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San Bruno Online Petition Calls for CPUC to Hold PG&E Accountable for Gas Explosion

The City of San Bruno launched an online petition drive last week that seeks the public’s participation in calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to hold Pacific Gas & Electric Company and its shareholders accountable for the fatal Sept. 9, 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno and to demand that a penalty levied against PG&E is invested in a safety improvement program to prevent future tragedies in other California communities.

More than three years after the explosion, the CPUC’s administrative law judges are expected to issue their recommended penalty in the coming weeks, after which the CPUC’s five-member commission will ultimately determine how much PG&E will be forced to pay for the fatal explosion that federal and state investigators determined was entirely preventable and did not have to happen.

San Bruno’s petition – which already has more than 6,900 signatures – is available at: www.gaspipelinesafety.org, a website established by the City of San Bruno to petition the CPUC through the free, online petition platform Change.org.  City officials said they started the website and petition after members of the public asked how they could voice support for a penalty and fine to force PG&E shareholders to fund repairs to its aging and deadly pipeline infrastructure.

Federal investigators found that PG&E’s years of neglected safety repairs resulted in the 2010 explosion that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed scores of homes in San Bruno. Now, the City of San Carlos is facing a similar problem with PG&E over similar faulty data for a gas pipeline. PG&E estimates that it doesn’t know the safety status of nearly 20 percent of its thousands of miles of gas pipelines in California.

“The public is outraged by PG&E’s decades of neglect and misallocation of resources that resulted in eight people losing their lives,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “Citizens and cities throughout California are at the same risk of what happened in San Bruno. Now is the time to take action and this petition gives the public that ability.”

“Citizens throughout California often ask me and other city leaders what they can do to support San Bruno and change our broken public utility system,” Ruane said. “We started this online petition to provide the public an outlet for those concerns, and we encourage everyone to join myself and the members of the San Bruno City Council in signing to support a safe gas pipeline system here and in communities everywhere.”

The petition calls on the CPUC to levy the recommended $2.45 Billion penalty and fine against PG&E shareholders – not ratepayers – for the San Bruno explosion, requiring that shareholders  invest in needed repairs to guarantee the safety of PG&E’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

In addition, the petition to the CPUC’s Executive Director asks the CPUC to assign an Independent Monitor to serve as a statewide safety watchdog. The Independent Monitor would protect public safety at the risk of future negligence by PG&E and weak oversight by the politically appointed CPUC commissioners with close ties to utilities.

Last, the petition implores the CPUC to change the way regulators do business and end regulators’ cozy relationships and the conflicts of interest with utility companies. Federal investigators identified these troubling relationships as contributing factors to the disaster in San Bruno.

Every time a member of the public signs the petition, an e-mail will be automatically sent to CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon, Gov. Jerry Brown and PG&E CEO Tony Earley – sending a direct message that the public is watching and holding them accountable.

“Members of the public, especially those who have been personally affected by PG&E’s gross negligence here and across the state, are invested in this process, and they are paying attention,” Ruane said. “We hope this petition sends the message to not only the CPUC but also to the Governor of California and to the CEO of PG&E that the public is concerned, and that we are watching to make sure public safety is a priority.”

City officials say the public outreach campaign and petition drive at gaspipelinesafety.org is also designed to inform the public about why the ongoing penalty process against PG&E is, more than three years after the explosion, still relevant and important to the safety of communities statewide. Federal investigators determined the explosion to be result of faulty pipeline construction, bad record-keeping and decades of neglected pipeline safety improvements that continue to threaten the safety of communities across California.

PG&E executives recently admitted to serious record-keeping errors and were sanctioned by the CPUC for failing to inform regulators of these problems on a pipeline in San Carlos, Calif. – problems a PG&E engineer likened to “another San Bruno situation” in an internal e-mail to company officials.

It is projected that PG&E will need to spend nearly $10 billion in the coming years to test and replace its gas lines because PG&E historically failed to track and maintain those lines.  City officials say the proposed $2.45 billion penalty and fine is important and necessary because PG&E will be forced to spend it on these very improvements.

More importantly, the penalty is structured such that shareholders – not ratepayers – will be forced to cover these costs, saving ratepayers from shouldering about 20 percent of PG&E’s total capital needs.

“This decision before the CPUC has lasting implications about the safety of our aging pipeline infrastructure,” Ruane said. “We implore members of the public to learn more and support our drive to change a flawed system so that what happened in San Bruno is never permitted to happen again, anywhere.”

Visit www.gaspipelinesafety.org to sign the petition or get more information.

 

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Michael Tilson Thomas Conducts The San Francisco Symphony And The San Francisco Symphony Chorus In Performances Of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 February 27 – March 2 At Davies Symphony Hall


Concerts feature mezzo-soprano soloist Sasha Cooke and The San Francisco Girls Chorus

Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and SFS Chorus, joined by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and the San Francisco Girls Chorus, in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 February 27-March 2 at Davies Symphony Hall. MTT, Cooke and the Orchestra will also perform the work five times (in London, Paris, Geneva, Luxembourg, and Vienna) with local choruses during their upcoming European tour in March 2014.

MTT first conducted the work with the SFS in four 1987 concerts, eight years before he would assume the post of SFS Music Director. During his tenure as Music Director, MTT has brought back the work in 1997 and 2002, both times featuring Michelle DeYoung who appears on the 2003 Grammy Award-winning SFS Media recording, and during the Orchestra’s Centennial season in 2011, featuring Katarina Karnéus. The monumental work – Mahler’s longest piece and the longest symphony in the standard repertoire – has been performed a total of 25 times by the Orchestra, dating back to 1976, with 17 of those performances led by MTT.

MTT/SFS Mahler Recording Project
Michael Tilson Thomas has distinguished himself as one of the world’s foremost Mahler interpreters through his and the Orchestra’s award-winning recordings and signature performances. MTT and the SFS’ self-produced Mahler recording project, launched in 2001 and completed in 2010, contains all of Mahler’s symphonies and works for voice, chorus and orchestra. Their recording of Symphony No. 3 was released in 2003, featuring mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, and is paired with Kindertotenlieder. It won the “Best Classical Album” Grammy and 5 stars from Diapason in France. In total, the Orchestra’s Mahler cycle on SFS Media has been recognized with seven Grammy Awards, including three for its recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 and the Adagio from Symphony No. 10. Complete box sets of the cycle are available on vinyl and SACD. MTT and the SFS explore Mahler in an episode of their Keeping Score television series, an excerpt of which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1kRhQK751s.

Sasha Cooke
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is a rising star who has been appearing with the San Francisco Symphony since 2009 in music by composers as diverse as Gilbert and Sullivan, Mahler, Debussy, Beethoven, Stravinksy and Berlioz. She most recently performed Viennese classics and American songbook favorites with the Orchestra at the SF Symphony’s glamorous New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball to welcome in the year 2014. Other symphonic engagements of Cooke’s 2013-2014 season include appearances with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic performing Britten’s Spring Symphony, Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, and performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with both Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Tugan Sokhiev and the Columbus Symphony conducted by Jean Marie Zeituni. She makes her debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Cristian Macelaru. Last season she performed the title role in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at San Francisco Opera.  In the summer of 2013 she performed Mahler’s Second Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus
One of America’s most distinguished choruses, the 158-member San Francisco Symphony Chorus celebrates its 40th anniversary in the 2013-14 season, and is known for its precision, power, and versatility. Led by Director Ragnar Bohlin, the Chorus is in the spotlight during many of the 13-14 season’s artistic focal points, such as Peter Grimes, Beethoven’s Mass in C and excerpts from King Stephen with MTT, Bach’s Missa Brevis (Kyrie and Gloria) from Mass in B minor, the first SFS performances of Bach’s Cantata No. 207a, Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten with Ton Koopman, Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht with Pablo Heras-Casado, and Britten’s War Requiem with Semyon Bychkov.
The SFS Chorus performs more than twenty concerts each season and is comprised of 30 professional and 128 volunteer members. Recordings featuring the SFS Chorus have won a total of eight Grammy awards, including three for Best Choral Performance. They were featured on the SFS Media’s recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with MTT and the SFS, which won three 2010 Grammys, including the award for Best Choral Performance. Most recently, a recording of the Chorus’ performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS was released in April 2013.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus
Founded in 1978, the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) has become a regional center for choral music education and performance for girls and young women ages 5-18. 400 singers from 45 Bay Area cities participate in this internationally recognized program, deemed “a model in the country for training girls’ voices” by the California Arts Council. In the 2008-2009 season, the Chorus sang at the swearing in of President Barack Obama, and can be heard on several San Francisco Symphony recordings, including four Grammy winners: Mahler’s Symphony Nos. 3 and 8, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, The Firebird, and Perséphone  and Orff’s  Carmina burana.

According to MTT, “the SFGC is a treasure. Their training, musicality, and vibrant spirit are evident whenever they perform. I have enjoyed our long association and look forward to many years of collaboration.”

SFGC has won many honors, including the prestigious Margaret Hillis Award and two ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming in 1999, 2004 and 2011. They have been honored to sing at many national and international venues, including the World Choral Symposium in Kyoto, Japan in 2005. SFGC’s discography continues to grow with a 2-disc set entitled Heaven and Earth. The music represents some of the greatest sacred and secular repertoire ever written for treble voices. Other recordings include: Voices of Hope and Peace, a recording with many exciting SFGC commissions; Christmas, featuring diverse holiday selections; Crossroads, a collection of world folk music; and Music from the Venetian Ospedali, a disc of Italian Baroque music of which The New Yorker described the Chorus as “tremendously accomplished.”

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Makes Its Bay Area Debut 
In Zellerbach Hall On February 22 And 23 
Highlighting Top Contemporary Choreography

Powerful dancing of modern choreography is the focus when Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet makes its Bay Area debut on Saturday, February 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 23 at 3:00 p.m. in Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall. The 16-dancer company, known for championing the works of living choreographers with European connections, will showcase dances by Jiří Kylián, Crystal Pite, and Jo Strømgren in a program that includes two Bay Area premieres. “Cedar Lake’s popularity has everything to do with its roster of technically strong, stylistically malleable dancers, and its formidable repertoire of works by A-list choreographers” (Boston Globe).

Three dance works are on Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Berkeley program. Indigo Rose was created by Czech-born choreographer Jiří Kylián in 1998, using music by Robert Ashley, François Couperin, John Cage, and J.S. Bach. Its three movements use muscular motion, tender duets, shadow play, and projected images to document and illuminate the transient nature of youth and human relationships. Making its Bay Area premiere, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, a piece created in 2007 by Vancouver–based choreographer Crystal Pite, uses music by rock drummer Cliff Martinez from the 2002 motion picture Solaris. As its title implies, Pite’s work consists of 10 concise duets, separate yet interconnected, each with a unique emotional tone that is enhanced through creative lighting designed by Jim French. Another Bay Area premiere, Necessity Again, was commissioned by Cedar Lake from Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren in 2012. It uses music by popular French-Armenian singer/songwriter Charles Aznavour and a recorded interview with philosopher Jacques Derrida to explore those ineffable moments when emotion, represented by the music, trumps the rationality of words.

