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Republicans Accuse Obama of Using Position as President to Lead Country

Responding to reports that President Obama is considering signing as many as nineteen executive orders on gun control, Republicans in Congress unleashed a blistering attack on him today, accusing Mr. Obama of “cynically and systematically using his position as President to lead the country.”

Spearheading the offensive was Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who charged the President with the “wanton exploitation of powers that are legally granted to him under the U.S. Constitution.”

Calling him the “Law Professor-in-Chief,” Rep. Stockman accused Mr. Obama of “manipulating a little-known section of the Constitution,” Article II, which outlines the power of the President.

“President Obama looks down the list of all of the powers that are legally his and he’s like a kid in a candy store,” Rep. Stockman said. “It’s nauseating.”

The Texas congressman said that if Mr. Obama persists in executing the office of the Presidency as defined by the Constitution, he could face “impeachment and/or deportation.”

Noting that the President has not yet signed the executive orders on gun control, Rep. Stockman said that he hoped his stern words would serve as a wake-up call to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, there’s still time for you to get in line. But if you continue to fulfill the duties of President of the United States that are expressly permitted in the Constitution, you are playing with fire.”

 

Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

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Oakland pitcher Sean Doolittle and girlfriend buy tickets to fill stadium on LGBT Night

When the Oakland A’s announced they would have an LGBT night on June 17, some season ticket holders said they didn’t want to go to the game. Enter pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend, who said they would buy any tickets for the game that no one wanted so the stadium would be full. Eireann Dolan, it seems, has two moms. She did not want to waste the opportunity to support them.

From her blog:

Dear season ticket holders who wish to sell their tickets for LGBT Pride Night,

Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs and as long as nobody is getting hurt, I’m happy. I also can’t stop you from selling your tickets. I won’t tell you that you are wrong or that you are not allowed to think or act that way.

We live in a free country, after all. You are free to think and say and do whatever you’d like. In fact just this morning I used my freedom to eat yogurt with a steak knife because I ran out of clean spoons (because SOMEone forgot to turn on the dishwasher last night). Who was going to stop me? That’s right. Nobody. Nice try bin Laden.

I ended up cutting the corner of my mouth on the knife, and it wasn’t one of my brightest decisions. But I may have just invented a DIY smile enhancement. And I will sue you if you steal my idea. #America

I digress. So, A’s fans; if attending a baseball game on LGBT Pride Night makes you at all uncomfortable, it is probably a good idea to sell your tickets. And I have the perfect buyer. ME!

If you’d like to sell your tickets to June 17th’s LGBT Pride Night game, I will buy them from you at face value. As many as I can. No judgments. No questions asked.

From there, I will donate any tickets I purchase to the Bay Area Youth Center’s Our Space community for LGBTQ youth.

That way you don’t have to feel uncomfortable, and the seats don’t go to waste. It’s win-win.

Please tweet at me (@EireannDolan) if you’d like to sell me your tickets. I’ll purchase as many unwanted tickets as I can out of my own pocket. I also encourage other A’s fans to do the same. Let’s fill the stands that night!

Love,

Eireann and my hella gay moms

They have also started a GoFundMe program to fill the stadium with any remaining tickets. Her boyfriend, Sean Doolittle, has agreed to match any tickets she purchases.

This just wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.

 

By , OutSports

 

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Homophobic Florist Fears Homelessness After Being Slapped With $1,001 Fine

A Washington state florist says she may lose her business and her home after being ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, plus $1 in court fees, for violating Washington’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws when she refused to sell two grooms a bouquet of flowers for their wedding back in 2013.

Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts owner Barronelle Stutzman says the $1,001.00 fine will “financially devastate” her, as it will cause her to dip into her “retirement and personal savings,” and that’s simply not fair because she is a “70-year-old grandmother.”

Speaking to the Christian PostStutzman said the harsh punishment is a “threat to Christians” with a very specific message: “Surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin!”

Again, she is being fined $1,001.00.

In Feburary, after spending nearly two years fighting in court, Stutzman was offered a settlement from Attorney General Bob Ferguson that wouldn’t have cost her quite so much, but she refused on grounds that settling the case would be a betrayal of Jesus H. Christ.

“I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family,” Stutzman told Ferguson in a letter. “But my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”

Stutzman has 60 days to fork over the $1001.00.

 

From Queerty

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Backlash is swift and furious after Indiana pizza restaurant owner brags about ‘no gays’ policy

A small Indiana pizza and ice cream parlor is coming under fire after its owners went on the news and boasted that their establishment would not cater gay or non-Christian functions.

After Crystal and Kevin O’Connor of Memories Pizza appeared on ABC 57 to declare their support for Governor Mike Pence and the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act yesterday, the backlash was immediate.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Crystal said as she stood in the restaurant, which is festooned with Christian paraphernalia.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” she added. “I do not think it’s targeting gays. I don’t think it’s discrimination. It’s supposed to help people that have a religious belief.”

Despite not believing that the bill would lead to targeted discrimination against members of the LGBT community, O’Connor told the station that her establishment would use the bill to avoid having to cater events like gay or non-Christian weddings.

Her father, Kevin, said everything came down to the issue of choice. ““That lifestyle is something they choose. I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual. Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?” he asked.

Members of the online foodie community did not take kindly to Memories’ ownership bragging about being the first business to publicly implement the discriminatory power granted by the RFRA. Robert S. pointed out the obvious on Yelp, writing that “in all my queer life, I’ve never known a gay to cater their wedding with pizza.”

Carol M. wondered if they had “Gaydar installed at the door,” and whether the O’Connors “ever considered that you may be serving closeted homosexuals.”

John S. kindly informed the establishment that despite its protestations of religiosity, it was violating a number of Biblical dietary laws.

But it was Michael N. who figured out what the O’Connors were probably up to. “This is a transparent attempt to fly the Christian martyr ‘mean Gays are calling us bigots’ flag in the hopes that other mouth-breathers in the area will rally to them and their crappy pizza the way Southerners rallied to Chick Fil-A,” he wrote.

“Deny them the oxygen of your outrage, and their uninspired fare will put them out of business in due course.”

From Raw Story, Scott Kaufman

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Arkansas House approves anti‑LGBT religious freedom bill, governor says he’ll sign it1

Arkansas lawmakers have given final approval to a religious-freedom bill that has drawn sharp criticism from opponents who say it opens the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The House voted Tuesday to approve the measure, which prohibits the state and local governments from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” interest.

The measure was given final approval in a series of votes after the Republican-led House rejected efforts to send the bill back to committee to change it. It now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he will sign it into law.

If enacted, the move will make Arkansas the second state to enact such a law this year. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar bill last week.

In Little Rock, hundreds of people filled the Arkansas Capitol for a second day to protest the measure, holding signs that read “Hate is Not Holy” and “We are Open for Business for All Arkansans.”

“The reality is what we’re doing here is really not that remarkable,” Republican Bob Ballinger, the lawmaker behind Arkansas’ measure, told reporters. “I do understand it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”

Similar proposals have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states.

Democrats said they had hoped to amend the proposal to make it clear the measure could not be used to deny services to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“In Indiana, they can say we were not prepared for the backlash,” said Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker, who opposed the bill. “We don’t really have that luxury in Arkansas because we’ve had a real-time preview of what we’re up against because of what has happened in Indiana over the last week.”

In a letter released Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola urged Hutchinson to veto the proposal, which he said would hurt the state’s economic-development efforts by sending “the message that some members of our community will have fewer protections than others. Our city and our state cannot be limited to only certain segments of society.”

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce also opposed the measure, calling it “bad for business and bad for Arkansas.”

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in Arkansas’ anti-discrimination protections. Last month, Hutchinson allowed a measure to go into law that prevented local governments from including such protections in their anti-discrimination ordinances.

