top, leaving America’s vast middle class with stagnant wages and little or no job security. Two-thirds of Americans are working paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile, big money is taking over our democracy.

If there were ever a time for a bold Democratic voice on behalf of hardworking Americans, it is now.

Yet I don’t recall a time when the Democratic Party’s most prominent office holders sounded as meek. With the exception of Elizabeth Warren, they’re pussycats. If Paul Wellstone, Teddy Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, or Ann Richards were still with us, they’d be hollering.

The fire now is on the right, stoked by the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and a pocketful of hedge-fund billionaires.

Today’s Republican firebrands, beginning with Ted Cruz, blame the poor, blacks, Latinos, and immigrants for what’s been happening. They avoid any mention of wealth and power.

Which brings me to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In declaring her candidacy for President she said “The deck is stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”

Exactly the right words, but will she deliver?

Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility.

Some worry she’s been too compromised by big money – that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor.

But it’s wrong to assume great wealth, or even a social circle of the wealthy, is incompatible with a deep commitment to reform – as Teddy Roosevelt and his fifth-cousin Franklin clearly demonstrated.

The more relevant concern is her willingness to fight.

From Salon

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Rubio Vows to Block Twenty-first Century

Seizing upon an issue that could become the cornerstone of a possible 2016 Presidential campaign, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Thursday that he would do everything in his power to block the twenty-first century.

“A lot of folks in Washington believe that the twenty-first century is a forgone conclusion, and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rubio said. “I say, ‘Not on my watch.’ ”

Explaining his strategy, Rubio said that he and fellow Republicans were exploring ways to stop funding any items in the federal budget that pertain to the current century. “We cannot stop time, perhaps, but we can defund it,” he said.

In a blistering attack, he laid blame for the twenty-first century squarely on the shoulders of someone he accused of “using every trick in the book to make it happen”: President Obama.

“Much like Obamacare, the twenty-first century is something that the American people never asked for and do not want,” Rubio said.

BY ANDY BOROWITZ from the New Yorker

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CNN Reporter Grills Rand Paul: If You Believe In Freedom, How Can You Be Against Gay Marriage?

While many have noticed that Rand Paul is uncomfortable handling the tough questions during the interviews (he’s even admitted this), it’s clear that it isn’t going to get any easier for the Republican presidential candidate.

In a CNN State of the Union interview with Dana Bash, Paul got cornered for his decision to combine his libertarian and conservative views in order to appeal to a wider range of voters.

Recently, the Kentucky Senator had opposed same-sex marriage in order to gain the approval of conservative voters, and Bash wasn’t willing to let him get away with it. Reminding Paul that he’d told New Hampshire voters that he would “fight for your right to be left alone,” she asked:

“Why do you believe – just as a core principle as a libertarian – that people should be left alone, but not when it comes to their right to marry someone they love?”

Paul replied:

“I do believe people ought to be left alone. I don’t care who you are, what you do at home or who your friends are, where you hang out, what kind of music you listen to. What you do in your home is your own business. That’s always been who I am. I am a leave-me-alone kind of guy.”

Bash wasn’t willing to let Paul off that easily. She verified, “But not when it comes to marriage.”

Paul replied that those who wish to be in same-sex marriages can have “a contract” – because he wants to preserve the “religious connotation” of traditional marriages:

“Well, no, the states will end up making the decisions on these things. I think there’s a religious connotation to this. I also believe people ought to be treated fairly under the law. I see why if the marriage contract conveys certain things, that if you want to marry another woman, you can do that and have a contract. But the thing is that the religious connotation of marriage that has been going on for thousands of years, I still want to preserve that.

And you probably could have both. You could have both the traditional marriage, which I believe in and then you could also have the neutrality of the law that allows people to have contracts with another.”

VERA APRIL, Addicting Info

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UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Graham Fleming Resigns Under Protest After University Botches Harassement Investigation

Graham Fleming Resigns—Returns To Teaching After Biased, Flawed UC Investigation

 Fleming Says Charges Against Him by Fired Employee Were False, Then Mishandled by University Office of the President Janet Napolitano in Bungled Investigation

Graham Fleming

Graham Fleming

Berkeley—Expressing both his admiration for and his deep disappointment with the University of California at Berkeley,  Graham Fleming resigned his position as Vice Chancellor for Research following a deeply flawed University of California Office of the President (UCOP) investigation into allegations made against him by former UC Berkeley employee Diane Leite.

Fleming, one of the most successful Vice Chancellors for Research in UC-Berkeley history, resigned under protest. He strongly denies the charges of harassment made by Leite, as well as allegations by the University that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest because of his close relationship with her—even though he was ultimately responsible for her dismissal.  He will return to his tenured role as a professor of chemistry.

“I resign under protest, with profound objections to and great personal disappointment in the investigation into those allegations,” Fleming said in his resignation letter to Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks.  “This process violated fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and resulted in a report riddled with inconsistencies, mischaracterization of the facts, and distortion of witness statements, as well as the selective omission of relevant information.”

Fleming’s legal counsel provided evidence to UCOP, including sworn declarations from respected members of the University and business communities, that demonstrated that the findings against him were not supported, and that the investigation was biased.  Fleming’s counsel unsuccessfully sought retraction of the investigation report.  Efforts to obtain an independent and unbiased review of the investigation process and all the evidence were summarily rejected by University officials.  An urgent letter to UC General Counsel and Vice President-Legal Affairs Charles F. Robinson, sent on April 6 and requesting his immediate intervention in this matter, went un-responded to in UC President Janet Napolitano’s office.

“Because I was not afforded due process by UCOP, and because there is no independent mechanism to appeal a biased and unjust report, there is no way for me to clear my name.  I am concerned that my professional and personal reputations have been irreparably damaged,” Fleming said.  Despite the flawed investigation and its unsupported conclusions, Fleming continues to have positive feelings about the University he has served with distinction for the past 18 years.   “I still strongly believe in the University and its mission….I remain committed to serve the University, its students, and faculty, and to continue to build and enhance this great institution for future generations,” Fleming said.

“Unfortunately, given the current climate around issues of sexual harassment on college campuses,  the rights of the accused are often lost in the rush to judgment, with devastating impact,” said Sam Singer, Fleming’s spokesman. With no way to fight or appeal the findings, Fleming had no choice but to resign.

Singer said UCOP began its investigation of Fleming in 2014,  after ex-University Assistant Vice Chancellor Diane Leite made a series of inflammatory allegations, long after her termination, claiming sexual harassment by Fleming—charges that were never made at any time during her employment, or even at the time of her firing in May of 2012.   Given the circumstances, Fleming believes that Leite made these charges against him because he did not protect her job after she was involved in a pay hike scandal benefitting her subordinate, with whom she had had a sexual relationship.

Fleming notes that he and Leite had a long-standing and affectionate friendship, as well as a close professional partnership at Berkeley, for almost 11 years.   While Fleming acknowledges that their relationship was occasionally flirtatious and familiar, both he and Leite agree that at no time were the two ever sexually or romantically involved.

Fleming maintains that he was nothing more than supportive of Leite, and that she never gave him any indication that any of his actions toward her were unwelcome.  In fact, Leite did not even raise any issue of alleged sexual harassment until well after her firing, Singer said.

“The allegations of harassment are not true,” Fleming said. “I am hurt and disappointed that Diane Leite has fabricated these charges to harm me and the University.  She wanted me to protect her job after the details of her affair became public.  I ultimately had to terminate her, once it became clear that she had lost the confidence of many in the University community.