New York City–based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was established in 2003 by heiress Nancy Walton Laurie and quickly rose to worldwide acclaim. Noted for daring, athletic movement that integrates contemporary and popular dance forms into ballet, Cedar Lake’s repertoire is heavily influenced by Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the French-born, Alvin Ailey–trained dancer who guided the company toward works by contemporary European choreographers in his eight years as artistic director. Pouffer recently resigned; the company’s interim artistic director is Alexandra Damiani, a French dancer who has been the troupe’s ballet master since 2005. The 16 dancers in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet are Jon Bond, Nickemil Concepcion, Jason Kittelberger, Navarra Novy-Williams, Matthew Rich, Joaquim de Santana, Acacia Schachte, Vânia Doutel Vaz, Ebony Williams, Rachelle Scott, Billy Bell, Ida Saki, Jin Young Won, Joseph Kudra, Guillaume Quéau, and Madeline Wong.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on Saturday, February 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 23 at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $30.00 to $68.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, at http://www.calperformances.org, and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One-Percent Jokes and Plutocrats in Drag: What I Saw When I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society By Kevin Roose

Recently, our nation’s financial chieftains have been feeling a little unloved. Venture capitalists are comparing the persecution of the rich to the plight ofJews at Kristallnacht, Wall Street titans are saying that they’re sick of being beaten up, and this week, a billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, proclaimed that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.”

Ross’s statement seemed particularly odd, because two years ago, I met Ross at an event that might single-handedly explain why the rest of the country still hates financial tycoons – the annual black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called Kappa Beta Phi.

“Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas, Kappas from the Spring Street and Montgomery Street chapters, and worthless neophytes!”

It was January 2012, and Ross, wearing a tuxedo and purple velvet moccasins embroidered with the fraternity’s Greek letters, was standing at the dais of the St. Regis Hotel ballroom, welcoming a crowd of two hundred wealthy and famous Wall Street figures to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner. Ross, the leader (or “Grand Swipe”) of the fraternity, was preparing to invite 21 new members — “neophytes,” as the group called them — to join its exclusive ranks.

Looking up at him from an elegant dinner of rack of lamb and foie gras were many of the most famous investors in the world, including executives from nearly every too-big-to-fail bank, private equity megafirm, and major hedge fund. AIG CEO Bob Benmosche was there, as were Wall Street superlawyer Marty Lipton and Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the former chairman of Bear Stearns. And those were just the returning members. Among the neophytes were hedge fund billionaire and major Obama donor Marc Lasry and Joe Reece, a high-ranking dealmaker at Credit Suisse. [To see the full Kappa Beta Phi member list, click here.] All told, enough wealth and power was concentrated in the St. Regis that night that if you had dropped a bomb on the roof, global finance as we know it might have ceased to exist.

During his introductory remarks, Ross spoke for several minutes about the legend of Kappa Beta Phi – how it had been started in 1929 by “four C+ William and Mary students”; how its crest, depicting a “macho right hand in a proper Savile Row suit and a Turnbull and Asser shirtsleeve,” was superior to that of its namesake Phi Beta Kappa (Ross called Phi Beta Kappa’s ruffled-sleeve logo a “tacit confession of homosexuality”); and how the fraternity’s motto, “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus,” was Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.”

On cue, the financiers shouted out in a thundering bellow: “DUM VIVAMUS EDIMUS ET BIBERIMUS.”

The only person not saying the chant along with Ross was me — a journalist who had sneaked into the event, and who was hiding out at a table in the back corner in a rented tuxedo.

Several Kappas at the table next to me, presumably discussing the coming plutocracy.

I’d heard whisperings about the existence of Kappa Beta Phi, whose members included both incredibly successful financiers (New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones) and incredibly unsuccessful ones (Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld, Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, former New Jersey governor and MF Global flameout Jon Corzine). It was a secret fraternity, founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, that functioned as a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club. Each year, the group’s dinner features comedy skits, musical acts in drag, and off-color jokes, and its group’s privacy mantra is “What happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.” For eight decades, it worked. No outsider in living memory had witnessed the entire proceedings firsthand.

A Kappa neophyte (left) chats up a vet.

I wanted to break the streak for several reasons. As part of my research for my book,Young Money, I’d been investigating the lives of young Wall Street bankers – the 22-year-olds toiling at the bottom of the financial sector’s food chain. I knew what made those people tick. But in my career as a financial journalist, one question that proved stubbornly elusive was what happened to Wall Streeters as they climbed the ladder to adulthood. Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy. But if I could somehow see these barons in their natural environment, with their defenses down, I might be able to understand the world my young subjects were stepping into.

So when I learned when and where Kappa Beta Phi’s annual dinner was being held, I knew I needed to try to go.

Getting in was shockingly easy — a brisk walk past the sign-in desk, and I was inside cocktail hour. Immediately, I saw faces I recognized from the papers. I picked up an event program and saw that there were other boldface names on the Kappa Beta Phi membership roll — among them, then-Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Home Depot billionaire Ken Langone, Morgan Stanley bigwig Greg Fleming, and JPMorgan Chase vice chairman Jimmy Lee. Any way you count, this was one of the most powerful groups of business executives in the world. (Since I was a good 20 years younger than any other attendee, I suspect that anyone taking note of my presence assumed I was a waiter.)

I hadn’t counted on getting in to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner, and now that I had gotten past security, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. I wanted to avoid rousing suspicion, and I knew that talking to people would get me outed in short order. So I did the next best thing — slouched against a far wall of the room, and pretended to tap out emails on my phone.

The 2012 Kappa Beta Phi neophyte class.

After cocktail hour, the new inductees – all of whom were required to dress in leotards and gold-sequined skirts, with costume wigs – began their variety-show acts. Among the night’s lowlights:

• Paul Queally, a private-equity executive with Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe, told off-color jokes to Ted Virtue, another private-equity bigwig with MidOcean Partners. The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”).

• Bill Mulrow, a top executive at the Blackstone Group (who was later appointed chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Agency), and Emil Henry, a hedge fund manager with Tiger Infrastructure Partners and former assistant secretary of the Treasury, performed a bizarre two-man comedy skit. Mulrow was dressed in raggedy, tie-dye clothes to play the part of a liberal radical, and Henry was playing the part of a wealthy baron. They exchanged lines as if staging a debate between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. (“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Henry shouted. “My God, you callow, insensitive Republican! Don’t you know what we need to do? We need to create jobs,” Mulrow shot back.)

• David MooreMarc Lasry, and Keith Meister — respectively, a holding company CEO, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, and an activist investor — sang a few seconds of a finance-themed parody of “YMCA” before getting the hook.

• Warren Stephens, an investment banking CEO, took the stage in a Confederate flag hat and sang a song about the financial crisis, set to the tune of “Dixie.” (“In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man.”)

A few more acts followed, during which the veteran Kappas continued to gorge themselves on racks of lamb, throw petits fours at the stage, and laugh uproariously. Michael Novogratz, a former Army helicopter pilot with a shaved head and a stocky build whose firm, Fortress Investment Group, had made him a billionaire, was sitting next to me, drinking liberally and annotating each performance with jokes and insults.

Can you fuckin’ believe Lasry up there?” Novogratz asked me. I nodded. He added, “He just gave me a ride in his jet a month ago.”

The neophytes – who had changed from their drag outfits into Mormon missionary costumes — broke into their musical finale: a parody version of “I Believe,” the hit ballad from The Book of Mormon, with customized lyrics like “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe my plan involves a seven-figure bonus.” Amused, I pulled out my phone, and began recording the proceedings on video. Wrong move.

The grand finale, a parody of “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon

“Who the hell are you?” Novogratz demanded.

I felt my pulse spike. I was tempted to make a run for it, but – due to the ethics code of the New York Times, my then-employer – I had no choice but to out myself.

“I’m a reporter,” I said.

Novogratz stood up from the table.

“You’re not allowed to be here,” he said.

I, too, stood, and tried to excuse myself, but he grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.

“Give me that or I’ll fucking break it!” Novogratz yelled, grabbing for my phone, which was filled with damning evidence. His eyes were bloodshot, and his neck veins were bulging. The song onstage was now over, and a number of prominent Kappas had rushed over to our table. Before the situation could escalate dangerously, a bond investor and former Grand Swipe named Alexandra Lebenthal stepped in between us. Wilbur Ross quickly followed, and the two of them led me out into the lobby, past a throng of Wall Street tycoons, some of whom seemed to be hyperventilating.

Once we made it to the lobby, Ross and Lebenthal reassured me that what I’d just seen wasn’t really a group of wealthy and powerful financiers making homophobic jokes, making light of the financial crisis, and bragging about their business conquests at Main Street’s expense. No, it was just a group of friends who came together to roast each other in a benign and self-deprecating manner. Nothing to see here.

But the extent of their worry wasn’t made clear until Ross offered himself up as a source for future stories in exchange for my cooperation.

“I’ll pick up the phone anytime, get you any help you need,” he said.

“Yeah, the people in this group could be very helpful,” Lebenthal chimed in. “If you could just keep their privacy in mind.”

I wasn’t going to be bribed off my story, but I understood their panic.  Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark. (Or worse, sing about it — one of the last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”) These were activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and damage very public reputations.

After several more minutes spent trying to do damage control, Ross and Lebenthal escorted me out of the St. Regis.

As I walked through the streets of midtown in my ill-fitting tuxedo, I thought about the implications of what I’d just seen.

The first and most obvious conclusion was that the upper ranks of finance are composed of people who have completely divorced themselves from reality. No self-aware and socially conscious Wall Street executive would have agreed to be part of a group whose tacit mission is to make light of the financial sector’s foibles. Not when those foibles had resulted in real harm to millions of people in the form of foreclosures, wrecked 401(k)s, and a devastating unemployment crisis.

The second thing I realized was that Kappa Beta Phi was, in large part, a fear-based organization. Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world. And the idea of a reporter making those views public had caused them to throw a mass temper tantrum.

The last thought I had, and the saddest, was that many of these self-righteous Kappa Beta Phi members had surely been first-year bankers once. And in the 20, 30, or 40 years since, something fundamental about them had changed. Their pursuit of money and power had removed them from the larger world to the sad extent that, now, in the primes of their careers, the only people with whom they could be truly themselves were a handful of other prominent financiers.

Perhaps, I realized, this social isolation is why despite extraordinary evidence to the contrary, one-percenters like Ross keep saying how badly persecuted they are. When you’re a member of the fraternity of money, it can be hard to see past the foie gras to the real world.

 

Adapted from Kevin Roose’s bookYoung Money, published today by Grand Central Publishing.

