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On Scene with Bill Wilson: Spring Edition

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

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The flowers that bloom in the spring,

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

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We welcome the hope that they bring,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibler’s official notes reported all of that conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

RE: Response to Employee Reprimand

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Peter Schorsch, St. Peters Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“But we tend to doubt it.”

 

 From News.mic
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Conservatives scramble to downplay ACA news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh my.

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

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

Jon Chait joked:

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

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

Perish the thought.

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

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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NASA Administrator Gives Ted Cruz A Lesson In How Science Works

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

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

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

 Cruz wasn’t satisfied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Second Nexus

 

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Robert Reich: Why Americans Are Screwed and Europeans Are Not

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

What’s behind this? Two big facts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Alternet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From TPM, Eric Lach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Hoodline

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California, Your Apocalypse Is Now More Likely

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

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

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

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

Hamilton Nolan
Gawker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Medical Daily

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Iran Offers to Mediate Talks Between Republicans and Obama

Stating that “their continuing hostilities are a threat to world peace,” Iran has offered to mediate talks between congressional Republicans and President Obama.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, made the offer one day after Iran received what he called a “worrisome letter” from Republican leaders, which suggested to him that “the relationship between Republicans and Obama has deteriorated dangerously.”

“Tensions between these two historic enemies have been high in recent years, but we believe they are now at a boiling point,” Khamenei said. “As a result, Iran feels it must offer itself as a peacemaker.”

He said that his nation was the “logical choice” to jumpstart negotiations between Obama and the Republicans because “it has become clear that both sides currently talk more to Iran than to each other.”

He invited Obama and the Republicans to meet in Tehran to hash out their differences and called on world powers to force the two bitter foes to the bargaining table, adding, “It is time to stop the madness.”

Hours after Iran made its offer, President Obama said that he was willing to meet with his congressional adversaries under the auspices of Tehran, but questioned whether “any deal reached with Republicans is worth the paper it’s written on.”

For their part, the Republicans said they would only agree to talks if there were no preconditions, such as recognizing President Obama’s existence.
Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

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Compassionately Confronting Panhandling

I’ve moved to the other side of the street to avoid it. I’ve lowered my eyes so that I didn’t have to acknowledge it. I’ve brushed it off with excuses to make me feel a little less guilty.

When I’m being honest, panhandling makes me uncomfortable.

As a woman, I’m generally uncomfortable around anyone demanding my attention on the street. But besides those who are catcalling, there’s a certain population I’ve ignored because I’ve often felt helpless or unsure of what to do — until now.

Panhandling is when people ask for money in public spaces. Most panhandlers (although not all) are experiencing homelessness. In many cities, panhandling is considered free speech and is protected by the first amendment. Many of us encounter those who are panhandling on a daily basis.

We know they deserve compassion, but we may not know how best to give it. How should we respond to people panhandling or experiencing homelessness?

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to responding responsibly and compassionately to those who are panhandling.

1. Say ‘Hello’

Most people don’t even recognize that the person panhandling is a human. For many, we’ve been so conditioned to disregard and not care about homelessness that the brain chemically responds to that person on the street as if they weren’t a person at all.

These are people trying to survive. And at best, we treat them like a nuisance. You can help those who are panhandling by just recognizing that person’s humanity.

Consider that other people passing by on the street are mostly ignoring these people panhandling. Some people are even verbally and physically attacking them for panhandling.

The violence towards those experiencing homelessness has continued to increase.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be spit on and have insults hurled at you all day, every day? After being questioned and humiliated all day, simple eye contact and a smile from a stranger can go a long way.

It may feel uncomfortable acknowledging them — especially if you don’t have money to give — but that’s a personal issue.

After making a concerted effort to unpack this feeling, I realized that the reason I feel uncomfortable when I see a person panhandling or a person experiencing homelessness is because it reminds me of my privilege.

I don’t have to sleep outside or ask for money to meet my most basic needs. And it’s hard to accept that other people do.

But my privileged comfort is not more important than their humanity.

I can do my part in supporting those who are panhandling by simply reminding myself that they are human. I may still feel sad, upset, and uncomfortable, but I no longer allow those emotions to make me turn away from the reality that there is still a person in front of me.

Look them in the eye. Give them a nod. Give them a friendly smile. Wish them a good day. Do whatever you can to acknowledge your fellow human beings.

2. Give (If You Can)

People are panhandling for a reason. Regardless of what this person might have done before, their basic living needs are not being met in the present.

Some individuals who have survived from panhandling have admitted that it is a very degrading experience, and doing so is often a last resort.

While we might see stories in the media about people pretending to be homeless, asking for money, and then zooming away in their convertible, that is truly not the case for the majority of people panhandling on the street.

Don’t let a few high-profile liars keep you from giving to the millions of disenfranchised people.

Many people also hesitate to give money out of fear that it will “support their addiction.”

First of all, this fear is vastly overstated. In a recent study of people panhandling in San Francisco, 94% disclosed that they spend the money they collect while panhandling on food. Less than half admitted to spending that money on drugs or alcohol.

Secondly, while many people, homeless or not, are struggling with addictions, we shouldn’t police where our money goes if we give it away.

When we give our dollars directly to these people, we are empowering them to make a choice, and we have to trust that they will make the best choice for themselves while they live in these extreme conditions.

Unless we have experienced the same circumstances, we cannot judge or assume we know what’s best for their situation.

For example, a person who has experienced homelessness shared with me that drinking a bottle of wine was enough to make them feel warm enough to sleep through another freezing winter night outside.

It’s not ideal (ideally, they would have access to warmer clothes — or, you know, a home), but it’s what they could afford and it helped them survive. We have no right to judge that.

There are also a number of things that services for those experiencing homelessness can’t provide.

Shelters, food pantries, and local support groups alone can’t provide things like flashlight batteries or cell phone minutes, for example. Your money could very well be going toward these necessary items.

If you are able to help financially, but still don’t want to give your money to them directly, you could ask what they specifically need and see if you could help provide that.

Consider purchasing gift cards to restaurants nearby or keeping a few Ziploc bags full of things like toiletries and snacks in your car for these occasions.

Depending on where you live, you might see the same individuals every day. If you feel comfortable enough, maybe invite them to join you for a meal somewhere. It’s okay to establish a relationship, even if you can’t give your time or money every day.

Remember that it’s okay to say “no,” too. But if you are able and feel called to give someone panhandling money, then give.

Know that your money is going to be spent on the best choice for them.

3. Get Involved

So you’ve overcome the dehumanizing mindset, and you’ve given to a person for short-term relief from extreme circumstances. That’s great! But how can you address these problems more proactively going forward?

Get involved.