 

From LGBTQ Nation via AP

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DIVE INTO DANCE AT THE 17TH ANNUAL BAY AREA DANCE WEEK  

April 24 – May 3 throughout San Francisco, East Bay, North Bay and South Bay

Bay Area Dance Week (BADW) invites the public to explore the vibrant world of the Bay Area dance community through more than 400 free events for the dance lover, casual dancer and those curious to learn. From dance studio to proscenium stage, city park to street corner, dance is everywhere during this fun-filled 10-day festival.

Completely free of charge, hundreds of dance organizations, companies, schools and artists open up their doors welcoming the public to attend an event during Bay Area Dance Week. Presented during and as part of the nationwide festival National Dance Week, the Bay Area’s edition has grown to be the nation’s largest celebration. BADW draws more than 20,000 attendees each year to events in San Francisco, the East Bay, North Bay and South Bay.

This year’s festival runs April 24-May 3, 2015, kicking off with the now traditional One Dance led by the Rhythm & Motion Dance Workout Program at Union Square on Friday, April 24 at 12noon. Anyone can participate in One Dance, learning a short dance sequence featuring iconic dances to pop songs from the 1970s to today. The public can go online to preview the steps at www.bayareadance.org, attend a live rehearsal, or just show up at Union Square and wing it.

The Union Square opening event will also honor the recipients of the 2015 Dancers Choice Award and the Della Davidson Prize.

The 8th annual Dancers Choice Award goes to the Oakland-based bellydance duo Etang Inyang and Tammy Johnson, of Raks Africa. Specializing in Egyptian style bellydance, the duo have performed together for over a decade, produced award-winning work, and collectively have over 35 years of experience working with youth and communities of color.  Dancers’ Group awards the Dancers Choice Award to individuals and organizations that are finding effective and creative models that impact dance.  The community recommends recipients through an open call for nominations each year – past award winners include Danica Sena (2014), Sarah Crowell (2013), Della Davidson & Ernesto Sopprani (2012), Antoine Hunter (2011), AXIS Dance Company (2010), Alleluia Panis (2009) and Jessica Robinson Love (2008).

The Della Davidson Prize honors the life and work of Bay Area dance luminary Della Davidson, who passed away in 2012. An annual prize of $1,220 (in honor of Della’s birthday 12/20) is awarded to a choreographer/dance-maker producing work in the spirit of Ms. Davidson. This year’s recipient is Deborah Slater. A Bay Area native, Slater’s body of work lies in the intersection of performance, cultural studies and social change. Slater is the founder/Artistic Director of Deborah Slater Dance Theater, a company dedicated to the production of evening-length works exploring timely social issues. Past Della Davidson Prize award winners include Debby Kajiyama (2014), Randee Paufve and Monique Jenkinson (2013).

With over 400 events to choose from, there is something for everyone at BADW.  The public can pick up a free event guide or visit www.bayareadance.org to explore free events including dance classes, open rehearsals, performances and more. A few festival highlights include:

EVENTS FOR FIRST-TIMERS
• A Brazilian Carnaval – dance to live percussion exploring the rhythms of Samba, Afro-Brazilian and more; Friday, April 24 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco
• A high energy teen hip hop class where beginners can learn pop-locking, breaking and freestyling, presented by ODC School & Rhythm and Motion; Friday, April 24 in San Francisco
• An introduction to International Folk Dance led by the Santa Rosa International Folk Dancers – no partner necessary; Thursday, April 30 in Santa Rosa
• An all-ages Freestyle Community Dance celebrating free expression and a spirit of generosity presented by Soul Sanctuary Dance; Sunday, May 3 in Berkeley

FAMILY FRIENDLY EVENTS
• The Blossom Festival, featuring fun, participatory folk dances from around the world, hosted by the Folk Federation of CA; Sunday, April 26 in San Francisco
• A performance by Kathy Mata Ballet featuring live accompaniment and multiple dance styles including musical theater, traditional Chinese dance, lyrical fusion, and more; Sunday, April 26 in San Francisco
• A dance along class for children ages 3-7 at Ballet San Jose followed by an inside look at an open rehearsal of Ballet San Jose’s Cinderella; Tuesday, April 28, Wednesday, April 29 and Thursday, May 1 in San Jose
• An all-ages class covering basic capoeira moves and traditional Portuguese music led by ABADÁ-Capoeira; Thursday, April 30 in San Francisco

DANCE FROM AROUND THE WORLD
• An Afro-Columbian dance class with Adriana Sanchez of Colombian Soul, featuring traditional dances from the Pacific Coast of Colombia; Saturday, April 25 in San Francisco
• A West African Funk dance class led by Dimensions Dance Theater; Wednesday, April 29 in Oakland
• A workshop of International Folk dance by the Stanford International Dancers, featuring a dance party and live music; Friday, May 1 in Palo Alto
• A one-hour class focusing on traditional Nordic Folk Dances followed by a dance party with live music, hosted by the Nordic Footnotes; Saturday, May 2 in Menlo Park

DANCE FOR HEALTH AND FITNESS
• A Modern Essentials Dance Workout – learn the fundamentals of contemporary dance, breaking down a few favorite routines at ODC School & Rhythm and Motion; Friday, May 1 in San Francisco
• A series of classes at the Breema Center geared towards basic sensing, focusing and consciously experiencing the meaning of personal breath movement; Saturday, April 25, Monday, April 29, Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2 in Oakland
• Lessons in Biodanza®, a practice aimed to reconnect to your inner joy and awaken your desire to be fully alive; Saturday, April 25, Monday, April 27, Tuesday, April 28 and Thursday, April 30 in Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael
• Dance on the Brain – a conversation presented by ODC with dance artists and medical professionals exploring the amazing physiological and psychological benefits of dance; Sunday, May 3 in San Francisco

LARGE-SCALE GATHERINGS

• sjDANCEco Festival- a showcase of the wealth and diversity of South Bay dance artists. Over 60 groups from all across the Bay Area will gather for a day-long outdoor performance; Sun, Apr 26 in San Jose

• Rotunda Dance Series – A prelude performance to 95 RITUALS, to premiere in July by inkBoat and guests, dedicated to Anna Halprin for her 95th birthday; Fri, May 1 at City Hall in San Francisco

INSIDE THE DANCER’S STUDIO
• SF Ballet Company Class –  A behind the scenes look at San Francisco Ballet, the oldest professional ballet company in America. Sat, May 2 in San Francisco
• Dance & Interactive Technology Playground – A playground for dancers, visual designers, film makers, computer geeks and all people with curious minds interested in exploring connections between art and interactive technology hosted by Kinetech Arts Open Lab; Tue, Apr 28 in San Francisco

WILD AND PLAYFUL DANCE
• Move to the Now – Hosted by Amy Seiwert’s Imagery and Post:Ballet this intimate evening of exhilarating dance, music and art explores performance in the non-traditional setting of 111 Minna; Fri, Apr 24 in San Francisco
• Free to Fly – Aerial company BANDALOOP takes a wide range of contemporary dance styles into the air with rock climbing technology and rigging; Sun, Apr 26 in Oakland
• Awaken Your Inner Carnaval Showgirl – Awakening movements with Showgirl Shaman & Carnaval Queen Kellita. Wed, Apr 29 in San Francisco

Full details, including exact times and locations are available online at www.bayareadance.org

 

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9 Things Many Americans Just Don’t Grasp (Compared to the Rest of the World)

To hear the far-right ideologues of Fox News and AM talk radio tell it, life in Europe is hell on Earth. Taxes are high, sexual promiscuity prevails, universal healthcare doesn’t work, and millions of people don’t even speak English as their primary language! Those who run around screaming about “American exceptionalism” often condemn countries like France, Norway and Switzerland to justify their jingoism. Sadly, the U.S.’ economic deterioration means that many Americans simply cannot afford a trip abroad to see how those countries function for themselves. And often, lack of foreign travel means accepting clichés about the rest of the world over the reality. And that lack of worldliness clouds many Americans’ views on everything from economics to sex to religion.