Fleming noted that during the course of his 35 year career mentoring, teaching, and working with women, this is the first and only complaint of alleged improper conduct he has ever received.

Fleming also vehemently denied the UCOP finding that he had a “conflict of interest” and that he improperly tried to protect Leite’s job during the investigation into her conduct.   He noted that he acted in full accordance with UC procedures, and with the guidance and at the direction of University counsel. He did not protect Leite and, in fact, he ultimately made and carried out the decision to terminate her.  Leite herself admitted that Fleming never promised or gave her any favors and never made any threats to her.

“The University has made egregious errors in its handling of my case, but there is no internal procedure for me to appeal this unjust decision, and no way to clear my name,” said Fleming.  “At this point, I have not ruled out legal action.”

The allegations by Leite against Fleming are suspect as she never made them at the time of her firing in 2012.   Fleming was not even told of these charges until May of 2014– two years after Leite had been fired– even though her allegations went back to 2008, Singer said.

“These facts alone should have given the University pause in evaluating the merits of Leite’s allegations,” Singer said.  Rather than undertake an independent and unbiased review of all the relevant facts as required by its own policies and procedures, the University found against Fleming with no due process, said Singer.

About Graham R. Fleming

Graham R. Fleming has been the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California-Berkeley since 2009.   A decisive and visionary leader, Professor Fleming used the Office of Research to mobilize the vast and diverse scholarly talents of the Berkeley campus to address major challenges confronting the world. Because of his leadership, the campus is now positioned at the forefront of research in many areas, including energy and climate research, the theory of computing and data science, neuroscience and precision medicine. He strengthened and invigorated the invaluable role that ORUs, museums, and field stations play in the campus research landscape. He led the effort to strengthen UC Berkeley’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. These efforts will continue to ensure the university’s research excellence in the years to come.

He transformed the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Among other things, he substantially expanded new funding opportunities, and successfully engaged external partners – federal and state agencies, industry, investors, foundations, private philanthropists, as well as other researchers – from around the world.

Professor Fleming created faculty teams that led successful proposal development for numerous new large-scale interdisciplinary institutes and centers that are fully supported by private philanthropy, including the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI), the Philomathia Center for energy and environmental research, the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Social Science D-lab, the Kavli EnergyNanoscience Institute, and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Convergence Research.

Professor Fleming also established many new campus-wide programs to support faculty research based on a merit-based competitive review process across a wide area of disciplines that have attracted significant, new private philanthropic support. Prominent examples include the Bakar Fellows Program, which supports innovative research by early career faculty at UC Berkeley with a special focus on projects that hold commercial promise; the Rose Hills Innovator Program for faculty who are who are developing highly innovative research programs in STEM fields; the Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation Women in Science Program, which supports education and research projects of leading female UC Berkeley faculty; and most recently the Signatures Innovation Fellows Program to support faculty interested in developing market-based applications in the data science area.

In addition, Professor Fleming engaged with a group of prominent alumni and entrepreneurs to enhance UC Berkeley’s innovation ecosystem which, with the close partnership of the College of Engineering and the Haas Business School, led to the creation of new accelerator space at Skydeck in downtown Berkeley in 2012.

Prior to his appointment at Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor Fleming served as Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director from 2005 through 2007, at the forefront of a major revolution in the biophysical sciences. Through joint appointments as a faculty member at UC Berkeley and founding director of both the Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), Professor Fleming played a critical role in proposing and planning the construction of Stanley Hall which became the Berkeley home of QB3. Professor Fleming also played a key role in bringing the Energy Biosciences Institute to UC Berkeley, to date the largest industry partnership in higher education.

Throughout his career, Professor Fleming has worked to re-shape the intersection of physical and biological sciences, while maintaining his own ground-breaking research into ultrafast chemical and biological processes, in particular, the primary steps of photosynthesis. He has published close to 500 scientific papers in his field.

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Clinton Begins The 2016 Campaign, And It’s A Toss-up

There’s already plenty of bad punditry regarding the chances of Hillary Clinton — who officially announced her candidacy on Sunday — to become the 45th president. You can find Democrats boasting about their “blue wall” in the Electoral College and how hard this will make it for any Republican to win. Or Republicans warning that the Democratic Party rarely wins three elections in a row.

Most of this analysis is flimsy. So is the commentary about the ups-and-downs in early swing state polls. And when you see some pundit declaring a minor misstep to be a “game changer,” find someone else to follow on Twitter.

The truth is that a general election win by Clinton — she’s very likely to become the Democratic nominee — is roughly a 50/50 proposition. And we’re not likely to learn a lot over the rest of 2015 to change that. Here’s why:

Incumbency and Obama’s Approval Rating. Start with the fact that there’s no incumbent president running. There actually haven’t been a lot of cases that precisely meet the circumstances voters will face next year: Barack Obama, assuming he serves out the rest of his term, will become just the fifth president limited by the 22nd Amendment from seeking an additional term in office.1 This is slightly different from the case where an incumbent voluntarily declines to run again.2 Still, the evidence we have from presidential elections and from other contexts like gubernatorial elections is that these cases default to being toss-ups.

Clinton’s chances will be affected by Obama’s popularity as he exits office. The relationship between the popularity of the previous president and the performance of the new nominee from his party isn’t perfect — Al Gore (narrowly) lost in 2000 despite Bill Clinton’s popularity, for example — but it certainly matters some, especially given that Clinton served in Obama’s cabinet.

However, Obama currently has an approval rating of about 45 percent, and a favorability rating of 48 percent — about average, in other words. If those numbers decline into the low 40s or climb into the 50s, they could matter more, producing either a “hangover effect” or “halo effect” for Clinton. But don’t bet on this: Obama’s approval ratings have been extraordinarily stubborn for most of his presidency, rarely deviating much from the mid-40s.

The Economy. I’d warn against simplistic economic “fundamentalism,” the notion that the economy is pretty much the only thing that matters. We’ll save the technical discussion for later, but because of a problem known as overfitting, statistical models that claim to make remarkably precise predictions about election outcomes from economic variables alone (without looking at polls) have a mediocre track record.

Still, the economy will matter a lot to voters, and a better economy will help Clinton, the candidate from the incumbent party. As Byron York points out, you should be wary of claims that 2016 will be a “foreign policy election.”3

Like Obama’s approval ratings, however, the performance of the American economy has been about average recently. GDP grew by 2.4 percent in 2014, adjusted for inflation, close to the historical average. Furthermore, we know relatively little about what economic growth will look like a year from now, when the general election campaign heats up. Historically, economists have shown almost no ability to predict the rate of economic growth more than six months in advance.

The Electoral College And The “Emerging Democratic Majority.” What about that “blue wall” — the supposed advantage that Democrats hold in the Electoral College?

Mostly, the “blue wall” was the effect of Obama’s success in 2008 and 2012, not the cause of it. If the economy had collapsed in the summer of 2012, Obama would probably have lost the election, and most of those blue states would have turned red.

It’s true that in both elections, the “tipping-point state” (in both years it was Colorado) was slightly more Democratic than the country as a whole. That implies Obama would have won if the popular vote had been very close. But it would have had to be very close indeed — within a percentage point or two.

That advantage is small enough that it might have been the result of circumstances peculiar to Obama and his campaign. If Clinton has an ever-so-slightly different coalition — say more working-class whites vote for her but fewer African-Americans — this small advantage could evaporate or reverse itself. (The Electoral College favored Republicans as recently as 2000, after all.) The same might be true if she isn’t as effective as Obama at mobilizing voters in swing states.