Volunteer

Volunteering with local organizations working to prevent and end homelessness is a great way to support your local community and those who are panhandling.

While the winter holidays are when people are feeling the most charitable, volunteers are needed year round. Ask your local organizations when they need help, and get creative using your own unique talents and skills to assist them.

Get Educated About the Causes

We know that there are many reasons why people become homeless.

Nationally, there is a shortage of affordable housing. Even those working full-time earning minimum wage cannot afford the rising cost of living in this country to support their families.

On top of our failing systems, homelessness is becoming criminalized nationally. Laws are being passed that prohibit life-sustaining activities such as sitting, eating, and sleeping in public spaces.

Even trespassing ordinances ban people with “scent that is unreasonably offensive to others.” For this specific law, not only can people be banned and punished for being “too smelly,” but also for trying to wash themselves in public bathrooms.

In the last year alone, at least 31 cities nationwide have tried to restrict or ban groups from passing out or sharing food in public.

Besides the laws that are trying to hide these people experiencing homelessness, there are no laws protecting the homeless population from hate-crimes.

Advocate

As a college student, my budget and time to volunteer on-site are both limited. However, I can do my part to help end violence against and criminalization of panhandling and homelessness by educating myself and lobbying on my own schedule.

My local Homeless Coalition directs me with letter writing, sending e-mails, and making phone calls to our local officials who can prevent these laws that criminalize homelessness from passing.

I can also respond to and prevent others from harassing and trying to stop people that are panhandling if I know my local laws and ordinances.

***

While encountering those who are panhandling may be initially uncomfortable for me, I have to remember that those people are living in conditions much worse than discomfort.

I no longer dismiss or blame these individuals for their circumstances, but instead attempt to do my part to provide support — both immediate and sustainable — for the people in my community.

Responding responsibly and compassionately to panhandling allows for a bigger movement to prevent homelessness to happen and help all of those experiencing homelessness and who panhandle.

Sara Whitestone, Upworthy

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The Nob Hill Fence That Spite Built

It’s the most famous fence in San Francisco history: a three-story-tall board wall that one of the city’s richest men built around the home of a neighbor who wouldn’t sell his property.

The rich man was Charles Crocker, one of the Big Four who helped bankroll the construction of the transcontinental railroad. In 1876, he joined the handful of San Francisco’s super-rich in building a mansion on Nob Hill.

In a lavish though faintly snarky writeup on Crocker’s new digs in July 1877, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “serene happiness reigns on Nob Hill, disturbed only by casual human ills.”

The human ill afflicting Charles Crocker was embodied by Nicholas Yung, an undertaker who lived on the only sliver of the block bounded by California, Sacramento, Taylor and Jones streets that the millionaire did not own.

When Yung turned down Crocker’s bid to buy his lot, Crocker spent $3,000 — something like $70,000 in 21st century money — to erect a 30-foot-high fence around three sides of his neighbor’s home.

Yung threatened to retaliate, the Chronicle reported, by building a giant coffin on his roof. It would project above the fence and be “emblazoned on the side turned toward his aristocratic neighbors with a skull and cross-bones … to serve as an advertisement of his business and a reminder of mortality.”

Later in 1877, the fence would become the object of threats from the radical pro-labor, anti-Chinese Workingmen’s Party of California. In late October, party supporters staged a march up Nob Hill to decry the excesses of capitalism.

In a later pamphlet describing the protest, an unidentified Workingmen’s author — perhaps party leader Dennis Kearney himself — explained that the march to the mansion neighborhood was merely a prank and that “two thousand people climbed the hill to enjoy the joke.”

But the pamphlet, titled “The Labor Agitators, or, The Battle for Bread,” explained that not everyone in the crowd was in a jocular mood:

“At this meeting a gentleman named Pickett, commonly called Philosopher Pickett, had desired to air his eloquence, and was permitted to do so. He launched out against the railroad magnates with fanatic fury. He proposed to tear down a fence, known as Crocker’s fence, which is very obnoxious to a great many people because it manifested the domineering spirit of a man of millions.”
The Workingmen pleaded that they had condemned the idea of destroying the fence and accused the city fathers of using the episode as a pretext for cracking down on Kearney. Sure enough, he was arrested for inciting to riot the next time he spoke publicly.

The prosecution served to lionize Kearney, whose political star rose and set over the next few years while the fence stood unperturbed.

Eventually, Yung moved his house to Broderick Street, but he refused to sell the now-vacant lot. The fence remained.

Yung died in 1880 and Charles Crocker in 1888, but the feud went on. Yung’s widow, Rosina, declined to sell the vacant lot to Crocker’s heirs, but also turned away offers to sell the property to a Chinese laundry and an advertising company. The fence stayed in place throughout the 1890s and into the new century.

After Mrs. Yung died in January 1902, the Chronicle looked forward to the day when the fence would come down — and served a big helping of vituperation to the Crockers for having left the “lofty barricade” up so long.

“The fence is the most famous memorial of malignity and malevolence in the city,” the Chron fumed. “… Crocker has long been dead, but his heirs have preserved this testimonial of rancor.”

The paper also called out the Crockers for their “legacy of hatred” and their “inartistic monument to resentment.”

Finally, in 1904, the Yungs’ children sold the lot, and Crocker’s children tore down the fence. If they’d waited another couple of years, it would have burned, along with the Crocker mansion and nearly everything else on the hill.

By Dan Brekke, KQED

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San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone “Morality Clause” Respectfully Criticized in National Catholic Publication by S.F. City Attorney

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Respectfully Criticizes Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Respectfully Criticizes Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

 

San Francisco’ top legal officer today published an opinion piece in the National Catholic Reporter newspaper that was respectful to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, but also challenged his stand on loyalty oaths and morality clauses for Catholic teachers, calling the Archbishop’s  move “high-handed and wrong.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote “To me, San Francisco’s recent controversy threw into stark relief the challenges that make Pope Francis’ leadership so vitally important at this moment in our church’s history. Progress is desperately needed to renew our church’s mission to serve the world rather than scold it and to emphasize teaching that young Catholic consciences will recognize as legitimately Christlike.”

“So when church ideologues express disdain for contemporary society (as Cordileone often does) or bring disproportionate emphasis to the catechism’s most discriminatory and divisive elements (as Cordileone did last month), it risks losing a generation of Catholics quite unlike anything has before,” Herrera wrote.

Herrera’s respectful, but bold statement sent an arrow through the heart of the Archbishop’s stated arguments about why the loyalty oath for teachers is necessary in his opinion.

The Archbishop is fast becoming a pariah in San Francisco. He has grown distant from the parishioners, Catholic grade school and high schools, as well as San Francisco’s top Catholic families, all of whom have banded together to protest his loyalty oath.

