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Republicans thrown by ‘greatest living president’ question

A large group of Republican presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina over the weekend for the “Freedom Summit” event, and a CNN correspondent asked much of the field an interesting question: Who do you think is the greatest living president?

“Obviously the greatest president of my lifetime is Ronald Reagan,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“I’ll leave that to the people to decide,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, which is his guaranteed go-to line for questions he doesn’t want to answer. “Certainly the greatest president of recent generations was Ronald Reagan.”

“I was a big fan, a very big fan of Ronald Reagan,” real estate mogul Donald Trump said.

The problem, of course, is the degree to which the answer doesn’t match the question. Reagan can’t be the greatest living president because, as a factual matter, Reagan died in June 2004.

No, Republicans, “alive in our hearts” is not an acceptable answer.

There’s arguably a small flaw in the question itself: we’re dealing with a very small universe of options. There are, after all, only five living presidents.

I imagine if the question were posed to Democrats, Presidents Clinton and Obama would both fare pretty well. President Carter might struggle, but Clinton and Obama are very popular figures in their party.

For Republicans, it’s far trickier. Their choices are limited to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. The former was an unsuccessful one-term president who raised taxes; the latter was a failed two-term president, generally considered one of the worst in American history.

They also happen to be close relatives of one of the leading GOP candidates this year. What’s a poor Republican presidential candidate to say, exactly?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) understood the question well enough not to mention Reagan, but he told CNN, “Probably a Bush,” which at least covers the partisan bases.

Stepping back, I’ve long found it interesting that today’s Republican Party really doesn’t much care for most of history’s GOP presidents, which only helps fuel the borderline unhealthy obsession with Reagan. Consider the modern list: H.W. Bush raised taxes; Nixon resigned; Ford pardoned Nixon; Eisenhower was quite moderate by contemporary standards; and Hoover failed miserably.

The original question asked about “living” presidents, but if the inquiry were opened up to include any chief executive ever, I suspect quite a few Republican votes would be divided between Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, the only two GOP presidents the party faithful are proud of.

Steve Benen, MSNBC

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Conservative spurns Obamacare and insurance — but blames Obama now that he’s going broke and blind

A South Carolina conservative who refused to sign up for Obamacare is going broke and blind – and he blames Obama.

Luis Lang learned in late February that he had suffered a series of mini-strokes that left him with bleeding in his eyes and a partially detached retina caused by diabetes, reported the Charlotte Observer.

The 49-year-old Lang, a self-employed handyman and Republican who works with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties, has never purchased insurance and always prided himself on paying his own medical bills.

That never posed much of a problem when Lang and his wife – who does not work – were healthy, but he has already exhausted his savings paying for medical bills related to his eyes.

His vision has worsened so much that he hasn’t worked since December, which could put the couple’s $300,000 Fort Hill home in jeopardy along with his health.

“He will lose his eyesight if he doesn’t get care — he will go blind,” said Dr. Malcolm Edwards, an ophthalmologist who has given Lang injections at a discounted rate to control the bleeding.

Lang, a smoker who admits he has been inconsistent in controlling his diabetes, said he has sought help from charities but found he was either too young or too old for most agencies.

So he turned to the Affordable Health Care exchange – which he had previously chosen not to do in violation of the law, believing help would be available in an emergency.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” said his wife, Mary Lang. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

Lang found he was a month too late to enroll for 2015, and he now earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a flawed law – although not even private insurers allow people to forgo payments when they’re healthy and cash in benefits after they’re sick.

Obamacare was designed to cover those whose income falls below the poverty line through Medicaid, but South Carolina is among 21 Republican-led states that declined the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs to expand coverage to low-income, able-bodied adults.

Lang has reached out to reporters to help publicize his case, and he has set up an online fundraiser – but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for surgery to save his eyesight.

The doctor said he has offered to provide care at no cost, but he said Lang needs costly treatment beyond his expertise.

“He’s in a very bad situation,” Edwards said, with Lang’s consent. “The longer he waits, the poorer his results will be.”

From TRAVIS GETTYS, The Raw Story

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The New York Times–Facebook Deal Is Here

Tomorrow morning, in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told me. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook’s news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others.

The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times. How many articles will Facebook get to publish per day? What is the revenue sharing breakdown? How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism, say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook? And what happens when the Times allows Facebook to insert itself between its journalism and its readers?

Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times’ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing “the wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”

Another source of anxiety: the secrecy around the deal. “It’s referred to as the ‘confidential project.’ No one will talk about it,” one senior Times executive told me.

The talks have been dragging out for weeks as Times CEO Mark Thompson has pushed for the most favorable terms. According to one source familiar with the talks, a major sticking point for the Times has been ensuring that any Facebook deal protects its paid digital audience, which is crossing the crucial one-million subscriber mark. “The New York Times’ obsession with this product is their subscribers,” the source said. “They shouldn’t kill their subscriber business and the data around that.” Officials with the Times and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

As much as anything, the Facebook deal is a concession by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. that the paper’s app strategy failed to produce the turnaround the company hoped for. Now the Times is throwing its fate into Facebook’s hands. “This is really about the crown jewels,” a senior media executive familiar with the deal told me. “The stakes are that high.”