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Suspected Gay Men Forced To March Naked Through Nigeria’s Capital Before Being Beaten By Police And Two Violent Mobs

The situation in Nigeria for its gay citizens continues to deteriorate. In early February, shortly after the African nation officially criminalized homosexuality, a suspected gay couple was forced to have sex in front of an angry mob. But late last week and over the weekend the violent mob rule intensified.

In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, a mob of more than 50 people forced 14 suspected gay men to march through the streets naked last week. Once in the Gishiri neighborhood, the mob beat the men with nail-studded clubs, whips, iron bars and anything else that could be weaponized. Police joined the mob in beating the men, with one man nearly dying from the injuries he sustained.

“They all had weapons,” one witness said. “Some were having wires, whips. Some had broken furniture. They said they wanted to kill. They were moving around from one person’s house to another.”

Following the attack, the mob wrote “Homosexuals, pack and leave” on the homes of the men they assaulted.

Saturday night, a second mob went out on a mission to rid Nigeria of its LGBT people. ”We have been notified that 10 men, suspected to be gay, were rounded up and beaten last night in the town of Geshiri, near Abuja, by a mob of about 40 people,” International Gay And Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern reported. Five of the men were apparently detained by police before being released.

“The leaders are just watching, and now the Nigerian social fabric is being disintegrated by acts of mob violence,” said human rights activist Dorothy Aken’Ova about the mob attacks. “Now we have this new category as a result of the new law. And the government is quiet.”

Does the situation in Nigeria remind you of any other blemish on human history that’s occurred in the past 100 years?

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Here’s Where The GOP Is Depriving Americans Of Health Care

Many of the Americans who need access to affordable health care the most live in areas where they won’t get it under Obamacare, thanks to their Republican governors and legislators.

A new map from the Urban Institute, a social and economic policy research organization, shows that a large swath of those being denied the health care they need live in places where governors decided not to expand Medicaid.

map 1

The map highlights where the greatest percentage of people would benefit from Medicaid expansion, with darker colors representing higher concentrations of poor Americans who are currently ineligible for Medicaid but who would be eligible if their state expanded the program.

For reference, the map below highlights states that didn’t choose to expand Medicaid in lighter gray. As you can see, many overlap with the areas that have the highest levels of uninsured adults in poverty who would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion.

map 2

One of the major goals of the Affordable Care Act was to give poor Americans increased access to affordable health coverage, but a 2012 Supreme Court decision threw a wrench in that plan. The high court ruled that state lawmakers could decide whether they wanted to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid to those making less than 133 percent of the poverty level under the law, or about $15,300 for a singleperson.

Since that decision, Republican governors and legislators in 25 states have refused to adopt the Medicaid expansion, leaving some of their poorest residents in limbo. For the record, Medicaid expansion is fully funded by the federal government from 2014 through 2016, then at no less than 90 percent in future years.

Subsides in the form of tax credits are available for Americans who make poverty-level wages and up to four times that amount to buy insurance on the government-run exchanges. But for Americans who earn less than the poverty rate and live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, it’s nearly impossible to get access to affordable coverage.

“You end up with what seems to be this counterintuitive notion that you have poor adults in the 25 states that are not expanding Medicaid where their incomes are not high enough to qualify for subsidized coverage,” said Stephen Zuckerman, a senior health policy fellow at the Urban Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Virginia Ban is Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Virginia’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional late Thursday.

From the ruling:

The Court finds Va. Const. Art. I, § 15-A, Va. Code §§ 20-45.2, 20-45.3, and any other Virginia law that bars same-sex marriage or prohibits Virginia’s recognition of lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions unconstitutional. These laws deny Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen wrote that the constitutional right to equality should apply to all, including same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us,” wrote Wright Allen, an Eastern District of Virginia judge in Norfolk. ”While ever vigilant for the wisdom that can come from the voices of our voting public, our courts have never long tolerated the perpetuation of laws rooted in unlawful prejudice. One of the judiciary’s noblest endeavors is to scrutinize law that emerge from such roots.”

Wright Allen stayed her order to allow an appeal, meaning nothing immediately changes for same-sex couples in the state.

The suit was filed by two Virginia couples: Tim Bostic and Tony London, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, a couple whose California marriage license did them no good in Virginia. The couples were represented by Theodore Olson and David Boies, the bipartisan attorney pair known for winning the June 2013 case that restored gay marriage rights in California.

Wright Allen began her opinion with an excerpt from Mildred Loving’s “Loving for All.” Loving, a black woman, was banished from Virginia for marrying a white man.She brought her case to the Supreme Court, leading to the end of state miscegenation laws. The judge concluded with a salute to President Abraham Lincoln:

Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his own life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just… the same thing — fairness, and fairness only. This so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.

Mark Herring, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, recently announced his support for gay couples seeking marriage licenses.

“After thorough legal review, I have now concluded that Virginia’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” Herring said in January.

More from the Associated Press:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, making it the first state in the South to have its voter-approved prohibition overturned.

Wright Allen’s ruling makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages.

A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state, however. The Virginia judge’s ruling also follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.

Wright Allen’s stay was requested by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office in order to avoid a situation similar to what happened in Utah after a federal judge declared that state’s ban on gay marriages unconstitutional.

More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in the days after the ruling before the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state an emergency stay, halting the weddings and creating a cloud of uncertainty for the status of the married couples. Soon after, a federal judge also declared Oklahoma’s ban unconstitutional. That ruling is also on hold while it is appealed.

In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast. None of them is in the old Confederacy.

 

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Boston mayor refuses to march with anti-gay St Patrick’s Day Parade

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has vowed to boycott the South Boston St Patrick’s Day Parade if organizers do not reconsider allowing members of the LGBT community to march.

Speaking to the Boston Herald he said, “If the gay community is not allowed to march, I’m not marching in the parade.”

The Mayor, who is the son of Irish immigrants, said he is trying to persuade the parade’s organizers to allow members of Boston’s gay, lesbian, and transgender communities to publicly march under their own banner.

“I’m working on it…I hope (to reach a deal),” he said.

“It’s 2014, it’s time for the parade to be an inclusive parade and it’s something that I’m working with. I’ve had some conversations early on and they have been very good conversations, we will see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”

In 1995 the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the parade was a private event and, thus, the parade organizers had the right to exclude groups that proclaimed messages they reject.

One of the parade’s longtime organizers, John “Whacko” Hurley, told the Boston Herald that he is unaware of any deals being worked out to allow gay and lesbian marchers.

Hurley added that he will harbor no ill will towards Mayor Walsh if he chooses to skip the March 16 parade.

“That’s his prerogative whether he wants to walk or not. He’s a great guy. I sat down with him last week,  I think he’s got a tough job there. He don’t make the rules for the parade,” Hurley said, adding, “it takes a lot more to make me upset.”

Parade organizers have always pointed to the 1995 ruling as the mainstay of their decision to invite only those they want. While South Boston has changed incredibly, it is still a hard knocking Irish neighborhood, fiercely independent and ornery when it comes to who marches in their parades.

The Boston mayor’s decision is just the latest controversy to hit plans for parades this year.

New York mayor Bill De Blasio has announced that he will not to march in this year’s parade in New York.

A senior Irish government minister has followed his lead and is also boycotting New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade in protest at the organizers’ attitude to gay and lesbian marchers.

Minister for Social Protection and Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton told a Dublin radio station that she will not be attending the parade when she is in the city for the annual festivities. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, however, is expected to march in the parade despite mounting pressure on him follow the mayor’s lead.

“It is my intention to be there in New York,” Kenny said.

Mr Kenny did not express a view on Mr de Blasio’s reservations about the parade.

“You should ask the Mayor that question. I don’t speak for the Mayor,” he said.

 

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Class Warfare SF Style

The young woman at the blockade was worried about the banner the Oaklanders brought, she told me, because she and her co-organisers had tried to be careful about messaging. But the words FUCK OFF GOOGLE in giant letters on a purple sheet held up in front of a blockaded Google bus gladdened the hearts of other San Franciscans. That morning – it was Tuesday, 21 January – about fifty locals were also holding up a Facebook bus: a gleaming luxury coach transporting Facebook employees down the peninsula to Silicon Valley. A tall young black man held one corner of the banner; he was wearing a Ulysses T-shirt, as if analogue itself had come to protest against digital. The Brass Liberation Orchestra played Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ as the television cameras rolled.

The white buses took up most of the four lanes of Eighth Street at Market, and their passengers were barely visible behind the tinted windows, scowling or texting or looking at their laptops for the half-hour they were delayed by the blockade. GET OFF THE BUS! JOIN US, another banner said, and the official-looking signs from the 9 December blockade were put up at either end of the Facebook bus: WARNING: INCOME GAP AHEAD the one at the front said. STOP DISPLACEMENT NOW, read the one at the back. One protester shook a sign on a stick in front of the Google bus; a young Google employee decided to dance with it, as though we were all at the same party.

We weren’t. One of the curious things about the crisis in San Francisco – precipitated by a huge influx of well-paid tech workers driving up housing costs and causing evictions, gentrification and cultural change – is that they seem unable to understand why many locals don’t love them. They’re convinced that they are members of the tribe. Their confusion may issue from Silicon Valley’s own favourite stories about itself. These days in TED talks and tech-world conversation, commerce is described as art and as revolution and huge corporations are portrayed as agents of the counterculture.

That may actually have been the case, briefly, in the popular tech Genesis story according to which Apple emerged from a garage somewhere at the south end of the San Francisco Peninsula, not yet known as Silicon Valley. But Google set itself up with the help of a $4.5 million dollar government subsidy, and Apple became a giant corporation that begat multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns and overseas sweatshops and the rest that you already know. Facebook, Google, eBay and Yahoo (though not Apple) belong to the conservative anti-environmental political action committee Alec (the American Legislative Exchange Council).

The story Silicon Valley less often tells about itself has to do with dollar signs and weapons systems. The industry came out of military contracting, and its alliance with the Pentagon has never ended. The valley’s first major firm, Hewlett-Packard, was a military contractor. One of its co-founders, David Packard, was an undersecretary of defence in the Nixon administration; his signal contribution as a civil servant was a paper about overriding the laws preventing the imposition of martial law. Many defence contractors have flourished in Silicon Valley in the decades since: weapons contractors United Technologies and Lockheed Martin, as well as sundry makers of drone, satellite and spying equipment and military robotics. Silicon Valley made technology for the military, and the military sponsored research that benefited Silicon Valley. The first supercomputer, made by New York’s Remington Rand, was for nuclear weapons research at the Bay Area’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The internet itself, people sometimes remember, was created by the military, and publicly funded research has done a lot to make the hardware, the software and the vast private fortunes possible. Which you wouldn’t know from the hyperlibertarian language of the tech world’s kings. Even the mildest of them, Bill Gates, said in 1998: ‘There isn’t an industry in America that is more creative, more alive and more competitive. And the amazing thing is that all this happened without any government involvement.’ The current lords talk of various kinds of secession, quite literally at the Seasteading Institute, an organisation that’s looking into building artificial islands outside all national laws and regulations. And taxes. Let someone else subsidise all that research.