There is a discreet, but fast growing grassroots movement against the Archbishop and it is hard to imagine how quickly he has lost both power and prestige in the Bay Area.  He is badly damaged as a leader and seems to be sinking in his own morass.  Now, with one of the top Catholic elected leaders in Northern California weighing in against him, he has no chance of success.

On top of the Archbishop’s rebuke by Herrera, the Teacher’s Union representing high school teachers said it will not accept his language as part of any of its collective bargaining agreements.  And, to add insult to injury, grade school parents at the historic Star of the Sea school are revolting against the Archbishop’s handpicked parish priest, Ft. Joseph Illo.

Illo started an international controversy by banning Altar Girls at Star of the Sea, removing Filipino women who had served for generations on the church altar, refusing to give blessing to non-Catholics and passing out an inappropriate sex pamphlet to second through sixth graders.

Lastly, City Attorney Herrera may have gotten the best line off in this entire debate: the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan reported “Asked if he (Herrera) felt heinous as a man who has officially and unofficially promoted ideals so contrary to Cordileone’s moral code, Herrera paused for a moment while he carefully picked his words.

“Let’s just say I know I’m not gravely evil,” Herrera said.

The archdiocese had no comment on Herrera’s essay, the Chronicle reported.

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The NRA’s latest bad idea: taunting Gabrielle Giffords

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), nearly killed by a deranged assassin in 2011, was back on Capitol Hill this week, encouraging lawmakers to approve expanded background checks. And while opposition from the National Rifle Association comes as no surprise, the far-right group raised eyebrows with a rhetorical shot at Giffords directly.

Hitting a new low in its bullying barrage against gun laws, the National Rifle Association on Thursday targeted Gabrielle Giffords in an attack mocking her 2011 shooting.

“Gabby Giffords: Everyone Should Have to Pass Background Check My Attacker Passed,” the NRA tweeted from its main account.

The tweet – which one lawmaker called “pathetic” – aimed to argue that background checks don’t reduce gun violence and linked to an article on the right-wing Breitbart website.

The Breitbart article that the NRA promoted  noted, accurately, that the gunman responsible for the 2011 massacre in Tucson passed a background check, as did several other notorious killers. As best as I can tell, the Breitbart article is accurate.

That said, both the article and the NRA seem to be badly missing the point.

Alec MacGillis explained very well, Giffords “is not devoting herself to the cause of expanding background checks because that measure would have stopped [Jared] Loughner, but because that measure is the one thatvwould have the biggest impact on reducing gun violence overall.”

Exactly. The NRA’s argument seems to be that Giffords’ argument must be rejected because expanded background checks wouldn’t have stopped her would-be assassin. But Giffords isn’t talking about her shooting; she’s talking about taking sensible, responsible steps to prevent future mass murders.

MacGillis added, “The same was true of the families of the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: Universal background checks would not have stopped Adam Lanza, who got his guns from his mother, but the families wanted to push for whatever reform would limit shooting deaths, period. Making it harder for people with criminal records, histories of domestic violence, and adjudications for mental illness to obtain guns is one of the best measures at our disposal to do so. In other words, Giffords and others whose lives have been upended by gun violence are thinking about others, not themselves – they are exhibiting a form of political empathy.”

That this point is lost on the NRA and Breitbart is itself instructive.

As for the bigger picture, let’s not overlook how unnecessary the NRA’s taunts are – the odds of a Republican Congress limiting firearm access are zero. Giffords is fighting the good fight, but at least for the next two years, it is simply not possible to even imagine lawmakers approving new gun-safety measures.

In other words, the NRA has already won another round. It’s taking a cheap shot at a foe whom they’ve already defeated.

Worse, the NRA is going after one of the most sympathetic figures in American public life, for reasons that only seem to make sense to the NRA.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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Out of the Ashes — The Birth of MUNI

Trains circle out front of the Ferry Building on Sept. 25, 1914. - SFMTA PHOTO ARCHIVE | SFMTA.COM/PHOTO

San Francisco is a city full of nicknames — City by the Bay, the dreaded Frisco or San Fran, Paris of the West and Baghdad by the Bay, to name but a few.

Another one, long out of fashion, was coined before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition 100 years ago by President William Howard Taft. While visiting, he learned firsthand how San Francisco citizens helped pave the way for that world’s fair, calling us The City That Knows How.

One reason Taft bequeathed San Francisco as such was the immense amount of civic support that went into building the expo grounds for the world’s fair. As San Francisco celebrates the event’s centennial this year, much focus has been on the city within a city that stood for much of 1915, and was largely lost to history save for the Palace of Fine Arts and some other artifacts.

But there is another major contribution from the expo that continues to impact the lives of tens of thousands of residents every day.

The world’s fair helped birth Muni.

HOPE BURNS ETERNAL

The 1906 earthquake was devastating in its own right, but the fires it sparked are what really destroyed half of The City. Amid reconstruction in the years that followed, San Franciscans found renewed optimism. Adding to the upswell of hope, on Jan. 3, 1911, Congress announced that The City would host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, or world’s fair, in 1915. 

“It was a time when San Franciscans really came to embrace what was possible,” Rick Laubscher, president of the Market Street Railway historical group, told The San Francisco Examiner.

Despite all the good cheer, one major problem loomed for hosting the world’s fair. At Muni’s inception in 1912, the agency owned just 10 streetcars, which ran from the Ferry Building and down Geary Boulevard. The cars ran east-west, but not north-south.

“Muni was a dwarf at the time,” Laubscher said.

The fair was certain to draw millions and so public transit was going to be a necessity.

At the time, few train lines stopped near the fair’s future site at Harbor View, which today is Cow Hollow.

Horses trotting down Market Street were a much more common site than automobiles or trains. Overpriced jitneys, or taxis, rolled for the rich. Neither of these options would be sufficient for fair visitors.

And those famous cable cars? The City did not consider new cable lines for the expo because of the expense of the infrastructure and the obsolete technology, Laubscher said. It was cheaper to do things like build the Stockton Tunnel, which San Francisco still uses today. That resulted in a far faster trip to the Marina from Market and Stockton streets than cable cars could have provided.

The final decision was that San Francisco needed to expand its streetcar fleet.

Thus, City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy drafted street-rail plans to transport as many as 8.4 million visitors, according to transit historian Grant Ute’s “Fair, Please: Public Transportation To and Through San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.”

The City first approached the privately owned United Railroad, or URR, a fierce competitor to Muni at the time. But public sentiment was against URR.