Another theory — the so-called “Emerging Democratic Majority” — holds that demographic trends favor the Democratic Party. We’ll have a lot more to say about this theory between now and next November, but it’s probably dubious too.4 As Sean Trende has pointed out, it relies on a selective reading of the evidence — emphasizing 2012, 2008 and 2006 but ignoring 2014, 2010, and 2004. Perhaps more important, predictions made on the premise of “emerging” majorities have a miserable track record: Republicans were bragging about their “permanent” majority in 2004, for instance, only to get their butts kicked in 2006 and 2008.

Clinton and the Republican Candidates. The factors I’ve described so far are sometimes referred to as the “fundamentals” — those things that matter regardless of the candidates and their campaigns. The closer these basic factors are, the more difference the candidates could make.5

Nonetheless, the candidates matter less in U.S. presidential elections than in just about any other type of electoral contest. The reason is that the arduous, 50-state nomination process (and the “invisible primary” before it) screens out most candidates who would be huge liabilities to their party. An underqualified or unvetted or politically extreme or profoundly unpopular candidate might win one primary or caucus, but voters and the political parties will move to stop him in his tracks after that, as Republicans did to Newt Gingrich in 2012.

Consider the three measurable factors that our U.S. Senate model uses to evaluate candidates. One of them is their qualifications on a 4-point scale as measured by their highest elected office, where the highest rating goes to those candidates previously elected as governors or senators. Almost all presidential candidates — including Hillary Clinton and the viable Republican candidates this cycle — rate as extremely well qualified by that standard.

Another factor is fundraising, which is important unto itself, but also as a proxy for a candidate’s organizational strength. We’re not breaking any news here, but Clinton and the Republican nominee are going to raise oodles of money — probably in excess of $1 billion each, beyond what Obama and Mitt Romney did in 2012. That’s well past the point of diminishing returns. The candidates may struggle to make good use of all the money they’ve raised, in fact, and if one brings in 10 or 20 percent more than the other, it’s not likely to matter very much at the margin.

The third factor is a candidate’s ideology as measured on a left-right scale. “Extreme” candidates (like Barry Goldwater) suffer an electoral penalty, while moderate ones (like Dwight Eisenhower) usually perform well.

But nominees like Goldwater (or George McGovern) are rare. So are those like Eisenhower, for that matter. Usually a party nominates a candidate closer to the median of its voters and elected officials.

That’s part of why Clinton is such a safe bet to be the Democratic nominee. Her political positions are essentially those of a “generic Democrat.” She’s neither a true centrist, nor extremely far to the left, so she’s not especially vulnerable to a challenge from either flank of her party.

Republicans have a choice between more moderate and more conservative candidates. Jeb Bush’s positions might be just moderate enough to give Republicans a slight advantage next November, other factors held constant, while Scott Walker’s might be conservative enough that they could harm Republicans.

But the positions of the Republican candidates are likely to converge toward one another. Bush, in the primaries, will seek to prove his conservative credentials, while Walker, should he become the frontrunner after the first few primaries and caucuses, will work to reassure GOP elites that he’s an “electable” alternative and not the next Goldwater. By next November, the difference might boil down to the equivalent of couple of percentage points on the general-election ballot. It could matter in an a close election, but not one where the fundamentals have shifted strongly to one party by then.

Finally we can look at what the polls say right now. If you’re going to do this, you should take the polls with whole tablespoons full of salt. And it’s probably best to look at the favorability ratings for each candidate rather than head-to-head polls, since favorability polls allow voters to say they don’t know enough about the candidates to have formulated an opinion. (Head-to-head polls taken this far out from the election will tend to favor candidates like Clinton with strong name recognition, by contrast.)

In the chart below, I’ve compiled favorability rating averages for each candidate based on polls conducted since Jan. 1.6 The chart plots the candidates in two dimensions: the vertical axis indicates how popular the candidate is (how much the candidate’s favorable rating exceeds his or her unfavorable rating) while the horizontal axis plots how well-known the candidate is.

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Hillary Clinton is extremely well-known, but her favorability ratings are now only break-even: 46 percent favorable and 45 percent unfavorable. These are nearly identical to President Obama’s ratings, which are 48 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.

Clinton’s ratings are down sharply from her tenure as Secretary of State. However, as we’ve been warning Democrats for a long time, a lot of this was predictable. Clinton’s numbers have often been about break-even when she’s been a highly partisan figure — during the early stages of the 2008 campaign, for example — and better only when she’s been above the fray of day-to-day partisan politics.

Break-even favorability ratings don’t look so bad, however, when compared to some of the alternatives. Vice President Biden’s are net-negative, for instance. On the Republican side, Walker and Marco Rubio aren’t all that well-known yet, but their ratings are also about break-even. Chris Christie’s are terrible (28 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable). Jeb Bush’s are quite poor too. His unfavorable rating is already as high as Clinton’s, 45 percent, but his favorable rating is just 31 percent.7

Clinton is so well-known, in fact, that it’s almost as if voters are dispensing with all the formalities and evaluating her as they might when she’s on the ballot next November. About half of them would like to see her become president and about half of them wouldn’t. Get ready for an extremely competitive election.

Nate Silver, 538Politics

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SC Restaurant Owner Refuses To Serve Blacks, Cites Religious Beliefs

In South Carolina, a BBQ restaurant owner claimed that he was within his rights to refuse service to blacks based on his religious beliefs. In the case brought before the Supreme Court, Maurice Bessinger stated that his religion required him to keep black people from eating in his restaurant, although he was perfectly OK with taking their money, so long as they ordered their food to-go.

The attorney representing the petitioners suing Piggie Park also addressed in court the “First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him” to deny service to black customers.

“I’m just a fair man. I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years.”

And now for you who actually took the time to read the story instead of basing your outrage solely off a headline before sharing with an ALL CAPS blurb of “SEE? I TOLD YOU THE SOUTH WAS FULL OF RACISTS!!!”, this case was heard by the Supreme Court in 1968.

50 years ago, Mr. Bessinger used a similar argument as Hobby Lobby to say that despite laws outlawing segregation, his religious beliefs trumped federal law under the 1st Amendment. Maurice Bessinger also lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision of 8-0. Like Hobby Lobby, Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ wanted to use the 1st Amendment in order to claim freedom of religion to impose the out of touch views of the owner on others. Not only content to discriminate against blacks at his own establishments, Maurice Bessinger also then used his influence against another restaurant owner who integrated his business. Oh yeah, and then he ran for office, lost and blamed intellectuals and liberals. Sound familiar?

In 1963, Bessinger became angry at a Spartanburg restaurant owner who had integrated his restaurant. Bessinger met with other restaurant owners to force the man to resign as president of the S.C. Restaurant Association — a group he later led as president.

In 1964, Bessinger ran for the S.C. House. He lost by about 100 votes and blamed his defeat on what he called the “Shandon Mafia” – an “exclusive elite section of Columbia” that had “large numbers of out-of-staters, college professors, government officials and other liberals,” according to his biography. Even Mr. Bessinger’s own brother turned on him when the NAACP threatened a boycott after it was revealed that he was distributing pro-slavery literature in his restaurants, causing almost every grocery chain, including Wal-Mart, to yank his product from the shelves. Yet, he stood by his racism even though it cost him almost 98 percent of his business.