The same morning the buses were stopped in downtown San Francisco, some hellraisers went to the Berkeley home of a Google employee who, they say, works on robots for the military. (Google recently purchased eight robotics companies and is going in a lot of new directions, to put it mildly.) After ringing his doorbell, they unfurled a banner that read GOOGLE’S FUTURE STOPS HERE, and then blockaded the Google bus at one of its Berkeley stops. ‘We will not be held hostage by Google’s threat to release massive amounts of carbon should the bus service be stopped,’ their statement said.

So there’s a disconnect in values and goals: Silicon Valley workers seem to want to inhabit the anti-war, social-justice, mutual-aid heart of San Francisco (and the Bay Area). To do so they often displace San Franciscans from their homes. One often hears objections: it isn’t the tech workers coming here who are carrying out the evictions. But they are moving into homes from which people have been evicted. Ivory collectors in China aren’t shooting elephants in Africa, but the elephants are being shot for them. Native sons and daughters also work in the industry, and many of the newcomers may be compassionate, progressive people, but I have seen few signs of resistance, refusal to participate, or even chagrin about their impact from within their ranks.

2013 may be the year San Francisco turned on Silicon Valley and may be the year the world did too. Edward Snowden’s revelations began to flow in June: Silicon Valley was sharing our private data with the National Security Agency. Many statements were made about how reluctantly it was done, how outraged the executives were, but all the relevant companies – Yahoo, Google, Facebook – complied without telling us. These days it appears that the NSA is not their enemy so much as their rival; Facebook and Google are themselves apparently harvesting far more data from us than the US government. Last year, Facebook’s chief security officer went to work for the NSA, and the New York Times said the move underscores the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the agency and the degree to which they are now in the same business. Both hunt for ways to collect, analyze and exploit large pools of data about millions of Americans. The only difference is that the NSA does it for intelligence, and Silicon Valley does it to make money.

The corporations doing this are not the counterculture, or the underground or bohemia, only the avant-garde of an Orwellian future.

City of Refuge, a church serving people of colour and queer people, left San Francisco, a city that has long considered itself a refuge, last September and moved to Oakland. ‘It became clear,’ its pastor said, ‘what the neighbourhood was saying to us: This is not a haven for social services.’ The current boom is dislodging bookstores, bars, Latino businesses, black businesses, environmental and social-services groups, as well as longtime residents, many of them disabled and elderly. Mary Elizabeth Phillips, who arrived in San Francisco after getting married in 1937, will be 98 when she is driven out of her home of more than half a century.

In many other places eviction means you go and find a comparable place to live: in San Francisco that’s impossible for anyone who’s been here a while and is paying less than the market rate. Money isn’t the only issue: even people who can pay huge sums can’t find anything to rent, because the competition is so fierce. Jonathan Klein, a travel-agency owner in his sixties living with Aids, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge last year after being driven out of his home, with his business in the Castro facing eviction. ‘EVICTION = DEATH’, a sign at the memorial said, echoing the old ‘SILENCE = DEATH’ slogan of the Aids-activist era.

When it comes to buying a home, your income needs to be nearly one and a half times higher in San Francisco than in the next most expensive city in the US. What began as vague anxiety a couple of years ago has turned into fear, rage and grief. It has also driven people to develop strategies aimed at changing the local and statewide laws that permit the evictions.

When a Google bus was surrounded on 9 December, it made the news all over the English-speaking world. Though what the blockaders wanted wasn’t so easily heard. They were attacked as people who don’t like carpools, by people who don’t get that the buses compete with public transport and that their passengers displace economically vulnerable San Franciscans. It’s as though death came riding in on a pale horse and someone said: ‘What? You don’t like horses?’ Many of the displaced then become commuters but they don’t have luxury coaches pulling up in their neighbourhoods to take them to their jobs and schools in San Francisco: they drive, or patch together routes on public transport, or sink into oblivion and exile. So the Google bus and the Apple bus don’t reduce commuting’s impact. They just transfer it to poorer people.

San Francisco was excoriated again and again by lovers of development and the free market for not being dense enough, on the grounds that if we just built and built and built, everyone would be happily housed. ‘Let San Francisco have the same housing density as Tokyo & Taipei, both earthquake zones, then watch rental costs crater,’ a tech worker tweeted. (His feed also features photographs of a toy mule, the mascot of the company he works for, and occasional outbursts aimed at Edward Snowden.) Another day he insisted with the blithe confidence Silicon Valley seems to beget (as well as the oversimplification Twitter more or less requires): ‘Higher minimum wage and looser, pro-development zoning laws, housing problem in San Francisco goes away. Simple as that.’ (Minimum wage would have to be more than $50 an hour for someone to be able to buy a house in San Francisco, or to ensure that a $3200 a month rent accounted for no more than a third of their pre-tax income.)

San Francisco is already the second densest major metropolitan area in the US, but this isn’t mentioned much, nor is the fact that the densest, New York, is also unaffordable and becoming more so even in its outer boroughs, despite a building boom. Meanwhile San Francisco developers are building 48,000 more units of housing in the few cracks and interstices not already filled in, mostly upscale condominiums far out of most people’s reach, and most of which won’t be available in time to prevent the next round of evictions.

How do you diagnose what is wrong with San Francisco now? People bandy about the word ‘gentrification’, a term usually used for neighbourhoods rather than whole cities. You could say that San Francisco, like New York and other US metropolises, is suffering the reversal of postwar white flight: affluent people, many of them white, decided in the past few decades that cities were nice places to live after all, and started to return, pushing poorer people, many of them non-white, to the margins.

You can also see the explosion as a variation on the new economic divide, in which the few have more and more and the many have less and less: a return to 19th-century social arrangements. (It gets forgotten that the more generous arrangements of the 20th century, in much of Europe and North America, were made in part to sedate insurrectionary fury from below.) It’s the issue to which Occupy Wall Street drew our attention.

It is often said that this city was born with the Gold Rush and that the dot-com boom of the late 1990s bore a great deal of resemblance to this current boom: lots of young technology workers wanted to live here then as now. The dot-commers were forever celebrating the internet as a way to never leave the house and never have random contact with strangers again and even order all your pet food online. But it turned out that many of them wanted exactly the opposite: a walkable, diverse urban life with lots of chances to mingle, though they mingled with their own kind or at least with other young, affluent people in the restaurants and bars and boutiques that sprang up to serve them. Then it all collapsed and quite a few of the tigers of the free market moved back in with their parents, and for several years San Francisco was calm again.

You can think of these booms as half the history of the city: the other half is catastrophe, earthquake, fire, economic bust, deindustrialisation and the scourge of Aids. And maybe you can think of them as the same thing: upheavals that have remade the city again and again. Though something was constant, the sense of the city as separate from the rest of the country, a sanctuary for nonconformists, exiles, war resisters, sex rebels, eccentrics, environmentalists and experimentalists in the arts and sciences, in food, agriculture, law, architecture and social organisation. The city somehow remained hospitable to those on the margins throughout its many incarnations, until now.

But people talking about the crisis don’t talk about urban theory or history. They talk about the Google bus: whether the Google bus should be regulated and pay for the use of public bus stops, and whether it’s having a damaging effect on public transport. There were municipal transport studies on the Google bus, which is shorthand for all the major Silicon Valley tech shuttles that make it possible to commute forty miles down a congested freeway and back daily in comfort, even luxury, while counting the time as being at work (the buses have wifi; the passengers have laptops). In New York Magazine Kevin Roose pointed out that the Google bus was typical of the neoliberal tendency to create elite private solutions and let the public sphere go to hell. A Google bus song was released on YouTube (which belongs to Google), with mocking lyrics about its cushiness and the passengers’ privilege.

A recent bus decoration competition called Bedazzle a Tech Bus seemed to be suggesting that artists could love tech and tech could love artists: the prize was $500. That’s about enough to buy some aspirin or whiskey and pay for a van to take you and your goods to one of the blue-collar cities on the periphery of the Bay Area that are, like most of the US, still struggling in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. The artist Stephanie Syjuco began soliciting proposals from friends and acquaintances and swamping the competition with scathing mock-ups. One showed a bus bearing advertisements for the 1849 Gold Rush; in another, a bus was wrapped in Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa; in a third, a photograph of a homeless encampment was pasted on one of the sleek white buses with tinted windows that transport the well-compensated employees to their tech campuses, as we now call these corporate workplaces. (There are also a lot of badly compensated employees in Silicon Valley, among them the bus drivers, who work for companies that contract their services to the tech giants; the security guards; the people who photograph the innumerable books Google is scanning, whose mostly brown and black hands are occasionally spotted in the images; and the janitors, the dishwashers and others who keep the campus fun for the engineers.)

The winner of the competition submitted a Google Street View photograph of the neighbourhood: not of a generic spot, but of the hallowed charity shop Community Thrift and the mural-covered Clarion Alley next to it. The murals are dedicated to the neighbourhood and to radical politics, and have been painted by some of the city’s best artists of the last twenty years. Against their express wishes, the competition would have their work become the décor – or, as the organisers put it, ‘camouflage’ – for a multinational corporation’s shuttle bus.

On the afternoon of 21 January, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency held a meeting to discuss putting in place a pilot programme to study the impact of the buses and limit them to two hundred bus stops in the city. As the San Francisco writer Anisse Gross has pointed out, if you evade your fare on a bus, you get fined $110; if you pull a car in at a bus stop, you get fined $271; if you just pay your fare it’s $2 per person. But if you’re the Google bus you will now pay $1 to use the public bus stop. This pissed off a lot of people at the hearing. Not everyone, though. Google had dispatched some of its employees to testify.

The corporation’s memo to the passengers had been leaked the previous day. The memo encouraged them to go to the hearing on company time and told them what to say:

If you do choose to speak in favour of the proposal we thought you might appreciate some guidance on what to say. Feel free to add your own style and opinion:

My shuttle empowers my colleagues and I to reduce our carbon emissions by removing cars from the road.

If the shuttle programme didn’t exist, I would continue to live in San Francisco and drive to work on the peninsula.

I am a shuttle rider, SF resident, and I volunteer at …

The idea of the memo was to make it seem that the luxury buses are reducing, not increasing Silicon Valley’s impact on San Francisco. ‘It’s not a luxury,’ one Google worker said of the bus: ‘It’s just a thing on wheels that gets us to work.’ But a new study concludes that if the buses weren’t available, half the workers wouldn’t drive their own cars from San Francisco to Silicon Valley; nearly a third wouldn’t be willing to live here and commute there at all.

There’s a new job category in San Francisco, though it’s probably a low-paying one: private security guard for the Google bus.