For one thing, two streetcar workers died during a 1907 strike against URR for fair wages, which became known as “Bloody Tuesday.” And as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency historian Robert Callwell told The Examiner, URR allegedly bribed mayors to get overhead lines built in The City.

“Absolutely, people hated URR. There’s no doubt about that,” Callwell said.

So when URR pressured The City to make outsized concessions in exchange for expanding toward Harbor View, Laubscher said, Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph Jr. and the Board of Supervisors made a decision.

The sentiment, as Laubscher put it, was: “Screw it, we’ll do it ourselves.”

MUNI’S GREAT EXPANSION

Rolph lobbied “10 city groups a day,” Callwell said, and the result was a bond approved by San Francisco voters to expand city-run rail. Muni blossomed in 1914, creating six new train lines, purchasing a seventh and building the Stockton Tunnel.

The first four lines directly served the world’s fair. A flat steel gray with red accents, the new Muni streetcars rolled out across The City.

The D-Van Ness ran from the Ferry Building to Geary Street, Van Ness Avenue, Union Street and then its end point at Chestnut Street at the edge of the fairgrounds. The F-Chestnut was known as the Fort Mason Loop, running along Stockton Street, Columbus Avenue and Van Ness Avenue.

The H-Potrero ferried folks from Potrero Avenue and 25th Street north to Bay Street.

San Francisco also purchased a line from URR and renamed it the E-Embarcadero, which ran from the waterfront to the Presidio along Columbus Avenue. This summer, the SFMTA said it plans to restart the line, which would run through a tunnel under Fort Mason by Aquatic Park.

Three other lines were also created and temporarily served the world’s fair before being rerouted — the G-Stockton-Union-Exposition ran along Union Street, the I-33rd Avenue-Exposition ran along Geary Boulevard and the J-Columbus traversed Columbus Avenue, but has no relation to the current J light-rail line.

This being San Francisco, hills had a significant impact on the infrastructure design. A pernicious one along Stockton Street, for instance, stood in the way of laying new track.

“Streetcars are far too heavy to climb hills,” said Brian Leadingham, manager of the San Francisco Railway Museum.

The City opted to just cut straight through the rock, creating the Stockton Tunnel that today is exclusively used by automobile traffic.

All of this infrastructure, Laubscher said, “was a game-changer.”

On the opening day of the world’s fair, Muni operated 177 train cars, a far cry from its initial 10-strong fleet. Those trains carried more than 80,000 people in its inaugural run to the glittering lights and vast wonders of the expo.

STREETCAR LEGACY

The ghosts of Muni lines to the world’s fair linger today, historians say.

“If you ride the 30-Stockton bus,” Laubscher said, “you’re riding a line that came into existence for the Pan-Pacific International Exposition.”

The 41-Union, 47-Van Ness and other north-south bus routes were created thanks to the existing streetcar lines, Laubscher said. Also, he added, the fair generated “public enthusiasm” to burrow into Twin Peaks to create Muni’s K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View light-rail lines.

Laubscher lamented how much public perception around mass transit has shifted since then. San Francisco’s optimism helped spark an explosion of mass transit in 1915 that the region relies on heavily even still, he said. But in 2015, the public finds massive investments like BART or high-speed rail controversial and large-scale projects become mired in political fights, leaving the public to keep paying at the pump to get around.

Birth of Muni
To learn more about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s influence on the birth of Muni, visit the exhibit at the San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop at 77 Steuart St. near The Embarcadero or visit www.streetcar.org.

 

From the Examiner

 

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David Koch Backs Gay Marriage at Supreme Court

Libertarian philanthropist David Koch is backing a federal challenge to same sex marriage bans, signing on to a Supreme Court brief urging the court to overturn state-level prohibitions on the practice.

He will join hundreds of other prominent right-of-center thinkers, activists, and public figures in asking the Supreme Court to prohibit states from outlawing the practice under the 14th Amendment.

Koch, the vice president of Koch Industries and the world’s sixth wealthiest person, is a deep-pocketed donor to Republican and conservative groups.

Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden confirmed on Tuesday that Koch will sign his name to the brief. Holden said he did so in his personal capacity.

“I believe in gay marriage,” he told Politico in 2012. A former vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party ticket, Koch is in line with that movement’s thinking on the issue, despite his support for a party that frequently opposes gay marriage.

“I think the Republican Party has a great chance of being successful and that’s why I support it … but I believe in the libertarian principles,” he told Politico.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on Tuesday reported some of the brief’s other signatories, and on the argument they’re presenting:

The brief’s signatories include former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, conservative pundits S.E. Cupp and Alex Castellanos, former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein, former Mitt Romney senior advisers Beth Myers and Carl Forti, conservative economists Doug Holtz-Eakin (formerly director of the Congressional Budget Office) and Greg Mankiw (formerly on the Council of Economic Advisers), former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and former Massachusetts state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei. The presence of an esteemed general suggests that there is no segment of society in which gay marriage is not gaining acceptance. There are on the list centrist Republicans, more libertarian figures and even social conservatives. In a phone interview Mehlman said, “I think the diversity of the people is a reflection of what we have seen which is increased support in every demographic [for gay marriage].”

In the brief, the signatories argue that they “have concluded that marriage is strengthened, and its value to society and to individual families and couples is promoted, by providing access to civil marriage for all American couples—heterosexual or gay or lesbian alike. In particular, civil marriage provides stability for the children of same-sex couples, the value of which cannot be overestimated. In light of these conclusions, amici believe that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits States from denying same-sex couples the legal rights and responsibilities that flow from the institution of civil marriage.”

Lachlan Markay, Washington Free Beacon

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The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation

At face value, this speech makes no sense. But there may be a deeper logic to the Israeli prime minister’s determination to speak to Congress.

Why is Benjamin Netanyahu going ahead with his speech to Congress in a few hours’ time, despite complaints from all quarters about the damage it is causing? It’s a trickier question than it seems.

Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s? Based on the idea, as Netanyahu has preposterously claimed, that he “didn’t intend” any affront to the sitting U.S. president and was surprised by all the ruckus? Were they that ill-informed, naive, trapped in a bubble, or plain dumb?

I find that hard to believe, from a leader who prides himself on his U.S. connections and an ambassador born and raised in the U.S. and schooled by Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz. If Barack Obama addressed the Knesset and said he had a “moral obligation” to criticize Netanyahu’s policies, would he then say he “didn’t intend” any offense? Please.

Was it crass election-year politicking on Netanyahu’s part, based on the need to get through this month’s election in Israel and the faith that eventually things would sort themselves back out with the United States? All politicians know that if they don’t hold office their platforms don’t matter, and most convince themselves that what is good for them is good for their country. So maybe he rationalized that getting through this election was worth whatever bruised feelings it might cause.

