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On Being Queer in the Caribbean

“LISTEN. Dead people never stop talking.” So begins Marlon James’s novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” which last month won the Man Booker Prize.

The statement has a particular resonance both in the book and outside it. In March, Mr. James, who was raised in Jamaica but now lives in the United States, came out as gay in a piece for The Times Magazine. “Whether it was in a plane or a coffin,” he wrote, “I knew I had to get out of Jamaica.”

Mr. James’s novel, which revolves around an assassination attempt on the reggae star Bob Marley, exposes some of the homophobia for which Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean have become known. This hatred is rooted in the legacy of the colonial laws of the British Caribbean, which criminalized sodomy, and reinforced by the powerful influence of anti-gay evangelists.

As a queer transgender woman from another Caribbean island, the Commonwealth of Dominica, I found that Mr. James’s exile resonated with me. While attending university in Florida, I, too, decided one day not to return home after coming out. In much of the Caribbean, being transgender is simply conflated with being gay; I was terrified of being ostracized at best and physically assaulted at worst.

Growing up hearing casual slurs, I had hidden my identity for over 20 years. My parents warned me against breathing a word of my transition to anyone on the island. I felt like a shameful secret; home came to feel like a phantom limb. Had I been forced to pretend to be a straight male in Dominica, I firmly believe I would eventually have killed myself, becoming like one of those dead voices that populate Mr. James’s novel.

When Mr. James was awarded the Man Booker Prize, I, like many Caribbean writers and activists, wondered how the Jamaican media would respond. The win was widely celebrated, but there was little discussion of his sexuality. Radio hosts expressed “regret” that he was queer, while others reportedly brushed off his being gay as a rumor.

An editorial in the Jamaica Observer asked if it was necessary for Jamaicans to be in exile to write well, yet, incredibly, failed to examine the reason for Mr. James’s exile: his fear of what would happen if he were to live openly as a gay man. Rather than start a conversation, the mainstream Jamaican media largely killed off his queerness.

And the many voices of queer individuals in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean who have been assaulted, forced into pretending to be heterosexual or cisgender, or even murdered, need to be heard. Such stories are not hard to find. Between 2009 and 2012, the Jamaican advocacy group J-FLAG reported 231 attacks against L.G.B.T. people.

In 2013, a queer teenager named Dwayne Jones went to a dance party dressed as a woman; when partygoers realized that this was not a cisgender woman, the 16-year-old was chased, beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car.

While the cause of same-sex marriage has advanced in the United States, the Caribbean has seen an increasingly vocal pushback against the granting of legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. For instance, at a rally in September of nearly 20,000 people in Jamaica to protest against L.G.B.T. rights, speakers opposed the decriminalization of sodomy, attacked same-sex marriage and warned about schools supposedly teaching about gender nonconformity or nonheterosexual orientations. Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., appeared via video to advise Jamaicans not to fall for “the anti-procreation agenda” coming from America.

Such rallies help to enforce the need for queer Jamaicans to hide their identities — or leave. “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” Mr. James toldThe Guardian, “was a novel of exile.” Exile, certainly, is common in Caribbean literature; a large number of Caribbean authors write about the nations they grew up in while living elsewhere in the world, and so many of their novels depict characters who are conflicted about their national identities.

The exile of race, caused by our history through slavery, colonialism and indentured servitude, is woven into the poems of Derek Walcott and the novels of Jean Rhys. There are also the stories of those who left the islands to seek opportunities in the land of their colonizer, like the protagonists of Samuel Selvon’s novel “The Lonely Londoners.”

And then there is the experience of those of us, like Mr. James, who are queer — either the internal exile of living a lie at home to avoid ostracism or assault, or the external exile of fleeing home in order to finally be ourselves.

Caleb Orozco, a gay Belizean who mounted the first legal challenge to an anti-sodomy law in the Caribbean, is practically exiled in his own home. He leaves his house only for brief trips, in which he faces anti-gay slurs from passers-by, and has to fortify his home with six locks every time he returns.

When the house of the Jamaican activist and writer Dadland Maye was burned down, and he was attacked by men with guns, Mr. Maye had to seek political asylum in the United States. A former Carnival queen from Antigua named Tasheka Lavann made headlines in August when she fled to Canada because she felt unsafe after coming out as a lesbian. And such narratives are inscribed in Mr. James’s novel through the character of Weeper: A gay gangster from Jamaica who pretends at first to be heterosexual, Weeper makes peace with his being queer only when he travels to America.

The Caribbean, to be sure, is not uniformly hostile to us. Some queer individuals find ways to exist within specific communities, or manage because their wealth insulates them from the worst abuse. In Jamaica, for instance, there are the so-called rich queens, who can either buy privacy or who can afford to come and go from Jamaica more easily.

We are also beginning to see transgender people in the Caribbean speak publicly about their identity. For instance, Kayla Marraste in Trinidad and Ashley Gordon in Jamaica have spoken about the challenges of being openly transgender in their islands’ news media. Despite largely negative reactions on social media, that these interviews appeared at all is a sign of change.

In Trinidad recently, Jowelle de Souza, a transgender woman, even ran for political office. While she faced opposition from some religious groups, crucially she also received support from a leading interfaith organization.

With Marlon James’s Man Booker win — the first for a queer Caribbean writer, as well as the first for a Jamaican — history has been made. It can be made again if Jamaica and the wider Caribbean make a sustained effort to enact laws to protect our rights. Mr. James’s victory helps make us visible in a way that could lead to a new era not only of unafraid Caribbean writing, but also of queer Caribbean people living less in fear of whom we love or who we are.

That Mr. James left Jamaica in order to be himself is a story we are likely to hear again. But if we continue to speak out, perhaps we can make this history of exile briefer, as well.

Gabrielle Bellot, NY Times

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On Scene with Bill Wilson

APhoto140078Virgin America now has daily flights from SFO to Honolulu

Admittedly I am not a morning person. So when I read that Virgin America was holding a press conference/celebration of their new SFO to Hawaii at 8 am I really had to think about whether I would go, but only for a moment or two. My previous experience with Virgin America convinced me they know how to celebrate. So even though my inner clock was still saying 6 am feels like it is 7 am, it was much to early for me. I found myself catching BART to SFO on the morning of the first substantial rain of the season. It felt like I was part of a film noir– putting one foot in front of the other oblivious to the fate ahead.  The black of the night was pierced by the light of the street lamps, reflected in puddles of rain.

BPhoto139721Rain arrives at SFO

 As I arrived at Terminal 2 my first thought was I should find the men’s room. As I walked in to the one nearest the security gates there was only one person who was on his way out.  Because the first urinal was “self flushing”, I moved one down. To my left were probably 10 urinals – to my right  - one. As I am standing there using the urinal in the way intended, I hear footsteps walking into the bathroom. I didn’t look behind me, but I could feel the person beside me to my right. So having finished I turn to leave and noticed that the only other person in the room was in fact Sir Richard Branson.  I used to joke about not taking photos in the men’s room until a friend had a restraining order taken out on him for taking a photo of a local politician in the men’s room, so it’s not joking matter to me.  But I did restrain myself – no conversation, no photos, no invasion of privacy.

CPhoto139783Hawaiian treats

As I walked out into the concourse there were several people there nervously waiting I assumed for Sir Richard. So I went up to them and said, “I can confirm for you Sir Richard is still in the bathroom.” The one lady smiled as I thought they would, but one man standing behind her took offense and said to me, “Of course he is human he uses the bathroom just like any other person!”  That person I thought I recognized as the CEO of Virgin America so I quickly changed the subject by asking him where the check –in was for the 8 am press conference.

DPhoto139911Sir Richard Branson during brief press conference before boarding the furst regular scheduled Virgin America flight to Hawaii.

They had advised media to be there no later than 7 am because they would have to go through security. So part of the check-in at the Virgin America counter was to get a dummy boarding pass to be able to go through security. They had required a date of birth with the RSVP. It was the first time in a long time that I had to go through regular security instead of pre-check. I had forgotten that everything – jacket, belt, and shoes had to come off. Fortunately my pants did not fall down when I had to hold my hands over my head for the body scanner.

EPhoto139943Sir Richard Branson applauds the hula dancers giving the proper  send –off to the Virgin America flight to Honolulu.

At the gate there were hula dancers, Hawaiian singers and a great morning buffet  - pastries, fruit and yogurt, pineapples and bananas. Because the flight was actually scheduled to leave at 9 am everything was on time. Shortly after 9 am the Pineapple Express was pushed back from Gate 54B  and Virgin American was on it’s way to Hawaii.

FPhoto140176The Pineapple Express  heading through rain clouds to sunny Hawaii

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Jimmy Carter’s Nepal/Habitat For Humanity trip cancels—not skipping a beat he goes to U.S. city

At 91, and diagnosed with cancer, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will not be stopped. After getting the okay from his doctors to go to Nepal to build homes via Habitat for Humanity Work Project with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the trip was cancelled due to the country’s current civil unrest and some fuel problems. Since 1983, the Carters, who have been married for 69 years, have been building homes with Atlanta-based Habitat For Humanity. Refusing to break tradition, the Carters rescheduled to build homes in Memphis, Tennessee on Monday, November 2.

Giving of their time, kindness and energy, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have worked to help others around the world. In 1982 they founded the non-governmental non-profit Carter Center.The center’s mission seen around the world is: Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope. Some of center’s accomplishments and ongoing work includes monitored 138 elections to ensure fairness and democracy, and helping to fight the Guinea-Worm Disease and River Blindness—with great success. With his beautiful sense of humor, President Carter says he’d like to see an end to the guinea worm before his end.

A Nobel Peace Prize recipient and member of The Elders (founded by Nelson Mandela), President Carter continues to promote peace in countries like Syria. During his four-year term, he never took America in war. In 1978, President Carter facilitated a treaty between Israel and Egypt called the Camp David Accords. There has been peace between the two countries for 37 years.

His lifetime achievements in the White House and after leaving the Oval Office are massive and much of the public is just now discovering his great deeds. Hundreds flock to Georgia to hear President Carter speak at a church Sunday School. He teaches many, not by “pushing” his own faith on others, but by living through example, inspiring others to love more, give more, and live better lives. They also go to visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

A national and world treasure, President Carter is a rare gift representing peace, democracy and human rights. Many are grateful to have lived to witness the work of one of the greatest human beings of our time. Thank you, President Carter.

Leslie Salzillo, Daily Kos

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Cruz: Let ‘real journalists’ Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh host GOP debates instead of ‘left wing operatives’

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put a layer of paranoia on top of the GOP’s outrage over being asked questions they didn’t like during Wednesday night’s primary debate on CNBC.

The GOP candidate for president called CNBC moderators “left wing operatives” during a campaign event in Iowa on Saturday, The Hill reports. Cruz added that future moderators should have the prerequisite of voting in Republican primaries.

“What you wouldn’t have is a bunch of left-wing operatives whose object is that whoever the Republican nominee is, they want him as battered and bruised as possible so the Democrat wins in November,” Cruz told the audience. “Instead you’d have moderators that were trying to help conservatives make a decision who’s going to be the best and strongest conservative to represent us and win, who is the proven conservative, the consistent conservative.”

He went on to say better choices for GOP debate moderators include conservative hosts Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, saying those three are his idea of “real journalists.”