Diary by Rebecca Solnit from The London Review of Books

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Kent State Wrestler Suspended For Anti-Gay Tweets About Michael Sam

Following the historic coming out of Division I college football player Michael Sam, the social media backlash was both predictable and horrifying. However, one college athlete is now experiencing the repercussions of what can happen when you choose to be homophobic on Twitter.

Kent State wrestler Sam Wheeler has reportedly been suspended from the university’s team after taking to Twitter to voice his feelings about Sam’s decision to publicly come out.

Following outrage over Wheeler’s anti-gay tweets and subsequent suspension, the university issued a statement from KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen.

“We are aware of the insensitive tweets by one of our student athletes,” Nielsen stated. “On behalf of Kent State University, we consider these comments to be ignorant and not indicative of the beliefs held by our university community as a whole. This is an educational opportunity for all of our student-athletes.”

University officials also released an accompanying statement from Wheeler’s wrestling coach, Jim Andrassy.

“As an alum of Kent State University and as Sam’s head coach, I was surprised and offended by what I read on Twitter,” said Andrassy. “I have spoken to Sam personally, and while he is remorseful, he will be suspended indefinitely while we determine the best course of action moving forward.”

An end date has reportedly not set for Wheeler’s suspension.

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City Arts & Lectures Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman With 2 Days of Film Screenings at the Nourse Theater

 Free Movie Marathon on Saturday February 22 & Sunday February 23 To Include Highlights From The Actor’s Career

City Arts & Lectures will pay tribute to the late actor and director, Philip Seymour Hoffman, with free screenings of nine films. Presented over the course of a weekend – Saturday February 22 and Sunday February 23 – the movie marathon will showcase some of Hoffman’s most memorable roles and his directorial debut. The event is free and open to the public (no tickets required). The Nourse Theater at 275 Hayes Street.

The back-to-back screenings (over nineteen hours playing over the course of two days) encourage people to remember, or perhaps see for the first time, Hoffman’s remarkable talents. The selection testifies to his broad range, his sensitivity to character and story, and the subtlety and concentration Hoffman brought to some of cinema’s most complex characters. The films include early career highlights like Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and The Big Lebowski and under- appreciated works like Synecdoche, New York, where Hoffman plays an eccentric playwright losing his mind, Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman’s directorial debut, and Owning Mahowny, featuring one of Hoffman’s most moving portrayals of an addict. Also screening: The Master, The Savages, and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead.

Full schedule below and more info at WWW.CITYARTS.NET

About Philip Seymour Hoffman

As one of America’s most appreciated artists, Philip Seymour Hoffman inhabited a nearly impossible range of characters in more than 50 films and in numerous plays, both on and off Broadway. The consummate character actor portrayed flawed, complicated, and lonely individuals with intelligence and depth. His exceptional talent for subtlety and concentration compel many to call him an “actor’s actor,” but Hoffman impressed a much wider audience by bringing profound empathy to what might otherwise be dark or remote characters. Hoffman won an Oscar for his stunning work in “Capote,” and showcased a capacity to transform himself and enliven a part in many other unforgettable roles in movies like “Boogie Nights,” “Happiness,” “The Savages,” “25th Hour,” and “The Master,” and on Broadway in “Death of A Salesman.” In January 2006, City Arts & Lectures presented Hoffman in conversation with Roy Eisenhardt at Davies Symphony Hall. The program was a benefit for New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company, a multi-cultural ensemble devoted to producing new works. Hoffman was Artistic Director at the time. City Arts & Lectures will re-broadcast that conversation Tuesday, February 11 at 8pm on KQED 88.5 FM. Hoffman died on February 2, 2014 at the age of 46.

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Event Schedule

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Saturday, February 22

Magnolia – 10 AM (running time: 180 min)

Synecdoche, New York – 1:30 PM (124 min)

Jack Goes Boating – 4:00 PM (89 min)

The Master – 6:00 PM (144 min)

The Big Lebowski – 9:00 PM (117 min)

Sunday, February 23

Boogie Nights – 12 PM (155 min)

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead – 3 PM (117 min)

Owning Mahowny – 5:00 PM (104 min)

The Savages – 7:00 PM (113 min)

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$2.1 Million Is Early Valentine for AIDS / HIV Related Charities in San Francisco, Sonoma County, Palm Springs and Philadelphia

In a gathering today at San Francisco’s Flood Building, $2.1 million dollars from the Thomas M. Dross Estate was officially distributed to the following charities:

AIDS Emergency Fund, AIDS Interfaith Chapel at Grace Cathedral, Clinica Esperanza, Desert AIDS Project (Palm Springs), FamilyLink, Food for Thought (Sonoma), Mazzoni LGBT Center (Philadelphia), Openhouse,
Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation, SF AIDS Foundation, San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force Outreach Report.

“This is one of the largest private donations to AIDS / HIV charities in the past decade,” said Alfredo Casuso and David Perry, coexecutors of the Dross Estate. “AIDS is not over. Our hope is that the size of this donation will refocus people’s attention on the work of these fine efforts — and others — in the fight against AIDS / HIV. As we approach Valentine’s Day, we want people to remember and show love to their local AIDS service organizations and those living with AIDS / HIV.”

Thomas M. Dross died of a heart attack on January 7, 2012 in Palm Springs. His will specified AIDS / HIV charities as the beneficiary of his estate.

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Transbay Transit Center Completes Excavation of More Than 600,000 Cubic Yards of Soil

Today, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) reached a significant project milestone – completing excavation for the Transbay Transit Center.

“This brings us another step closer to the opening of the ‘Grand Central Station of the West,’ said Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, Executive Director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. “The Transbay Project has revitalized San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood and will continue to generate economic growth throughout the region. Construction of the new Transbay Transit Center will strengthen the Bay Area’s position as a national leader in sustainable, transit-oriented development.”

Today’s milestone marks the end of an excavation process which removed 640,000 cubic yards of soil from a work site that spans four city blocks and is among the largest excavations in the City’s history.  The excavation for the Transit Center is the equivalent of 120 Olympic size swimming pools or has enough room to stack 50,400 Mini Coopers.  The TJPA recycled much of the excavated soil or sold it for reuse on other construction projects while bay mud or soil with high clay content went to clean landfills.

With the soil removed, crews are free to continue laying the five-foot thick layer of cement that will serve as the foundation for the future Transbay Transit Center.  The foundation, the pouring for which began in September, will ultimately require 60,000 cubic yards of concrete.  Once the foundation is complete, the TJPA will begin erecting the structural steel for the Transit Center.

“After more than three years of hard work below grade, we are excited to bring this building to life as the steel framework emerges from the excavation,” said Executive Director Ayerdi-Kaplan.

The Transbay Transit Center, located between Beale, Mission, Second, and Howard Streets, is a revolutionary transportation facility.  When the Transit Center opens in late 2017, it will connect eight Bay Area counties and is designed to accommodate 11 transit systems, including Caltrain and future intercity rail.  The emerging South of Market neighborhood, focused on the new Transit Center, will become the new heart of downtown San Francisco.  To learn more about the Transbay Project, please visit our website at www.TransbayCenter.org

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Most corrupt Olympics ever: Why Sochi’s “above and beyond” what we’ve seen before

Protesters against the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia (Credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The 2014 Winter Olympics will have their official kickoff Friday, with an opening ceremony marked in part by the absence of politicians from several high-profile countries. Knocking the “ostentatious gesture” of non-attendance, International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach declared the organization “grateful to those who respect the fact that sport can only contribute to the development of peace if it’s not used as a stage for political dissent, or for trying to score points in internal or external contexts.” But the prospect of protest – by politicians, by activistsor by Olympic athletes – looms large over the games.

To parse Olympic politics, this week Salon called up the Nation sports correspondent Dave Zirin, who wrote the book “Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down,” and co-authored the memoir of John Wesley Carlos, the bronze medalist whose defiant raised fist defined the 1968 Olympics. Faced with extreme anti-gay laws in Russia, Zirin predicted, “I think that there are going to be athletes from a lot of different countries, and maybe from Russia itself, that are either going to speak out or do something.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.

You say that this appears to be the most corrupt Olympics in history. How so?

Well, you’ve never had an Olympics where there is $30 billion plus that seems to be just unaccounted for … There is corruption in every Olympics, but it seems like Sochi is just above and beyond anything that we’ve seen before. And frankly there are very tangible reasons why that’s the case … I think the level of graft is a surprise, but the actuality is not a surprise. Because from the very beginning — forget about the corruption, forget about the kleptocracy – from the very beginning, Vladimir Putin approached the international Olympic committee and said: My goal is not only the Olympics, staging the Olympics, I want to remake this entire region of Russia. And I’m going to do it by holding the Winter Olympics in a subtropical climate in the middle of what has been for the last two decades a veritable war zone.

So all of these factors together, everybody knew that this would be very expensive for the Winter Games, which are usually much less expensive than the Summer Games. But I don’t think anyone expected it to be the most expensive Olympics in history, and more expensive than every single Winter Olympics combined.

What do you hope to see at the Olympics?

I hope to see a break from the very homogenous, monochromatic sporting environment that we have currently. That’s one of the things about the Olympics, which is why it remains so attractive to so many people, is that there’s an interesting break from the usual sports that are forced down our throats. So I am excited to see things like the first women’s ski jumping competition …

I am also excited at the prospect of activism on the question of LGBT liberation. And I’m excited about it because I think it’s going to happen on a scale that’s international, and won’t look like the United States trying to stick a thumb in Putin’s eye and all the rest of that, like using LGBT rights as a diplomatic shell game. But I think that there are going to be athletes from a lot of different countries, and maybe from Russia itself, that are either going to speak out or do something.

And I think we can expect political action to take place at the Olympics, because of this movement — and because we are living in a time, Josh, of unprecedented confidence of LGBT athletes. And that being said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long ways to go, but relative to where we’ve been, I mean the steps have been seismic in recent years.

What are some of the forms that activism could take?

Because of Russia’s laws, a lot of what’s being planned is under lock and key. I’ve certainly heard some rumors of what could happen … I don’t even want to repeat them, one, because I’m not entirely sure about the veracity. Two, I’m not entirely sure if I wouldn’t be exposing people to either persecution, or if there would be preemptive steps that would prevent any kind of activism …

I do know that there are people who are very committed, and very serious. And they feel they’ve laid the kind of groundwork that has put Putin in the position that if they do something, they’re not going to get arrested. Even though there are people in the Russian parliament, the Russian Duma, who believe that according to the letter of the law they should be arrested, because they would be propagating homosexuality, and that is against the law in Russia … I think enough groundwork and enough attention has been put down that if they do choose to use that platform, that they’re going to have the requisite amount of cover to make it home in one piece. And obviously I hope that they’re correct.

Given that you coauthored “The John Carlos Story,” what is the lesson of that act of protest? How does that inform how you look at this?