On this I defer to the reporting of The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, here, here, and here about the tensions between Netanyahu’s electoral incentives and long-term U.S.-Israeli relations. From my point of view, this would be the most benign explanation. Countries act in their own self-interest, and so do politicians.

Was it because Netanyahu has been such a prescient, confirmed-by-reality judge of real-world threats that he feels moral passion about making sure his views are heard?

Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.

Was it because Netanyahu has a better plan that he wants Congress or the United States to adopt in dealing with Iran? No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S. As Michael Tomasky put it in the Daily Beast:

Netanyahu is creating a much bigger problem here. Ultimately, he wants war with Iran. And American neoconservatives want it, too. … Think about it. What is the alternative to negotiating with Iran? Well, there is only one: not negotiating with Iran. And what are the possible courses of action under that option? At the end of the day, there are two. Number one, let Iran do what it wants. Number two, ultimately, be willing to start a war to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Was it because Netanyahu actually believes what he is about to tell Congress: that his country faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon? These are fighting words on my part, but: I don’t really believe this can be so.

Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening. And after I argued last month that a nuclear-armed Iran would be undesirable for the world but not an “existential” threat to an Israel with its own large nuclear-weapons arsenal, I received a flood of mail summed up by one message from a man in Connecticut: “If you were a Jew, you would understand.”

There is no answer to an identity-based argument; no one can completely stand in someone else’s shoes; and the Holocaust is obviously the memory that trumps all others in discussing Israel’s security. So if the voters of Israel want to define Iran’s ambitions not as a problem but as an “existential threat,” that’s up to them.

But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths. As another reader, who also identified himself as Jewish, wrote:

Questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu (and his supporters)

Question 1: How does Iran survive the consequences of a nuclear attack of any scale on Israel?
Question 2: There is no question 2.
That Iran’s current leaders are zealots is easy to demonstrate. That they are suicidal? For that premise there is literally zero evidence, as Peter Beinart recently wrote and as Israel’s own security-services report.

* * *

Maybe I am giving Netanyahu too much credit. Maybe he genuinely believes everything listed above—that he’s been right all along, that we need to hear his message, that Obama and his administration will take no offense, and that this is a life-or-death existential issue because of a suicidal Iranian leadership.

Maybe. But I think he is smarter than any of that. And thus the explanation that rings truest to me is one offered in The National Interest by Paul Pillar, a veteran of the CIA. It’s relevant to note that Pillar was as presciently right about Iraq, concerning both the hyped nature of the threat and the disastrous consequences of the invasion, as Netanyahu was spectacularly wrong.

Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:

The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.
That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ. As George Friedman wrote in a Stratfor analysis just now:

This is the heart of Israel’s problem. … Israel does not want to be considered by the United States as one power among many. It is focused on the issue of a nuclear Iran, but it knows that there is no certainty that Iran’s nuclear facilities can be destroyed or that sanctions will cause the Iranians to abandon the nuclear program. What Israel fears is an entente between the United States and Iran and a system of relations in which U.S. support will not be automatic.
From this perspective, Netanyahu’s bull-headedness makes sense, even beyond its short-term electoral value back home. He can be willing to endure complaints about breach of protocol and partisan alignment, if in so doing he can prevent the deeper divergence in national interests from becoming apparent. And if this episode has any value on the American side, it may be to promote freer discussion of the many areas where U.S. interests align with Israel’s, and those where they diverge. We’ll see if that starts with the planned response by a number of Democratic representatives just after the speech.

James Fallows, The Atlantic

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Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

The Native American National Council will offer amnesty to the estimated 240 million illegal white immigrants living in the United States.

At a meeting on Friday in Taos, New Mexico, Native American leaders weighed a handful of proposals about the future of the United State’s large, illegal European population. After a long debate, NANC decided to extend a road to citizenship for those without criminal records or contagious diseases.

“We will give Europeans the option to apply for Native Citizenship,” explained Chief Sauti of the Nez Perce tribe. “To obtain legal status, each applicant must write a heartfelt apology for their ancestors’ crimes, pay an application fee of $5,000, and, if currently on any ancestral Native land, they must relinquish that land to NANC or pay the market price, which we decide.

“Any illegal European who has a criminal record of any sort, minus traffic and parking tickets, will be deported back to their native land. Anybody with contagious diseases like HIV, smallpox, herpes, etc, will not qualify and will also be deported.”

European colonization of North America began in the 16th and 17th centuries, when arrivals from France, Spain and England first established settlements on land that had been occupied by native peoples. Explorers Lewis & Clark further opened up western lands to settlement, which ultimately led to the creation of the Indian reservation system.

Despite the large number of Europeans residing in the United States, historical scholars mostly agree that indigenous lands were taken illegally through war, genocide and forced displacement.

Despite the council’s decision, a native group called True Americans lambasted the move, claiming amnesty will only serve to reward lawbreakers.

“They all need to be deported back to Europe,” John Dakota from True Americans said. “They came here illegally and took a giant crap on our land. They brought disease and alcoholism, stole everything we have because they were too lazy to improve and develop their own countries.”

City World News

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Scott Walker’s latest flub: foreign policy

Take a bit of out-of-control Reagan worship, add some anti-union preoccupation, and throw in a dash of unpreparedness. The result is a presidential hopeful who seems less prepared for the White House with each passing day.

Walker contended that “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime” was then-President Ronald Reagan’s move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.

“It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world,” Walker said. America’s allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that “we weren’t to be messed with,” he said.
Walker made similar comments at an event two weeks ago, but these new remarks, delivered at a Club for Growth gathering, mark the first time Walker has described the firing of air-traffic controllers as “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime.

It’s also an incredibly foolish thing for anyone, least of all a White House aspirant, to say out loud. This is an important stage for Walker’s national campaign, and these comments might be the most striking evidence to date that the governor hasn’t yet prepared for the task at hand.

Substantively, Walker’s argument borders on gibberish. He was born in 1967, which means his “lifetime” includes a wide variety of foreign policy decisions from U.S. officials: two wars in Iraq, a series of START treaties, Nixon going to China, the end of the war in Vietnam, the Camp David Accords, the war in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran/Contra, the U.S. role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace process, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Iranian hostage crisis, etc.

According to the governor of Wisconsin, none of these was quite as “significant,” in terms of U.S. foreign policy, as Reagan firing air-traffic controllers. I find it very difficult to imagine even the most enthusiastic Walker supporter arguing that this is in any way coherent.

For that matter, Walker’s understanding of the firings’ impact is plainly silly. Firing striking workers let the whole world know “we weren’t to be messed with”? I hate to break it to the governor, but after the air-traffic controllers lost their jobs, plenty of foes messed with us anyway. The fact that Walker doesn’t know that isn’t a good sign.