Gabriel Sherman,

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Elizabeth Warren fires back at Obama: Here’s what they’re really fighting about

In an interview with Yahoo News that ran over the weekend, President Obama intensified his push-back against Elizabeth Warren and other critics of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, flatly declaring that Warren is “absolutely wrong.” That came after a speech Obama delivered at Nike headquarters, in which he continued making an expansive case for the deal as a plus for American workers — and not the massive giveaway to huge international corporations that critics fear.

This week, the Senate will vote on whether to grant Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the TPP agreement, which involves a dozen countries around the Pacific and could impact 40 percent of U.S. trade.

If the “fast track” framework passes, Congress would hold only an up-or-down vote on the TPP once it is finalized, without amendments. But Congress could also repeal that fast track authority if the TPP is not to its liking, and try to push changes to it, before any final vote.

Warren has previously claimed that the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, or ISDS, could undermine or chill public interest regulations in the U.S. and other participating countries, and could even undercut Dodd Frank financial reform, one of Obama’s signature achievements. The ISDS is designed to create a neutral international arbitration mechanism that creates a stable legal environment, facilitating investments in countries where investors might fear unfair legal treatment by foreign governments. Obama has strongly rejected Warren’s arguments in the interview with Yahoo and elsewhere.

I spoke to Senator Warren about their disagreements. A lightly edited and condensed transcript follows.

THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?

SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.

PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?

WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.

PLUM LINE: Doesn’t the current framework allow for the revocation of fast track authority?

WARREN: The whole point about fast track is to grease the skids so that 51 votes will get it through…it takes a majority to get rid of [fast track].

PLUM LINE: The push-back from the administration is that the ISDS will be written in such a way that there is no authority to override Congressional [and other countries’] regulations.

WARREN: If the president has changed ISDS to solve the problem, then the text should be released so that legal experts can look at it.

PLUM LINE: Is there a scenario under which ISDS could be written the way he says it is being written?

WARREN: I’ve sat with many legal scholars to talk about this issue, and I have not seen a draft that would do what the president says he has already accomplished….Hillary Clinton in her book raised concerns about precisely this issue. Just last week, some of the top legal and economic minds in this country, including the president’s mentor from Harvard, Laurence Tribe, and Nobel-prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, raised exactly this concern.

PLUM LINE: Is it theoretically possible to write ISDS in a way that precludes it from overriding regulation?

WARREN: It doesn’t directly tell countries to repeal regulations. It imposes a financial penalty, which has caused countries to change their regulations…[ISDS mechanisms] never had the authority to override regulations. What they had was the authority to impose a monetary penalty directly against the government and its taxpayers. That’s the point at which governments have backed up and said, “we can’t afford this, we’ll just change the law.”

PLUM LINE: You can’t envision even in theory a way to structure ISDS that would assuage your concerns?

WARREN: Once a group of independent arbiters, whose decisions cannot be appealed, can issue a money judgment of any size, then the ISDS problem arises….Here’s what you could do. If corporations had to go through the same procedures that anyone else has to go through to get the trade deal enforced, then the problem wouldn’t exist.

Now, if a labor union says, ‘Vietnam promised not to work people for a couple of dollars a day, and to raise working conditions, and then failed to do it,” they have to get the U.S. government, through the trade rules, to go to Vietnam and prosecute the case. If corporations had to do the same thing, then it would be a level playing field…ISDS gives a special break to giant corporations, a break that nobody else gets.

PLUM LINE: What you’re arguing is that six years of fast track, plus ISDS, could ultimately result in the weakening of financial regulations? You’re not saying ISDS itself would do that?

WARREN: Absolutely right…six years means that whatever the Obama administration has committed to won’t bind the next president. If that president wants to negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank, it will be very hard to stop it.

PLUM LINE: Couldn’t a Republican president simply go straight at Dodd Frank? Would this be any easier than that?

WARREN: Absolutely. Because trade will be fast tracked for six years….A direct run at Dodd Frank potentially takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. But doing it through trade authority needs to be done with 51 votes.

PLUM LINE: But wouldn’t that require a direct change to U.S. legislation?

WARREN: It’s possible to punch holes in Dodd Frank without directly repealing it. For example, harmonization of the capital standards and leverage ratios could be adjusted to help the big banks without ever directly contradicting Dodd Frank. But the effects of Dodd Frank would be severely undercut.

PLUM LINE: Is there no scenario under which you ultimately support TPP?

WARREN: Trade deals matter…I am worried about key parts of this trade agreement. I would like to see changes. I believe in trade.

I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us. But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker. I should say the American family, because that’s what this is really about.