I would want to give all the credit in the world to Dr. John Carlos, and all the respect in the world for standing so strongly with the LGBT community on this issue. It demonstrates his commitment to universal human rights, and his active presence on every front in the fight for human liberation. He’s a tremendous person.

The second thing is the lesson that John projects — the lesson that John has said explicitly — is that athletes have minds, not only bodies. And expecting athletes to just be instruments of physical excellence, yet not have an opinion in their heads about the ways in which their physical excellence has been used politically, is to deny them their humanity.

And therefore, John doesn’t think athletes need to speak out. John doesn’t think athletes don’t need to speak out. John thinks athletes need to be free to follow their conscience. And John always says that the lesson of his life is that it’s much worse to regret not doing something than to regret doing something.

The president in his State of the Union said that “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week the world will see one expression of that commitment when Team USA marches the red, white and blue into the Olympic stadium and brings home the gold.” Do you agree with that framing of those questions?

No. I think a step back needs to be taken, and the first question is: Why is the president talking about symbolic LGBT resistance at the Olympics, and not actual[ly] speaking out in the State of the Union about [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] or … taking on the fact that there are 29 states in the United States where it’s still legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexuality?

For two reasons, I have a problem with the president sending the Billie Jean King delegation with Caitlin Cahow, Brian Boitano, openly LGBT Olympians. I have a problem with it on two counts. One, I think doing that in the absence of taking on homophobia, trans-phobia in the United States is a shell game.

And the other … Barack Obama in the past has, like particularly during the Arab Spring, made mention of the fact that if the U.S. went in too aggressively to, say, topple Mubarak, for example, then that would be used as an excuse to further oppress the protesters, if they were being seen as U.S. puppets. And he said that explicitly. He understands that dynamic exists: that the U.S. is not always seen as this magnanimous force for good, and often if it comes into this internal political situation, that can be used as an excuse to crack down on dissent, and propagandize against protestors — as saying, “Wait a minute, there are foreign agents” or what have you.

And I think we have to be extremely mindful of the fact that after the confetti has been cleared, after all the cameras go home, there is still an LGBT community in Russia that’s going to have to deal with these laws. And the question then becomes — the only question that matters, Josh, is — are the actions taken by the Olympians going to make the situation on the ground better or worse for the people who are there after the games are over?

And I have very real concerns that by President Obama using this issue to stick a thumb in Putin’s eye — and everybody knows that Russia and the United States have issues that go well beyond this, from Syria, to trade, to the Middle East — that it comes across as using the protests to further the United States’ other aims. I have to say, when you consider that the U.S. hasn’t said anything about its ally India, you know, a country of over a billion people, recently passing homophobic laws — you don’t want to be in a position of selectively being against oppression.

How would you reform the Olympics, in terms of the economics, in terms of the structure, in terms of the content, in terms of how decisions get made?

I think that there are two ways to go about it. Everywhere the Olympics go, they bring budget-busting economic projects, displacing people from their homes, and the utter militarization of a region. Those are true of every Olympics, whether we’re talking about Sochi, whether we’re talking about Vancouver, whether we’re talking about Atlanta, whether we’re talking about Beijing, whether we’re talking about Mexico City, whether we’re talking about Hitler’s Berlin.

I mean, it exists to greater or lesser degrees, but it’s there all the same. And so if we’re going to remedy, very concretely, those problems, then I think the thing that makes the most sense is having one stable Olympics set. Where the infrastructure can be built and rebuilt — where you don’t have to remove people from their homes. I mean, you stick it somewhere in the world, so you don’t get extraordinary acts of hubris like Vladimir Putin saying I’m going to put the Olympics in a subtropical climate …

The other way: Well, there’s just a lot of people who say that in a sane world, the Olympics should be abolished, because it’s just about promoting nationalism. And I don’t go down that road entirely, because I think that there’s clearly, I mean, an appetite for these kind of sports to be highlighted, and there is art and beauty in these kinds of sports.

I mean, I would love it if it was organized in a way that was less nationalistic, of course. But at the same time … there’s a way in which I think, when we celebrate these global sports that places in other parts of the world are able to excel at, that it’s actually good for people in the United States to be able to witness that. Often that coverage is skewered toward U.S. athletes. But I think in and of itself, it’s good; I like the concept of a global athletic festival. It’s something worth celebrating.

But the way it currently operates, it operates too often … like a neoliberal trojan horse. Where people are excited about the Olympics, and then all of these economic, neoliberal sporting shock doctrine measures are pushed through.

How do you see the moral or political responsibility of fans? Whether we’re talking about the economic policies or the security policies of the Olympics, or the clinging to the name “Redskins,” or the alleged abuses in the NCAA, what kind of politics or responsibility goes with being a fan and watching a sport?

Well, I think the first thing is people got to stop — I mean, you have seen recently this ferocious pushback from the right wing on this, that is trying to frame this as a left-wing, right-wing issue … These are pretty clearly right or wrong issues. Like, either we are going to have racist team names for a sport, or we’re not. So it’s not left or right; it’s racism versus anti-racism …

With stadium funding, it’s are you for corporate welfare and taxpayers getting soaked, or are you against it? Are you for NCAA athletes getting exploited within an inch of their lives, or do you support them fighting back? I mean, this needs to be the way these discussions are framed. Because there’s a lot of injustice in sports, for the simple reason that sports are insanely profitable, and they are controlled by a small minority of people, and in that way it’s not that different from any other big business.

But the main difference is that I think we have some sort of collective sense of ownership of sports … Who the hell roots for Exxon Mobile over British Petroleum? … You say ,“This is my team.” You don’t say, “This is my gas station.” And I think that because people have that sense of ownership, they need to exercise it in ways that are more psychological, and demand what they don’t like about sports to change.

How do you decide whom to root for?

I mean, I decide who to root for on the basis of what I feel in my gut. There are teams I love from my youth …

But sometimes you don’t have a team to root for. And then I think it’s always fun to root for a team who, if they win, it kind of provokes an interesting discussion about sports and politics. Maybe that’s just me personally. That’s just like, for example, I just wrote this piece … If you’re not a Broncos fan and you’re not a Seahawks fan, root for the Seahawks, because if Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seahawks, leads his team to victory, then it really chops away at a lot of very tired tropes that surround the quarterback position: from his height, to his ability to scramble, to the fact that he’s a person of color, to the fact that he was a later-round draft pick. And that’s kind of cool, that he’s able to take some of these tired sports radio tropes and just turn them on their heads.

So, who do you root for in the Olympics?

Well, I try to not root for anybody in the Olympics, honestly. I like rooting for individual stories in the Olympics. And I like just really taking in how interesting I think so many of the events are that are usually denied in mainstream sports coverage…

I think speed skating is amazing, figure skating is amazing … I mean, shoot, I can even get into curling if I’ve had a couple of beers.

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Ten things you should probably avoid saying to a gay guy

Ashley Cowburn takes a look at things you just shouldn’t say to a sexual of the homo variety…

“When did you choose to be gay?”
I think it was the first time I watched Mary Poppins. Mother had to temporarily ban umbrellas from the house to avoid the risk of me running into the street and being knocked down by a car as I failed to fly away from an estate in Salford with a cheap Primark umbrella. Now this question really makes me want to purse my lips like Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada. Did you one day flick on a switch and decide to be straight? No, I didn’t think so.

“I really want a gay best friend, will you be mine?”
No. I would advise you to do your online shopping with Amazon. Instant inflatable gay best friends are on sale for £9.99, but hurry there are only four left in stock. They love to shop and dance, have a great sense of humour, give fashion advice and won’t be easily offended. ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ instant gay accent mouth spray.

“I wouldn’t have guessed you were gay, you act pretty straight”
To this one I usually reply with the passive aggressive, ‘Oh I wouldn’t have guessed you were straight”. It’s forbidden for gay people to be interested in football, choose a pint over a cosmopolitan, opt for Saving Private Ryan over Mean Girls and inhale the nicotine of Marlboro Reds instead of the more petite slimline Vogues.

“Do you know my friend Matt? He’s gay too!”
Yes, I’m acquainted with every living gay human being on the planet. We have a secret network for gays to communicate, a bit like the Comintern for the communists. Except our network was initiated in Soho, not Moscow, and aims at overthrowing dogs as the household pet and replacing them with miniature pigs – rather than the destruction of the bourgeoisie. I live in London, of course I don’t know a forty-nine year old male living with his parents in the Isle of Wight, just because he happens to be gay.

“Aren’t all gays supposed to have an amazing sense of fashion?”
Fortunately I do. According to me. But I have one friend that dresses like a tree. Brown hair, green t-shirt, brown jeans and brown plimsolls. Everytime we go for dinner I feel as though I’m a character from Lord of the Rings, on my way to launch an attack on Saruman’s castle with the rest of the Ent folk. A sexuality doesn’t come hand in hand with a Gok Wan approach to fashion. Some of us don’t care about fashion, like my tree friend.

“Why are all gays skinny?”
It’s because we all live on a diet of green and peach tea from Pret a Manger and carbs are the new version of forbidden fruit from Adam and Eve’s tree. Our only form of social media is Grindr and comparing calorie intakes on an iPhone app. Those who consider the ‘daily recommended allowance’ as being an acceptable amount of calories are ostracised and ridiculed. It’s called metabolism, and it’s not related to sexuality. Gays come in every shape and size.

“I wish I was gay myself. It’s so much easier.”
Yes, it’s incredibly easy. I couldn’t describe it any better myself. I foam at the mouth at the thought of someone shout ‘fag’ as I hold a guys hand outside area 55 (Soho). There’s nothing like sitting at home with your parents watching a musical on a huge television only to be interrupted by politicians on the television debate whether or not you’re allowed to marry.

“So who’s the girl in the relationship?”
Yes because that’s what I look for in a relationship, a girl. It’s the unwritten rule that every gay relationship has one camp guy who owns a Louis Vuitton handbag with a Chihuahua protruding from the top and voice on par with Alan Carr. Society latches on to heterosexuality so dearly that straights have to transfer their tedious gender norms on the rest of the population.

“That’s so gay. Omg hope you’re not offended?!”
I’m offended that your vocabulary lacks an education.

“I’m like a gay man trapped inside a woman’s body, do you understand?”
No.

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Huge toxic coal ash spill in NC and VA river

Canoe guide Brian Williams dipped his paddle downstream from where thousands of tons of coal ash has been spewing for days into the Dan River, turning the wooden blade flat to bring up a lump of gray sludge.

On the riverbank, hundreds of workers at a Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina scrambled to plug a hole in a pipe at the bottom of a 27-acre pond where the toxic ash was stored.

Since the leak was first discovered by a security guard Sunday afternoon, Duke estimates up to 82,000 tons of ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water has spilled into the river. Officials at the nation’s largest electricity provider say they cannot provide a timetable for when the leak will be fully contained, though the flow has lessened significantly as the pond has emptied.