Making matters slightly worse, the governor has tried to defend this argument by saying documents released after the Cold War by the former USSR prove that “the Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously” after he fired air-traffic controllers – a claim with absolutely no foundation in reality. In fact, Walker appears to have just made this up. Reagan’s own ambassador to Russia described the claim as “utter nonsense.”

What we’re left with is an inexperienced candidate whose views of the world lack any depth or maturity. If he considers the firing of air-traffic controllers “the most significant foreign policy decision” of the last 47 years, it’s not unreasonable to wonder how, exactly, Walker defines “foreign policy.”

Indeed, for weeks, Walker’s principal focus has been on trying to convince people that opposing labor unions is precisely the kind of experience presidents need to excel in global affairs. Repetition, however, is not improving the point’s ridiculousness.

Yes, it’s early, and unprepared candidates who make mistakes now can learn and adapt as the campaign progresses. But this is also the point at which would-be presidents make a first impression, introducing themselves to the public, and developing reputations that tend to stick.

And Scott Walker is quickly positioning himself as a candidate who simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Steve Benen, MSNBC

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The right’s fear of education: What I learned as a (former) conservative military man

My first college experience was failing half my classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 1992. The highlight was getting a “D” in English 101. Like many small town kids, I was overwhelmed and underprepared. I dropped out of UNLV, joined the military and got married. Being a 20-year-old father and “enlisted” man showed me exactly how not to live, so I started a backward, fumbling and circuitous process of getting my undergraduate degree. In seven years, I attended four community colleges, a university on a military base and attended military journalism school. I pieced the whole mess into a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College, a credit aggregator that caters to military members.

Modern conservative politics push the notion that people who flip switches, burgers or bedpans don’t need “education.” They instead need “job training.” In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, someone crossed out this phrase: “to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.” And added this instead: “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” Walker backed down on the language change when it was exposed, claiming it was a “mistake.” Really it was just one more tired attack on the idea of education as a public good, one that helps people find fulfillment and meaning.

I value education more than many people, because I struggled so hard to get it. I had a bad elementary school experience, failed the fifth grade, muddled through high school and dropped out of college. Teachers were always kind to me, saying things like, “He’s clever, but lazy.” They were wrong about me, just like when Republicans are always wrong about poor people being lazy or stupid. When I failed out of college the first time I was working a full-time job far above 40 hours a week, while also going to school. I was most worried about making a living, and my skill set mirrored that of so many in the working class: Work hard, day in and day out and be grateful. Educational success has little to do with innate intelligence or “goodness” and almost everything to do with class, upbringing and privilege.

I also viewed education with suspicion bordering on paranoia. I came from a rural mining town in Nevada where I knew mostly blue-collar men who neither needed nor wanted a college education. Listening to adults talk they always had a favorite villain: the person who jumped ahead in line and got a job or promotion, only because he or she had a college degree.

I have my own children now, and I know the limits of parenting. Children heed your example far more than your advice. It’s painful to watch your children struggle. It was the same for my conservative family who encouraged me to go college. They weren’t able to offer any meaningful guidance or help, and it was not their fault. First generation college students, like me, face an impossible climb. If you add in conservative hostility to education, it gets that much harder.

After getting a bachelor’s at 27, I went back to graduate school to study 18th century British literature at California State Hayward. I landed a new job in Reno and moved to the University of Nevada, Reno, finishing a master’s in English there. A few years later, I went back again, this time for a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, a school that emphasizes social justice—for many conservatives, a coded phrase that means “liberal.” Even as a libertarian attending a liberal college, people went out of their way to be both kind and tolerant to me. My preconceived notions about the “evil liberals of the ivory tower” looked more ignorant and narrow by the day.

Before college, I voted conservative, hated gay people, loved America and served my country in the armed services. I’ve changed because of many factors, but I know that college and graduate school made a difference. I met people unlike myself and was forced to defend sometimes ugly political positions. The Tea Party thrives on blue-collar “common sense” that is composed of a combination of ignorance, superstition and fear. A literate and educated populace is an existential threat to the kind of thoughtless rage that has consumed the right over the past few years.

When I write about how my politics evolved over a lifetime from conservative to liberal, people in the comments section (note: never read Internet comments) like to point out my “liberal arts degrees.” Even my own friends like to remark on my MFA, usually by asking me to whip them up a “grande cappuccino.” It’s funny, and I go right along with the joke too. I understand the reality of trying to earn a living with an arts degree. At the same time, it’s troubling that educational fulfillment has turned into a punch line, even among those who believe in it.

Some people on the right are very educated. Rick Santorum holds an MBA and a JD (with honors, no less), and his vehement hatred of college seems to stem from his kooky take on religion. Modern politics is drawing bizarre new battle lines between “family values” and a halfway decent education. American Christians may dislike “Islam,” but they share a lot of opinions with the radical Islamic group “Boko Haram,” a name that itself translates into “education is forbidden.” In our own country, we have a massive and growing group of people who would rather have illiterate children than let their kids learn anything that contradicts their most extreme religious views.

I know many thoughtful, educated and even liberal people who hold deep faith. Despite my own personal atheism, I accept the authentic religious experiences of others, but I’m troubled by a growing chorus of denial on climate change, evolution and the age of the planet. Anti-intellectualism may be an American tradition, but when “mainstream” politicians embrace ignorance, education ends up as collateral damage.

“Serious” presidential candidate Scott Walker seems to have a problem with evolution, sounding like an idiot, most recently while in England. Unlike Rick Santorum who is an overeducated hypocrite, Walker lives the life of a true education hater. Asked about not finishing his undergraduate experience (which I’m not necessarily attacking), Walker said, “The reason I went to college, in large part, was not just to get an education for an education’s sake, but to get a job.” For too many politicians, it all comes down to money.

In America, to our everlasting shame, money is the absolute yardstick of goodness. I like money just like anyone, but many other things have brought me as much or more satisfaction: being a father, writing an essay or seeing a new part of the planet. It’s easy to pick on poetry, humanity or art degrees.

I was able to go back to school in large part because my military service made it affordable. The GI Bill paid for both my master’s degrees. My background and rough start make me an unlikely champion of college education. I’ve also been socially adjusted for my whole life to feel like a pretentious asshole and a fraud every time I bring it up. But education makes a difference in people’s lives.

That’s why sensible people need to stand up against the vilification of education. A good start is to support Barack Obama’s free community college initiative. I earned most of the credits for my very first undergraduate degree at community colleges, and those classes kickstarted my interest in school. It’s hard to see how I would have ever overcome my own barriers without the patience of many community college instructors. Obama’s plan to fund community college will not only make our country a better place but will also improve, even slightly, the state of our shared humanity.