UPDATE: In case it’s not clear enough from our exchange, in a recent speech, Senator Warren went into more detail about why six years of fast track authority could put Dodd Frank at risk under a future Republican president:

“In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to give the President Fast Track authority. That authority would prevent Congress from amending trade deals and reduce its ability to block trade deals — not just for the upcoming transpacific trade deal, but for ANY trade deal cut by ANY president over the next six years…

“This is a long-term problem — a six-year problem, if Fast Track passes. A Republican President could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules. And this is hardly a hypothetical possibility: We are already deep into negotiations with the European Union on a trade agreement and big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to use that agreement to water down financial regulations. A six-year Fast Track bill is the missing link they need to make that happen.”

Greg Sargent, Washington Post

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The exception to Bernie Sanders’ liberalism

On Capitol Hill, there’s literally only one member of Congress who describes himself as a European socialist. I’m referring, of course, to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who launched his Democratic presidential campaign last week, to the delight of many progressive activists.

And why not? Sanders isn’t favored to actually win the Democratic nomination, but the Vermont senator has a bold, progressive vision, and is prepared to take advantage of the national platform a White House campaign offers. For liberal voters who yearn for a standard bearer whom no one has ever considered a “moderate,” Sanders is a welcome breath of unapologetic fresh air.

There is, however, an exception to Sanders’ liberalism. Mark Joseph Stern highlighted it at Slate this week.

[B]efore liberal Democrats flock to Sanders, they should remember that the Vermont senator stands firmly to Clinton’s right on one issue of overwhelming importance to the Democratic base: gun control. During his time in Congress, Sanders opposed several moderate gun control bills. He also supported the most odious NRA–backed law in recent memory – one that may block Sandy Hook families from winning a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre their children.

Sanders, an economic populist and middle-class pugilist, doesn’t talk much about guns on the campaign trail. But his voting record paints the picture of a legislator who is both skeptical of gun control and invested in the interests of gun owners – and manufacturers. In 1993, voted against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for gun purchasers and restricted felons’ access to firearms. As a senator, Sanders supported bills to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains and block funding to any foreign aid organization that registered or taxed Americans guns.

In fairness to Sanders, the senator does not always see eye to eye with the far-right gun group, but over the course of his congressional career, the Vermont independent has generally sided with the NRA on most of the major legislative fights regarding gun policy.

Indeed, it’s probably safe to say that Sanders will be to Clinton’s left on most issues in their primary fight, except when it comes to guns.

To understand why, it’s important to realize that Vermont has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation, in large part because gun violence in the Green Mountain State is so low.

Indeed, a wide variety of prominent Vermont Democrats and liberal independents routinely enjoy support from the NRA. Former Gov. Howard Dean, his reputation as a liberal firebrand notwithstanding, was endorsed by the NRA in Vermont more than once – a fact he used to brag about during his 2004 presidential campaign.

It’s easy to forget, but back in November 2003, when it looked like Dean was surging in the race for the Democratic nomination, John Kerry actually used this against the Vermont governor: “We don’t need to be a party that says we need to be the candidacy of the NRA. We stand up against that.”

With this in mind, Sanders is simply in line with his home state’s political norms. His position may not be expected given his reputation in D.C., but in Vermont, it’d be odd if Sanders didn’t oppose many gun reforms.

It’s tough to say whether progressive activists who’ve rallied to the senator are going to care much about this, and it’s a safe bet that Sanders won’t make opposition to gun-safety measures an important part of his 2016 pitch. But as the campaign progresses, it’s an angle worth watching anyway.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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‘Texas Ranger’ Chuck Norris warns of government plot to take over state

The actor, martial artist, and internet meme Chuck Norris has warned of a federal government plot to take over the state of Texas.

Writing on the right-wing website WND, or WorldNetDaily, Norris discussed the potential for Jade Helm 15, a US military training exercise planned for July and August, to turn into a full-scale occupation of his home state.

Exercises will be held in Texas and six other states during Jade Helm 15, across public and private land. The training has been the focus of rightwing conspiracy theories since a map published for the purpose of the simulation labelled Texas, Utah and Californiaas “hostile”.

“The US government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise’,” wrote Norris, 75. “But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it.”

Both the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and US senator – and 2016 Republican presidential candidate – Ted Cruz have been accused of pandering to conspiracy theorists with their reactions to Jade Helm 15. Abbott asked the Texas state guard to monitor the training exercise. Cruz said his office had “reached out to the Pentagon” to ask about the exercise.

Norris, who appeared as Texas Ranger JJ McQuade in the 1983 film Lone Wolf McQuade and starred in the long-running TV series Walker, Texas Ranger, praised both men for their refusal to believe official government accounts.

“I’m glad … Ted Cruz is asking the tough questions of the Pentagon,” Norris wrote. “Particularly because its ‘exercises’ come too near to my ranch’s backdoor as well, at least according to the map.

“It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics.

In the article Norris, who has been awarded a black belt across numerous martial arts disciplines, quotes “affable antique store owner” Mike Hightower as being among those concerned about the exercises.