An Associated Press reporter canoed downstream of the spill at the Dan River Steam Station and saw gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than two miles. The Dan had crested overnight, leaving a distinctive gray line that contrasted with the brown bank like a dirty ring on a bathtub.

Williams, a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association, worried that the extent of the damage might not be fully understood for years.

“How do you clean this up?” he said, shaking his head as he churned up the ash with his paddle. “Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can’t clean this up. It’s going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected.”

Environmental regulators in North Carolina say they are still awaiting test results to determine if there is any hazard to people or wildlife. Coal ash is known to contain a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium.

Twenty miles downstream from the spill site and across the state line in Danville, Va., worried fishermen watched ash swirl in the water. A woman dipped her hand into the water and it came out coated slate gray.

Municipal officials in Danville say they are successfully filtering out contaminates in the drinking water for the city of about 43,000 people.

Meanwhile, officials in Virginia Beach, Va., announced they had stopped drawing water from Lake Gaston, a major reservoir fed by the Dan.

Personnel from Duke Energy and an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, traveled the river in motorboats Wednesday, collecting water and sediment samples. A command center has been set up at the power company’s facility in Eden.

An EPA spokeswoman did not respond to questions Wednesday, including when the test results on the samples collected by the agency would be made public.

Environmentalists and government regulators have been warning for years that the 31 ash ponds at Duke’s power plants in North Carolina had the potential for calamity, especially after a similar pond in Kingston, Tenn., burst open in 2008.

“Even without a spill, these settling ponds have been releasing continuous contamination into the rivers downstream from coal-fired power plants,” said Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry at Duke University, which was named for the same family that founded the power company.

Duke Energy officials have always insisted the ponds at its facilities were well-engineered and safe. At the Dan River plant, the waste pond was expanded more than 40 years ago over an older storm water drainage pipe. That pipe, which empties into the river, collapsed without warning sometime last weekend, draining the pond above.

Duke has closed 14 of its oldest coal-burning power plants in recent years as more-stringent air quality regulations went into effect and the price of cleaner-burning natural gas has dropped. Though the coal-fired turbines at the Dan River facility were shut down in 2012 and replaced with an adjacent gas-burning plant, the company currently has no firm plans for when and how to clean up the remaining ash ponds.

“We are committed to closing the ash basins at many of our retired coal plants across North Carolina,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “Duke Energy customers continue to benefit from more affordable rates because coal remains part of our diverse fuel mix.”

Danny and Elsie Crews sat in their truck at a riverside park in Danville, watching the ashy water flow by. Danny, 60, said he helped build the new gas turbines at the Duke plant in Eden before giving up construction work due to health problems.

The couple likes to fish for big blue catfish and striped bass that make an annual migration up the Dan each spring from the Pamlico Sound.

They said they will still fish this year, but don’t plan to eat what they catch.

“We’re gonna eat what we have in the freezer now,” said Elsie, 71, casting a wary eye at the gray water.

Follow Associated Press Reporter Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/05/3594375/coal-ash-spill-into-nc-river-still.html#storylink=cpy
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Kronos Quartet presents Kronos: World Premiere featuring Bombs of Beirut

The Kronos Quartet / Kronos Performing Arts Association is proud to announce Kronos: Under 30 / #5 World Premiere, a series of four concerts featuring the world premiere of Mary Kouyoumdjian‘s Bombs of Beirut, the 5th work commissioned through the Under 30 Project. Launched in 2003, the Under 30 Project is designed to help nurture the careers of young artists, while enabling Kronos to forge stronger connections with the next creative generation. Each show also features a special locally-based opener: Friction Quartet (Feb. 6), Mobius Trio (Feb. 7), The Living Earth Show (Feb. 8), Amy X Neuburg (Feb. 9.)

Kronos: Under 30 / #5 World Premiere will take place February 6 – 9, 2014 at Z Space in San Francisco.

Kouyoumdjian (pronounced koo-YOOM-gee-an), who lives in New York and grew up in the Bay Area, was chosen from a call for composers that yielded nearly 400 applicants in 43 countries on five continents, the largest response in the program’s history. Upon her selection, she was commissioned to write a work for Kronos. Her new work, Bombs of Beirut, is a 23-minute piece for string quartet with prerecorded backing track and live processing.

A first-generation Armenian-American whose family was directly affected by the Lebanese Civil War and Armenian Genocide, Kouyoumdjian was inspired to create a work that would reflect day-to-day life during wartime in Beirut. Bombs of Beirut includes interviews with the composer’s family and friends about their experience in the war, together with recordings of ambient sounds taken from an apartment balcony during the war. Those recordings include the sounds of missiles hurtling through the air and bombs exploding nearby.

Organized into three connected movements, the piece is designed, says Kouyoumdjian, “to put a human face on violent events in the Middle East and to arouse feelings of disorder and nostalgia.”

The latest installment of the Kronos: Under 30 Project was open to all composers who had not reached the age of 30 by the application deadline. Choosing a recipient from the hundreds of applicants was no simple matter: “What people are writing now is amazing, just thrilling,” says Kronos Quartet Artistic Director David Harrington. “As we narrowed down the field, we were looking for someone who seemed poised to write their breakthrough piece. And every time I came back to Mary’s work, I was magnetized. She’s an exceptional composer, incredibly creative, and her connection to her family’s Armenian history has brought her sensibility into a very beautiful place.”

Each evening Kronos: Under 30 / #5 World Premiere will open with a performance by a special guest artist based in the Bay Area. Those guests include Friction Quartet, a string quartet with a reputation for edgy programming and the commissioning of new works, performing February 6; Mobius Trio, an ensemble of three guitars dedicated to contemporary music, performing February 7; The Living Earth Show, an electro-acoustic guitar and percussion duo which specializes in contemporary compositions, performing February 8; and Amy X Neuburg, a well known Oakland based genre-crossing artist known for her 4-octave vocal range, innovative use of live looping technology, and ‘avant-cabaret’ songs, performing February 9.

The Kronos: Under 30 / #5 World Premiere series will feature two different programs. On Thursday and Friday Kronos will perform works by Krzysztof Penderecki, John Oswald, Bryce Dessner and Dan Becker. On Saturday and Sunday the Quartet will perform works by Krzysztof Penderecki, John Oswald, Geeshie Wiley, Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley and more.

Since its inception in 2003, Kronos: Under 30 Project has commissioned a total of five pieces. Previous commissions include: Alexandra du Bois’ String Quartet: Oculus Pro Oculo Totum Orbem Terrae Caecat (2003), Felipe Pérez Santiago’s CampoSanto (2004), Dan Visconti’s Love Bleeds Radiant (2006) and Aviya Kopelman’s Widows & Lovers (2007).

 

ABOUT THE KRONOS QUARTET

For 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet-David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)-has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world’s most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings, collaborating with many of the world’s most eclectic composers and performers, and commissioning more than 800 works and arrangements for string quartet. A Grammy winner, Kronos is also the only recipient of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize. With a staff of ten, the non-profit Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home-season performances, and education programs. www.kronosquartet.org

 

ABOUT MARY KOUYOUMDJIAN

Mary Kouyoumdjian is a composer with projects ranging from concert works to multimedia collaborations and film scores. As a first generation Armenian-American and having come from a family directly affected by the Lebanese Civil War and Armenian Genocide, she uses a sonic pallet that draws on her heritage, interest in folk music, and background in experimental composition to progressively blend the old with the new. She has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Forum/JFund, REDSHIFT, the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble, the Nouveau Classical Project, Friction Quartet, Experiments in Opera, and Ensemble Oktoplus. In her work as a composer, orchestrator, and music editor for film, she most recently orchestrated on the soundtrack to The Place Beyond the Pines. Kouyoumdjian holds an M.A. in Scoring for Film & Multimedia from New York University and a B.A. in Music Composition from UC San Diego. She is also a co-founder and the executive director of contemporary music ensemble Hotel Elefant. www.marykouyoumdjian.com

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How Far Will the Right Go to Defeat a Democrat?

Florida’s 13th congressional district will host a special election next month and by all appearances, it should be a close contest. Democrats have nominated former state CFO Alex Sink, who very nearly won the 2010 gubernatorial race, and have high hopes about her chances.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also taking the race very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that the NRCC has come up with an unusual fundraising gambit.
Folks can go to a website that looks legitimate – contribute.sinkforcongress2014.com – and find a nice photo of the Democratic candidate alongside a graphic that reads, “Alex Sink – Congress.” If you’re not reading carefully, you might assume this is a page for Sink supporters to make a campaign contribution to their preferred candidate. But it’s not – this is a page set up by Republicans. The Tampa Bay Times reportedyesterday:
Ray Bellamy said he wanted to make a political contribution to Alex Sink a Google search landed him at “http://contribute.sinkforcongress2014.com.”
“It looked legitimate and had a smiling face of Sink and all the trappings of a legitimate site,” Bellamy, a doctor from Tallahassee who follows Florida politics, wrote in an email to the [Times].
What Bellamy overlooked was that the site is designed to raise money against Sink. “I failed to notice the smaller print: Under “Alex Sink Congress” was the sentence ‘Make a contribution today to help defeat Alex Sink and candidates like her,’ ” he said.
Once Democratic supporters make their contribution, they’re directed to a new page on the NRCC’s website thanking them for donating to defeat Democrats.
In other words, the Republican campaign committee seems to be trying to trick people – and in at least some instances, it’s having the desired effect.
What’s more, this isn’t limited to Florida.
National Journal reported this has become a national effort launched by the NRCC in advance of the 2014 midterms.
The National Republican Congressional Committee proudly launched a faux campaign website for Democratic candidate Domenic Recchia this week, mocking him as a “career politician … asking for your vote.” They even bought Google ads to direct New Yorkers to www.domenic-recchia.com, designed at first glance to look like it could be Recchia’s own, down to the same yellow star replacing the dot in the ‘i’ of his last name.
The problem is such a look-alike site, with a banner blaring “Domenic Recchia for Congress,” may violate Federal Election Commission regulations for confusing the public, election lawyers say.
There’s no firm count yet on the exact number of districts in which the NRCC is trying this stunt, though Rebecca Leber found six similar instances, all following the same model.
For their part, officials at the Republicans’ campaign committee insist the trick is technically legal and the NRCC is willing to return contributions to those who believe they were deceived.
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Some on the Right Find Superbowl Inclusion is Anti American

Oh, who could ever predicted that conservatives would be up in arms over a Super Bowl commercial that was just too damn inclusive. No, not the Cheerios one. This one had people singing in languages other than English!

No, many conservatives didn’t much care for Coca-Cola’s one-minute spot, which showcased a rendition of “America The Beautiful” in languages such as English, Arabic and Spanish.Former tea party congressman Allen West even took time to write a blog post during the game to voice his displeasure. For West, the ad started out strong enough.

“Then the words went from English to languages I didn’t recognize,” a troubled West wrote, calling it “a truly disturbing commercial.”