Here are nine things Americans can learn from the rest of the world.

1. Universal Healthcare Is Great for Free Enterprise and Great for Small Businesses

The modern-day Republican Party would have us believe that those who promote universal healthcare are anti-free enterprise or hostile to small businesses. But truth be told, universal healthcare is great for entrepreneurs, small businesses and the self-employed in France, Germany and other developed countries where healthcare is considered a right. The U.S.’ troubled healthcare system has a long history of punishing entrepreneurs with sky-high premiums when they start their own businesses. Prior to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, many small business owners couldn’t even obtain individual health insurance plans if they had a preexisting condition such as heart disease or diabetes—and even with the ACA’s reforms, the high cost of health insurance is still daunting to small business owners. But many Americans fail to realize that healthcare reform is not only a humanitarian issue, it is also vitally important to small businesses and the self-employed.

In 2009, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a study on small businesses around the world and found that “by every measure of small-business employment, the United States has among the world’s smallest small-business sectors.” People in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and other European countries are more likely to be self-employed—and the study concluded that universal healthcare is a key factor. According to CEPR’s study, “High healthcare costs discourage small business formation since start-ups in other countries can tap into government-funded healthcare systems.”

2. Comprehensive Sex Education Decreases Sexual Problems

For decades, social conservatives in the U.S. have insisted that comprehensive sex education promotes unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. But in fact, comprehensive sex education (as opposed to the abstinence-only programs that are common in the American Bible Belt) decreases sexual problems, and the data bears that out in no uncertain terms. Public schools in the Netherlands have aggressive sex education programs that America’s Christian Right would despise. Yet in 2009, the Netherlands had (according to the United Nations) a teen birth rate of only 5.3 per 1,000 compared to 39.1 per 1,000 in the U.S. That same year, the U.S. had three times as many adults living with HIV or AIDS as the Netherlands.

Switzerland, France, Germany and many other European countries also have intensive sex-ed programs and much lower teen pregnancy rates than the U.S. Still, far-right politicians in the U.S. can’t get it through their heads that inadequate sex education and insufficient sexual knowledge actually promote teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases instead of decreasing them.

3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015

No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.

4. Adequate Mass Transit Is a Huge Convenience

When it comes to mass transit, Europe and Japan are way ahead of the U.S.; in only a handful of American cities is it easy to function without a car. New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC are among the U.S.’ more mass transit-oriented cities, but overall, the U.S. remains a car culture—and public transportation is painfully limited in a long list of U.S. cities. Many Americans fail to realize that mass transit has numerous advantages, including less air pollution, less congestion, fewer DUIs and all the aerobic exercise that goes with living in a pedestrian-friendly environment.

5. The Bible Was Not Written by Billionaire Hedge Fund Managers

Christianity in its various forms can be found all over the developed world. But the U.S., more than anywhere, is where one finds a far-right version of white Protestant fundamentalism that idolizes the ultra-rich, demonizes the poor and equates extreme wealth with morality and poverty with moral failings. The problem with hating the poor in the name of Christianity is that the Bible is full of quotes that are much more in line with Franklin Delano Roosevelt than Ayn Rand—like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25) and “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

6. Learning a Second or Third Language Is a Plus, Not a Character Flaw

In the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries, becoming proficient in two or three foreign languages is viewed as a sign of intellect and sophistication. But xenophobia runs so deep among many neocons, Republicans and Tea Party wingnuts that any use of a language other than English terrifies them. Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, was bombarded with hateful responses from Republicans when he recommended that Americans study foreign languages from an early age. And in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, Newt Gingrich’s campaign ran an ad in South Carolina attacking Mitt Romney for being proficient in French.

In February, an eighth-grade girl who was studying Latin in Vermont received equally clueless responses when she wrote to a state senator suggesting that Vermont adopt a Latin motto in addition to its English-language motto (not as a replacement). The wingnuts went ballistic, posting on the Facebook page of a local television station that if the girl wanted to speak Latin, she should move to Latin America.

7. Union Membership Benefits the Economy

In 2014, a Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans approved of labor unions while 71% favored anti-union “right to work” laws. Union membership is way down in the U.S.: only 6.6% of private-sector workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, belonged to unions in 2014 compared to roughly 35% in the mid-1950s. The U.S.’ overall unionization rate (factoring in both public-sector and private-sector workers) is 11.1%, which is quite a contrast to parts of Europe, where overall union rates range from 74% in Finland and 70% in Sweden to 35% in Italy, 19% in Spain and 18% in Germany. That is not to say unionization has not been decreasing in Europe, but overall, one finds a more pro-labor, pro-working class outlook in Europe. The fact that 47% of Americans, in that Gallup poll, consider themselves anti-union is troubling. Too many Americans naively believe that the 1% have their best interests at heart, and they fail to realize that when unions are strong and their members earn decent wages, that money goes back into the economy.

8. Paid Maternity Leave Is the Norm in Most Developed Countries

The U.S. continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to maternity leave. Paid maternity leave is strictly voluntary in the U.S., where, according to the organization Moms Rising, 51% of new mothers have no paid maternity leave at all. But government-mandated maternity leave is the norm in other developed countries, including the Netherlands (112 days at 100% pay), Italy (140 days at 80% pay), Switzerland (98 days at 80% pay) and Germany (98 days at 100% pay).

9. Distrust of Oligarchy Is a Positive

In February, the Emnid Polling Institute in Germany released the results of a poll that addressed economic and political conditions in that country: over 60% of the Germans surveyed believed that large corporations had too much influence on elections. ThE survey demonstrated that most Germans have a healthy distrust of crony capitalists and oligarchs who take much more than they give. Meanwhile, in the U.S., various polls show a growing distrust of oligarchy on the part of many Americans but with less vehemence than in the German Emnid poll. A 2012 poll by the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that while 62% of American voters opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, only 46% strongly opposed it. And in a 2012 poll by the Corporate Reform Coalition, most Americans agreed that there was too much corporate money in U.S. politics—although only 51% strongly agreed.

Alex Henderson / AlterNet

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Nebraska farmer silences oil and gas committee with invitation to drink water tainted by fracking

Appearing before a Nebraska Oil & Gas Conservation committee hearing, a local farmer received nothing but silence from the pro-fracking members of the board after he invited them to drink glasses of water tainted by fracking.

In the video, uploaded to YouTube by BoldNebraska, Nebraskan James Osborne used his 3 minutes before the committee to visually explain what fracking waste can do to the water table, dramatically pouring out water containing his own “private mixture” of fracking additives.

The committee is holding public hearings on a proposal by an oil company to ship out-of-state fracking wastewater into Nebraska where it will be dumped into a “disposal well” in Sioux County. According to a report, the Terex Energy Corp wants to truck as much as 10,000 barrels a day of the chemical-laden fracking wastewater to a ranch north of Mitchell, Nebraska for disposal.

Explaining that he has ties to the oil industry and that he is still on the fence about fracking, Osbourne explained fluid dynamics to the board while pouring out three cups of the sludgy water that could result from spills or from seeping into the water table.

Referring to earlier testimony, Osbourne said, “So you told me this morning that you would drink this water,” as he indicated the cups.

“So would you drink it? Yes or no?” he asked, only to be met by silence by the stone-faced group before a member explained they wouldn’t be answering any questions.

“Oh, you can’t answer any questions? Well my answer would be ‘no.’ I don’t want this in the water that will travel entirely across this state in three days,” Osborne said. “There is no doubt there will be contamination. There will be spills.”