“I’m not trusting what we’re being told,” warns Hightower, who lives in Smithville, Texas, where some of the training exercise will take place. “I think there’s something a little more involved than what they’re telling us.”

WND is no stranger to conspiracy theories. It has published articles questioning Barack Obama’s status as an American citizen and among its contributors is the rightwing blogger Pamela Geller, president of the group that hosted the “draw the prophet Muhammad” event at which two gunmen were killed near Dallas on Sunday.

Norris, who is known for his political conservatism, also used his article to file a brief report on a recent gala held by his karate foundation, Kickstart for Kids. Governor Abbott and his wife Cecilia were in attendance, he wrote.

“It was an amazing night and gala!” Norris added.


, The Guardian

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Nebraska woman claiming to represent God files federal lawsuit against all ‘homosexuals’

Sylvia Driskell, a 66-year-old woman in Nebraska, has filed a lawsuit against all people who identify as LGBTthe Omaha World-Herald Reports. In a case filed on May 1 with the district court in Omaha, called, “Driskell v. Homosexuals,” Driskell identifed herself as an ambassador for “God, And His, Son, Jesus Christ” as the plaintiff. The defendants? “Homosexuals; Their Given Name Homosexuals; Their, [alias] Gay.”

Driskell is representing herself in the case she wrote out by hand on lined notebook paper. Her challenge: “Petition Your Honor and Court of the United States District Court of Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska. To be heard in the in the matter of homosexuality. Is Homosexuality a sin, or not a sin.”

A few standout quotes from Driskell’s curiously punctuated, grammatically unconventional, Bible verse-intensive lawsuit against gay people:

  • “The Homosexual’s say that its not a sin to be a homosexual; An they have the right to marry; to be parents, And God doesn’t care that their homosexuals; because He loves them.”
  • “Your Honor; I’ve hear the boasting of the Defendant: the Homosexuals on the world news; from the Young, to the Old; to the rich An famous; and to the not so rich An famous; How they were tired of hiding in the closet, and how glad they are coming out of the closet.”
  • “Ambassador: I Sylvia Ann Driskell; Contented that homosexuality is a sin, And that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in a closet.”
  • “Ambassador: I Sylvia Ann Driskell write, As well, we also know that if a child is raised in the home of liers (sic.), An deceivers, And thieves that it is reasonable to believe that child will grow up to be one of the three, are all three.”
  • “Never before has Our great Nation the United States of America And our great State of Nebraska; been besiege by sin; The way to destroy any Nation, or State is to destroy its morals; Look what happen to Sodom and Gomorrah two city because of the same immoral behavior thats present in Our Nation, in Our States, and our Cities; God destroy them.”
  • “If God could have found ten righteous people Among them he would have spared them.”
  • “I’m sixty-six years old, An I never thought, that I would see the day in which our Great Nation or our Great State of Nebraska would become so compliant to the complicity of some peoples lewd behavior.”
  • “Why are judges passing laws, so sinners can break religious, and moral laws. Will all the judges of this Nation, judge God to be a lier (sic.). For God has said, that all unrighteousness is sin, And that homosexuality is abomination.”
  • “I, Sylvia Ann Driskell: I have written this Petition to the United State District Court of Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, and to You, Your Honor. Because I feel its is imperative to do so. Life as a Nation, as States, and as cities need to start standing up for the moral principles on which our, Great Nation, our, Great States, and our, Great Cities were founded on.”

As of press time, the nation’s gay population had not filed a response to the lawsuit.


Joan Shipps, Raw Story

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Race, Class and Neglect

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there’s a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

And it’s also disheartening to see commentators still purveying another debunked myth, that we’ve spent vast sums fighting poverty to no avail (because of values, you see.)

In reality, federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.

Paul Krugman, NYT

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Republican clown car gets a little more crowded as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina enter the race

The vast Republican presidential field is quickly shifting from one composed mostly of likely candidates to one of candidates who are all in. These days that’s a largely technical distinction having more to do with whether a candidate wants to focus on fundraising for a super PAC or an official campaign than with whether they’ve actually decided to run for president, but in any case, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and failed tech executive Carly Fiorina have made the jump into actual-candidate status, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is expected to do so Tuesday. It’s very exciting.

Republican observers are especially enthused by the entrance of Carson, the only African-American in the field, and Fiorina, who’s likely to be the only female GOP candidate, to bring added diversity to a field that already includes two Cuban Americans in Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).“The diversity is great,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “It shows we’re a much broader party than the caricature some try to put on us.”

No, it shows you’re a party that’s willing to embrace tokens if they sound like every other Republican. We went through this with Sarah Palin in 2008, remember? Where Republicans get all excited about a completely unqualified candidate because said candidate puts an unexpected face on the same damn positions, while the party in no way shifts toward the interests of the groups they’re supposedly trying to appeal to with that candidate?