And to acknowledge the “other side,” education does help people find good, fulfilling jobs. Even my “slapped together” bachelor’s degree helped launch me into a career in public relations. The job has more than sustained me and my family, while also allowing me to explore my own outside interests.

Some days I wish I could use my graduate education to find a full-time academic job, but I passed up too many opportunities and wasted too many years fumbling around. Academic jobs and humanities scholarship itself are under assault, just like so many other valuable parts of America. I’m probably a coward, but I also don’t like the idea of leaving my longtime profession to start all over. Besides, there is inherent value to education even if someone isn’t paying you for it. I know my life would be less satisfying without it. For instance, if I had turned my back on education, I could have ended up as an ignorant asshole trying to turn back the very hands of human progress, much like the party to which I once belonged.

EDWIN LYNGAR, Salon

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San Francisco in the ’90s Wasn’t a Better Era Than Now

I love San Francisco. This is the only place where I want to live. I’ve had so many discussions about What Is Happening to the Place We Love, though, that I am frayed. I feel loss as the funky bits are swept away, and I’m experiencing culture shock in the city I’ve lived in for almost 20 years. But let’s face it, things weren’t so much better when I first got here. Let’s remember, for a minute, the San Francisco of the 1990s.

During online discussions and wine-fueled dinners spent rehashing the state of the city, I hear those of us who came of age (and now middle age) in San Francisco talking about the good old days. Everyone was an artist; you could rent a huge, sunny flat in the Mission for cheap; you could take a date to Axum Cafe for $10. We sound like the baby boomers who once blamed us for changing their town — staking their claim to cheap rents, working part-time as a daisy painter, and living downstairs from Janis Joplin.

I have to call cease-fire on the hysterical reminiscing. San Francisco wasn’t all Bohemia and rainbows when I moved here. Some things are actually better now than they were back in the day. No one misses the old Ferry Building, which was like a forgotten bus station on the waterfront, with pigeons swooping overhead. I don’t miss Mayor Willie Brown, who is a walking caricature of a well-connected politician. Brunch lovers should be glad they didn’t live here before 1998, when the statewide ban on raw or runny eggs was lifted.

This has always been a food town, but we didn’t fetishize the home cook until recently. Farmers’ markets didn’t feature pastured meats, and Safeway didn’t have an organics section. We had Cala Foods, a local chain of grocery stores with locations scattered around town. There was no joy in shopping at Cala. I went there because it was close to home, and I didn’t have a car. Every store smelled like sour milk and looked like something out of the 1950s. Herbs with faded labels, raw shrimp that reeked of ammonia, and five kinds of instant rice: Cala had it all. Twice I purchased rotten meat there that had been repackaged and flipped over so the green part was facing down. I’m surprised I didn’t give up on cooking and stick to inexpensive Thai takeout (RIP, all you forgotten delivery restaurants). Rainbow Grocery was around, but its overpriced offerings were out of my reach.

Farmers’ markets are everywhere now. There are dozens in San Francisco. Small weekly pop-ups and the large city-run markets are bringing fresh food at decent prices to areas considered urban-food deserts. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market gets all the glory, but even tiny Crocker Galleria holds its surprises (and lower prices).

Outdoor concerts inside city limits are a welcome addition to San Francisco’s cultural offerings. Once upon a time you had to drive to places like Concord or Mountain View to see a big-time musical act in a large amphitheater, or you could attend the occasional concert at Candlestick Park. Now you can take the bus (or walk!) to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park or shuttle over to the Treasure Island Music Festival. Pack your layers, spread out a blanket, and bask in the fog-glow of how great it is to live here.

Dolores Park is another outdoor attraction that has changed in the last few decades. When I first moved here, the only cannabis for sale in the park was sold in $10 bags from behind the trees near the J-Church tracks. It was sketchy business. Now upstart vendors sell pot truffles and hashish ginger snaps. The playground was run-down, and the public restrooms were for emergencies only. When I lived nearby, I logged some hours sitting in Dolores Park, but it was not the destination it is today (except for the nude sunbathers on the upper shelf of the park, also known as Gay Beach). A warm afternoon in the grass is a full-on scene of cruising and idling, ground-level entrepreneurship, and ragtag community. Dolores Park is a testament to open public spaces, but I do wish people would clean up after their rosé- and pot-cookie-fueled benders.

Biking in San Francisco is definitely better than it used to be. It’s still scary — someone’s always double-parked on Valencia Street, and delivery trucks never pull into those red meter spaces that only they can use. But if you think the bike lane on Folsom Street is edgy and dangerous, consider Folsom Street before there was a bike lane. It was one rodeo clown shy of a circus. When I first started biking, I had a near miss on Market Street. A car I had been riding beside turned into me in broad daylight. Somehow I jumped off my bike, threw it into a gas station (now high-rise condos), and hurdled to safety. The driver of the car rolled down the window and asked, “What are you doing there?” After that I started riding in Critical Mass.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has worked with the city to make this a safer place for bikers and to get more cars off the roads. Demarcated green bike lanes remind motorists that yes, indeedy, a bike with a person on it might be present. The first bike lane in the city was on Lake Drive in Golden Gate Park in 1971 — a quaint ride but not exactly a commuter route. Enter the Wiggle, a route used to get from Market Street to Golden Gate Park with the least amount of uphill riding. Shared-lane marking, also known as sharrows, were added to the Wiggle’s green lanes in 2011 to make the route more visible to bikers and drivers. Plotting official routes to get people across town on two wheels has led to a huge increase in bike commuting.

It wasn’t just biking that offered a scary ride in the ’90s. In 1998, Muni took old streetcars out of service and added the gray cars now in use. At that same time, the underground system became automated. What happened was known as the Muni Meltdown. It was bad — so bad that I don’t think Muni is all that terrible anymore. Railing against Muni is a point of pride for San Franciscans, but the system of yore was a different beast. I almost got fired because of that crappy transit system. My supervisor, who drove to work, didn’t believe me when I was almost in a Muni-on-Muni head-on collision and had to walk through tunnels below Market Street because the train I was riding on had somehow gotten on the opposite tracks heading the wrong way. She did not believe that I could stand in the Castro station and that a single train wouldn’t come for 45 minutes. In those days, it was faster to walk.

The Castro reminds me of my early days in San Francisco: late-night meals at Orphan Andy’s diner, shopping for housewares at Cliff’s Hardware, and, on a much more serious note, the tail end of the AIDS crisis. The Castro had a sadness that wound its way through the neighborhood. I remember young men who should have been in the prime of their life using canes. The obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter contained pages and pages of photos of people who had died. It was a sad and horrible time for so many San Franciscans. I try to imagine how different our city would be if those people were thriving, if AIDS have never happened. This would be a different place.