“You know, how about we stop letting left-wing liberals moderate Republican debates?” he said. “How about instead of a bunch of attack journalists, we actually have real journalists?”

Cruz had lashed out at moderators during the event, accusing them of asking “gotcha” questions. On Friday, Republican National Convention chair Reince Priebus sent a letter to NBCinforming the broadcasting company that February debates were off because the RNC was unhappy with the questions posed Wednesday.

CNBC is a cable channel that focuses on financial and economic news.


, RawStory

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The Golden Girls: How One TV Show Turned A Generation Of American Boys Into Homosexuals

The Golden Girls television program was never much to look at. A foursome of Florida geriatrics getting agitated about pharmacy bills and shoulder pads– who could ever find such a thing interesting? But somehow these perky and absurd women wormed their ways into America’s homes for an 8-year run in the 1980s. Maybe it was our desire to see our grandmothers having fun that encouraged us to watch. Maybe we wanted to believe old age wasn’t dominated by infections and hip problems, loneliness and crushing depression before death finally stomps us out like the acrid end of a damp cigarette.

The most unexpected segment of this show’s fanbase was America’s young men. In the 80s, these were boys too delicate for sports, too awkward for girls, too “artistic” for labor-intensive work and too flamboyant for peer acceptance in high school. With no real adults in sight, these poor children became obsessed with the poorly conceived characters on this show. Desperate for a firm hand in their lives, they gravitated to the subversive undercurrent of masculinity in these aged matrons.

Many studies have been done on why the gays love The Golden Girls, but science can’t fathom the moral challenges and social upheaval of those historic times. The 1980s was an epoch of President Reagan’s manly wisdom and the terrifying threat of Cold War annihilation. America had sobered up from the flashy lights of 1970s disco. We were skipping all night cocaine and sex parties to focus on our careers. Spiritual leaders like Jerry Falwell were telling us that Christianity was in the majority again. On the other side, there was a subculture of homosexuality creeping up on our youths. It gave them an excuse to wear tight jeans and to sneak off to public parks for quick releases with hairy men of different ethnicities.

golden showers of peril


It was only to be expected that our lonely boys exposed to these conflicted times would succumb to the nagging Golden Girls agenda. These were slender, unathletic children who were left out of the fun militarism of the Reagan years. Skyrocketing divorce rates ruined their faith in traditional relationships. Rock groups like Duran Duran and Styx encouraged big hair and overactive libidos. The show lit a match which enflamed their intense physical urges. With the utmost cruelty and immorality, The Golden Girls seized upon this opportunity to cross the hormonal wires of America’s lost generation.

The results were disastrous. Our horny, lonely boys sought out intimate comforts with likeminded Golden Girls addicts who didn’t mind each other’s theatrical voices and touch-feely hand gestures. Together, these clusters of awkward teens and twentysomethings bonded over their favorite episodes and characters, mimicking the voices and gowns of their tv friends. When the rush of cheesecake and gabfests wore thin, these hairless boys needed a harder thrill. They were so desperate for the next big trend they turned to same-sex sexual experimentation. What woman would have them now, anyway? This led to the worse excesses of early homosexual visibility– the most enormous of drag queens, the dirtiest of leather daddies, the most enticing of twinkie boys, androgyny, overeating, public sex and the birth of “camp.”


If you walk down the street today and bump into a middle-aged homosexual, chances are that the nasty comeback he will shout at you is something he picked up from Dorothy Zbornak of the Golden Girls. Played by noted liberal activist and Archie Bunker-foe Bea Arthur, Dorothy had a hard, masculine voice. She was cold and quick-tempered. She taught our modern butt rompers to disparage everyone in their orbit. She schooled them on insulting people’s clothing choices, body odors, organ sizes and educations. Dorothy taught the gays to speak very fast and have the most superior attitude possible. This formula has worked for many of your urban leather daddies and flaming queens, who attack with the swiftness of a ninja. It often happens that by the time I figure out what the insulting gay man has said to me, he is long gone (probably off groping someone’s son in a Sears lavatory). For others, and here I’m talking about your waiters and retail salesmen, Dorothy has given them permission to be two-faced. They smile at you through gritted teeth when you tell them to keep their nail polished fingers off the edge of your pasta dish or when you make them promise that they won’t peek while you’re trying on a swimsuit in the dressing room. Beneath that smile is a sneer. These gays really hate you for your Christianity and your gold card, your mature good looks or the fact you lead a handsome camping group into the hushed mountains of Tennessee. In whatever afterlife world she inhabits, Bea Arthur is surely pleased by your outrageous outrages, you homosexual anarchists of America.

Blanche Devereaux, played by Rue McClanahan on the show, is one of the sluttiest sluts around. She will do anything to get anyone into her bedroom for hours of offensive copulation irregardless of her aging orifices. Like many contemporary gays, she also demands expensive dinners and presents from her “dates” and takes special pride in catching the rich ones. Blanche’s promiscuity is a common model for the personal lives of today’s homosexuals. Most gay relationships last a week. It is no coincidence that this is the amount of time between Golden Girl episodes when they first aired on primetime. Blanche’s appearances on the show taught today’s 30-something homosexuals that you need a new strange man on your arm every seven days or else your viewers/friends will lose interest in your life’s plot. Sadly, with the Golden Girls in weeknight syndication, the youngest gays have confused this timetable to mean they need five new boyfriends a week. Their sexual adventures have become both shockingly fast and befuddling to their next-door neighbors and Twitter followers alike.

Rose Nylund, played by x-rated comedienne Betty White, was added to the show as a sort of comic relief to the other more serious characters. She is thoroughly dimwitted. Her clueless acting style makes me cringe at her obvious senility. Senility is not at all funny, but the careless creators of this awfulness used her stupidity for a relentless barrage of immature jokes. Once again, Rose’s most salient trait was picked up and celebrated by the gay community. Every buff beefcake I’ve ever met has been tremendously brainless. They can bump out the beats to any Madonna song on a club railing, but are incapable of telling you the difference between Acapulco and an avocado. They lack the concentration to finish reading your text message, let alone a fantastic website article you may have forwarded to them. Most homosexuals love to gallop around a conversation, yammering out a bunch of big phrases to show you how smart they are. The truth is that if they slowed down for a minute you would see that the Lady Gaga references, truckstop handjob stories and Kevin Jennings defenses don’t add up to an intellectual argument. They’re just random phrases strung together by psychotropically-medicated, carnally-motivated ridiculous libertines glazed with moisturizer.

For Florida, The Golden Girls completely ruined the reality of Miami’s masculine reputation. It was no longer a city of Scarface and Miami Vice. The Cuban machismo and gorgeous Ferraris melted in the face of lengthy canasta games and comfortable paisley chairs. And then the gays came marching in to South Beach. Not even CSI Miami can win the city back for the straights.


Today, as this crowd ages we have to wonder what comes next for the Golden Girl generation of American homosexuals. They’re turning 40 and 50 now. Their hair is thinning, their waistlines expanding, their cachet in the cultural scene is long past. Most have settled into heavily mortgaged condos or bungalows in gentrified neighborhoods, bitter at their mid-level jobs with zero hope of becoming a CEO to make their fathers proud. Many are too old at this point to be pursuing anonymous street pickups and have settled into caustic relationships that are only monogamous out of mutual laziness. Maybe they find weekend solace in amateur photography or an overly primped shit-zu.

In a dozen years, the next logical step for these people is Florida. Will we see whole sections of this state devoted to horny gay retirees sporting the worst 1980s fashions? High pants and feathered hair and modern architecture? Will they follow in the lusty steps of their forebears, the Golden Girls? When all these gays are in such close proximity to each other, will we see a huge upsurge in illicit homosexual elderly trysts? Will they vote out Florida’s married Christian Republican leaders, like Governor Charlie Crist? Will they embrace any and every cutting edge social issue that will be hip in 2020? Personally, I do not look forward to the day when we’re having moral debates about robot sex, gay jetpacks or houseplant marriage. And worst of all, will the next generation of television executives see the need for a new Golden Girls show featuring silver daddies, poppa bears, wankers on walkers and 50-year old twinks who sit on your lap and suck Metamucil lollipops? America, I will be turning off my tv for good in 2019 just in case.



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Season-Long Schumann Symphony Cycle Continues With Performances Of Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring


Soprano Laura Claycomb joins MTT and the Orchestra for performances of R. Strauss’s Brentano Lieder


Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) continue their season-long performance and recording cycle of Schumann’s four symphonies with the composer’s Symphony No. 1, Spring, November 19-22 at Davies Symphony Hall. MTT pairs this week’s symphony with two works by Richard Strauss: his intimate Serenade in E-flat major for 13 winds, as well as the Brentano Lieder with soprano Laura Claycomb.

The music of Robert Schumann has always captivated Michael Tilson Thomas. “Schumann’s symphonic music requires great imagination, attention, and sensitivity on the part of both the orchestra and conductor,” he says. Throughout the 2015-16 season, MTT and the SFS perform Schumann’s four symphonies, all of which will be recorded for release on the Orchestra’s Grammy Award-winning in-house label SFS Media.

Each of the four concert programs pairs a Schumann symphony with multiple works by a single composer: Brahms, R. Strauss, Sibelius, and Copland.The cycle launched November 13-15 with the composer’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Rhenish, written with the splendor of Cologne Cathedral in mind. Symphony No. 3 was paired with two works by Sibelius, whose 150th birthday is celebrated this season. Performances continue this spring with the composer’s Symphony No. 2 in C major, paired with works by Copland (March 30-April 8), and Symphony No. 4 in D minor with works by Brahms (May 19-22).

Soprano Laura Claycomb has been a frequent guest performer with the SF Symphony since 1990. She has toured with the Orchestra both nationally and abroad. She appears on MTT and the SFS’s Grammy nominated recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and its triple Grammy Award winning recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. She most recently joined the SFS in performances of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and Palestrina’s Kyrie, Gloria, and Agnus Dei from Missa Papae Marcelli during MTT and the Orchestra’s Beethoven Festival in 2013. Laura’s first solo album, Open Your Heart, with guitarist Marc Teicholz will be released in mid-November.

Laura Claycomb began her career as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera, where she performed over a dozen roles including Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Marie in La fille du régiment. She first captured international attention at the age of 24 when, on short notice, she assumed the role of Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. She has since sung Giulietta with the Bastille Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchester in Munich. Since her meteoric rise to prominence, Claycomb has proven herself to be an exceptionally versatile soprano, performing more than 75 roles in dozens of works by composers from Monteverdi to Messiaen.

Claycomb has appeared repeatedly with the Paris Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Théâtre de la Monnaie, London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Le Concert d’Astrée, and The Cleveland Orchestra. Further highlights of her varied career range from engagements at the Salzburg Festival and the Lucerne Festival, to the BBC Proms and the title role of Linda di Chamounix at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.



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The University of North Carolina’s New President Is Shockingly Anti-Gay

When Republicans gained supermajorities in both houses of the North Carolina legislature in 2012, they stacked the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors with extremely partisan, conservative appointees. Those appointments paid off for the GOP: The board fired the UNC system’s left-leaning president and, last Friday, elected Margaret Spellings to replace him. Spellings served as secretary of education under President George W. Bush. During her earliest days in office there, she was responsible for perhaps the decade’s most galling act of homophobic censorship.