So what do we have here? Ben Carson was apparently a great neurosurgeon, but the reason Republicans think he’d make a good presidential candidate is that in 2013 he made a speechcriticizing President Obama’s policies at the National Prayer Breakfast with Obama in the room. Carly Fiorina‘s tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard was a notorious failure, and she subsequently lost a Senate race, but boy does she like to criticize Hillary Clinton, specifically doing so as a woman. See a pattern here?

In the giant Republican field, Carson is polling seventh nationally and in New Hampshire and sixth in Iowa, which means the Republican Party has a chance of being able to write its debate eligibility rules to get him on the state. Fiorina, however, is mired so far at the bottom of the pack it may be best to describe it as “below Bobby Jindal” territory.

Laura Clawson, Daily Kos

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Paul Hobbs Winery, Sonoma County Beat Back Attack On Vineyard Protection Law

Paul Hobbs Winery Joins Sonoma County in Victory Over Activist Lawsuit to Repeal Landmark Sonoma County Vineyard Development Rules

Paul Hobbs Helps Sonoma County Win Victory
Sonoma, Calif.,–A lawsuit threatening long-standing Sonoma County environmental regulations was dismissed today in a ruling by the Sonoma County Superior Court.

The ruling upholds Sonoma County’s 15-year-old Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO), thereby preserving the county’s clearly defined standards for protecting soil, water and air during vineyard development.

This represents a significant victory for Sonoma County and responsible farming advocates, including Paul Hobbs, who was named in the suit. A small activist group targeted Hobbs’s 39-acre Watertrough Road property as the test case in their campaign to subordinate County vineyard regulations to the oft-abused statewide regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act, more commonly known as CEQA.

“We are relieved and thankful that this attack on VESCO was thrown out,” said Hobbs spokesman Christopher O’Gorman. “The results of this suit could have been devastating both for farmers and the environment. Now we can continue to grow and thrive, responsibly.”

The suit, brought by a small parent group called the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, hinged on whether VESCO should be considered a “ministerial” or “discretionary” ordinance. Today’s ruling underscored the prevailing view that VESCO is a ministerial ordinance, meaning that CEQA does not come into play during vineyard development.

This comes as a relief to local winemakers, as the environmental review process triggered by CEQA is notorious in California for being abused by activists to delay and add significant cost to projects large and small.

“The impact of CEQA review would be very negative for Sonoma County agriculture, as has been noted by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and many others” said O’Gorman. “This ruling protects Sonoma farmers, Sonoma’s environment, and Sonoma’s economy.”

With this court’s final word on this legal question, Hobbs is happy to return his full attention to farming and winemaking.

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Rick Wiles Warns Of ‘Fireball From Space’ If Supreme Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Bans

End Times broadcaster Rick Wiles spoke with Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel on his “Trunews” program yesterday about what will happen to the United States if the Supreme Court strikes down bans on same-sex marriage. Unsurprisingly, neither was optimistic.

“Now the communists rule this nation,” Wiles said in a monologue before his interview with Staver, “and everywhere communism takes control, they go after the churches and they kill the pastors and they demolish the church buildings and they reeducate the church children. That’s what’s coming to America. It’s already started.”

“We are at the end of the road as a nation,” he warned. “If the Supreme Court dares to defy Almighty God one more time, I’m telling you it will be the last time.”

“I believe I am speaking under the unction of the Holy Spirit,” he continued. “I’m telling you there will be swift, sudden and devastating consequences for the United States of America. America will be brought to its knees, there will be pain and suffering at a level we’ve never seen in this country. The word that I hear in my spirit is ‘fire.’ I do not know if it refers to riots or looting or war on American soil or a fireball from space. I simply know that a sweeping, consuming fire will come across the United States of America and this country will be charred and burned.”

He told his listeners to “prepare for the fire that will sweep across America if the United States Supreme Court dares to defy God one more time and rule that homosexual marriage is a constitutional right.

Wiles also stated that gay marriage is proof that Satan is “alive and well” and using his minions to “shut down Christianity in this nation.”

“Life may change radically in 60 days,” he said. “I’m talking about the fast-moving, radical homosexual movement that has captured control of the American political system, the corporate world, the news media, the entertainment industry and the educational system. This is a takeover and it is anti-God, it is anti-Christ. The same-sex marriage case before the U.S. Supreme Court is not about same-sex marriage, it is about the criminalization and the elimination of biblical Christianity in the United States of America.”

Warning that “the fate of the United States of America will be decided over the next two months,” Wiles told Staver that “a Supreme Court decision recognizing homosexual marriage as a right will be the final nail in America’s coffin. The last society that attempted to slide into this level of immorality and debauchery were the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and they did not have a happy ending.”

“Brace for impact if it goes against God’s divine order of marriage,” Wiles said of the potential ruling, predicting severe “divine repercussions.”

Staver agreed with Wiles’ assertion that “America’s future is hanging in the balance.”

“There’s no question it’s hanging in the balance,” Staver said. “What we have here is a potential catastrophic collision with religious freedom and the undermining of the family.” He added that a marriage ruling will be even more consequential than Roe v. Wade because it will “promote and exalt” same-sex relationships by putting them “on a pedestal and hope people aspire to it.”