Maurice Bessinger died earlier this year and his children took over the restaurant chain in 2010 with no interest in using the business to engage in the angry, racial politics of their father. The Confederate pictures and the pro-slavery literature are now gone, and the Stars and Bars that used to fly over each Piggie Park location have been taken down as well.

Like Maurice Bessinger, Hobby Lobby represents another, less blatant generation of people who still want to shove their prejudices and ignorance down the throats of others behind the guise of “religious freedom.” Fortunately, just as Mr. Bessinger and his racism shuffled off this mortal coil and into the dustbin history, so will the owners of Hobby Lobby and their religious bigotry.

By the way, if you ever find yourself in the Columbia, SC area, do stop in and try some BBQ at Piggie Park, and let me know how it was. I passed on multiple opportunities to eat there in my many journeys throughout the South because of the blatant racism of their now deceased owner. According to my mother, it’s damn good stuff, even if it is South Carolina style, mustard-based sauce. I prefer East Carolina, vinegar-based sauce, just in case you were wondering.

Manny Schewitz, Forward Progressives

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Cotton sees bombing Iran as no big deal

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has made no real effort to hide his support for a military confrontation with Iran. But in an interview yesterday on the Family Research Council’s radio show, the right-wing freshman went a little further, suggesting bombing Iran would be quick and simple.

Indeed, as BuzzFeed’s report noted, Cotton argued that U.S. strikes in Iran would go much smoother than the invasion of Iraq “and would instead be similar to 1999’s Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq ordered by President Bill Clinton.”
“Even if military action were required – and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy – the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case,” Cotton said.

“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days [of] air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior.”

For the record, the Arkansas Republican did not use the word “cakewalk” or assure listeners that we’d be “greeted as liberators.”

Look, we’ve seen this play before, and we have a pretty good idea how it turns out. When a right-wing neoconservative tells Americans that we can launch a new military offensive in the Middle East, it won’t last long, and the whole thing will greatly improve our national security interests, there’s reason for some skepticism.

Tom Cotton – the guy who told voters last year that ISIS and Mexican drug cartels might team up to attack Arkansans – wants to bomb Iran, so he’s telling the public how easy it would be.

What the senator didn’t talk about yesterday is what happens after the bombs fall – or even what transpires when Iran shoots back during the campaign. Are we to believe Tehran would just accept the attack and move on?

Similarly, Cotton neglected to talk about the broader consequences of an offensive, including the likelihood that airstrikes would end up accelerating Iran’s nuclear ambitions going forward.

There’s also the inconvenient detail that the Bush/Cheney administration weighed a military option against Iran, but it concluded that “a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a bad idea – and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.”

But don’t worry, America, Tom Cotton thinks this would all be easy and we could drop our bombs without consequence. What could possibly go wrong?

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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Obama to Call for End to ‘Conversion’ Therapies for Gay and Transgender Youth

A 17-year-old transgender youth, Leelah Alcorn, stunned her friends and a vast Internet audience in December when she threw herself in front of a tractor-trailer after writing in an online suicide note that religious therapists had tried to convert her back to being a boy.

In response, President Obama is calling for an end to such therapies aimed at “repairing” gay, lesbian and transgender youth. His decision on the issue is the latest example of his continuing embrace of gay rights.

In a statement that was posted on Wednesday evening alongside a WhiteHouse.gov petition begun in honor of Ms. Alcorn, Mr. Obama condemned the practice, sometimes called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, which is supported by some socially conservative organizations and religious doctors.

The petition has received more than 120,000 signatures in three months.

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth,” the statement, written by Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, says. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Jarrett said Mr. Obama had been moved by the story of Ms. Alcorn’s suicide. But she said the problem went far beyond Ms. Alcorn.

“It was tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has a lot of company,” Ms. Jarrett said. “It’s not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”

Mr. Obama will not explicitly call for a federal law banning therapists from using such therapies on their patients, but he is open to conversations with lawmakers in both parties, White House officials said on Wednesday. Instead, he will throw his support behind the efforts to ban the practice at the state level.

Mr. Obama began his political life opposed to gay marriage and accepting of limits on gays’ serving in the military. But he now supports same-sex marriage and has sought greater equality of treatment for gay men and lesbians in the government and the private work force. In his first term, he pushed the Pentagon to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that had kept gay service members from serving openly.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s top aides also heralded new protections for gay federal workers that went into effect this week. Last summer, Mr. Obama issued executive orders to ban discrimination on the basis of gender by federal contractors.

Officials also announced the creation of an “all-gender restroom” in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where many of the White House staff members work, to provide an additional option for transgender individuals who are not comfortable using either the men’s or women’s restrooms.

Therapists who advocate the use of the gender identity therapies promote them as a way of helping gay people change their sexual orientation. Those therapists reject claims that sexual orientation or identity is unchangeable and argue that gay or transgender identities should be reversed so that people can embrace their “authentic” heterosexual selves.

The Narth Institute, an organization that advocates the therapies, says on its website that “numerous examples exist of people who have successfully modified their sexual behavior, identity, and arousal or fantasies.”

The fight against such therapies has become more urgent in recent years as gay rights organizations have sought to discredit the practice. California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have banned therapists from offering the treatment to minors. Similar legislation was introduced in 18 states this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group that tracks legislation on the issue.

Challenges to the laws in New Jersey and California were rejected by federal appeals court judges in 2013 and 2014, officials at the Human Rights Campaign said.

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” the group said in a statement.

In Ms. Jarrett’s letter, which was posted on WhiteHouse.gov, the White House says that stopping the gender identity therapies will help make the United States a more welcoming place for gay people.

“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember,” the statement says. “Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”

David Pickup, a licensed family therapist in California and Texas, said in an interview on Wednesday that the president and gay rights advocates were purposely misconstruing the work that he and others do. He said that minors should never be forced into therapy, but he insisted that being gay was often brought about by serious emotional problems or sexual abuse.

“We believe that change is still possible. People go to therapy because they can change, because it really does work,” Mr. Pickup said. “We help people grow into their authentic selves.”

Mr. Pickup said he and others were actively lobbying against the proposed state bans, and he urged Mr. Obama to “wake up and understand the rights of people who he doesn’t know anything about and need his help and need his compassion.”

Michael D. Shear, NY Times

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Carly Fiorina blames environmentalists for California drought

“California is a classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology. It’s a tragedy.”

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO, a Republican, ran for a California Senate seat in 2010 against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and lost. Now, the state is facing a devastating drought in its fourth year. On Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to restrict water usage. The directive orders California’s State Water Resources Control Board — which supplies 90 percent of Californians with water, according to The New York Times — to reduce its supply by 25 percent.

Republicans have blamed California’s protections for endangered species for the drought. In December, the House passed a bill to pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California, a move that environmentalists said would harm endangered fish species. The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill.

“That’s the tragedy of California, because of liberal environmentalists’ insistence — despite the fact that California has suffered from droughts for millennia, liberal environmentalists have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled,” Fiorina said.

“There is a man-made lack of water in California — and Washington manages the water for the farmers,” she added.

When asked about the drought on Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration does not have any policy changes to share, and he listed steps that President Barack Obama has taken to offer relief to the state, such as sending $60 million to California food banks and $15 million for farmers and ranchers.

“We’re going to continue to be in touch with California,” Earnest said at the daily press briefing.

Fiorina describes Obama’s assistance to Californians a little differently.