Osborne left the glasses on the table before thanking the committee and leaving to applause.

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Sweden’s feminist foreign minister has dared to tell the truth about Saudi Arabia. What happens now concerns us all

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair. It has all the ingredients for a clash-of-civilisations confrontation.

A few weeks ago Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth. Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. These were ‘mediaeval methods’, she said, and a ‘cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression’. And once again, who can argue with that?

The backlash followed the pattern set by Rushdie, the Danish cartoons and Hebdo. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles. Meanwhile, the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unaccept-able interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, and I wouldn’t bet against anti-Swedish riots following soon.

Yet there is no ‘Wallström affair’. Outside Sweden, the western media has barely covered the story, and Sweden’s EU allies have shown no inclination whatsoever to support her. A small Scandinavian nation faces sanctions, accusations of Islamophobia and maybe worse to come, and everyone stays silent. As so often, the scandal is that there isn’t a scandal.

It is a sign of how upside-down modern politics has become that one assumes that a politician who defends freedom of speech and women’s rights in the Arab world must be some kind of muscular liberal, or neocon, or perhaps a supporter of one of Scandinavia’s new populist right-wing parties whose commitment to human rights is merely a cover for anti-Muslim hatred. But Margot Wallström is that modern rarity: a left-wing politician who goes where her principles take her.

She is foreign minister in Sweden’s weak coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, and took office promising a feminist foreign policy. She recognised Palestine in October last year — and, no, the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and Gulf Co-operation Council did not condemn her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Israel’. I confess that her gesture struck me as counterproductive at the time. But after Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state as he used every dirty trick he could think of to secure his re-election, she can claim with justice that history has vindicated her.

She moved on to the Saudi version of sharia law. Her criticism was not just rhetorical. She said that it was unethical for Sweden to continue with its military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia. In other words, she threatened Swedish arms companies’ ability to make money. Saudi Arabia’s denial of business visas to Swedes threatened to hurt other companies’ profits too. You might think of Swedes as upright social democrats, who have never let worries of appearing tedious stand in the way of their righteousness. But that has never been wholly true, and is certainly not true when there is money at stake.

Sweden is the world’s 12th largest arms exporter — quite an achievement for a country of just nine million people. Its exports to Saudi Arabia total $1.3 billion. Business leaders and civil servants are also aware that other Muslim-majority countries may follow Saudi Arabia’s lead. During the ‘cartoon crisis’ — a phrase I still can’t write without snorting with incredulity — Danish companies faced global attacks and the French supermarket chain Carrefour took Danish goods off the shelves to appease Muslim customers. A co-ordinated campaign by Muslim nations against Sweden is not a fanciful notion. There is talk that Sweden may lose its chance to gain a seat on the UN Security Council in 2017 because of Wallström.

To put it as mildly as I can, the Swedish establishment has gone wild. Thirty chief executives signed a letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner’. No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in at the weekend to tell her that he wanted a compromise. Saudi Arabia has successfully turned criticism of its brutal version of Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not, and Wallström and her colleagues are clearly unnerved by accusations of Islamophobia. The signs are that she will fold under the pressure, particularly when the rest of liberal Europe shows no interest in supporting her.

Sins of omission are as telling as sins of commission. The Wallström non-affair tells us three things. It is easier to instruct small countries such as Sweden and Israel on what they can and cannot do than America, China or a Saudi Arabia that can call on global Muslim support when criticised. Second, a Europe that is getting older and poorer is starting to find that moral stands in foreign policy are luxuries it can no longer afford. Saudi Arabia has been confident throughout that Sweden needs its money more than it needs Swedish imports.

Finally, and most revealingly in my opinion, the non-affair shows us that the rights of women always come last. To be sure, there are Twitter storms about sexist men and media feeding frenzies whenever a public figure uses ‘inappropriate language’. But when a politician tries to campaign for the rights of women suffering under a brutally misogynistic clerical culture she isn’t cheered on but met with an embarrassed and hugely revealing silence.

NICK COHEN, The Spectator magazine

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GOP congresswoman gets surprise on Facebook after asking constituents for Obamacare horror stories

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers posted an image on her official Facebook page, slamming the Affordable Care Act on the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing it into law. She asked constituents to share their Obamacare nightmare stories and well, the response probably wasn’t what she expected. Below are a small sample of the comments constituents left on her page:

My story is that I once knew 7 people who couldn’t get health insurance. Now they all have it, thanks to the ACA and President Obama, and their plans are as good as the one my employer provides–and they pay less for them. Now, that’s not the kind of story you want to hear. You want to hear made-up horror stories. I don’t know anyone with one of those stories.

I work for cancer care northwest. We actually have more patients with insurance and fewer having to choose treatment over bankruptcy. Cathy, I’m a die hard conservative and I’m asking you to stop just slamming Obamacare. Fix it, change it or come up with a better idea! Thanks

With Obamacare, I saved 300 bucks a month premium.. I have more coverage.. I like ObamaCare and can’t wait til we go to the next step… Medicare for ALL.

And now my daughter, diagnosed with MS at age 22, can have insurance. What do you plan to do with her?

My daughter is fighting for her life with stage 3 breast cancer! We are about to enter a second go round of diagnostic procedures and possibly more treatment after two full years of treatment! So yah! The ACA is more than helping! I resent that our rep thinks the only problems involve her personal story!

My whole family now has coverage. The ACA is the cause for this, I work in health care, I have seen the increase in covered patients first hand. The next step is universal coverage, this will truly lower costs and provide the best care. Cathy, you barely work, spend most of your time catering to special interests so you can be re-elected.. All while receiving a large wage and the best health insurance and care. Stop telling us how it doesn’t work while enjoying your tax payer funded care and life.

Instead of trying to repeal it why don’t you improve it? Our local rural clinics are packed daily with people who have needed healthcare for years!! it is a godsend. It is pitiful this nation does not have healthcare for all and that doesn’t mean the EMERGENCY room!!

Thanks to the ACA, my cousin was able to get affordable insurance despite her preexisting condition. So grateful.

I think we should repeal Obamacare, and replace it … with universal socialized medicine – like the rest of the industrialized nations of the world.

Hello Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers!I work as the facilitator of a task force that is overseeing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Washington State. I have learned that the ACA is helping people who did not previously have health insurance get it. It is helping bring down medical costs. It is improving the quality of care. It is improving experiences of both patients and their families

I work with doctors, nurses, hospital and clinic managers, non-profit service providers, citizens-at-large. Each of them can site an improvement they would like to make to the Act. But whether they are Republican or Democrat, from urban or rural areas, powerful or not, they all say the ACA is working.

Can’t you and your Republican colleagues stop trying to repeal this Act and work to make it even more effective? Please?

Obama Care saved us when my husband was unemployed and we couldn’t afford coverage. We might have been ruined without it. My husband could not have had the eye surgery needed after an accident. So grateful.

We now have patients that can see a doctor in the clinic on time rather than waiting till they are too ill ACA is saving lives and you are too stupid to realize that. Get your political view out of the way and see what is happening in our community because you have shown again and again it is not your community. I see that your son has downs but not everyone in our community has it so get done with this supporting downs to the neglect of everything else.

My plans are intact, premiums have increased as always, but what seems to be a lesser rate, my plan was not cancelled, I did not lose my doctor, I have not experienced reduced work hours, and it’s actually freed me from the chains of employer based being the ONLY path to coverage. #FEARMONGER

Those are just a small sample of the hundreds or even thousands of comments left on her Facebook page. It is damn clear that her constituents are loving the Affordable Care Act. Will she take their comments to heart and abandon attempts to take insurance coverage away from her constituents?