 Brian Tashman, Right Wing Watch

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What The Hell Have Republicans Really Done For Conservative Voters?

Conservatives like to go on and on about the horrific policies of the Obama administration and how terrible Democrats are. But something that I seem to always notice is missing is what their party has done for them.

See, as a liberal who voted for President Obama, I can tell you what he’s done for this country:

  • Created over 10 million jobs
  • Presided over record high stock levels
  • Found and killed Osama bin Ladin
  • Passed health care reform
  • Saved the American auto industry

To just name a few, out of the long list of things that he’s done. These are quantifiable things that I can point to and say, “See, this is what my party did for me.”

Though conservatives will undoubtedly scoff at all of those. Because as we all know when it comes to conservatives, if Fox News doesn’t say it, it’s not real.

But when it’s all said and done, what the hell has their party done for them? Let’s get a couple of social issues out of the way:

  • Gay marriage
  • Abortion

Outside of the people directly involved in a same-sex wedding, or an abortion, how exactly does that impact anyone else’s life? The answer is simple: It doesn’t. So, continuing to fight for these social issues isn’t “doing something” to improve the lives of the conservative voter. It’s just a power play based on some ignorant desire to control strangers based on what they believe is right or wrong. But even if same-sex marriages and abortions were illegal, that doesn’t “improve” the life of the average conservative voter. Sure, it gives them a “win,” but it’s not doing something for them. Because the typical conservative voter wasn’t going to have an abortion or marry a homosexual in the first place. So whether or not those two things are legal has absolutely no direct impact on their life. (Unless of course they’re a hypocrite and rally against things that secretly they would do, just to save face with their conservatism or Christian beliefs.)

So, again, what has the Republican party done for the conservative voter? Has this “trickle-down” economics made them rich? And don’t give me this “well Democrats keep preventing it from working properly” nonsense. Taxes have remained at all-time lows since Reagan. The rich are doing better than they ever have in this country. Many large corporations are making billions. So don’t give me this crap about taxes or regulations. If those were really burdens to our economy, then the rich would be suffering too.

And they’re not. In fact, they’re flourishing.

Is it guns? Because as far as I can tell, President Obama hasn’t passed a single law to strip away gun rights. Actually, the only suggestions he really made were universal background checks and limits on magazine size. And I’m sorry, but if you can’t hit a target with 10 bullets, you shouldn’t be operating a gun in the first place. And why would anyone oppose universal background checks? Have we become so paranoid in this country that we can’t wait a week for a gun? If you really believe your life is in that much immediate danger you either need to call 911 or seek professional help.

Besides, are gun rights really an issue on which you want to support an entire political party? How does that make sense? Vote against your own best interests in nearly every other facet of your life because you get to own more guns and get them a few days quicker than if the other party was in charge? Sure, you’ve got a safe full of guns – while you work 60 hours a week at two jobs for $7.25 an hour because the party you vote for refuses to raise the minimum wage. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

And if I’m not mistaken (and I’m not) didn’t Bush tell us back in the early 2000′s that his tax cuts were going to usher in economic prosperity and eliminate our national debt? So, how exactly did the opposite of that happen? That’s right, because trickle-down economics is scam.

Is it this fear-mongering against people on welfare? Conservatives do realize that millions of conservatives are on welfare, right? And when it gets right down to it, welfare abuse makes up a very small percentage of those receiving these benefits. But this also ties into the minimum wage issue. Because millions of American workers have full-time jobs, yet still rely on the government to survive. And as much as it “pains” me to say this, mostly Republican states lead the nation when it comes to citizens relying on government assistance.

Women’s rights? Please. Female conservatives, please explain to me what the Republican party has done to secure true equality for women in America.

Then there’s always health care. After all, Republicans really tried to fix our broken health care system, right? Isn’t it amazing how suddenly “Obamacare” is some social radical idea, yet it was a Republican idea in the 90′s? In fact, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, passed nearly the exact same law while he was governor of Massachusetts. But I guess once the black guy supported the law, then it became “evil socialism.” And to this day, even with all of their objections to “Obamacare,” Republicans have yet to provide a single plausible alternative.

Except, of course, “Obamacare.”

Oh, and for the record, almost all of the propaganda Republicans use against the Affordable Care Act:

  • Canceled plans
  • Kills jobs
  • Premium hikes
  • Confusing


Those are actually all arguments as to why we need true universal health care for all.

Bush was president for eight years and Republicans had control of most of Congress for much of his time in Washington. What did conservative voters get from it?

Is Iraq better off? No. Did we balance the budget? No. Did we pay off our national debt? No. Did we find Osama bin Ladin? No. Did we usher in unheralded economic prosperity? No. Did we “win the war on terror”? No.

Tell me, what the heck did Republicans do for anyone but the rich during Bush’s eight years? The only people who really prospered during his time in the White House were the wealthy, big business, big oil and big defense. That was it.