The Senate confirmed Spellings on Jan. 20, 2005. Just days later, in her first official act as secretary, she penned a shocking letter to PBS, which had produced an episode of the children’s program Postcards From Buster featuring same-sex parents. In the episode, the titular Buster—an anthropomorphic rabbit who travels around North America experiencing different cultures and customs—visits Vermont to learn about maple syrup. He meets children with two moms who are presumably in civil unions. One child says she has a “mom and stepmom” and that she loves her stepmom very much. That is the extent of the episode’s gay content.

This fleeting encounter with same-sex parents made Spellings furious. In her letter to the network, Spellings declared:

Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode. Congress’ and the Department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television.

Spellings reminded PBS that some (though not all) of the funds used to produce the program came from the government. She asked the network to return the money used to produce the Vermont episode and to strip any reference to the Department of Education from the show or its promotional materials. She also demanded that PBS notify member stations of the episode’s same-sex content so they could elect not to air it.

Finally, Spellings noted that “you can be assured that in the future the department will be more clear as to its expectations for any future programming that it funds.” But how could she be “more clear”? The message of the letter is obvious: Depict another same-sex couple, and I’ll pull your funding. PBS decided not to distribute the episode, though some brave stations still chose to air it. Meanwhile, gay families across the country learned just how deeply their government despised them. It is difficult to think of a more effective way to stigmatize same-sex parents and their children than to tell them that their mere existence is too deviant to acknowledge on public television.

Spellings had a chance to apologize for this incident at a press conference after her election on Friday. Instead, she dug herself deeper. When asked about the letter, she said, “I have no comments about those lifestyles.” Of course, this kind of phrasing is itself troublingly homophobic, implying that homosexuality is a choice rather than an identity—and a bad choice at that, one centered around immoral actions.

On Tuesday, I asked Chris Sgro, executive director of the LGBT rights group Equality North Carolina, for his read on Spellings. He sounded nervous.

“The fact that she felt like she could use the word lifestyles after what she did around PBS is really problematic to us,” Sgro told me. But Equality North Carolina is equally concerned abut the board of governors’ broader move “to conservatize the university system” through “an attack on the academic side,” cutting programs like women’s and gender studies.

I asked Sgro where, on a scale of 1 to 10, he would rate his concern about the negative impact of Spellings’ appointment on the lives of LGBT university students.

“An 8,” he said, laughing. But he wasn’t joking.


Marc Joseph Stern,

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Ben Bernanke Is Fed Up

The former Fed chair says he’s no longer a Republican because the GOP has lost its economic policy mind

It’s the stupid economics. That’s why he’s no longer a Republican, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tells us in his new memoir. Bernanke says he “lost patience with Republicans’ susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right.” Here’s part of his indictment:

They saw inflation where it did not exist and, when the official data did not bear out their predictions, invoked conspiracy theories. They denied that monetary or fiscal policy could support job growth, while still working to direct federal spending to their own districts. They advocated discredited monetary systems, like the gold standard.

Bernanke’s right; these views aren’t conservative – they’re kooky. Members espousing them may have made Bernanke’s interactions with Congress uncomfortable, but they couldn’t stop the Fed from using extraordinary monetary policy measures to try to pull the economy out of the Great Recession.

Fiscal (tax and spending) policy was another story, however.

In Bernanke’s harsh but accurate judgment, “fiscal policymakers, far from helping the economy, appeared to be actively working to hinder it.” He’s talking about Republican congressional efforts to use “must pass” legislation – e.g., raising the legal limit on total federal debt or approving annual spending bills to fund the government – as bargaining chips to achieve deep cuts in government spending, even when the economy is weak.

Like anyone who understands the issue, Bernanke notes that refusing to raise the debt limit isn’t about controlling spending, it’s about government not paying its bills: “It is like a family running up large credit card bills and then refusing to pay.” We can forgive the public for not understanding this, but not its elected representatives. To Bernanke, nothing justifies taking the economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit. He’s right; the best thing to do with the debt limit is scrap it so that government can pay its bills on time, unimpeded by political shenanigans.

President Barack Obama and the Congress resolved the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis by enacting the Budget Control Act, which imposed tough spending limits and required further “sequestration” spending cuts when Congress couldn’t agree on a deficit-reduction plan. Bernanke “was relieved to see a resolution of the crisis, but worried about whether the fragile economic recovery could withstand the austerity measures that Congress seemed intent on imposing.”

In Bernanke’s diagnosis, reflecting his mainstream economic thinking, fiscal policymakers put the recovery at risk when, after enacting Obama’s stimulus package in early 2009, they shifted into austerity mode. At the same time, state-level balanced-budget requirements forced a sharp drop in public-sector employment. (Typically, government employment rises in a recovery.) Tight fiscal policies, Bernanke wrote, “were arguably offsetting much of the effect of our monetary efforts” and making it difficult to achieve the Fed’s full employment goal.

Nevertheless, Republicans continued to advance discredited ”expansionary austerity” arguments. Bernanke advanced the mainstream view: Congress needed to focus its deficit fighting on the long-term fiscal challenge; too much austerity too soon “would only slow the recovery without solving the longer-run problem.”

Republican budget proposals reflected hard-right priorities that, if enacted, would have derailed the recovery. Obama’s and the Senate Democrats’ budget proposals, in contrast, never reflected far-left policy priorities. Rather, they looked like centrist proposals that would emerge from good-faith bargaining between the two parties. They were more timid on both short-term stimulus and longer-term deficit reduction than what Bernanke and other mainstream analysts hoped to see, but at least they went in the right direction.

It wasn’t pretty, and the economic recovery is taking much longer than it needed to. But the recovery wasn’t derailed, partly because Republican leaders haven’t wanted another debt-ceiling showdown or government shutdown for fears that it would hurt them at the polls.

But who knows what this week’s meltdown among House Republicans over their next set of leaders portends?


Chad Stone,

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SF Biz Finds New Hires Hard to Find

While the boom in San Francisco has helped boost business, shops and restaurants are finding that they have no one to make the sales.

“We’re desperate,” said Jefferson McCarley, the owner of Mission Bicycle.

McCarley said he once chased a customer for two blocks down the street after thinking that his noticeably sunny attitude would make him good at sales. Unfortunately for Mission Bicycle, the man was a medical professional.

Chewy Marzolo, who manages Escape From New York pizza on 22nd Street, is hiring a prep cook and has been looking for a few weeks. That used to be the easiest position to fill, “because until recently, that’s something that everyone here knew how to do,” he said. Signs in window would fill the position.

This time, no one came in to apply, so he went to Craigslist. Twelve people responded to the ad, and only two showed up for interviews. Many candidates had more administrative experience than cooking experience.

“It’s because the working class of San Francisco is disappearing,” said Marzolo. Despite the recent minimum wage hike, he said, the city is too expensive. “Even with that jump, which is huge… People can’t afford to work for it.”

At Harrington Galleries, a furniture store on Valencia Street that has been in business for more than 40 years, finding workers is a struggle.

“It’s very hard to find people to work,” said owner-manager Fiona O’Connor. “People can drive for Uber.”

O’Connor needs a part-time manager with some experience in interior design, who would start at around $16 an hour. After a month, she still hasn’t found anyone. She hired a recruiter, for the first time ever, finding that Craigslist and a hiring sign in the window weren’t cutting it.

“People don’t even come in,” she said. “It’s hard for a small business to pay high wages.”

The job has attractive qualities, O’Connor said – 16th and Valencia is a nice place to work, and her business has been a springboard for former employees to reach other successful positions. But the great location comes at a cost.

“The cost of living is very high,” O’Connor acknowledged. She also noted that the cost of commuting from the East Bay on BART quickly cuts into $16 an hour.

“So how far are you commuting, and is it worth it?,” she said. “Or do you want to share an apartment with, like, 10 people?”

At the taqueria Pancho Villa, the problem is similar.

“It’s very hard, because they want a lot of money,” said Fernando Pérez, who supervises the 16th Street branch of the taqueria.

The popular restaurant makes money, Pérez said, but most of it goes back to supplies and to paying the workers. Many of the location’s 48 workers regularly work overtime, which is required to be compensated at a higher rate. Most employees commute from the East Bay.

Under Qualified, Yet Picky

Still, the weekend rushes bring throngs of people through the doors, and Pancho Villa needs three or four more full-time employees – but most people, Pérez said, don’t want to work weekends.

“They come and apply, but they want office hours. Of course, it’s not an office job,” he said.

The taqueria has been hiring for six months with some luck attracting applicants, but less luck in getting them to stay.

“Sometimes employees come, learn a little bit, and go somewhere else,” Pérez said. “I think people send employees here to learn our recipes.”

Isabel Valdez, whose mother owns El Salvador Restaurant on Mission Street between 18th and 19th streets, said she’s had signs in the window seeking a cook and a bilingual waiter or waitress for more than six months.

“Six or seven years ago, waitresses and waiters could work in just Spanish, but now it has to be bilingual,” she said. Pupusas, too, require particular skill, and Valdez is looking for a cook with experience and can’t spend too much time training a new hire – especially not on the rising minimum wage.

“Workers, they’re getting good wages, but everything is expensive,” she said, citing the rising costs of meat, eggs and other supplies.

Unlike some of the Valencia Street merchants, Valdez said nobody has come in asking her for more than what she’s offering, because they come from the East Bay, where the minimum wage is lower.

At Taylor Stitch, a clothing shop on Valencia Street, hiring is a challenge, but manager Kenny Fee said this might be in part because of the shop’s high standards. A strong brand image and a preference for hiring workers living in the city narrows the options some, he said.

The store has been looking to fill a retail position for about a month, and while there has been plenty of interest, many candidates are simply not qualified for the job.

“We don’t pay minimum wage, so we don’t ask for the minimum,” Fee said.

Working On A Wage Hike

Inevitably, the cost of living is a factor in finding employees, and many come with demands.

“The pay to rent ratio is kinda crazy,” Fee said. “People can’t work for the pay…People are very upfront about what they’re looking for.”

McCarley at Mission Bicycle is hiring retail staff for between $15 and $18 an hour. One candidate, who turned out to be homeless during his job interview, told McCarley he needed a job with an annual salary of about $80,000. Many others simply don’t show up to interviews. Marzolo at Escape From New York pizza has had candidates make it all the way to the training process before disappearing without a trace.

“Honestly, to survive in San Francisco on $15, $16, $17 is not easy,” McCarley acknowledged. Which, he and others observed, is simply resulting in driving people out of the city and attracting more commuter workers.

And the wage hike itself, intended to make the city more livable for hourly workers, is making it tough on business, they said. Minimum hourly wage rose from $9.79 in 2010 to $12.25 this year.

“It’s just too fast,” said Marzolo. He has lived in the city for 30 years and worked 10 of those years at Rainbow Grocery cooperative. The hike, he said, is wearing on loyal workers who have seen their wages rise, but now get paid the same as brand new hires. “I can’t afford to bring them up,” Marzolo added.

What’s more, stricter immigration controls have further whittled away at the employee base. “There are qualified people out there for small businesses,” Marzolo said. “But they’re living in fear.”
From, Laura Wenus

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American Millennials are among the world’s least skilled

Surprised? So were the researchers who tested and compared workers in 23 countries.