Daily Kos
Originally posted to Scout Finch

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Scientists Are Beginning to Figure Out Why Conservatives Are… Conservative

You could be forgiven for not having browsed through the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. If you care about politics, though, you’ll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics — upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets — centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns — would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.

The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. “One possibility,” they write, “is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene,” when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The Pleistocene epoch lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.)

Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what’s truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, “22 or 23 accept the general idea” of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of “modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work,” and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely.

That’s pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity. Now, writing in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that…

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]

Back in 2003, Jost and his team were blasted by Ann CoulterGeorge Willand National Review for saying this; congressional Republicans began probing into their research grants and they got lots of hate mail. But what’s clear is that today, they’ve more or less triumphed. They won a field of converts to their view and sparked a wave of new research, including the work of Hibbing and his team.

Granted, there are still many issues yet to be worked out in the science of ideology. Most of the commentaries on the new Hibbing paper are focused on important but not-paradigm-shifting side issues, such as the question of how conservatives can have a higher negativity bias, and yet not have neurotic personalities. (Actually, if anything, the research suggests that liberals may be the more neurotic bunch.) Indeed, conservatives tend to have a high degree of happiness and life satisfaction. But Hibbing and colleagues find no contradiction here. Instead, they paraphrase two other scholarly commentators (Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California), who note that “successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience.”

All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts. And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.

 

Chris Mooney, Moyers and Company, originally posted on Mother Jones

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North American Same-Sex Ballroom Competition in Oakland

April Follies returns to Just Dance Ballroom on April 25 to host the 2015 North American Same-Sex Dancesport Championships.  Now in its 13th year, the annual competition and show is the largest and longest running Same-Sex Dance competition in North America.

“We have a fast-growing community of same-sex dancers in the Bay Area,” according to Barbara Zoloth, April Follies Board Member.  “Many of our couples go on to international same-sex competitions like the Gay Games and the Out Games.”

All levels will compete during the day beginning at 10:00 am.  Dance Styles include International Standard and International Latin, American Smooth and American Rhythm.  This year, due to high demand, there will be expanded competition for Argentine Tango and Country Western dances.

An onsite community dinner will follow the daytime events.  The day-long competition culminates with a dance lesson for attendees and new dancers, followed by the A-level finals and dance performances by the top-rated couples in the evening.

The evening A-Level Finals are part of an extravaganza and show that includes performances by several of the country’s top same-sex couples and performance teams representing studios from all over North America.

Following the show and final competition, there will be an open social dance for all.

Tickets are $15 (daytime events only), $25 (evening event only), or $35 for the entire day.   A community dinner is also available for purchase.  Reduced pricing is available if purchased early. For further information, please visit www.aprilfollies.com, follow us on Twitter @April_Follies, or friend us on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/pages/April-Follies/356971318161].

 

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Boston Globe Urges Elizabeth Warren To Run For President

The editorial board of the Boston Globe on Sunday urged Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to reconsider her decision not to run for president in 2016.

Warren has firmly denied that she’s interested in pursuing a presidential run, but that hasn’t stopped some Democrats from urging her to get in the race.

In its call for Warren to run, the Globe editorial board said that Democrats would be “making a big mistake” if they let Hillary Clinton get the party’s nomination running unopposed.

“Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren can make sure that doesn’t happen. While Warren has repeatedly vowed that she won’t run for president herself, she ought to reconsider. And if Warren sticks to her refusal, she should make it her responsibility to help recruit candidates to provide voters with a vigorous debate on her signature cause, reducing income inequality, over the next year,” the editorial board wrote.

The paper also dismissed other Democrats who are mulling a bid against Clinton, like former Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, saying that they did not represent “top-tier candidates.” Warren, the paper suggested, could position herself as an alternative to Clinton.

“The Democratic Party finds itself with some serious divides that ought to be settled by the electorate. Some are clear-cut policy differences, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an enormous free-trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations that Warren opposes and Clinton backs,” the editorial board wrote. “Even in areas where the candidates agree, there are bound to be different priorities: It’s hard to imagine a President Clinton defending and enforcing the Dodd-Frank legislation with as much vigor as a President Warren, for instance.”

Clinton reportedly met with Warren in December to solicit policy recommendations, but Warren said last month that she was waiting to see how progressive Clinton’s campaign would be.

 

Huffington Post

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The Metro Areas With the Largest, and Smallest, Gay Populations

The Census Bureau asks Americans about subjects as varied as race, age, annual income and even their source of home heating. But there is one glaring demographic omission: The census does not ask people about their sexual orientation. As a result, there has long been a shroud of uncertainty around the geography of gay and lesbian Americans.

A new analysis of Gallup survey data offers the most detailed estimates yet about where people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender live.

The Gallup analysis finds the largest concentrations in the West — and not just in the expected places like San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Denver and Salt Lake City are also in the top 10. How could Salt Lake be there, given its well-known social conservatism? It seems to be a kind of regional capital of gay life, attracting people from other parts of Utah and the Mormon West.

On the other hand, some of the East Coast places with famous gay neighborhoods, including in New York, Miami and Washington, have a smaller percentage of their population who identify as gay — roughly average for a big metropolitan area. The least gay urban areas are in the Midwest and South.

Significant as these differences are, the similarities are just as notable. Gay America, rather than being confined to a few places, spreads across every major region of the country. Nationwide, Gallup says, 3.6 percent of adults consider themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And even the parts of the country outside the 50 biggest metropolitan areas have a gay population (about 3 percent) not so different from some big metropolitan areas. It’s a reflection in part of increasing tolerance and of social connections made possible by the Internet.

Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, notes that the regional variation in sexual orientation and identity is much smaller than the variation in many other categories. The share of San Francisco’s population that’s gay is only two and a half times larger than the share outside major metro areas. The regional gaps in political attitudes, religion and ethnic makeup are often much wider.

“For a generation, they all remember the moment they walked through their first gay bar,” said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the G.L.B.T. Historical Society in San Francisco. “But now they come out for the first time online, and that changes, for some people, the need to leave.”

Metropolitan areas with the highest rates of L.G.B.T. residents
San Francisco 6.2%
Portland, Ore. 5.4%
Austin, Tex. 5.3%
New Orleans 5.1%
Boston 4.8%
Seattle 4.8%
Salt Lake City 4.7%
Denver 4.6%
Hartford 4.6%
Los Angeles 4.6%
Louisville, Ky. 4.5%
Providence, R.I. 4.4%
Virginia Beach 4.4%
Columbus, Ohio 4.3%
Jacksonville 4.3%
Metropolitan areas with the lowest rates of L.G.B.T. residents
Birmingham, Ala. 2.6%
Pittsburgh 3.0%
Memphis 3.1%
Cincinnati 3.2%
Raleigh, N.C. 3.2%
San Jose, Calif. 3.2%
Houston 3.3%
Milwaukee 3.5%
Nashville 3.5%
Oklahoma City 3.5%
Richmond, Va. 3.5%
Kansas City* 3.6%
Minneapolis-St. Paul 3.6%
St. Louis 3.6%
Cleveland 3.7%

From NYTimes.com

 
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On Scene with Bill Wilson: Spring Edition

This silly little Gilbert and Sullivan ditty keeps running through my mind on this first day of spring.

PhotoA

The flowers that bloom in the spring,

Breathe promise of merry sunshine —
As we merrily dance and we sing,

PhotoC
We welcome the hope that they bring,

PhotoD

Of a summer of roses and wine,
Of a summer of roses and wine.

PhotoE

And that’s what we mean when we say that a thing
Is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.

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Rick Scott ‘climate change’ gag order claims first victim, enviro group says

Gov. Rick Scott’s prohibition on the term “climate change” has now claimed its first casualty, says an environmental responsibility group.