So, conservative voter, I ask of you: What the hell has the Republican party actually done for you?

By Allen Clifton , Forward Progressives

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The Lawyer Defending Discrimination In The Supreme Court May Have Just Talked Himself Out Of Victory

Before oral arguments began in Obergefell v. Hodges, the consolidated cases challenging marriage discrimination under the Constitution, a Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality seemed like a near certainty. After Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the second of two lawyers to argue in favor of equality, took his seat, the outcome of the cases seemed much less sure.

The Court’s conservatives fixated upon their belief that same-sex marriages are a very new institution. “Every definition [of marriage] I looked up prior to about a dozen years ago,” Chief Justice John Roberts claimed, limited marriages to opposite-sex couples. Advocates for equality, Roberts continued, are “seeking to change what the institution is.”

Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito argued that even “ancient Greece,” a society he perceived as welcoming to same-sex relationships, did not permit same-sex marriage. Justice Antonin Scalia insisted that “for millennia, not a single society” supported marriage equality.

Most ominously of all for supporters of equal marriage rights, Justice Anthony Kennedy — the key fifth vote who authored all three of the Court’s most important gay rights decisions — seemed to share Scalia’s concerns. Though he noted that about as much time has passed between the landmark 2003 gay rights case Lawrence v. Texas and today as has passed between Brown v. Board of Education and the Court’s decision striking down racial marriage discrimination, Kennedy fretted that “we’re talking about millennia” that human civilization existed without recognizing same-sex marriages.

Not long after John Bursch, the lawyer defending discrimination, took the podium, however, Kennedy began to sound much more like the justice who supported gay rights in cases like Lawrence.

Curiously, Bursch largely ignored the arguments rooted in history and tradition that animated so many of the conservative justices’ earlier questions, and instead focused on an argument that had little success that last time it was presented to the Court. “When you change the definition of marriage,” Bursch declared, that has “consequences.”

When pressed to explain the consequences, Bursch asked the Court to consider two different couples, one of which believes that marriage exists for the benefit of children, and the other which believes that it exists to foster relationships between adults. If the Court adopts the view of the second couple — a position he claimed the justices would implicitly embrace if they allowed same-sex couples, who cannot procreate, to marry — that will send the message that marriage has little to do with children, which will in turn lead to more children being born out-of-wedlock. The “reasonable voter,” Bursch insisted, could conclude that it was necessary to ban same-sex couples from marrying in order to halt this attenuated chain of events that allegedly ends in more children being born to unmarried couples.

Several justices appeared to disagee with Bursch’s understanding of how a “reasonable voter” would act, but Bursch was not making a novel argument. To the contrary, his argument closely resembled Justice Alito’s dissenting opinion in United States v. Windsor, which argued that the battle over marriage equality is really a battle between two incompatible views of marriage — a “traditional” view which sees marriage as an “exclusively opposite-sex institution and as one inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship” and a “consent-based” view “that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment — marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction — between two persons.”

Only one other justice, however, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined this part of Alito’s dissent, so Bursch’s decision to rely so heavily on an argument that only swayed two justices in Windsor was an odd strategic choice.

One justice who did not join Alito’s dissent was Justice Kennedy. As Bursch started to lay out his view that child-centered marriage is different than adult-centered marriage, Kennedy balked. Same-sex couples, Kennedy insisted, want to say that “we too” should be able to enjoy the “dignity” of marriage. He also accused Bursch of presenting an argument which wrongly implied that same-sex couples cannot bond with their children.

Bursch’s response to Kennedy’s concerns was a disaster. After Bursch insisted that marriage was never intended to be “dignitary [sic] bestowing,” Kennedy quipped back “I thought that was the whole purpose of marriage!” Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence, which outlawed a sex ban targeting a gay couple, explained that “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education” involve “choices central to personal dignity and autonomy,” and “are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” So when Kennedy starts accusing a lawyer of denying dignity to gay couples, that’s a major sign that lawyer is in trouble.

An open question is, assuming that there are five votes in favor of marriage equality, how the author of the opinion will construct the Court’s reasoning. Several of the liberal justices seemed prepared to hold that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right that is violated if gay couples are excluded. This would be a sub-optimal outcome for gay rights, as it could still potentially permit states to discriminate against gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals outside of the marriage context. But it was not at all clear that Kennedy was prepared to sign onto a fundamental rights opinion. To the contrary, Kennedy asked Verrilli about a past decision establishing that fundamental rights should be defined narrowly.

In the past, however, Kennedy has not shied away from writing gay rights decisions that are heavy on flowery language and light on ordinary legal reasoning, so he could easily side with marriage equality without providing a doctrinally satisfying explanation for his decision. In any event, however, the argument finished with its clearest sign that Kennedy was likely to side with equality.

After an hour of argument on whether the Constitution protects marriage equality, the Court heard another hour of argument on a limited question — if the Constitution does not require states to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, does it still require those states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. As several justices pointed out during this argument, the premise of this second question was that supporters of equality had already lost on the first question.