We hear about the superior tech savvy of people born after 1980 so often that we tend to assume it must be true. But is it?

Researchers at Princeton-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) expected it to be when they administered a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Sponsored by the OECD, the test was designed to measure the job skills of adults, aged 16 to 65, in 23 countries.

When the results were analyzed by age group and nationality, ETS got a shock. It turns out, says a new report, that Millennials in the U.S. fall short when it comes to the skills employers want most: literacy (including the ability to follow simple instructions), practical math, and — hold on to your hat — a category called “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.”

Not only do Gen Y Americans lag far behind their overseas peers by every measure, but they even score lower than other age groups of Americans.

Take literacy, for instance. American Millennials scored lower than their counterparts in every country that participated except Spain and Italy. (Japan is No. 1.) In numeracy, meaning the ability to apply basic math to everyday situations, Gen Yers in the U.S. ranked dead last.

Okay, but what about making smart use of technology, where Millennials are said to shine? Again, America scored at the bottom of the heap, in a four-way tie for last place with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.

Even the best-educated Millennials stateside couldn’t compete with their counterparts in Japan, Finland, South Korea, Belgium, Sweden, or elsewhere. With a master’s degree, for example, Americans scored higher in numeracy than peers in just three countries: Ireland, Poland, and Spain. Altogether, the top U.S. Gen Yers, in the 90th percentile, “scored lower than their counterparts in 15 countries,” the report notes, “and only scored higher than their peers in Spain.”

“We really thought [U.S.] Millennials would do better than the general adult population, either compared to older coworkers in the U.S. or to the same age group in other countries,” says Madeline Goodman, an ETS researcher who worked on the study. “But they didn’t. In fact, their scores were abysmal.”

What does that mean for U.S. employers hiring people born since 1980? Goodman notes that hiring managers shouldn’t overestimate the practical value of a four-year degree. True, U.S. Millennials with college credentials did score higher on the PIAAC than Americans with only a high school diploma (albeit less well than college grads in most other countries).

“But a degree may not be enough,” Goodman says, to prove that someone is adept with basic English, can do what she calls “workaday math,” or has the ability to use technology in a job.

Anne Fisher,

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Harvard Study Reveals that All Homophobic People are Gay

A shocking, double-blind study released by Harvard, in collaboration with MIT, has revealed that all people who are homophobic are actually homosexuals themselves. The study, which was carried out over the course of 5 years and involved nearly 5,000 male subjects, is being accepted by the American Psychological Association as being “scientifically irrefutable.”

This lengthy, intricate study was conducted by the folks at the Harvard Center for Brain Science and incorporated proven Penis Responsiveness Technology (PRT) and Brainwave Function Reading (BFR) from leading scientists from the Biomimetic Robotics Lab at MIT.

The Penis Responsiveness Technology was created from an offshoot program with the Meshworm Soft Robotics sleeve which was fitted around each of the subjects’ penises. It is capable of measuring blood flow, responsive twitches, and swelling. Meanwhile, Brainwave Function Reading system was set up with diodes attached to the different parts of the skull to read emotional responses in each part of the brain as stimuli was taken in by each subject.

Test subjects were then shown pictures of gay males in various affectionate scenarios of increasingly sexual nature. “We began with hand holding, cuddling, and kissing,” said head researcher Maxwell Kow.

“Without fail, each and every person in the study who strongly expressed a dislike of LGBT individuals in the intake survey always had brain activity that showed feelings of confusion and arousal,” stated Kow. “This was inevitably coupled with physical arousal to various degrees, but it was always significant enough to definitively show that they have a desire to be intimate with the same sex.”

The study also showed a direct, positive correlation between the degree of homophobia expressed in a subject’s survey and the decreased time it took the individual to reach full arousal.

From Youreadygrandma

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San Diego company slaps ‘Pharma Bro’ down by offering same cancer drug for $1 a pill

San Diego-based company announced on Thursday that it would compete with Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals by offering the same drug used to help AIDS and cancer patients for $1 a pill, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a compounding-drug firm, said it would begin selling its own version of the generic drug pyrimethamine, which Turing was marketing under the name Daraprim. Shkreli was roundly criticized last month after his company raised the price for the drug from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill after acquiring the patent.

The version Imprimis will be selling includes pyrimethamine and another generic drug, leucovorin, which is typically used to help cancer patients going through chemotherapy. The two drugs are the active ingredients in Daraprim.

Mark Baum, Imprimis’ CEO, said his company plans to offer similar compounded drugs soon.

“We are looking at all of these cases where the sole-source generic companies are jacking the price way up,” he told the Associated Press. “There’ll be many more of these.”

According to Baum, his company’s mix of the two drugs has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, both the ingredients themselves and the company’s compounding work have been approved. The drug can only be sold after being prescribed by a doctor to a specific individual. The company is selling a bottle of 100 pills for $99 through its website.
Arturo Garcia, Raw Story

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An open letter to Jim Webb

Dear Jim,

It was about 9 1/2 years ago that we first met, at your first public event after declaring for the US Senate. Your staff had brought you to an event at Attila’s in Arlington for Democracy for Arlington/Alexandria. During the Q&A you had warmly responded to one question on education from me, but somewhat botched an answer on DADT from a gay man. Afterward I went outside and introduced myself as a former Marine and what passes for our relationship began then.

During the primary campaign I became someone whose judgment you trusted, and I remember after one conversation over beers you told me you wanted me in your kitchen cabinet. On the night you won the primary, when I had just returned from the first Yearly Kos where I spent some time with Mudcat, you repeated that to me.

While I never was that close of an adviser, we talked regularly during the campaign, and after you defeated George Allen you even told me that had you gotten onto the HELP Committee as you had asked, you would have asked me to work for you.

Since you were elected our conversations and emails have been at best occasional, but you always expressed a willingness to hear what I had to say, and even to trust some of what I offered: after one conversation at a banquet to benefit the Sorensen institute you told me you had to pick my brain more often.

I have for personal reasons not been active in the current Democratic presidential cycle, although we did exchange some emails when you first explored running.

Having reminded you of all this, allow me to interject myself as I first did when I heard you might run for the Senate and sent you an unsolicited email about why you should run and how George Allen was a paper tiger you could beat.

It is time for you to step aside from your pursuit of the Presidency.

While there are a number of people involved with your campaign who I remember from 2006, and they are incredibly loyal to you, I worry about your legacy.

I saw a picture of you with Mac on one side and Nelson on the other. I have friends from that time who have been active in your campaign to date.

You have withdrawn from the Democratic contest, in honest recognition that you cannot win the nomination. And yet you have floated the idea of running as a independent.

So allow me to offer some thoughts.

1. As you probably know, being able to get on the ballot as an independent on all 50 states is exceedingly difficult. Ross Perot spent $100 million in his ’92 campaign to get 19% of the vote, the high point for 3rd party candidate in more than half a century, and yet he did not win a single electoral vote. And that presumes that you can raise the funds necessary (several times what you have raised so far) just to get ballot access.

2. You cannot win the general election running as an independent. You cannot win 270 electoral votes. Even were you able to win one or two states – highly unlikely – and somehow throw it into the House of Representatives, each state gets one vote and as a person without a party you would be unlikely to win any states. In fact, in that case it is probably you would see the election of the Republican nominee, given how gerrymandered the House is, even should the Republicans nominate someone as unqualifed as Donald Trump or Ben Carson or as dangerous as Ted Cruz. \

3. The best you might do in all likelihood is to flip one or more states that would otherwise be carried by a Democrat to the Republicans. The state in which that would be most likely is our state of Virginia. It is possible that Virginia by itself could make a difference in which party obtains the White House.

4. For all of the disagreements you have on SOME issues with many other Democrats, I remember the thrust of your campaign in 2006. The disappearing of the middle class was key, as was the increasing concentration of wealth at the top. Yet running for the Senate in a “right to work” state you chose to walk a picket line in the midst of that campaign because of your concern for the right of workers to organize for economic justice. There is no Republican running for President who is pro-union, and most would happily try to impose “Right to Work” on a national basis. And most of the Republicans have no problem with further tax cuts for the already wealthy, which would further exacerbate the growing income and wealth inequity in this coungry.

5. You have a track record of important work from your time in the Senate, starting with the new GI Bill (which I remind you was strongly opposed by Republicans, starting with the man who in 2008 was their Presidential nominee, John McCain, and yet compared to some of the current Republicans he is almost sane on this issue). You were an early advocate for criminal justice reform, and yet many of the Republican candidates demagogue criminal justice issues.

6. You have been a strong supporter of the issue that matters most to me, public education. Yet most of the Republicans are hostile to public education, and to public servants in general. They have no qualms about shutting down the government, either by refusing to raise the debt ceiling or by trying to use blackmail over funding the government to impose their ideas. Having represented the hundreds of thousands of Virginians whose livelihood either directly or indirectly depends upon the Federal government remaining open, you surely understand the danger putting minds like these in charge of the executive branch would represent.

I first met you after you told Richard in that first event that you supported DADT. When I went out to talk with you afterwards, I pointed out that Al Gray had been named as Commandant of the Corps despite being gay (something many of his friends did not know) and even having a sham marriage to provide cover. I told you my source – Larry Korg, who was an Assistant Secretary in Defense in the Reagan administration overlapping your service there. You stared at me and told me that you knew, that there had been blood on the floor to get him confirmed but that he was the best man for the job. My response to you was if he was the best man why should being open about his sexuality be a barrier to his service.

During the campaign, I spent many Saturday mornings with Richard, the gay man who was so upset by your answer to his question on DADT -we two, and Florence, worked the Saturday booth at the main Farmers’ Market in Arlington, near the Courthouse. He had become a strong supporter.

And you became more forceful in your own approach. I first heard your three-part mantra at an event for Partisans, the largest gay group in NoVa. You said then, and many more times during the campaign, that there were three things for which the government would need a damn good reason before it came through your door – how you prayed, who you slept with, and your guns.

Please consider that helping however unintentionally get a Republican elected president could well result in rolling back the protections that gays have gotten – through the Courts, through executive action, perhaps even through legislative actions. They will move to ban gay marriage, and maybe even civil unions. They will move not merely to reinstate DADT, but some would move to kick all gays out of any public position, military and civilian. They would appoint judges and justices committed not only on these issues, but to overturning Roe v Wade completely.

You knew during your Senate campaign that some of us disagreed with you on important issues, but you were willing to listen to us on others, and sometimes we changed your mind, as I think I was able to in persuading you why you needed to make the phone calls to fund raise for that Senate campaign – you were not asking for money for yourself, but to run the campaign we had begged you to take on.

I remember one fundraising event where you introduced a man with whom you had served, a Vietnamese Marine, whom you embraced like a long lost brother. You said at that time you still felt that war had been worth fighting while you understood that most of us in that room disagreed with that statement, yet were willing to support you.

When one of the other Quakers supporting you had said she would cut out the words “born fighting” from any signs she posted or bumper stickers she placed, and I mentioned that to you, you responded that one can fight with things other than weapons. You showed a respect for those who disagreed with you on things important to you. In the debate you did it again when you refused to attack Bernie Sanders for having sought CO status during Vietnam.