“President Obama goes out to California a little over a year ago, calls it a tragedy of global warming and hands out money to a food bank,” she said. “This is all about politics and policy, and it is liberal environmentalists who have brought us this tragedy.”

By , Politico

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Ted Cruz Isn’t an Idiot, He’s Delusional and That’s Far More Dangerous

Since Ted Cruz first announced his candidacy, much has been made of his chances of winning, his arrogance and his extreme conservative views. But most of the controversy over his candidacy centers on his lying.

It is no surprise to any of us that politicians lie. We generally assume they stretch the truth to get elected, to denigrate their political foes, and to bolster their images. But Cruz may just represent one of the biggest liars in recent history. In fact, he may be a whole new form of political liar.

The Daily Beast reports that, “Cruz’s Politifact track record for publicly asserted falsehoods is the second-highest among front-runners, totaling 56 percent of all statements they’ve looked at.” And Matthew Rozsa tell us that “Googling ‘Ted Cruz lies’ pulls back an astonishing 7,890,000 results, and on Twitter, the two phrases are basically synonymous.”

The trouble with this angle on Cruz’s misstatements is that it presumes that Cruz is, in fact, lying. But lying depends on the liar knowing that what he is saying is false. Cruz shows no signs of such awareness. As Ann Marie Cox points out in her survey of Cruz’s lies, there’s more going on here than just a politician’s twisting of the truth or a partisan spin on data. She wonders whether it is time to take seriously the idea that he really believes what he is saying. “There are objective falsehoods that show Cruz could just be looking at a different set of data. Other, more telling whoppers show that Cruz isn’t just looking at different data, he’s living in a different universe.”

That different universe is Cruz’s world of misinformation. He doesn’t lie because lying would require that he actually know the truth. And that is what makes Cruz an even greater threat to the health of our democracy than all of his lies put together. Cruz represents a turn in GOP politics where political beliefs operate more like religious fervor than reasoned inference.

Researchers have long worried about the connections between democracy and public knowledge. For obvious reasons, an informed electorate is a key part of a strong and effective democracy. Voters need to have relevant facts in order to make good choices at the polls. But research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler explains that there is a vast difference between an uninformed public and a misinformed one. An uninformed public is ignorant, but a misinformed one is delusional—and that’s far more dangerous.

This distinction is essential. An uninformed voter can have contact with the truth and learn from it, but a misinformed one already believes an idea that’s wrong. Think of Cruz’s delusional comments about climate change, the number of IRS agents, and crime rates rising in areas with stricter gun control laws. Each of these examples indicates a whole new level of political “lying,” since each represents fiercely held beliefs with no basis in fact. This is not a case of simple stupidity. It’s a case of deeply believing something that’s just wrong.

If you care about truth and think it should influence political decisions, this is highly disturbing. But it gets worse. Nyhan and Reifler further suggest that those who hold misinformed beliefs are even less likely to learn from correcting information than those who have no clue.

That means that for those who think like Cruz, there is virtually no amount of data, reality checks or facts that can persuade the deluded citizen to give up his false ideas. This is the mindset of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and many on the far right. Nyhan and Reifler refer to this as “motivated reasoning.” What they find is that people who are attached to falsehoods perceive any correcting information as partisan and flawed. So conservatives don’t perceive science as information. To them, it’s just a liberal agenda. In other words, they don’t believe the truth.

Not only do those with false beliefs practice “motivated reasoning,” we also now know that any challenge to their beliefs is likely to backfire. Nyhan and Reifler found that when conservatives who thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were exposed to news stories correcting that view, “the correction backfired.” That is, “conservatives who received a correction telling them that Iraq did not have WMDs were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD than those in the control condition.”

Exposure to the truth not only failed to adjust their views to reality, it actually made them believe in their false ideas even more strongly. This is why Cruz’s candidacy is really scary. This is not a case of a politician strategically using lies to advance a career; his whole career is dedicated to advancing a political platform built on a delusional view of the world. The catch is that to those who think like Cruz it isn’t delusional, it makes perfect sense.

Cruz’s misbeliefs are part of a longer story of how the GOP has come to be redefined by a vocal, aggressive, highly visible faction that has decided that any facts that contradict their worldview are merely liberal bias. This is what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” Think back to the lies of Paul Ryan at the 2012 RNC or to Anderson Cooper’s confrontation with Michele Bachmann over her penchant for lying. Recall also the research showing that viewers of Fox News actually know less about the world than people who watch no news of any kind.

But really if we want to peg the rise of a misinformed GOP on a politician we would have to start with the George W. Bush administration.

Back in 2008, we learned the Bush administration made 935 false statements in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Yet today, despite multiple bipartisan reports confirming no WMDs were found, a significant faction of the U.S. public still cling tenaciously to the idea that the war there was just. A recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that 40 percent of US citizens still think there were WMDs in Iraq.

But falsehoods are only the tip of the iceberg. The bigger problem is the emotional attachment to the falsehoods. The new GOP is increasingly connected to a sense of constant threat and a persistent worry that the nation and its values are under attack. When we combine a great distortion of reality with a party politics based on fear and extremism, we threaten the viability of a functional political system. That, of course, was exactly what Cruz did when he led the government shutdown of 2013.

Democrats, too, hold dear to their beliefs. It’s part of human nature to want to resist information that contradicts with the way we see the world. Psychologists call the practice confirmation bias, and define it as the tendency to interpret information in ways that support our preconceptions. And yet, we don’t all resist correction of our false beliefs to the same degree.

Research suggests there is a vast difference between a liberal’s ability to accept a new take on the world, and a conservative’s. To put it simply, part of what it means to be liberal is to be open-minded. That means liberals are open to information that might change a perception. In contrast, conservatives are defined as resisting change and as emotionally attaching more strongly to their beliefs. What we find with Tea Party politics, though, is a far more extremist version of Republican beliefs than we have ever seen before. Michael Grunwald of Time calls the new GOP an example of “reality-defying extremism and chronic obstructionism and borderline surrealism.”

The poster boy for this extremist, reality-bending faction of the party is Ted Cruz. As the Washington Post reports, “Cruz isn’t [just] running for president—he’s running to be the leader of a new GOP.” And that’s no lie.

 

Sophia McClennen, Alternet

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California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries

PHOTO: The Westlands Water district, the largest in the United States, is photographed from above, showing the extent of fallowed land due to the drought in Central Valley, Calif., July 5, 2014.

When California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water conservation measures for the first time in state history last week, agriculture, the state’s biggest water user, was largely exempted from the new rules, an omission that quickly drew criticism even among fans of the measure.

“It is striking that his executive order refines restrictions to the urban sector that consumes only 20 percent of California’s water and leaves the agricultural sector, which consumes 80 percent of the water, untouched at least for the moment,” said Mark Hertsgaard, an environmental journalist and author who lives in San Francisco. “You can’t leave 80 percent of the problem off the table.”

Regarding agriculture, Brown’s executive order mandated that irrigation districts develop drought management plans and directed the State Water Resources Control Board to step up efforts to curtail wasteful water practices in agricultural fields. The state also passed its first groundwater law last year, aimed at limiting the amount of groundwater farmers can drill for. But critics argue the law doesn’t call for sustainability until the 2040s, and scientists aren’t sure if ground water supplies can last that long.

“The order does not deal with the fact that farmers are accelerating the planting of water-intensive crops, primarily for export, at the same time residents are being required to reduce their water by 25 percent,” said Jonas Minton, a water policy adviser for the Planning and Conservation League and a former state water official.