On March 9, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended a state employee for speaking about climate change at an official meeting, which made its way into the record of the meeting, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Barton Bibler, a long-time DEP employee, received a letter of reprimand ordering him to take two days personal leave. The agency also instructed Bibler not to return without medical clearance.

Bibler currently serves as Land Management Plan Coordinator in DEP Division of State Lands.

On February 27, Bibler attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum, where a number of attendees discussed climate change and sea-level rise, among other environmental topics.

Bibler’s official notes reported all of that conversation.

DEP superiors directed Bibler to remove any “hot button issues,” such as explicit references to climate change. The letter of reprimand, dated March 9, accused Bibler of misrepresenting the “official meeting agenda (so it) included climate change.”

Bibler was instructed to take two days off, which was charged against his personal leave time. He later received a “Medical Release Form” requiring his doctor to provide the agency an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” before being allowed to return to work.

“Bart Bibler has fallen through a professional looking glass in a Florida where the words ‘climate change’ may not be uttered, or even worse, written down,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney.

Phillips pointed out that Bibler currently has “no idea” whether he will ever be allowed to return to work.

“If anyone needs mental health screening it is Governor Rick Scott,” he added, “and other officials telling state workers to pretend that climate change and sea-level rise do not exist.”

PEER is calling on the DEP Office of Inspector General to open an investigation, to determine the propriety of handling Bibler, including forced leave and the directive to waive privacy rights to allow the DEP to review a physician evaluation.

Philips is also asking for the agency to explain on what basis are they banning the use of the terms climate change,” “sustainability” and “sea-level rise.” He also claims the orders to censor meeting summaries is a violation of Florida law forbidding alteration of official records.

“Not just the employees but the citizens of Florida should demand a full investigation into what the heck is going on inside DEP and whether we can expect more cases like this,” Phillips said. “Under Governor Scott, the Department of Environmental Protection functions like a gulag where those in servitude who show any spark of honesty are simply made to disappear.”

UPDATE:

DEP Communications Director Lauren Engel responded on Thursday with the following statement.

RE: Response to Employee Reprimand

As stated in Mr. Bibler’s written reprimand, he was reprimanded for violating three DEP standards of conduct, including poor performance, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee.

On March 2, Mr. Bibler was asked by his manager to attend the Coastal Managers Forum—an inter-agency meeting, as a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. At that meeting, he engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline — an issue that was not on the meeting agenda nor related to his job duties.

While we respect all our employees’ personal beliefs, we expect them to perform their duties in an impartial and appropriate manner and to stay focused and engaged on job-related activities during work hours.

We also expect all employees to perform their duties—as assigned by their supervisor—in a competent and adequate manner.

After the meeting, Mr. Bibler was reprimanded for failure to fulfill his duties as assigned in an appropriate and respectful way. After multiple requests by his supervisor, Mr. Bibler failed to provide an accurate summary of the meeting, and instead responded in a disrespectful and argumentative fashion by simply providing an attachment with the “Keystone XL Pipeline” with a red circle and a cross through it.

Due to HIPPA laws, we cannot discuss an employee’s health.

 

By Peter Schorsch, St. Peters Blog

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Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

The news: A scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.

It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren’t in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.

This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities:

 

Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it’s driving policy that’s made everyone else poorer.

What kind of oligarchy? As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan explains, Gilens and Page’s findings provide support for two theories of governance: economic elite domination and biased pluralism. The first is pretty straightforward and states that the ultra-wealthy wield all the power in a given system, though some argue that this system still allows elites in corporations and the government to become powerful as well. Here, power does not necessarily derive from wealth, but those in power almost invariably come from the upper class. Biased pluralism on the other hand argues that the entire system is a mess and interest groups ruled by elites are fighting for dominance of the political process. Also, because of their vast wealth of resources, interest groups of large business tend to dominate a lot of the discourse.

In either case, the result is the same: Big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions. Citizens wield little to no political power. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call “democracy” — systems such as majoritarian electoral democracy or majoritarian pluralism, under which the policy choices pursued by the government would reflect the opinions of the governed.

Nothing new: And no, this isn’t a problem that’s the result of any recent Supreme Court cases — at least certainly not the likes FEC v. Citizens United or FEC v. McCutcheon. The data is pretty clear that America has been sliding steadily into oligarchy for decades, mirrored in both the substantive effect on policy and in the distribution of wealth throughout the U.S. But cases like those might indicate the process is accelerating.

“Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does,” Gilens and Page write. “Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

“But we tend to doubt it.”

 

 From News.mic
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Conservatives scramble to downplay ACA news

Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation’s uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts “Obamacare” critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that’s working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who’s struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP’s point person on health care, gave it his best shot. “Millions of people have lost coverage they liked,” the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is “hardly worth celebrating.”

He didn’t say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.

But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journal piece.

Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn’t include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.

“It’s premature to say it’s ACA-related,” Mr. Haislmaier said.

The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.

Oh my.

The economic argument is itself politically tricky for ACA detractors, because it leaves Republicans in a position of arguing, “Let’s not credit Obama’s health care policies for the good news; let’s instead credit Obama’s economic policies.”

But it’s the Heritage Foundation’s other argument that’s truly amazing. The Affordable Care Act was created in large part to expand Americans’ access to affordable medical care. Once the law was implemented, its provisions worked like a charm and uninsured rate dropped. If the Wall Street Journal quoted Edmund Haislmaier fairly, the Heritage argument seems to be that the success might just be a coincidence – the ACA set out to reduce the uninsured rate, the law was implemented, and the uninsured rate fell at its fastest rate in four decades, but it’s “premature” to say the progress and the law are related.

Jon Chait joked:

Right, I mean, who can really say? Yes, there has been a sudden and extremely sharp plunge in the uninsured rates among the populations eligible for coverage under Obamacare that begins at the exact time Obamacare took effect:

But that could be anything. Survey error. People being excited about Republicans winning the midterm. Sunspots. You never know. Probably not the sudden availability of a major new federal health-care law enrolling millions of people.

Perish the thought.

For context, it’s worth noting that the Heritage Foundation used to be one of the leading conservative think tanks in the nation, even sketching out a health-care-reform blueprint several years ago that resembles the “Obamacare” model now. In recent years, however, Heritage’s focus has shifted away from scholarship and towards political activism.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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NASA Administrator Gives Ted Cruz A Lesson In How Science Works

Sen. Ted Cruz thinks NASA should spend less time studying the planet and more time finding ways to go out into space.

Cruz (R-TX), who is chair of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, addressed his concerns at a hearing Thursday on the $18.5 billion budget request for NASA’s fiscal year 2016. There, he asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden what Bolden thought NASA’s “core mission” was.

“Our core mission from the very beginning has been to investigate, explore space and the Earth environment, and to help us make this place a better place,” Bolden said.

 Cruz wasn’t satisfied.

“Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” Cruz said. “That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country … and you know that I am concerned that NASA in the current environment has lost its full focus on that core mission.”

But Bolden defended NASA’s work here on Earth. NASA compiles data on the planet’s air pollution via satellite, engages in research on new forms of energy, and is a key agency for climate change and ice melt data. Bolden alluded to the agency’s study of climate change in his response to Cruz, saying that the agency can’t do any of its work — on the ground or up in space —

“It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place that we have to live,” Bolden said. “Science helps exploration; exploration helps science.”

Cruz said during the hearing that he worried about NASA’s increase in spending on Earth science and, according to Cruz, its decrease in spending on space exploration (Bolden said he didn’t have enough information on what Cruz included in his calculations of NASA’s spending, so he didn’t know whether he agreed with the Senator’s assessment of the agency’s spending). ThinkProgress reached out to Cruz’s office for additional comment but hasn’t heard back as of press time.