You have a history of service to your nation.

Many of us honor you for that.

We want that to be your legacy.

We do not want to see that legacy tarnished by a foolhardy pursuit of an independent run for the Presidency that you cannot win and which risks damaging the country we both love by electing one of the clown car candidates seeking the nomination of the other party.

I am posting this as an open letter at Daily Kos, a place where you yourself posted during that campaign 9 years ago. I am doing so because I was a vocal advocate on your behalf here, a place where I have been a highly visible member for now approaching 12 years.

I do not know if you will read it, but I am quite sure that it will be called to your attention.

I offer these words as someone who respects you, and does not want to see you do something that will damage not only your legacy, but also the country we both love, and for whom we both chose to serve in the Corps.

Semper Fidelis.

From teacherken at DailyKos

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Latest polling shows Obama’s support strengthening

Political observers who want to know who’s doing well in the 2016 presidential race have plenty of data to review: national polling, polling in the early nominating states, candidates’ favorability ratings, etc.

But it’s important to remember that the popularity of the current president will have a meaningful effect on which party wins the White House next year, and at this point, President Obama’s improved standing offers Democrats some welcome news.
More than half of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of Barack Obama’s job performance, a first in nearly two and a half years. That compares with 71 percent disapproval of the Republicans in Congress, with six in 10 calling their struggle to select a new House speaker a sign of dysfunction within the GOP caucus.

Likely boosted by improving economic sentiment, Obama’s job approval rating has gained 6 percentage points since July to 51 percent, a level he hasn’t seen since May 2013. That’s up 11 points from his career low a year ago.
All of the usual caveats apply, of course. This is just one poll, and most of the tracking surveys show the president’s support a few points lower – Gallup, for example, put Obama’s approval at 47% in today’s report.

Still, given the broader political conditions, the fact that the president has climbed above 50% in any major, independent poll is heartening news at the White House. It’s also likely a surprise to congressional Republicans, who’ve spent the last few months insisting “the American people” are furious with Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, the Affordable Care Act, Syria, immigration, and a variety of other perceived missteps.

If the Washington Post/ABC News poll is accurate, it would appear GOP assumptions are wildly out of step with mainstream American attitudes.

Indeed, while Democrats in Congress aren’t winning any popularity contests – their approval rating is just 35% nationwide – it’s congressional Republicans that are really unpopular. Today’s results put congressional Republicans approval at a woeful 24%.

In other words, the GOP lawmakers going after the president are less than half as popular as the guy they’re condemning.

As for the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think Obama’s approval rating is irrelevant, since he obviously can’t seek another term. But for political insiders, this is a metric worth watching closely, since the president’s standing will have a real impact on the public appetite – or lack thereof – for radical change from the status quo.


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Newly Released Clinton Email Proves Bush & Blair Plotted Iraq War A Year Before Launching It

It turns out that yes, there was some astonishing details hidden in Hillary Clinton’s emails – just not what the Republicans thought it was. Newly released information indicates that then-President George W. Bush had reached a secret deal with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to invade Iraq – nearly a year before the invasion took place. A secret meeting took place in April 2002, where Colin Powell wrote that “He [Blair] will present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause,” Powell wrote, adding that the prime minister has the skills to “make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace,” according to Newsmax.

It flies in the face of Blair’s public declaration that he was attempting to find a diplomatic solution to the manufactured “crisis.” It also reveals Blair’s collusion with the Department of Defense in fabricating and selling the “evidence” which convinced America that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction (it didn’t) and that they were involved in 9/11 and planning to strike America again (they weren’t). Tony Blair, desperate for the United Kingdom to regain some of its influence in the global balance of power, went along with everything Bush asked him to, including creating the fake narrative that Saddam Hussein had an unmanned aerial vehicle program that could deliver a WMD “within 45 minutes.”

It adds to the heaping mound of evidence that our nation was lied to, not just by our leader, but by those of our allies as well. The Iraq War will be remembered as one of the most catastrophic disasters our nation has ever brought upon themselves, the pinnacle of neoconservative arrogance and the hubris of American exceptionalism, preconceived even before 9/11 ever happened and organized to maximize the profits of defense contractors and fossil fuel companies like Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, which made $39 billion in profits over the course of the conflict. George Bush has a lot to answer for; it now appears that Mr. Blair does as well.



From Occupy Democrats, Colin Taylor

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BUSTED! FOX News’ “Terrorism Expert” Arrested By Feds For Impersonating A CIA Agent

FOX News has never been known for their journalistic integrity or their concern for things like “facts,” but one of their commentators has just been outed for his blatant lying- and was arrested for it. Wayne Simmons, a FOX commentator who specialized in “terrorism” coverage, has been arrested by federal authorities and indicted a grand jury for “committing major fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to the government.”

Simmons, 62, claimed that he was a “Outside Paramilitary Special Operations Officer” in the CIA from 1973 to 2000. His online biography claims that he “spearheaded Deep Cover Intel Ops against some of the world’s most dangerous Drug Cartels and arms smugglers from Central and South America and the Middle East, that he was one of the first outside Intelligence officers to visit Guantanamo Bay in July 2005.” In fact he was given a minor security clearance for his work as a “Human Terrain System Team Leader.”

Federal prosecutors also allege that he had a “significant criminal history, including convictions for a crime of violence and firearms offenses, and is believed to have had an ongoing association with firearms notwithstanding those felony convictions.”

If this one commentator has been perpetuating these outrageous lies about his credentials, who else on the FOX team is guilty? The amount of partisan vitriol, misrepresented half-truths and outright lies that spew from the far-right’s propaganda factory would indicate that this is a common theme among the various talking heads that confirm the network’s preconceived conclusions. Little of their content can actually be considered “news;” they do not deserve a place in our national discourse.

Colin Taylor, Occupy Democrats

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NY police: Parents beat son to death in church to make him ‘confess to prior sins’

New Hartford police revealed on Tuesday that parents and members of a cult-like New York congregation had been trying to force two teens to confess their sins when one of them died this week.

According to a police report, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard died on Monday after being dropped off at a local hospital by his family. His 17-year-old brother, Christopher, was also hospitalized with similar injuries.

An initial investigation identified Word of Life Church in Utica as the primary scene of the crime.

On Tuesday, New Hartford police said that the family and other parishioners were trying to make the victims confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, the Associated Press reported.

“Both brothers were subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours, in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,” Police Chief Michael Inserra explained.

It was not immediately clear what “sins” parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard were hoping the teens would confess.

Both parents were charged with first-degree manslaughter. Four others are facing second-degree assault charges.

Police said that the investigation was continuing and that more arrests were expected.

Eva Monaghan, who lives near the church, told the AP that members of the community had always been suspicious of the secretive congregation.

“I’m really afraid. In my heart I don’t think this is the first incident,” Monaghan observed. “Over all the years, I can’t imagine this is the first thing. Maybe nothing as bad. Around town, it’s considered a cult.”

David Edwards, RawStory

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Greater transgender visibility hasn’t helped nonbinary people – like me

I often walk around the city wearing a beard and a skirt. This is when I’m most myself, but it’s also when I’m most afraid of people’s reactions. As a South Asian nonbinary person – someone who does not identify as a man or a woman – I have grown accustomed to people being disgusted by me, to strangers calling out on the street, “What the hell is that?”

Media outlets – like Time magazine on its 2014 cover featuring Laverne Cox –proclaim that we’re at a “transgender tipping point”, a time of unprecedented visibility for trans people. Yet at moments when I’m facing aggression or contempt from strangers, I recognize that putting trans celebrities on pedestals doesn’t translate into safety for those of us who are visibly gender nonconforming.

Our culture still holds an ingrained suspicion of gender nonconformity, as if people like me exist solely to deceive and harm others. I remember all the times I have been called a freak, an “it” and ugly. To refuse to participate in the gender binary –the idea that there are only “masculinity” and “femininity” which exist in opposition – is to be considered a monster.

I do recognize that there have been some promising changes. The number of Americans who report knowing a trans person has doubled in the past seven years. Obama has hired his first trans staffer; major Democratic leaders have voiced their support for transgender rights; a trans television series even won an Emmy. But prominent trans figures still tend to fall squarely on one side of the gender binary – that is, they transitioned from one side of it to the other. Think Caitlyn Jenner’s pinup look in Vanity Fair or Ian Harvie’s lumberjack aesthetic on Transparent.

But not all transgender people medically transition into an opposite gender, contrary to how the mainstream media is telling this story, nor do we want to. Many of us do not change our names or documents, do not undergo hormone therapy and do not seek to pass as cisgender – when someone’s self-identification aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.

For me, the “trans tipping point” tends to be yet another form of exclusion because it recognizes only those trans people who make claims to “real” womanhood or manhood. Transgender people who present a fixed male or female identity are regarded as representative of all of us. And I wonder if their acceptance by society is less a reflection of progress than a question of palatability. Indeed, while celebrities like Jenner challenge the idea that gender is innate, ultimately they don’t challenge society’s mandate that we all must exist as either male or female.

The rest of us – whose identities are more fluid, more difficult for strangers to comprehend and relate to – may not be visible in media but are more noticeable on the streets. As it stands, according to a nationwide survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nonbinary people, especially those of us who are people of color, are more likely than binary trans people to attempt suicide, be harassed by the police, live in abject poverty and be sexually and physically assaulted. What has become evident is that so many of us who do not pass as male or female are still regarded as disposable by both cis and trans communities. Too often, efforts to gain acceptance and rights for trans men and trans women has meant ignoring those of us who are not as easily categorized.

Take, for example, the issue of trans-inclusive public restrooms. Recently politicians in Florida, Texas and other states have attempted to pass laws criminalizing trans people for using public restrooms. A trans-activist photo campaign called #WeJustNeedToPee responded to the proposed laws with photos of trans people looking out of place in restrooms of the genders to which they were assigned at birth: a trans woman with long ringlets and red lipstick in front of urinals, a trans man in a cowboy hat and beard looking stoic next to a woman at a bathroom sink, with the caption “Do I look like I belong in women’s facilities?”

The campaign successfully highlighted the ridiculousness of the “bathroom bills”, but it did so by leaning on old-fashioned gender rules: shock that someone who looked like a “woman” could be in a “men’s” restroom and vice versa.

People like me were erased from this framing, even though we often experience the brunt of gender policing, because society continually misgenders us. Rather than challenging the idea that you can tell someone’s gender from what they look like (or the notion that bathrooms should be gendered to begin with!), many trans activists and allies accepted the idea that certain people who look certain ways belong in certain bathrooms. Nobody should have to look a particular way to pee safely.

I wonder if we can understand this “tipping point” less as a moment of triumph and more as a call for reflection. Society’s message to trans people feels like: “Congratulations! As long as you look like a conventionally attractive, respectable, thin cisgender model. Otherwise expect to continue experiencing discrimination, hostility and violence – and to be blamed for it.”

This is not the fault of individual binary trans people; it is part of a larger system of gender binarism that requires us to assimilate into discrete categories of “man” or “woman” to be worthy of recognition and safety. Instead of requiring trans people to modify how we look, our society can work to redefine its limited ideas of what masculinity and femininity are. Let’s push beyond the “tipping point” and ensure justice for the full range of our identities.