Minton argued the order should have included restrictions on planting water-intensive crops and more regulations for groundwater drilling.

“People are willing to sacrifice when they believe it is a shared sacrifice,” Minton said.

California Agriculture Too Big to Fail?

PHOTO: A farmer tends to his sheep in Wasco, Calif. on July 2, 2014.
California’s agricultural industry is the largest in the country, receiving $46.4 billion for its output in 2013, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Although the industry consumes 80 percent of the state’s water supply, it accounts for only 2 percent of the state economy, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. California agriculture is also responsible for 69 percent of the nation’s commercially available fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to significant parts of the world,” Brown told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, where he defended the measures.

PHOTO: A crew of workers weeds a tomato field in Huron, Calif. on July 1, 2014.

The Golden State’s agricultural industry has suffered dramatically under the drought, which cost the industry $1.5 billion in 2014, according to a University of California Davis study. Last year alone, farmers idled more than 400,000 acres of farmland amid abnormally dry conditions, the study added. Farmers primarily rely on the state’s snowpack to irrigate their crops, and it has been reduced to just 8 percent of its historic average.

Danny Merkley, the director of water resources at the California Farm Bureau Federation, argued that California farmers have done more to address water conservation than the government, pointing to a 43 percent increase in crop production per acre-foot of water over the last 40 years and the billions of dollars the industry spent on more efficient irrigation systems.

PHOTO: Beau BJ Diedrich starts up his pump to get water to his almond orchards in Cantua Creek, Calif. on July 1, 2014.
While many farmers are pursuing less-water-intensive irrigation practices, such as drip irrigation, more than 40 percent of the state’s irrigated acreage uses flood irrigation, a technique widely criticized for its inefficiency.

Another element critics felt was missing from the governor’s executive order was addressing the water pricing system in California. Critics argue the price of water should be raised to reflect the drought situation.

The Fracking Factor

PHOTO: Pump jacks are seen at dawn in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, Calif.
In addition to agriculture, many environmentalists have called on the governor to include the oil industry in the new water use restrictions. Hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves injecting large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground and that critics argue can result in contaminated ground water, is widespread in California, with 84,000 wells spread out across the state as of 2014.

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing can point to the $24 billion in tax revenue the industry is expected to bring the state over the next year, according to a UC Davis study, and to the relatively low amounts of water the California wells are forced to use, for geological reasons, in comparison to other states, according to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

However, in February, a report released by state regulators found that thousands of hydraulic fracturing wells were in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act by illegally injecting toxic fluids into protected aquifers, prompting the governor to shut down 12 wells in the Central Valley that the state said were leaking carcinogens at a rate 700 times higher than federal standards allow.

“It was shocking, especially in the midst of our drought,” said Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch. “The groundwater is our savings account for water in California and not only were we over-drafting it, but polluting it with toxic chemicals.”

Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said nobody’s groundwater is being contaminated, adding that the question of whether or not contaminants are being disposed of in protected California aquifers turns on a discrepancy between the state and EPA definitions of aquifers appropriate for disposal wells.

“The state did not evolve its permitting to keep pace with the evolution of oil production activities,” he said. “Now, we’re at the end of the [process of the] state and the EPA working through the deficiencies to come up with a plan to correct it.”

Two days before announcing his executive order, Brown rejected a legal petition of more than 100,000 signatures to place a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

“He’s been a world-class leader on climate change, but he has not banned fracking,” Hertsgaard said of Brown. “My daughter and the other kids are going to need that groundwater.”

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The Pentagon’s $10-billion bet gone bad

Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology.

It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress. So powerful it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country.

If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar — SBX for short — would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them.

Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys.

SBX “represents a capability that is unmatched,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency told a Senate subcommittee in 2007.

In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2-billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

Although it can powerfully magnify distant objects, its field of vision is so narrow that it would be of little use against what experts consider the likeliest attack: a stream of missiles interspersed with decoys.

SBX was supposed to be operational by 2005. Instead, it spends most of the year mothballed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Airborne Laser

The concept: A fleet of Boeing 747s, each modified to fire an infrared chemical laser through a 5-foot-long telescope in its nose. The laser would incinerate enemy missiles shortly after launch, before they could release decoys that might fool U.S. radar.

Major contractors: Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Early optimism: “We are building forces of good to defeat the force of evil. And in that vein today we are taking a major step to give the American people their first ‘Light Saber.’” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Oct. 27, 2006.

Problems: Because of the laser’s limited range, each 747 would have had to fly near or within an adversary’s borders, leaving it vulnerable to antiaircraft missiles. To operate at a safer distance, the laser would have had to be 20 to 30 times more powerful. And the laser’s potassium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide fuel posed severe safety risks to the crew.

Disappointment: “I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense … who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed.”
— Robert M. Gates, then-secretary of Defense, May 20, 2009.

Status: Killed in 2012.

Cost: $5.3 billion.

Kinetic Energy Interceptor

The concept: The fastest U.S. rocket-interceptor, to be fired from land or Navy ships at enemy missiles during their early “boost” phase.

Major contractors: Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co.

Early optimism: “That high acceleration with the mobile capability of Kinetic Energy Interceptor is very, very attractive.” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, April 7, 2005.

Problems: Extending 40 feet, the KEI would have been longer than anything ever launched from a modern Navy ship. To carry it, Navy vessels would have had to be retrofitted at a cost of billions of dollars. And the interceptor’s range was too limited to allow it to be land-based. It would have had to be positioned so close to its target that it would be vulnerable to attack.

Disappointment: “No matter how successful tests might one day have been, the system would have had negligible utility.” — National Academy of Sciences review panel, Dec. 31, 2012.

Status: Killed in 2009.

Cost: $1.7 billion.

Multiple Kill Vehicle

The concept: A “bandolier” of eight to 20 miniature interceptors that would destroy missiles and decoys.

Major contractors: Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin.

Early optimism: “The Multiple Kill Vehicle is a transformational program adding volume kill capability to the ballistic missile defense system as early as 2013.” — U.S. Missile Defense Agency news release, July 19, 2006.

Problems: The technical challenge of creating and launching tiny “kill vehicles” that could find and destroy far heavier warheads in space proved insurmountable. Among many other obstacles, existing ground-based rockets would have had to be retrofitted or replaced. The concept never reached the stage where a test flight could be conducted.

Disappointment: “To more effectively hedge against future threats, we propose to … terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle … in lieu of more operationally efficient alternative technology architectures.” — Patrick J. O’Reilly, then-director of the Missile Defense Agency, May 21, 2009.

Status: Shelved in 2009.

Cost: $700 million.

Sea-Based X-Band Radar

The concept: A floating radar powerful enough to detect and track long-range missiles and distinguish enemy warheads from decoys.

Major contractors: Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co.

Early optimism: “It is the most powerful radar of its kind in the world and will provide … a highly advanced detection and discrimination capability.” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, May 10, 2006.

Problems: The radar’s field of vision is so narrow that it could not reliably track a sequence of incoming missiles. Its sensitive instrumentation is prone to corrosion at sea, and it needs millions of dollars in fuel to operate for even short periods.

Disappointment: ”Just how this was going to fit into the [missile defense] system — I don’t think anybody paid much attention to that.… SBX was designed for a mission other than that required.” — Radar specialist David K. Barton.

Status: Downgraded to “limited test support status.” It sat idle in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for more than eight months in 2013.