Cruz didn’t specifically mention NASA’s studies on climate change in the hearing, but the Senator has been outspoken on the issue before. Last year, he said that the earth had experienced “no recorded warming” over the last 15 years — a claim that climate scientists dismiss, saying that much of the warming has been going on in the deep oceans. 2014 was also the hottest year on record, according to NASA and NOAA.

Cruz also likes to joke about how cold weather must mean that Al Gore has been lying about climate change. Of course, cold weather in one part of the world has nothing to do with long-term observed warming trends.

Along with Republicans before him, Cruz has made the argument before that NASA should focus more on space exploration and less on issues facing our lowly planet. But for NASA, less time spent focused on Earth means less time gathering data on climate change and its impacts.

This rhetoric on climate change, coupled with the fact that Cruz had tried in 2013 to cut NASA’s funding, led to worries about what Cruz would do in his role as chair of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, which he took on earlier this year.

“Senator Cruz has been playing to the most extreme elements of his party on climate change,” Keith Gaby, communications director for climate and air at the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress in January. “Having someone chair the Science Committee who claims there is no evidence of climate change in the last 15 years — when 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century — is not an encouraging development.”

 

From Second Nexus

 

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Robert Reich: Why Americans Are Screwed and Europeans Are Not

The U.S. economy is picking up steam but most Americans aren’t feeling it. By contrast, most European economies are still in bad shape, but most Europeans are doing relatively well.

What’s behind this? Two big facts.

First, American corporations exert far more political influence in the United States than their counterparts exert in their own countries.

In fact, most Americans have no influence at all. That’s the conclusion of Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, who analyzed 1,799 policy issues — and found that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Instead, American lawmakers respond to the demands of wealthy individuals (typically corporate executives and Wall Street moguls) and of big corporations – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

The second fact is most big American corporations have no particular allegiance to America. They don’t want Americans to have better wages. Their only allegiance and responsibility to their shareholders — which often requires lower wages to fuel larger profits and higher share prices.

When GM went public again in 2010, it boasted of making 43 percent of its cars in place where labor is less than $15 an hour, while in North America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees.

American corporations shift their profits around the world wherever they pay the lowest taxes. Some are even morphing into foreign corporations.

As an Apple executive told The New York Times, “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

I’m not blaming American corporations. They’re in business to make profits and maximize their share prices, not to serve America.

But because of these two basic facts – their dominance on American politics, and their interest in share prices instead of the wellbeing of Americans – it’s folly to count on them to create good American jobs or improve American competitiveness, or represent the interests of the United States in global commerce.

By contrast, big corporations headquartered in other rich nations are more responsible for the wellbeing of the people who live in those nations.

That’s because labor unions there are typically stronger than they are here — able to exert pressure both at the company level and nationally.

VW’s labor unions, for example, have a voice in governing the company, as they do in other big German corporations. Not long ago, VW even welcomed the UAW to its auto plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Tennessee’s own politicians nixed it.)

Governments in other rich nations often devise laws through tri-partite bargains involving big corporations and organized labor. This process further binds their corporations to their nations.

Meanwhile, American corporations distribute a smaller share of their earnings to their workers than do European or Canadian-based corporations.

And top U.S. corporate executives make far more money than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

The typical American worker puts in more hours than Canadians and Europeans, and gets little or no paid vacation or paid family leave. In Europe, the norm is five weeks paid vacation per year and more than three months paid family leave.

And because of the overwhelming clout of American firms on U.S. politics, Americans don’t get nearly as good a deal from their governments as do Canadians and Europeans.

Governments there impose higher taxes on the wealthy and redistribute more of it to middle and lower income households. Most of their citizens receive essentially free health care and more generous unemployment benefits than do Americans.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that even though U.S. economy is doing better, most Americans are not.

The U.S. middle class is no longer the world’s richest. After considering taxes and transfer payments, middle-class incomes in Canada and much of Western Europe are higher than in U.S. The poor in Western Europe earn more than do poor Americans.

Finally, when at global negotiating tables – such as the secretive process devising the “Trans Pacific Partnership” trade deal — American corporations don’t represent the interests of Americans. They represent the interests of their executives and shareholders, who are not only wealthier than most Americans but also reside all over the world.

Which is why the pending Partnership protects the intellectual property of American corporations — but not American workers’ health, safety, or wages, and not the environment.

The Obama administration is casting the Partnership as way to contain Chinese influence in the Pacific region. The agents of America’s interests in the area are assumed to be American corporations.

But that assumption is incorrect. American corporations aren’t set up to represent America’s interests in the Pacific region or anywhere else.

What’s the answer to this basic conundrum? Either we lessen the dominance of big American corporations over American politics. Or we increase their allegiance and responsibility to America.

It has to be one or the other. Americans can’t thrive within a political system run largely by big American corporations — organized to boost their share prices but not boost America.

 

Alternet

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Two Guys With Guns Have Showdown On First Day Of Georgia’s New ‘Guns Everywhere’ Law

A “misunderstanding” between two armed men in a Georgia convenience store led to an arrest on the very day that the state’s new expansive gun rights law went into effect, according to The Valdosta Daily Times.

Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress summed the incident up for the newspaper.

“Essentially, it involved one customer with a gun on his hip when a second customer entered with a gun on his hip,” Childress said.

According to the Daily Times, the first man, Ronald Williams, approached the second man in the store and demanded to see his identification and firearms license. Williams also pulled his gun from his holster, without pointing it at the second man. The second man responded by saying that he was not obligated to show any permits or identification — then he paid for his purchase, left the store, and called the police.

Police responded to the call around 3 p.m. Tuesday, and Williams was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct for pulling his gun in the store.

Tuesday was also the day that Georgia’s so-called “guns everywhere” law went into effect, allowing residents to carry guns into bars, nightclubs, classrooms, and certain government buildings. Among other things, the law also prohibits police from demanding to see the weapons permit of someone seen carrying a gun. Childress mentioned that last point when talking to the Daily Times about Tuesday’s incident.

“This is an example of my concern with the new gun law that people will take the law into their own hands which we will not tolerate,” Childress said.

From TPM, Eric Lach

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Same sex marriage and your finances: how to navigate a changing legal backdrop

While most couples dread doing their taxes and managing finances, same sex couples face added challenges due to ever-changing and complex laws. In addition, there are a number of legal uncertainties surrounding marriages between same sex couples that could impact filings for the upcoming tax season.

Notably, on April 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that might finally determine the rights of same sex couples across the nation. Because both state and federal governments use marital status to determine tax status, as well as benefits and protections, these rulings would profoundly impact the rights and benefits of same sex couples.

Financial advisor Peter Waterloo, senior vice president of wealth management at UBS, understands that the ever-evolving legal environment creates uncertainties for LGBT couples and families and as a result, offers a comprehensive approach to investment that allows for growth and adaptation as time progresses.

“The legal landscape is constantly changing and every client is different,” Waterloo said. “When planning for the future, each individual should consult with a financial advisor to help evaluate his/her own circumstances in light of the current legal landscape.” Regardless of the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, the implications of the law on the finances of same-sex couples will be great and it will be important to plan accordingly.

“For example, in California, because same-sex marriage has been legalized, couples are offered all of the benefits and protections as opposite-sex marriages,” said Waterloo. “However, if a couple were to move to a non-recognition state, this would have an impact on both their state and federal treatment and therefore have an impact on their financial future.”

Given the complex landscape of federal laws, here are some details from UBS on how the IRS treats same-sex marriages:

Income Tax
When considering tax rules and regulations, it’s recommended that one consult an accountant but it is important to note that the Internal Revenue Service recognizes same-sex marriage. When it comes to filing your income tax in California, same-sex couples can only select “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately”. This process would drastically differ in a non-recognition state, despite the IRS’s recognition of same-sex marriages.