Alok Vaid-Menon, The Guardian

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8-Year-Old Shoots Himself Dead After Parents Leave Him Home Alone With Loaded Gun

The most commonly repeated complaint from the right-wing, NRA gun-nuts in this country is that “gun control only stops ‘responsible gun owners’ from exercising their Second Amendment rights. They repeat this line over and over, despite the daily occurrences of “responsible gun owners” leaving their weapons in the reach of children- with deadly results.

Last week was exceptionally bloody for our nation. Two eleven-year-olds killed other children with their parents’ weapons, and there were two more school shootings on Friday- with one more potential attack foiled by vigilant students. That appalling trend appears to be continuing this week.

Around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Las Vegas police received a phone call that an 8-year-old boy had suffered a gunshot wound. According to police, Clayton James Singleton, was left home alone with his younger sister and a loaded gun. The young boy picked up the gun and shot himself — the police pronounced him dead upon arrival. Neighbors said this isn’t the first time kids in the neighborhood have gotten ahold of their “responsible” parents’ guns:

“They were playing with a gun, and shot it, and all of them kind of went running, so we don’t know where the gun came from. It could have been the parents it could have been introduced by another kid — nobody really knows that’s the sad part.”

Unfortunately, this kind of accident is one we see all too often in the United States. A study released last year, by doctors, found that twenty kids are hospitalized in the U.S. each day because of gun-related injuries. A review of hospital records found that more than 7,000 children die each year, and another 10,000 are injured, due to firearms. Nearly one-third of the injuries and deaths were caused by unintentional gunshot wounds. It is now safer to be a policeman in America than a preschooler.

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement asking parents to please remove guns from their homes, because the risk to their children was far too great. In 2011, David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, released a study that mirrored what the Academy claimed eleven years before. He found that American children, between the ages of 5-to-14, are eleven times more likely to die from a gun related injury than children in other developed countries.

“There are real and imaginary situations when it might be beneficial to have a gun in the home,” Hemenway concludes. “For example, in the Australian film Mad Max, where survivors of the apocalypse seem to have been predominantly psychopathic male bikers, having a loaded gun would seem to be very helpful for survival, and public health experts would probably advise people in that world to obtain guns. However, for most contemporary Americans, the scientific studies suggest that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. There are no credible studies that indicate otherwise.”

As we watch more shooting produce more dead children and adults, it’s hard to deny that this country has a serious problem. For far too long we have allowed the NRA, gun lobby and their Republican thralls poison our minds into thinking that guns are anything other than dangerous tools that perpetuate more violence. The Second Amendment was written more than 230 years ago, and our Founding Fathers could not have predicted how deadly firearm technology would become. It is far beyond time to change our laws.

Las Vegas police have not decided whether or not they are going to charge this child’s irresponsible parents with a crime, but they certainly should. It’s time to stop calling children dying from gunshot wounds “accidental.” There is no such thing as an “accidental” shooting when you leave your gun in an accessible place for your children. That is called “neglect” and it’s time that we started charging these neglectful parents with a crime when their guns kill innocent children.

By Shannon Atrueta, Occupy Democrats

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Doctor’s Without Borders Takes Unprecedented Action Against US Military

“Even war has rules,” declared Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF), who announced Wednesday that the aid organization will take unprecedented action against the U.S. military by formally launching an international fact-finding inquiry into the bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which was established by the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions, is the only permanent body set up specifically to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. Though it was established in 1991, this investigation marks the first time the Commission has been requested.

“This was not just an attack on our hospital—it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated,” Liu stated. “These Conventions govern the rules of war and were established to protect civilians in conflicts – including patients, medical workers and facilities. They bring some humanity into what is otherwise an inhumane situation.”

MSF has asserted that Saturday’s airstrike amounts to nothing less than a war crime. Twenty-two people died in the attack, including 12 MSF staff members and 10 patients, and an additional 37 were wounded.

Since that time, U.S. officials have altered their account of the bombing a total of four times, the most recent explanation given by General John Campbell being that the attack, which was called in by U.S. Special Forces, “mistakenly struck” the hospital. However, MSF has repeatedly said that the U.S. military was aware of the hospital’s GPS coordinates.

Pending activation by signatory states, the Commission inquiry will gather facts and evidence from the U.S., NATO, and Afghanistan, as well as testimony from surviving MSF staff and patients. “The facts and circumstances of this attack must be investigated independently and impartially, particularly given the inconsistencies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days,” Liu said. “We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.”

During a subsequent press briefing, Liu said that the inquiry was essential to “safeguard” essential medical space within war zones. Without that protection “it is impossible to work in other contexts like Syria, South Sudan, like Yemen.”

“If we let this go, as if was a non-event, we are basically giving a blank check to any countries who are at war,” she concluded.

By Lauren McCauley for Common Dreams

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The Bare Chest Calendar “Monte Carlo Night” is October 25


Team 2016 Monte Carlo Night takes place October 25 at Temple 540 Howard St.  Doors open at 5pm, gaming starts at 5:30.

“We are very excited to be at Temple this year for a great night of games and entertainment. More details soon on our Dinner Date Silent Auction and gaming prizes. For your $20 ticket you will receive 3 raffle tickets and $300 in chips. Present one of our “playing cards” at the door and receive an extra $50 chip. Also, enjoy special winnings at the celebrity dealer high stakes tables.”

Since 1985 the Bare Chest Calendar Men have been a huge part of the San Francisco community raising thousands of dollars for AIDS Emergency Fund and Positive Resource Center The Bare Chest Calendar is a fun and dynamic fundraising project disguised as a Calendar. Each year, through a series of contests held at the Powerhouse, Bay Area Men compete for the opportunity to appear on the calendar. Once selected, Calendar Men volunteer at a series of fundraising events during the Calendar Season, between May and December to raise critical funds for AEF and PRC.  Team 2015 raised a record $170,592.

If you live in the Bay Area, are 25 years or older then you are eligible to compete.  Candidates who are male identified of any race and body type are encouraged to compete. You need only possess an interest and willingness to appear on the Calendar and to promote and fund raise at activities throughout the Calendar Season. To compete see e_2016.html

If you’d rather hang out and help out at their events, become a Bare Chest Volunteer: /  It’s a great way to meet and mingle with these sexy Men and their supporters.

Supporting Team 2016 is Mr. April 2010 Will Victoria as Managing Director, Mr. June 2015 John Marino-Deabler as Den Daddy and Mr. April 2014 Ross Hayduk as the Project Manager.  They and a core group of former Bare Chest Calendar men continue to volunteer after their Calendar year to: secure sponsors, recruit future contestants,  judge contests, coordinate volunteer shifts and serve on the Steering Committee.

Article by Paul Margolis –

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San Francisco Has Always Been A Pretty Expensive Place To Live

Lots of people have lots of memories of cheap apartments and cheap burrito dinners in the Mission of the 1990′s. And while there have been eras of relative stability in San Francisco when it didn’t feel like there was a well heeled horde of transplants vying for every last charming garden studio and every table at Tosca Café, there have been multiple times in SF’s past when people from without were clamoring to get a foothold here, and driving up the price of everything in the process.

Being a relatively small city with specific geographic constraints and development patterns that has been historically prone to boom-and-bust cycles, one can trace SF’s economic tensions and sky-high prices well beyond five or even fifteen years ago. At the risk of drawing the wrath of those who believe SF has long been more affordable than it is now — which, in some ways and in some neighborhoods like the Mission, it was in our recent history, at least if you go back 20 years — SFist is going to explore some facts and figures from the city’s past, anecdotal and otherwise, that may offer a smidgeon of comfort to everyone who feels like they’ve arrived at the worst possible moment, when everything is more insanely expensive than it ever has been here. In truth, it has been both better and worse, due to many factors, not the least of which has been supply and demand.

The Gold Rush And the 19th Century
If you think land values and food prices are crazy in the city now, it’s educational to glance back at the chaos of real estate and the scarcity of goods in the early years of San Francisco. The Smithsonian Magazine just published an excellent piece on this topic, finding written records of the ways that miners and other early arrivers to town were being gouged for the simplest food items like bread and eggs. There have been many accounts of eggs being sold for a dollar apiece, with a dozen eggs costing roughly $90 in today’s dollars in 1849 SF. Canteens reportedly would charge a dollar for a slice of bread too, $2 if it was buttered, which would be $56 in today’s terms. Edward Gould Buffum writes in Six Months in the Gold Mines (1850) of a breakfast for two consisting of bread, cheese, butter, sardines and two bottles of beer for which he was charged $43, the equivalent of a $1,200 restaurant bill today.

It’s often been said that most of San Francisco’s early millionaires were not the prospectors but the people who sold things to them, like German-Jewish immigrant Levi Strauss who figured out that everyone needed tough, rugged pants in the gold fields.

And when it came to real estate, prices were way more insane in the years just after the Gold Rush. As writer Bayard Taylor, who penned dispatches about the Gold Rush economy for the New York Tribune, tells it:

[One] citizen of San Francisco died insolvent to the amount of forty-one thousand dollars the previous autumn. His administrators were delayed in settling his affairs and his real estate advanced so rapidly in value meantime that after his debts were paid, his heirs had a yearly income of $40,000 [$1.2 million today]

That means his property alone sold for the equivalent of several million dollars, even though the man himself believed he died in great debt.

A recent history of Alamo Square on Hoodline describes the land-grabbing and real estate squabbles that were going on in the area between the 1860s and the 1890s, when Alamo Square Park would finally start to take shape, alluding to the high value of land in the period. And by 1897, millionaires were building mansions like this one by the park.

And does this sound familiar? The excerpt below is from a 1930s history book about the Gold Rush years.

1906, Post Earthquake and Fire
Yet again, as the city recovered from the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, those whose homes were luckily not completely burned down found that their landlords weren’t going to let them back in from the refugee camps where they found themselves without paying higher rent — in some cases double.

As the San Francisco Call reported in July 1906, “These persons say they are not paupers; that they are earning as good wages as ever they did, but they are unable to pay the increased rent. As a result they resort to the camps.”

The War and Post-War Years: 1940s and 1950s
Housing became much more expensive and harder to come by in the years during and after the Second World War, due to an abundance of job opportunities, and it’s clear from census data that the city’s population was largely middle and upper class. The population boomed in these years while the city was a lot less dense in terms of building heights and in-fill development than it is now, leading to high demand.

The population rose a staggering 22 percent between 1940 and 1950, from 634,536 to over 775,000 — a level it would not reach again until the dot-com boom in 2000, following out-migration in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s

And the people of San Francisco in 1950 weren’t poor, on average. The median family income for the city was almost $4,000, 21 percent higher than the national average. While only 8 percent were college educated at the time, 22 percent listed themselves as professionals, executives, or managers, while another 22 percent worked in clerical or administrative job.

Median rents in the city hovered at $41/mo in 1950, which is the equivalent of $405/mo today, but that was way above the national average, which was $260/mo in today’s terms.
Writing in his San Francisco Book in 1948, longtime Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote of the booming city that its “two great problems” were “housing and traffic,” complaining of landlords gouging people for substandard housing. “Even a couple of rooms in a basement bring seventy-five dollars a month,” he wrote

Sound familiar?