Cost: $2.2 billion.

Sources: Statements posted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.; transcripts of congressional testimony; a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored report, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” Dec. 31, 2012; interviews with missile defense specialists.

The project not only wasted taxpayer money but left a hole in the nation’s defenses. The money spent on it could have gone toward land-based radars with a greater capability to track long-range missiles, according to experts who have studied the issue.

Expensive missteps have become a trademark of the Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon charged with protecting U.S. troops and ships and the American homeland.

Over the last decade, the agency has sunk nearly $10 billion into SBX and three other programs that had to be killed or sidelined after they proved unworkable, The Times found.

“You can spend an awful lot of money and end up with nothing,” said Mike Corbett, a retired Air Force colonel who oversaw the agency’s contracting for weapons systems from 2006 to 2009. “MDA spent billions and billions on these programs that didn’t lead anywhere.”

The four ill-fated programs were all intended to address a key vulnerability in U.S. defenses: If an enemy launched decoys along with real missiles, U.S. radars could be fooled, causing rocket-interceptors to be fired at the wrong objects — and increasing the risk that actual warheads would slip through.

In addition to SBX, the programs were:

• The Airborne Laser, envisioned as a fleet of converted Boeing 747s that would fire laser beams to destroy enemy missiles soon after launch, before they could release decoys.

It turned out that the lasers could not be fired over sufficient distances, so the planes would have to fly within or near an enemy’s borders continuously. That would leave the 747s all but defenseless against antiaircraft missiles. The program was canceled in 2012, after a decade of testing.

The cost: $5.3 billion.

• The Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a rocket designed to be fired from land or sea to destroy enemy missiles during their early stage of flight. The interceptor was too long to fit on Navy ships, and on land, it would have to be positioned so close to its target that it would be vulnerable to attack. The program was killed in 2009, after six years of development.

The cost: $1.7 billion.

• The Multiple Kill Vehicle, a cluster of miniature interceptors that would destroy enemy missiles along with any decoys. In 2007 and 2008, the Missile Defense Agency trumpeted it as a “transformational program” and a cost-effective “force multiplier.” After four years of development, the agency’s contractors had not conducted a single test flight, and the program was shelved.

The cost: nearly $700 million.

These expensive flops stem in part from a climate of anxiety after Sept. 11, 2001, heightened by warnings from defense hawks that North Korea and Iran were close to developing long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States.

President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered an urgent effort to field a homeland missile defense system within two years. In their rush to make that deadline, Missile Defense Agency officials latched onto exotic, unproven concepts without doing a rigorous analysis of their cost and feasibility.

Members of Congress whose states and districts benefited from the spending tenaciously defended the programs, even after their deficiencies became evident.

These conclusions emerge from a review of thousands of pages of expert reports, congressional testimony and other government records, along with interviews with dozens of aerospace and military affairs specialists.

“The management of the organization is one of technologists in their hobby shop,” said L. David Montague, a former president of missile systems for Lockheed Corp. and co-chairman of a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored review of the agency.“They don’t know the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make something work.”

This leads, he said, to programs that “defy the limits of physics and economic logic.”

Of the SBX radar, Montague said: “It should never have been built.”

Retired Air Force Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command and a member of the National Academy panel, said the agency’s blunders reflected a failure to analyze alternatives or seek independent cost estimates.

“They are totally off in la-la land,” Habiger said.

Senior officials who promoted the four programs defend their actions as having helped to create a new missile defense “architecture.” Regarding SBX, they said it was much less expensive than a network of land-based radars and could be put in place more rapidly.

Henry A. Obering III, a retired director of the Missile Defense Agency, said any unfulfilled expectations for SBX and the other projects were the fault of the Obama administration and Congress — for not doubling down with more spending.

“If we can stop one missile from destroying one American city,” said Obering, a former Air Force lieutenant general, “we have justified the entire program many times over from its initiation in terms of cost.”

The agency’s current director, Vice Adm. James D. Syring, declined to be interviewed. In a written response to questions, the agency defended its investment in the four troubled programs and asserted that the nation’s missile defense system was reliable.

“We are very confident of our ability … and we will continue to conduct extensive research, development and testing of new technologies to ensure we keep pace with the threat,” the statement said. It called SBX an “excellent investment.”

Boeing Co., the agency’s prime contractor for homeland defense, designed SBX. Raytheon Co. built the system’s radar components. Both companies are among the world’s biggest defense contractors and are major political donors.

A Boeing spokesman said that SBX has “sufficient capability to execute its role with speed, precision and accuracy.”

Representatives of Raytheon declined to be interviewed.

The Missile Defense Agency came into being during the Reagan administration and has 8,800 employees and a budget of about $8 billion a year.

A third component is the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, designed to protect the U.S. homeland from long-range missiles. All four of the troubled programs examined by The Times were intended to bolster GMD.

The country’s defense against a massive missile strike by Russia or China still depends on deterrence: the Cold War notion that neither nuclear power would attack the U.S. for fear of a devastating response.

GMD is intended to protect against a limited attack by a less-imposing adversary, such as North Korea or Iran, by destroying enemy warheads in flight, a supreme technical challenge.

Rocket-interceptors would climb into space from silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and Ft. Greely, Alaska. At the tip of each interceptor is a heat-seeking “kill vehicle” designed to separate from its boost rocket in space, fly on its own and crash into an incoming warhead.

GMD’s roots go back to the Clinton administration. Its development was accelerated after Bush, in December 2002, ordered the Pentagon to field “an initial set of missile defense capabilities” to protect the U.S. homeland by 2004.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard procurement rules, freeing it to buy new technology without the customary vetting. Rocket-interceptors were deployed before the kill vehicle and other crucial components had been proved reliable through testing.

Despite its shortcomings, GMD became operational in 2004. In the nine flight tests conducted since then, the system has successfully intercepted a mock enemy missile only four times.

GMD’s ability to distinguish missiles from decoys, debris and other harmless objects — “discrimination,” in missile defense jargon — has been a persistent concern.

Powerful, precise radar guidance is key to effective missile defense. Without it, the system cannot be depended on to distinguish real from illusory threats and track enemy missiles so the kill vehicles can find and destroy them.

In the event of an attack, radar would also have to provide immediate, accurate “hit assessments” — confirmation that an enemy missile had been destroyed. Defense experts say that without this information, GMD could rapidly deplete its limited inventory of interceptors: four at Vandenberg and 26 at Ft. Greely.

Existing early-warning radars, based on land in Alaska, California, Britain and Greenland and on Navy ships, provide some of the needed capability. But their range is limited by Earth’s curvature, and neither they nor orbiting satellites are powerful enough to determine whether approaching objects are benign or threatening.

X-band radar is powerful enough. Its short wavelength — located in the X band of the radio wave spectrum — allows for more detailed imagery, and thus better discrimination.

Missile defense plans drawn during the Clinton administration envisioned as many as nine land-based X-band radars to complement the early-warning radars and provide complete coverage across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In 2002, faced with Bush’s deadline for deploying GMD by 2004, Missile Defense Agency officials chose not to add multiple X-band radars on land and opted instead for a single, seaborne version.

It would be based at a specially prepared berth in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, an ideal location for detecting a North Korean missile attack, and would be moved around as needed.

Thus was born SBX.

Boeing’s designs called for the huge radar to be seated atop a specially modified off-shore drilling platform.