Employee benefits
An employee in a same-sex marriage can make pre-Federal income tax contributions to his/her employer-sponsored health, dental, and vision plan for spousal benefits. In California, because same-sex marriage is recognized, the value of employer contributions will not be taxed as imputed income. However, if the individual is subject to income tax in a non-recognition state, employer contributions may continue to be taxed as imputed income in their state taxes.

Estate planning
If an investor does not have an estate plan at their time of death, the estate plan is determined by the state of residence. In the state of California, marriage recognition laws simplify estate planning however it is still highly recommended that individuals properly plan and have the adequate documents prepared including wills, revocable living trusts, etc. to reflect their intent in passing wealth.

Death-related Taxes
It is important to note that in the state of California, same-sex spouses are exempt from the state’s inheritance tax but this is not the case for every state. In terms of federal estate taxes, a surviving same-sex spouse may claim an unlimited marital deduction for qualified transfers of property. Subsequently, when he/she dies, the previously deceased spouse’s unused portion of estate tax exemption can be applied to the latter’s own exemption.

UBS recommends that clients consult with financial advisors especially if they are considering moving out of the state of California and into a non-recognition state. The differences in treatment of same-sex couples in different states can have a large impact of the couple’s treatment at a federal level as well. This often can yield interesting results and, at times, could have drastically different implications for your financial future and planning.

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“Castro Cares” Outreach And Enforcement Program is Up and Running

Castro Cares, the pilot program aimed at addressing neighborhood quality-of-life issues and homeless outreach, is rolling out this week after several months of preparation. A collaboration between the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and the City of San Francisco, SF Police Department, Patrol Special Police, and the Department of Public Health, the program includes increased police presence and on-the-street engagement with the local homeless population.

As the program gets underway, some local activists have accused Andrea Aiello, Executive Director of CUMCBD and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener of being “hostile to the homeless”, such as Kenneth Bunch, a former member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who spoke out at a community meeting in early February. Not so, Aiello and Wiener assured Hoodline.

“Right now we have four hours a week of homeless outreach workers dedicated to the Castro/Upper Market, because of Castro Cares,” Aiello said. “In three weeks we’ll have 20 hours a week of homeless outreach services. Before Castro Cares, there was none.”

The hostility, according to Wiener, is not against the homeless, but against anti-social behavior, some of which has been directed at the homeless. In recent months many neighborhood residents have complained of increased crime around the neighborhood, and of fights breaking out in Jane Warner Plaza, as well as vandalism—some residents say they’ve been threatened in and around the Plaza, which is now being redesigned (again).

“We want more homeless outreach workers, more homeless people to access homeless services,” Wiener said. “It’s not humane to let people die in the streets.”

Aiello described what Castro Cares would be offering. “Castro Cares provides both additional dedicated compassionate care to those in need and additional dedicated law enforcement to the Castro/Upper Market,” she said. “We are slowly launching the program as contracts get signed and funds continue to be raised.”

Aiello said that this week Castro Cares will be paying for an additional 15 hours of Patrol Special officers, which would increase to 30 hours a week in May.

According to Aiello, funding is coming in the form of “$115,000 from City grants, championed by Supervisor Wiener,” she said. “Funding has also come very generously from residents and merchants.”

“The goal is to have dedicated outreach and law enforcement support for the Castro,” said Wiener. “The police department is understaffed and the City does not have enough homeless outreach workers. Castro Cares will hire off duty police officers and homeless outreach workers who will be able to focus on the needs of the Castro.”

“The ultimate goal for Castro Cares is to improve the quality of life in the Castro for those who are at risk and living on the street and also for those housed residents of the Castro,” Aiello said. “And for those who work and play in the Castro/Upper Market.”

If you’d like to help, making a donation to Castro Cares is the best way to pitch in, and donations are tax deductible. “The fully funded Castro Cares budget is $330,000 annually,” said Aiello. “We’re about halfway there at this point, so please make a donation now!”

From Hoodline

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California, Your Apocalypse Is Now More Likely

It is less accurate to call California “a U.S. state” than it is to call it “a future earthquake-induced rubble pile.” As happens quite often, scientists have once again made their doomsaying forecasts about California’s disastrous future even worse.

Just months ago, scientists calculated almost a two-thirds chance of “one or more quakes with a magnitude of 6.7 or larger striking the Bay Area in the next 30 years.” But what about a much more devastating quake, with a magnitude of 8.0? You’ll be happy to know that the chances of that happening imminently are on the rise. From the LA Times:

On Tuesday, the USGS adjusted its big-quake forecast, hiking its estimate on the chances of an 8.0 earthquake in California in the next 30 years from 4.7% to 7%…

Stated another way, the chance of an 8.0 or greater quake in California can be expected once every 494 years. The old forecast calculated a rate of one 8.0 or greater earthquake every 617 years.
Thanks to the principles of randomness, there is absolutely nothing useful that you can do with this new information; you can only sit uncomfortable in the knowledge that the gods have just made it significantly more likely that you will die in a natural disaster at some point during the course of your lifetime. True, nothing may happen. But the statistical chance of you being painfully crushed in a building collapse, plunging off of a crumbling freeway, or dying painfully of thirst in a post-apocalyptic hellscape are greater today then when you woke up blissfully unaware just a day ago. Try not to worry.

Hamilton Nolan
Gawker

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Functional HIV Cure Step Closer To Reality With FDA Approval Of Clinical Human Trials

A possible “functional cure” for HIV has recently been granted FDA approval for further human testing. The method uses genetic modification to cause a specific mutation in the white blood cells of HIV patients which mirrors those found in the naturally immune. It has so far shown to be both receptive and long-lasting.

The novel therapy involves taking stem cells from HIV-infected patients and using a gene editing tool to cause them to form into white blood cells with a specific mutation. The mutation affects a protein known as CCR5, and interferes with the virus’s ability to latch onto blood cells. The mutation occurs naturally in a small percentage of the world’s population and gives these individuals a life-long resistance to HIV infections. Although the virus may remain in their body, without being able to enter the T cells, it cannot replicate and therefore will stay at low numbers, uncompromising the immune system.

In theory, when these genetically edited stem cells are reintroduced into HIV patients they will repopulate the body with cells possessing the same mutation. This would give the patients the same lifetime resistance to the virus’s harm with just one procedure. The method was developed by Sangamo BioSciences Inc., but has also been tested in early human clinical trials by drug research company Calimmune, San Francisco Business Times reported.

According to IFL Science, in a small trial consisting of only 12 patients the procedure was found to be tolerable and have a low risk of adverse side effects. The genetically modified cells lasted up to four years inside the patients. Unfortunately, the trial was not large enough to test the effectiveness of the procedure, but the current FDA approval will allow the testing to be extended to treat more HIV patients. The FDA has also approved the start of a new Phase I safety study, which would consist of a multi-year, three-stage process of human trials to test a similar approach using a different method of disabling the CCR5 protein.

As reported by the SF Business Times, the trials will be conducted at the City of Hope medical center in California and is being funded by CIRM, the state’s stem cell research funding agency. It will be run by researchers from Sangamo BioSciences Inc. and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. They will include people with HIV/AIDS who have had poor responses to standard therapies.

“This kind of work is too important to just try one method at a time and sit back and wait to see if it is effective,” explained Dr. Jonathan Thomas, chair of the CIRM governing board, Imperial Valley News reported. “We have a mission to find treatments for patients in need. By trying several different approaches, taking several shots at goal at the same time if you like, we feel we have a better chance of being successful.”

The procedure hopes to replicate what occurred in the Berlin Patient, the only person to ever be “cured” of HIV. If proven to be as effective in the trials as it is on paper, the procedure may become the world’s first “functional cure” for HIV and AIDS.

From Medical Daily

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