Fox News’ Todd Starnes tweeted “Coca Cola is the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border” and that perhaps Coca Cola was “saying America is beautiful because new immigrant don’t learn to speak English?” And yes, there’s talk of boycotting the company fer insufficient patriotism, although whether the feeling will outlast yesterday’s leftover bean dip remains to be seen.MSNBC bending over themselves to apologize for someone in the network thinking the American right wing was made up of people who pore over the nation’s television commercials to find companies acting Not Bigoted Enough is, and there’s no other word for it, pathetic. As are, of course, the predictable reactions from the right wing themselves. You would think that people who get so very, very, very mad whenever someone suggests that they might be bigoted simpletons would be able to go at least one weekend without proving to be exactly that, but no. Never quite works out that way.

 

ORIGINALLY POSTED TO HUNTER ON MON FEB 03, 2014 AT 11:13 AM PST.

ALSO REPUBLISHED BY DAILY KOS.

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France’s politics of hatred: Move towards traditional family values risks being hijacked by anti-Semites and homophobic nationalists

Hundreds of thousands of pro-family and anti-government demonstrators marched through Paris yesterday amid claims from a minister that France faced a return of the “sombre” and “disturbing” political divisions of the 1930s.

The stark warning by the interior minister, Manuel Valls, jarred with the prosperous, well-behaved ranks of most of yesterday’s marchers, including thousands of elderly people and families with children in push-chairs.

However, two groups of hard-right thugs were arrested as they attempted to join the protest. Scuffles broke out on the Avenue Raspail last night between riot police and about  200 hard-right youths giving Hitler salutes. They threw beer bottles at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Yesterday’s warning by Mr Valls of “sombre forces” at work in France followed a similar but smaller demonstration last week which dissolved into running battles with riot police. Several large sections of protesters on that march carried anti-Semitic banners and chanted “Jews out of France”.

There was no sign of such banners at yesterday’s demonstration – nominally the 15th protest against the law passed last summer which made gay marriage legal in France. Yesterday’s march, which attracted about 200,000 people (the organisers claimed 500,000 attended), turned instead into a much wider protest against the alleged “familyphobe” policies of the left-wing government of President François Hollande.

Many marchers said they were protesting against the “conspiracy” of the government, and the “gay” and “feminist” lobbies, to brainwash primary school pupils into forgetting that they were boys and girls. In recent months an apparently baseless conviction that something called “gender theory” is to be imposed in France has been created by a de facto alliance of fundamentalist Catholics and ultra-right wing, anti-Semitic and anti-gay nationalists.

One banner on yesterday’s march read, bizarrely: “Gender. Never, never, never.” Another read: “The school should instruct. Only the family should educate.”

Mr Valls said in a newspaper interview yesterday: “We are witnessing a union of extremes, never before seen in France… [Last week] was the first time for a long time that people have screamed their hatred of Jews in the street.

“A block of protest is forming, a rebellion which is anti-elite, anti-state, anti-tax, anti-parliament, anti-press … but also, and above all, anti-Semitic, racist and homophobe.”

Mr Valls is playing with fire. Most of the people on yesterday’s march – and many of the protesters at last week’s “day of anger” – were radical Catholics or conservatives: anti-gay, perhaps, but not  anti-Semite or anti-Republican.

One protester, Alain, 67, a businessman, said: “Valls thinks that he can contain these protests by painting us all as dangerous extremists. When I was young, every left-winger was accused of being a communist. Now, to this government and the mainstream media, every right-winger is a fascist.”

And yet Mr Valls also has a point. France’s economic sufferings are fusing with contempt for President Hollande to dissolve barriers between radical, but respectable, conservatism and violent, new extremes (even more extreme than the National Front). This, in itself, is reminiscent of the poisonous politics of France in the 1930s.

 

Protesters at the rally oppose the fertilisation help that is being offered to lesbians

Protesters at the rally oppose the fertilisation help that is being offered to lesbians

Centre-right and even far-right politicians, such as the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, are torn between condemning and trying to channel the new radicalism. One name connects a number of recent events or phenomena, including the rise of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’Bala and the anti-Jewish banners and chanting on last week’s march. It also arises in connection with a recent obscene internet and text campaign which persuaded hundreds of French parents that the government wanted primary school children to masturbate in class.

The common factor is Alain Soral, a 55-year-old Franco-Swiss ex-communist who preaches a new and virulent form of French nationalism. His declared aim is to unite poor people – white, brown and black – in a revolt against the “dictatorship” of capitalists, progressives, Jews and gays. Mr Soral, an avowed anti-Semite and “national socialist”, is Dieudonné’s political guru. He was long regarded as a marginal figure. No more.

Mr Valls accused him yesterday of creating a new “abscess of rampant hatred” in France. “Alain Soral, through his use of the net, the networks he has created, is uniting and federating an unprecedented front of extremes,” Mr Valls said.

Mr Soral had no connection with yesterday’s march. It was mischievous of Mr Valls to imply that he did. But many of yesterday’s marchers nevertheless swallow wholesale the distortions pedalled by Mr Soral and by Catholic extremists in recent months on “la théorie du genre” – or gender theory. They demanded the withdrawal of a pilot programme in four areas of France which seeks to steer primary school boys and girls away from gender stereotypes.

This apparently modest programme consists of trying to persuade girls that they can perfectly well drive tractors and boys that they can be ballet dancers if they want to. Harmless? Not as far as the marchers were concerned.

Adèle, 42, demonstrating with her three small children yesterday, said: “What they are really trying to do is to destroy the family. It is all part of the same plan as the gay marriage law, to impose a completely new set of values on French society.”

It was this programme which was the subject of the obscene rumour spread by text and online a few days ago by Mr Soral’s lieutenant, Farida Belghoul. Texts, tweets and emails persuaded hundreds of mostly black and Muslim parents that there would be masturbation and cross-dressing in primary schools.

More moderate protesters against gender theory have been slow to repudiate the nonsense disseminated by Mr Soral and his friends.

Béatrice Bourges is the spokeswoman for Printemps Français (“French Spring”) one of the more radical groups behind yesterday’s march – and last week’s. She is currently on hunger strike demanding the impeachment of Mr Hollande by the national assembly.

She accuses the President of “bringing France to its knees” morally as well as economically – not because of his alleged affair with an actress but by “perverting the school system” to “destroy our families”.

One of France’s most popular conservative columnists, Ivan Rioufol, of Le Figaro, accused Ms Bourges and other radical Catholics this week of “undermining their own credibility” and “playing into the hands” of the government by failing to erect firewalls between their movement and racist, “plot-obsessed” extremists.

Ms Bourges told The Independent that she tried to stop the anti-Semitic outbreaks last week. She said she had “never met this man Soral”. But she refused to repudiate the campaign which persuaded hundreds of parents to take their children out of school.

“It performed a useful function in drawing attention to the dangers of gender theory and what the government is trying to do to the family in this country,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely wrong. Absolutely,” Obama quickly interrupted.

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

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

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DOESN’T ANYONE READ THE NEWS?

The State of the Union address is one of the few times each year when a large percentage of Americans reliably pay attention to politics. Once upon a time, as legend has it, things were different: most Americans tuned into Walter Cronkite in the evening or picked up the morning newspaper, which covered matters of national and international importance, like politics, foreign affairs, and business developments.

If analysts at Microsoft Research are correct, a startling number of American Web users are no longer paying attention to the news as it is traditionally defined. In a recent study of “filter bubbles,” Sharad Goel, Seth Flaxman, and Justin Rao asked how many Web users actually read the news online. Out of a sample of 1.2 million American users, just over fifty thousand, or four per cent, were “active news customers” of “front section” news. The other ninety-six per cent found other things to read.

The authors defined an active news customer as someone who read at least ten substantive news articles and two opinion pieces in a three-month period—if you remove the requirement of reading opinion pieces, the number of news readers climbs to fourteen per cent. The authors studied U.S.-based Web users who, between March and May of 2013, accumulated a total of 2.3 billion page views.

News can be a vague category; the authors defined by collecting news sites with appreciable traffic (the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News), blogs (Daily Kos and Breitbart), and regional dailies (the Seattle Times and the Denver Post). Using “machine learning” algorithms, the authors separated what, based on word usage, they considered front-section news from the other content on news sites, like sports, weather, life style, and entertainment. What’s left is the narrow, classical news article, about, say, the State of the Union, as opposed to one about the latest adventures of Justin Bieber or Farrah Abraham.

Various influences shaped the study. The data was collected only from Internet Explorer users (who, the authors say, tend to be slightly older), and it represents only those who agreed to make their Web-browsing history available. Additionally, just because people don’t surf news Web sites doesn’t mean that they don’t get news from other sources, like physical newspapers, talk radio, Twitter, “The Colbert Report,” or the evening news.

That said, the sample size, 1.2 million, is impressive—far greater than that of a typical survey. And the number of people whom the study shows to be paying attention to the news online is consistent with the low ratings of cable news during the same period. Also, as opposed to relying on what people said they did, the Microsoft researchers drew on a record of what they actually did, which is significantly different. In a 2012 Pew survey, for example, thirty-nine per cent of people said that they had read news online the day before. The difference between the two numbers—fourteen and thirty-nine—may, in part, reflect different definitions of “news.” (The Pew survey did not define the term.) And, of course, what people like to think they do is often different from what they do.

Assuming that Microsoft’s numbers show a real phenomenon, though, they do introduce some perspective. Journalists and political junkies often presume that everyone cares about politics all of the time. But the fourteen-per-cent number makes it seem more like a hobby or a subculture, something like the N.H.L. or Nascar—a deep obsession for some of members of the population but of limited interest to anyone else, unless something extreme happens.

To be sure, twelve to forty-two million potential readers is a respectable audience; it’s more than that of mixed martial arts, say, even if it’s not at the level of N.F.L. football. But, mainly, it suggests that attention to politics, once a basic mandate of citizenship, is now an entertainment option, in fierce competition with other forms of entertainment. Politicians’ awareness that they don’t have a guaranteed audience may also account for the increased use of reality-TV strategies in politics. We can see the congressional shutdown, in part, as an effort to move the numbers.

The figure is also important to the concept of filter bubbles, the main subject of the Microsoft paper. Commentators and journalists (and, of course, Barack Obama) have long bemoaned the division of America into highly polarized ideological camps, said to bereinforced by online filtering. But it seems that the most important filter bubble is the one that could be labelled, simply, “ignore everything.” It’s the bubble filled with people who, so long as the country remains basically stable, pay no attention to partisan politics.

The number may also help us understand why a relatively small number of motivated people can have such a significant effect on American politics and policy. For better or worse, the number of people in this game is pretty small. Bottom line: if you can get one per cent of the population vaguely interested in something nowadays, that’s huge.

By Tim Wu, The New Yorker

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Boehner eyes end to ENDA push

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