I’ve been thinking about my little studio on Castro Street and my life back then. My rent was $600 a month — about half my monthly income. Even back then it wasn’t a lot of money for a girl fresh off the plane who needed West Coast clothes and tickets to the Fillmore and who eventually got her landline shut off because she couldn’t pay her phone bill. I soon made friends, who taught me the ways of San Francisco — things like buying clothes by the pound and that I should never unwrap all the foil from a burrito before eating it.

We all think we were the last of the cool kids to set up shop here. In coming here, we set out on our own personal gold rush in search of opportunity, acceptance, or fortune. I wonder what future San Francisco will remember about today’s city. Will the city seem as polarized in the rearview as it is right now? I’ll have to ask my daughter when she grows up. I hope she remembers a creative, colorful, accepting, occasionally dirty, and sometimes funky place. Fingers crossed.

MOLLY DITMORE, The Bold Italic

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This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country

The next time your right-wing family member or former high school classmate posts a status update or tweet about how taxing the rich or increasing workers’ wages kills jobs and makes businesses leave the state, I want you to send them this article.

When he took office in January of 2011, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate from his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, the soon-forgotten Republican candidate for the presidency who called himself Minnesota’s first true fiscally-conservative governor in modern history. Pawlenty prided himself on never raising state taxes — the most he ever did to generate new revenue was increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. Between 2003 and late 2010, when Pawlenty was at the head of Minnesota’s state government, he managed to add only 6,200 more jobs.

During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000, and on couples earning over $250,000 when filing jointly — a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He’s also agreed to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. Republicans like state representative Mark Uglem warned against Gov. Dayton’s tax increases, saying, “The job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It’s all dollars and sense to them.” The conservative friend or family member you shared this article with would probably say the same if their governor tried something like this. But like Uglem, they would be proven wrong.

Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy — that’s 165,800 more jobs in Dayton’s first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota’s top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.

By late 2013, Minnesota’s private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state’s economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker’s “Open For Business” Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton’s tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton’s tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota’s economic confidence is higher than any other state

Gov. Dayton didn’t accomplish all of these reforms by shrewdly manipulating people – this article describes Dayton’s astonishing lack of charisma and articulateness. He isn’t a class warrior driven by a desire to get back at the 1 percent — Dayton is a billionaire heir to the Target fortune. It wasn’t just a majority in the legislature that forced him to do it — Dayton had to work with a Republican-controlled legislature for his first two years in office. And unlike his Republican neighbor to the east, Gov. Dayton didn’t assert his will over an unwilling populace by creating obstacles between the people and the vote — Dayton actually created an online voter registration system, making it easier than ever for people to register to vote.

The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota’s economy into one of the best in the nation is simple arithmetic. Raising taxes on those who can afford to pay more will turn a deficit into a surplus. Raising the minimum wage will increase the median income. And in a state where education is a budget priority and economic growth is one of the highest in the nation, it only makes sense that more businesses would stay.

It’s official — trickle-down economics is bunk. Minnesota has proven it once and for all. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong.

 

, Huffington Post

 

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S.F. Archbishop Cordileone Flip Flops on Catholic School Teacher “Morality Clause”

Parents, Teachers, Students, Alumni at Catholic Schools React to SF Archbishop’s Latest Statements:

“Nothing Has Changed”

Star of the Sea School Parents Mount Effort to Overturn Changes at Grade School

1 Arch best pix 

San Francisco—Concerned parents, students, teachers and alumni of Bay Area Catholic high schools today released the following statement regarding Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s proposed “morality clauses” for teachers and other staff:

“The San Francisco Chronicle today published an editorial stating that Archbishop Cordileone will no longer attempt to reclassify teachers and staff at four Catholic high schools as “ministers.” While it is true that he is no longer using that word, it is a mistake to believe that he has backed off his effort to reclassify teachers and other staff as ministers who would be exempt from anti-discrimination and other workplace protections. He has not. The Archbishop is still proposing that the teachers and other staff are ‘called to advance this religious mission’ and that their work is ‘ministry.’ This is not a meaningful change from the Archbishop’s previous proposal. The teachers want to be classified as teachers – and nothing else.

The Archbishop has also made no move to retract the language condemning members of our community by labeling their lives as ‘gravely evil.’ In fact, in a February 24, 2015 media advisory, his Archdiocesan spokesperson stated that ‘Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.’

The Archbishop is also now proposing to establish a committee of theology teachers ostensibly to help clarify the proposed handbook language. His formation of a handpicked committee gives the false impression of openness to dialogue, and gives him cover for speech that is very harmful to our children, faculty, staff and community.

We are concerned that Archbishop Cordileone was ‘surprised at the degree of consternation’ over his proposed changes to the collective-bargaining agreement and faculty handbook.  This clearly shows he is out of touch with his flock, with his teachers, with his parents, and with his alumni. We believe the solution is straightforward. We ask the Archbishop to cease in his attempt to reclassify the teachers as anything but teachers, and to use the current faculty handbook which has been in place and successfully utilized for years by Catholic high school administrators and staff.

We will remain steadfast in fighting for the elimination of handbook language which in any way would make our children, teachers or staff members feel unwelcome, unsupported or unsafe in our schools. We will insist that the employment rights of all teachers and staff be respected.”

Students will rally on Friday, March 6, from 5:30 – 6:30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral Plaza to celebrate the bedrock Catholic values of acceptance, love and justice. A forum to include parents, students and theologians is also planned for Monday, March 16 at the University of San Francisco. A number of parents and parishioners plan to boycott the Archbishop’s Annual Fundraising Appeal by either giving nothing or donating only a token $1 donation.

A full version of the Archbishop’s interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board is available at http://blog.sfgate.com/opinionshop/2015/02/25/archbishop-cordileone-were-not-on-a-witch-hunt-video/

San Francisco parents at Star of the Sea School are also concerned over recent changes at the beloved neighborhood Catholic grade school where Archbishop Cordileone has installed one of his own, Father Joseph Illo.  Father Illo unilaterally ended a tradition of Altar Girls at the school and church and handed out pamphlets to second graders that “asked questions such as, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?” and, “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?” as well as, “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?” The Cordileone appointed  priest is also evicting homeless mothers and children from the Star of the Sea’s facilities that were the recipient of a grant from Salesforce.com founder and his wife Marc and Lynne Benioff.  Parents at the school are mounting an effort to undo changes made by Father Illo and Archbishop Cordileone there.

 

 

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