And as for the newly built areas filled with shiny offices and such, he wrote, “the dyed-in-the-fog San Franciscan isn’t at all sure he is happy about the newer sections of town.”

Dips in the population, urban flight, and a decaying Edwardian housing stock — much of which was built between 1907 and 1910 and was in great disrepair by 1970, when areas like Alamo Square were extremely “low-rent” and dilapidated — may have made life cheaper for the hippies, but that all began to change by the early 1980s. It was then that you saw the preservation movement and savvy investors fixing up many of the Victorians into the multi-million-dollar properties they’ve become today.

Also, the industrial areas of SoMa, beginning to be redeveloped as Yerba Buena Gardens and the Moscone Center, started to become less desolate and more desirable as arts and living space. You can look no further than this photo caption from a recent exhibit about SoMa in the late 70s and early 80s by photographer Janet Delaney. It describes a couple of artists, Perry Lancaster and Jill Scott, who in 1981 are talking about the precariousness of their living situation on Langton Street.

First Dot-Com Boom: The Mission Changes The First (Or Second) Time
The Mission, as you likely know, was once an Irish and Italian neighborhood, and during and after World War II it gave way to a wave of Latino immigration from across Latin America, some of whom moved families here to become shipbuilders and others just to profit from the city’s booming economy. The 1960s and 70s also saw a wave of immigration to the ‘hood from El Salvador following political oppression in that country.

Local architect Joelle Colliard, who was arguably part of the “first wave” of gentrification in the Mission circa 1995, remembers the huge, 1500-square-foot, three-bedroom flat at 24th and York that she shared with two friends that cost them $1200 total. “We each paid $400. That was how the world used to turn,” she says. That all ended with an ownership change and spurious owner move-in eviction during the boom in 2000, and the rent for that unit was allegedly was hiked to over $3000.

Local nurse Jason Overcash remembers a huge studio facing Alamo Square going for $650/mo in 1995, which was $50 more than he could afford

It should be noted that median household income in San Francisco more than doubled between 1990 and 2010, from $33,000 to $71,000.

I, myself, moved to the Bay Area from New York just as the last boom was winding down, in late 2000, with no savings and no parental support. An initially easy-to-get job led to my first layoff, funemployment, and learning the ropes of the unemployment insurance system, but luckily I was sharing a loft in Oakland where we’d had to build out all our own rooms, paying $700 a month to share one bathroom with three other people. I can recall around 2002 visiting a friend’s Nob Hill studio that was going for $1,575 a month, and that felt well beyond reach.

I wouldn’t decide to move into San Francisco until 2005, at which point I couldn’t afford to live anywhere decent on my own, and tired of roommates I settled into a spiffed up SRO on Market Street that was being marketed to students at the Art Institute and elsewhere, where I paid $625 a month to share a bathroom with an entire hallway and live in less than 300 square feet. My neighbors were non-profit workers and artists, many of them pretty young. At the time, even that was an unheard-of deal

Still, having visited New York regularly, the $9 cocktails you could get here were already going for $12 or $14 there, and people had lovely, rambling, big apartments in historic buildings for way less than anyone paid for the equivalent amount of space back east, so SF still felt a bit like a deal.

All that has changed, of course, and there are pretty much no more deals.

I know one person who managed to find a nice big room this year for $1500 in a four-bedroom place in the Castro, and I know that I also just saw a room being advertised in Corona Heights in a beautiful, remodeled four-bedroom, with a view, for $3350.

But, the point is, while we are in a crazy moment, it might feel less crazy soon, or in a few years. Maybe something terrible will happen and everyone will leave, and it’ll be like 1967 again with tons of empty space to rent — but even then, a lot of those under-employed hippies lived in communes.

Looking at the long view, it has been crazy before, and it will be again. Because San Francisco is a place that people flock to, and want to be, and it’s going to take more than just a big earthquake to change that.

Jay Barmann, SFist

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Beau and Joe: Why This Week’s Attack on Joe Biden Was Below The Belt

There are times in American politics that require people of good will in both parties to speak out.

Increasingly, that is a rare phenomenon. Candidates love it when their opponents (or potential opponents) are put on the defensive. After all, politics is a tough game and if you are not ready to take the ‘hits’ then get out of the game. This week there was an attack directed at Vice President Biden in an attempt to discourage him from what could be a knock-down, prolonged and tough primary. Joe knows the game well and certainly would not shy away from a good political fight if he decides to enter the race.

However, this attack crossed the line by any definition of decency.

All candidates running for President should have immediately spoken out against the obscene attack. Their silence speaks volumes about this election season.

This column is not going to make that mistake.

Edward-Isaac Dovere this week wrote for Politico that Biden had deliberately leaked that his son Beau’s ‘last wish’ was for his father to run for President. The article bluntly stated that in his moment of intense grief over his son’s death that Joe coldly calculated how to release that information to kick off his presidential campaign. It doesn’t get any more filthy or offensive in politics than that article. The journalist either was a willing participant in an effort to discourage Biden in the week leading up to his decision or he was motivated to fabricate a story that would get him more ‘column inches’. Either one is amoral and the article is a total blatant lie that should be called that by all the candidates running in the Democratic Primary.

It is no coincidence that it was published this week. Someone wanted to make sure Biden knew there would be ‘no limits’ in this campaign.

Anyone who has known Biden knows of his intense love for his family. There is no question that the death of his first wife and daughter left him devastated. Every day he commuted from Wilmington, Delaware to the Senate so he could be by the side of his two critically injured sons. There is no better example of a father in America. This year his pride and joy, his son, died of brain cancer. The grief in the family was real, hard to watch, and heartbreaking. Did he talk to others about Beau’s death? Did he mention his last conversations with his son?

You bet he did.

Anyone who has suffered great loss knows that one of the ways to process grief is to share with others the last days and last conversations. Joe is a talker. My guess is the best way he processes the unthinkable is to reach out to family and friends. Having to share one’s grief with the public is hard. However, anyone who saw Joe’s face during his son’s funeral and believes that he would take time in that moment to use it for politics is one cold-hearted mean son of a bitch.

In addition, the journalist claims Joe manipulated his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, through this horrible moment to support the race. Really, Mr. Edward-Isaac Dovere, really? The last person on earth who could be manipulated is Dr. Biden.

Joe Biden never ever would use his son’s death for political gain. Nor would he expect people to vote for him because of Beau’s death. He is a man of great integrity, dignity and love. Joe is not afraid to stand on the issues and fight the good fight if he enters the race.

It is not clear who planted this story. What is clear is that both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders should loudly be condemning this story as the kind of journalism that has no business in politics. The article was sleazy, dishonest, and disgusting. Anyone associated with it should be ashamed.

No one should have the death of a son used against them politically but especially Joe who has shown the entire country a profile in courage.

David Mixner, Towleroad

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The Shady Group That Played Pope Francis

Around 8 p.m. on September 29, the Liberty Counsel, Kim Davis’s legal representation, tweeted a report from Inside the Vatican that Pope Francis had a secret meeting with their client. Robert Moynihan, the writer who broke the story, had gotten his information exclusively from the Liberty Counsel.

What started out as a rumor about a closed-door meeting quickly evolved into something much bigger—the claim that Pope Francis, for all of his kindness toward LGBT people, was really on the side of the Religious Right.

You can imagine how the secret meeting might have gone, said the Liberty Counsel: Pope Francis embracing a humbled Kim Davis, encouraging her to “stay strong,” and validating her fight against gay marriage. And then mere hours later, with poor, sweet Kim fresh in his memory, telling journalists that government officials—why, just like that Kentucky gal!—have the right to conscientious objection.

But many journalists with connections inside the Vatican, myself included, were having difficulty figuring out exactly what transpired between Francis and Davis because the Liberty Counsel’s story was so incredibly vague. Who, for instance, initiated the meeting—and why?

According to Davis’s lawyer, Mat Staver, the meeting came “from the Vatican itself”—which reads as his deceptive way of saying, “Pope Francis didn’t actually invite Davis to the embassy, but someone with Vatican connections did, so we’re going to keep saying Vatican over and over until enough people think the Holy Father actually invited our client to meet him.”

Though many pressed Staver to release the name of the Vatican official, he held out as long as he could until eventually the secret broke. The meeting was initiated by Archbishop Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage.

Last spring, for example, Vigano attended an anti-gay rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage. In a press release, NOM called Vigano the “official representative of Pope Francis,” which—as is implied by the designation—they took as a papal seal of approval for their fight against gay marriage. (This is why Vigano has won himself the ire of many Catholics—he should’ve known that when he wades into a culture war, he drags Francis unwittingly with him.)

The inconsistencies with the Liberty Counsel’s story were infuriatingly apparent from go. For example, Staver told CBS that Francis definitely knew who Kim Davis was, before their meeting: “Pope Francis,” he said, “has been following the story of Kim Davis and obviously is very concerned about religious liberty, not just in the United States, but worldwide.” But in an interview with Time, Staver said that he didn’t know if Francis knew who his client was, but he assumed the pope had heard of her because “her story has been published worldwide.”

The Vatican quickly realized they had to weigh in. Admitting that Francis had some brief encounter with Davis, the statement from the Holy See’s press office made clear that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support” for Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moreover, the Vatican didn’t even consider Davis a “real audience,” saying she was just one of dozens paraded in front of the pontiff at the Vatican embassy.

That sounds like a diplomatic way of saying this: Francis met Davis, but he probably had no idea who she was. And regardless, as James Martin, the Jesuit priest and author, notes in America Magazine, “despite what Ms. Davis said, a meeting with the pope does not ‘kind of validate everything.’”

The Liberty Counsel didn’t back down at all. They argued that Pope Francis made clear in an interview that he does in fact support their client by virtue of the fact that he supports conscientious objection.

Staver argued that whether or not his story was factually accurate, it was symbolically accurate: Pope Francis supports conscientious objection, and since the Liberty Counsel sees Davis as a conscientious objector (many disagree with that assessment, by the way), then they don’t think it’s a lie to present Francis and Kim’s meeting the way they have.

To put it in theological terms, the Liberty Counsel expects us to ignore the letter of what they say and pay attention to the spirit of what they say. This explanation is an odd strategy for, you know, attorneys. “Your honor, you’re getting tripped up here on the evidence! Look at the big metaphorical picture!”

This kind of deceptive wordplay isn’t a new game to the Liberty Counsel. Just last month they pulled something similar.

Imagine this, they said. Tens of thousands of Christian opponents of gay marriage filling a field in Peru, for the sole purpose of lifting up Kim Davis, their sister in Christ, in prayer as she wages war on gay pagans. You can, in fact, imagine this because the Liberty Counsel, Davis’s legal representation promised that it happened. There are even pictures to prove it, they said.

Except, that story wasn’t true either.

The picture of a 100,000-strong rally in Peru that the Liberty Counsel tweeted out to prove that there was global support for their client was actually from a prayer rally from May 2014. It had absolutely nothing to do with Davis.

It now appears, a statement from the Liberty Counsel read, “the photograph presented to [Davis’s attorney] Mat Staver was an honest mistake.” What’s not a mistake, however, the Liberty Counsel said, is that “there is widespread support for Kim Davis. Last week she was recognized by many people as she walked through the Philadelphia, New York LaGuardia, and Washington, D.C. Reagan airports.”