The Missile Defense Agency acquired the platform from a Norwegian company in 2003 and had it towed across the Atlantic to a shipyard in Brownsville, Texas. There, it was fitted with a propulsion system, a helicopter landing pad and living quarters for a crew of about 100. Cranes lifted the radar and its pearl-white protective dome into place.

The semi-submersible structure was nearly 400 feet long and 26 stories high. It weighed 50,000 tons.

Obering and his predecessor as director of the missile agency told Congress that SBX would be operational by the end of 2005. That proved incorrect.

SBX met standards for commercial ships — but agency officials had failed to take into account the Coast Guard’s stricter standards for vessels destined for the kind of hazardous conditions found in the Aleutians.

To meet the requirements, the missile agency had to spend tens of millions of dollars to fortify SBX against the sustained 30-foot swells and fierce gales common at its intended home port in Adak, Alaska, known as the “birthplace of the winds.”

That work, completed by Boeing in September 2007, included installing eight 75-ton anchors embedded in the ocean floor at Adak.

Missile Defense Agency officials spoke glowingly of SBX’s technical capabilities.

“It is the most powerful radar of its kind in the world and will provide the [GMD] system a highly advanced detection and discrimination capability,” Obering told the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee on May 10, 2006.

Agency news releases touted SBX’s ability to perform critical “hit assessment functions,” informing U.S. commanders instantly whether rocket-interceptors had taken out incoming missiles.

At a Senate hearing on April 11, 2007, Obering was asked about the GMD system’s ability to distinguish enemy missiles from decoys. He replied that SBX would help give the U.S. “a tremendous leg up” in this regard.

To emphasize his point, Obering testified repeatedly that SBX could see a 3-inch-wide object from across the continent.

“If we place it in Chesapeake Bay, we could actually discriminate and track a baseball-sized object over San Francisco,” he told a Senate subcommittee on April 25, 2007.

Yet because of Earth’s curvature, SBX would not be able to see a baseball at such a distance — about 2,500 miles — unless the ball was 870 or more miles above San Francisco.

That is about 200 miles higher than the expected maximum altitude of a long-range missile headed for the U.S., technical experts told The Times.

“In the practical world of ICBM [inter-continental ballistic missile] threats, this baseball analogy is meaningless,” said C. Wendell Mead, an aerospace engineer who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel.

Obering, in an interview, said his remarks to Congress were intended not to mislead but rather to provide “a good layman’s view of the range of the radar.” He added, “The range of that radar is farther than anything else we had.”

SBX’s powers of magnification belied a fundamental shortcoming. The radar’s field of vision is extremely narrow: 25 degrees, compared with 90 to 120 degrees for conventional radars.

Experts liken SBX to a soda straw and say that finding a sequence of approaching missiles with it would be impractical.

“It’s an extremely powerful soda straw, but that’s not what we needed,” said Harvey L. Lynch, a physicist who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel.

In the event of an attack, land-based early warning radars could, in theory, identify a specific point in the sky for SBX to focus on. But aiming and re-aiming the giant radar’s beam is a cumbersome manual exercise. In combat conditions, SBX could not be relied on to adjust quickly enough to track a stream of separate missiles, radar specialists said.

SBX’s limitations make it “irrelevant to ballistic missile defense,” said David K. Barton, a physicist and radar engineer who took part in the National Academy review and who has advised U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Wherever that beam can be pointed, it can cover whatever is within it,” Barton said. “But obviously that isn’t going to cover the whole Pacific for a stream of attacking missiles that are separated by many minutes…. Even if there are only four missiles, [an adversary] could separate them.”

Ronald T. Kadish, the Missile Defense Agency’s director from 1999 to mid-2004, defended the decision to develop SBX, saying it was “four or five times” less expensive than installing land-based X-band radars.

Another “important consideration,” Kadish said in an interview, was that the seaborne radar could be made operational quickly, compared with the time it would take to build an X-band installation in Alaska or negotiate with foreign governments for other sites on land.

Kadish, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, said SBX “seemed to provide the basis for detection and discrimination that we were lacking.”

The National Academy review, however, found that the missile agency “unnecessarily compromised the performance” of GMD by failing to make greater use of X-band radars on land. The panel’s 2012 report said the homeland defense system’s “discrimination problem must be addressed far more seriously.”

A panel of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, after a two-year review, reached a similar conclusion in 2011: “The importance of achieving reliable midcourse discrimination cannot be overemphasized.”

To address this vulnerability, the U.S. had installed one land-based X-band radar in Japan in 2006, and a second was added in 2014. The two radars are well positioned to detect launches from North Korea. Yet both would lose track of U.S.-bound missiles after about 930 miles because of Earth’s curvature.

Barton said that to give rocket-interceptors enough time to knock out enemy missiles, U.S. radar would have to track the incoming weapons continuously after launch, “from cradle to grave.”

One of SBX’s intended functions was to participate in tests of the GMD system. A mock enemy missile would be launched over the Pacific, and SBX would track the target and guide rocket-interceptors.

The radar’s performance in those exercises has fallen short.

During a 2007 test, “SBX exhibited some anomalous behavior,” requiring “adjusted software,” the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office said in a report.

The report said SBX had not served as the primary radar for any test in which an interceptor had managed to destroy a target.

In January 2010, SBX was the sole radar for a test in which an interceptor tried to knock out a target launched from the Marshall Islands. SBX “exhibited undesirable performances that contributed to the failure to intercept,” the Pentagon evaluation office reported.

Outside experts who had access to flight-test data from the 2010 test told The Times that SBX failed to “discriminate,” mistaking falling chunks of unspent rocket fuel or other material for the target missile.

In a June 2014 test, an interceptor destroyed its target, but SBX’s “hit assessment” did not reach commanders in control of the system, according to a report by the Pentagon’s evaluation office.

In an attack, an immediate and accurate hit assessment would be crucial.

Patrick J. O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency from 2008 to 2012, explained why: Without the assessment, “the commanders could order the soldiers to shoot additional interceptors at targets that have actually already been destroyed — or to stop shooting at targets that haven’t been destroyed,” he said in an interview.

O’Reilly said it was “worrisome” that commanders did not receive the hit assessment in the 2014 test.

An agency spokesman, Richard Lehner, said an investigation into the matter is “nearing closure.”

Senior military leaders had grown disillusioned with SBX years earlier. The vessel burned millions of gallons of fuel to power the radar or move about. It had to be resupplied at sea, and wind and salt water posed unrelenting challenges for sensitive instruments.

In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates canceled plans to send SBX near the Korean Peninsula to monitor the launch of a North Korean test rocket. Gates said he could not justify the mission’s cost, estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

Beginning two years later, operational control of the radar was shifted from the Missile Defense Agency to the Navy. “It was obviously part of a major weapon system at sea,” recalled O’Reilly, who supported the move.

The Navy’s Pacific Command insisted on extensive modifications to bring SBX up to survival standards for combatant vessels. The cost ran to tens of millions of dollars — emblematic of the floating radar’s tortuous history.

SBX was never based at its specially prepared Alaskan berth. In 2012, it was downgraded to “limited test support status.”

In 2013, the radar sat idle in Pearl Harbor for more than eight months, records show.

To date, SBX has cost taxpayers about $2.2 billion, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

The government recently began seeking proposals for a new radar to help fulfill SBX’s original purpose.

It will be installed in Alaska, on land. The target date is 2020, and the estimated cost is $1 billion.

 

From the LA Times, David Willman

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