Again, he argued, his lie was symbolically true. Spirit, not letter, and whatnot.

Founded in 1989 by husband and wife attorneys Mathew Staver and Anita Staver, the nonprofit’s goal is to provide legal services to those causes they feel are “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” according to the group’s website. In other words, they provide pro bono legal representation to people who are fighting on their side of the culture war.

The group is notorious for opposing homosexuality and abortion, and fighting for its version of religious freedom. It’s also been extremely critical of President Obama. “I know for a fact salvation is not arriving on Air Force One,” Mat Staver once said.

Ahead of the Obergefell decision, Staver co-authored a Marriage Pledge, in which he “respectfully warned” the judges not to “cross the line” on God-ordained marriage.

“Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Staver organizes and is a key speaker at an annual conference called The Awakening, which bills itself as “an in-depth Prayer and Patriotism event where people are united by love for our country’s freedom and our faith in Christ.” According to a conference schedule from 2012, topics of discussion include Israel, Islam, the LGBTQ agenda, and abortion.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Liberty Counsel as a hate group. Importantly, the SPLC does not classify religious groups as hate groups simply because they believe or preach that homosexuality is sinful (religious groups have a protected right to that belief) but because they propagate known falsehoods, and often employ “groundless name-calling.”

For example, despite the fact that reparative therapy has been discredited by science, in 2006 the LC launched its “Change is Possible” campaign, to educate youth that “unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome.” Railing against society-threatening values like diversity and tolerance, the LC encouraged students to start Gay to Straight Clubs on their campuses, and to ask faculty to include “the ex-gay viewpoint” in all discussions of homosexuality. These initiatives, they suggest, are life-saving: “Former homosexuals have lost their jobs and been physically assaulted because they dared to tell others that people can and do overcome same-sex attractions.”

Multiple requests for comment from the Liberty Counsel went unreturned, but last month Staver told the Orlando Sentinel he rejects the hate label, claiming that “critics have misconstrued his comments and maligned his motivations in service of their own agenda to smear anyone who doesn’t condone homosexuality.”

Staver is the author of the 2004 book Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk, which argued that “sanctioning same-sex marriage would have a profound destabilizing effect on the health, welfare, education, and morals of the country.” The book is full of pithy, confusing Staverisms, like: “We should not play Russian roulette with marriage.”

“When it comes to anti-LGBT hate groups,” said a representative of the Human Rights Campaign, the Liberty Counsel is “in a class of their own.” The HRC has long followed the Liberty Counsel, noting that the group supports “despicable anti-LGBT criminalization laws abroad, compares being LGBT to drug addiction, and defends the abusive and scientifically discredited practice of ‘so-called’ conversion therapy.”

The Counsel’s involvement with Davis, said the spokesperson, is “merely the latest in a deplorable, decades-long record of attacking LGBT people, their dignity, and their rights.”

A well-researched article on the HRC’s website documents dozens of cases the Liberty Counsel has been involved with. Notably, the group represented the evangelical Scott Lively against charges of “crimes against humanity” for his alleged involvement in the creation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. “This lawsuit against Pastor Lively,” wrote Staver on the Liberty Counsel’s website, “is a terrifying attempt to use vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues.”

The suit against Lively should scare everyone, he continued, “because it is a direct threat against every American’s freedom of speech and free exercise of religion by the use of international law.”

Staver is an expert in peddling fear. For instance, an advertisement for one of his Awakening conferences warned, “A war is raging against our shared values. Our faith and freedom are under attack.”

This is a theme of many Liberty Counsel press releases. In a writeup on Kim Davis, Staver warns, “The PURGE of Christians in America has begun.” (The word “purge” is used five times in the release.) Staver warns, “If this judge’s decision is allowed to stand, then every American Christian will be at risk of facing the PURGING of their faith and ultimately the loss of their jobs.”

He then asked Concerned Christians Everywhere for—what else?—their money.

Staver’s fear-mongering tactics have certainly paid off, as Bethany Rodgers explains in the Orlando Sentinel. Since its creation, she writes, “the nonprofit has ballooned from a tiny venture collecting less than $200,000 in yearly donations to a multipronged organization that hauled in more than $4 million in the 2013 tax year.” The group employs 10 attorneys, and has several offices in the U.S., and another one in Israel.

To be clear: This is not some fringe right-wing group enjoying little to no influence in the world. Whenever there’s a fight to be had over gay marriage, abortion, or religious freedom, you can almost count on someone from the Liberty Counsel showing up. That’s why Staver’s stunt with the pope, though maddeningly unfortunate, is business as usual for the culture warrior.

The most glaring irony here is that evangelicals are notorious for their negative views of Catholicism, and in particular the pope. Some evangelicals believe the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon described in the Book of Revelation. Those beliefs may be limited to a few denominations on the fringes, but it is absolutely the case that evangelicalism holds that Catholicism is doctrinally in error on several major points, including purgatory, prayers to saints, and its veneration of Mary. Indeed, the Liberty Counsel even responded to a few tweets from apparent evangelicals angry that the group would even mingle with the pontiff.

It’s certainly bemusing, then, to hear Davis talk about how humbled she was by Francis’s visit, and how encouraging it was to hear he was “on track” with her marriage crusade. It’s equally bemusing to hear Staver heap praise on Francis’s theological positions.

The Liberty Counsel’s intentions with Francis weren’t spiritual or religious. They were merely political. Everything about that meeting was calculated to further Staver’s anti-gay agenda.

Sadly, for Davis, Staver’s intentions with her also seem to be political. For all of his talk about how much his client loves Jesus, it’s tough to imagine Staver even thinks his client is a Christian. Staver is a Southern Baptist, and adheres to a statement of faith that is markedly different from the one Davis’s church believes. A big difference, and one that is an issue of orthodoxy for any Southern Baptist, is that Davis’s church doesn’t believe in the doctrine of the trinity.

At the end of the day, the Liberty Counsel is after political expediency. They play people, they use their clients like pawns to accomplish their agendas without so much as an afterthought about how they are hurting their clients’ lives. No one from the Liberty Counsel, for instance, spent six days in jail. Nor are any of them wanted by the FBI or Interpol.

True to form, the Liberty Counsel tried to play Francis. They knew that the Vatican, even if they wanted to, couldn’t throw Davis under the bus. First, Francis is a pastor, and he wouldn’t do that. Second, Francis already won himself the ire of plenty of American conservatives for what they consider to be his weak, not-loud-enough stance against homosexuality. Did Francis really want to risk driving those conservatives even further away from the church? It was as if the Liberty Counsel drove Francis into a corner, and dared him to call their bluff.

Unfortunately for the Liberty Counsel, he did. And he did it gloriously.

Remember how the Vatican’s official statement said Davis wasn’t a “real audience” for the pope because he only had one of those?

Well, that audience was with none other than Francis’s former student, who is gay, and his partner of 19 years. CNN broke the news in an exclusive interview with Yayo Grassi, the gay student.

While there’s no video took back up Davis’s story—which will no doubt change several more times, as it already has—there’s video of the Pope embracing his real audience. He knew both men were gay, and partnered. He didn’t use the moment to pray for their conversion to heterosexuality, or to give them a brochure on the ex-gay movement, or to lecture them on church teaching about sexuality. He welcomed them. He embraced them. He kissed them on the cheek. He smiled with them.

Is that meeting proof that Francis wants to change church teaching on homosexuality? No. But it is evidence of Pope Francis’s character—that in spite of his institution’s historical mistreatment of LGBT people, the judgment stops with him.

That’s who Pope Francis is.

Good luck spinning that, Mat Staver.

Brandon Ambrosino, The Daily Beast

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The Problematic Case of Danny Pintauro

Oh Jonathan Bower, you bowl-cut, 80s moppet. Your storylines on your 196 episodes of Who’s the Boss? cumulatively have not amounted to the drama your alter ego Danny Pintauro has drummed up in the past week. I feel like I have been on this rollercoaster with him, and where I was experiencing great pride a few days ago, now I have great anger and frustration.

The ride started with Pintauro’s appearance on Oprah’s Where Are They Now? in which he revealed both that he had previously used crystal meth as a means to more fully explore his sexuality and that he has been HIV positive for the past 12 years.

The cynic in me thought, “Ok, this was a press grab for a press-starved former child star currently working as a manager at PF Chang’s launching a ‘Beacon of Light’ tour when he hasn’t developed relationships yet with LGBT/HIV/AIDS-related organizations.”

But I quickly shushed my inner cynic as Pintauro had to have known he was opening himself up to the myriad trolls of the cyber-sphere and the conservative world who would now be using him as a beacon of sin, promiscuity and any anti-gay tail-pin that only needed a donkey. Sounds brave to me.

Then Danny Pintauro appeared on The View and it was a train wreck of an interview. He was completely shamed by Candace Cameron Bure in one moment and, in the next, was asked by Raven-Symoné on national television if he and his husband practice safe sex. The internet responded by blasting The View hosts for handling the topic in about as wrong a way as they could possibly manage.

The cynic in me yelled, “Who prepared Pintauro for this interview?!? Cameron Bure has been known to espouse conservative ideology and Raven-Symoné has previously said some wackadoodle things about the gay community. How was he not ready to correct Raven-Symoné when she conflated HIV with AIDS and, far more importantly, where was the indignation at the dehumanizing tone and content put forth by his fellow child-stars?”

I shushed my inner cynic, but not as quickly. As much as The View co-hosts were wholly unprofessional, I was frustrated by what I perceived to be Pintauro’s overall fumbling.

Then Danny Pintauro did an exclusive interview with that U.S. magazine, that reputable source of news and sensitivity, claiming that he contracted HIV through oral sex (“a compromised immune system, having been up for a long time, drugs, rough sex, all of that combined with lesions in your mouth, bodily fluids, it’s that easy,”) and shaming the nameless man from whom he contracted HIV. (“The lifestyle he was leading was really irresponsible.”)

The cynic in me was jumping up and down screaming, “Are you kidding me? Are you seriously kidding me?”

At this point, I’m making no move to shush my inner cynic.

Let’s put aside for a second the fact that contracting HIV through oral sex is unbelievably unlikely. The more important point is that it is essentially unprovable. By going out of his way to link his HIV transmission to oral sex, Pintauro has muddied the overall issue of how we talk about HIV/AIDS via a more palatable transmission method. It would have been one thing if he was suddenly putting himself forward as the poster-child for the dangers of oral sex, which aren’t currently part of the health class curriculum. Instead, he did the opposite, minimizing this detail with the horrid summary statement of “it’s that easy.” It only served to add insult to injury that he then went on in the interview to cast the man who gave him HIV in such a shameful light.

Look, the LGBT community can’t always choose our spokespeople. I get that. A former child-star is not the executive director of an LGBT/HIV/AIDS-related organization who has undergone an extensive vetting and interview process to ensure that messaging, outcomes and overall media savvy are all right on point.

But Danny Pintauro needs to put his Beacon of Light press tour on hiatus immediately and fully immerse himself in what it means to be out front representing those living with HIV in a society where the level of discourse around HIV/AIDS is riddled with misconceptions, misinformation and tactlessness (see: The View). He isn’t the spokesperson we chose. But he’s the one we currently have. And he needs to do better.

Ken Schneck, Huffington Post

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