Kennedy, however, was largely silent during the second argument. It was as if he already knew that his answer to the first question would render the second one moot.



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The laughable calls for high-court recusals

Nine U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments this morning in a case that may bring marriage equality to the United States, but if some conservatives had their way, only seven justices would be in the chamber today.
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, among many others, has been pushing for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves because they’ve officiated same-sex weddings. Yesterday, it was even the basis for some far-right activism.
Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries, told reporters he’s filing a motion with the Supreme Court calling for the recusal of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
[Lively] and more than a dozen leaders of anti-gay-marriage groups stood behind a wall of empty cardboard filing boxes stacked on the steps of the court on Monday morning. The boxes – 60 in all – were there to “symbolically” represent 300,000 restraining orders that Faith2Action President Janet Porter said will be delivered to the Supreme Court and to Congress to keep the justices from ruling on gay marriage.
Just so we’re clear, these aren’t actual “restraining orders,” so much as they’re props created by anti-gay groups looking for a way to get far-right activists engaged.
Of course, the fact that opponents of marriage equality have been reduced to making arguments with boxes that are literally empty was, in fact, “symbolic” – though probably not in the way conservatives intended.
Not surprisingly, the push failed – Ginsburg and Kagan will be on the bench this morning – but what’s especially interesting about the hullabaloo is the right’s selective standards.
Neither Ginsburg nor Kagan have said how they intend to rule in the case, so the argument is already on weak ground, but it’s hard not to wonder: where were these conservatives in 2006?
[O’Reilly] claimed that only the “nutty left” wanted Scalia to recuse himself in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case brought by a Guantánamo Bay prisoner who argued that his detention after 9/11 violated his rights under military and international law.
On March 8, 2006, just weeks before the Court heard oral arguments in Hamdan, Scalia gave a speech at the University of Freiberg in Switzerland, where he asserted that people who had been designated as enemy combatants – like the prisoner in the Hamdan case – could not enforce their rights in federal court.
According to a report from Michael Isikoff who broke the story for Newsweek, Scalia stated that “War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts … Give me a break.”
In response to an audience member who asked whether detainees had rights under the Geneva Convention – one of the exact issues raised in Hamdan – Scalia replied, “I’m not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it’s crazy.” As Isikoff explained, “[t]he comments provoked ‘quite an uproar’ ” because the case hadn’t been heard yet, but Scalia had “already spoken his mind about some of the issues in the matter.” Quoting Stephen Gillers, a professor of law and legal ethics expert, Isikoff added: “As these things mount, a legitimate question could be asked about whether he is compromising the credibility of the court.”
Two years earlier, when a case involving then-Vice President Dick Cheney reached the Supreme Court, Scalia had no qualms about socializing with Cheney, going on a hunting trip with him, and dining with him in advance of the decision. When calls arose that Scalia should recuse himself from his buddy’s case, the justice refused.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Trey Radel, Busted On Cocaine Charge, Voted For Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients

In September, Rep. Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they’re not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession.

“It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told BuzzFeed Tuesday. “It’s like, what?”

The House over the summer approved an amendment by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) that would let states drug test people on food stamps. The amendment passed by voice vote, meaning members’ individual yeas and nays were not recorded. Radel later voted in favor of a broader food stamps bill that included Hudson’s measure.

In support of his drug testing legislation, Hudson cited the many state legislatures around the country that had considered similar requirements for other means-tested programs in recent years.

“This is a clear and obvious problem in our communities as nearly 30 states have introduced legislation to drug test for welfare programs,” Hudson said. “We have a moral obligation to equip the states with the tools they need to discourage the use of illegal drugs.”

Most of the state legislation was authored by Republicans. Oftentimes, state Democrats responded by suggesting lawmakers should be subject to tests as well. If the government’s going to make sure recipients of taxpayer-funded benefits are clean, the argument went, then why not also make sure the recipients of taxpayer salaries are clean, too?

In June, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) made that very suggestion when he questioned why recipients of crop insurance and other government benefits weren’t also targeted for drug tests like people on food stamps.

“Why don’t we drug test all the members of Congress here,” McGovern said shortly before the drug-testing measure passed. “Force everybody to go urinate in a cup or see whether or not anybody is on drugs? Maybe that will explain why some of these amendments are coming up or why some of the votes are turning out the way they are.”

The fate of the food stamp drug testing provision is in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee hashing out differences between food stamp and farm legislation that passed the two chambers. It’s got a chance. Last year, Congress passed a law to let states drug-test some unemployment insurance recipients.

Radel apologized Tuesday for his cocaine bust and said he’d seek treatment.

“I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice,” he said.

Huffington Post, Arthur Delaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Ft. Joseph Illo: Emotional Abuse Lawsuit Comes to Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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Straight High-Schooler Invites Gay Best Friend To The Prom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Avery,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From EarthWeAreOne

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Losing my religion for equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Carter, from The Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As The Washington Post explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Addicting Info, Jameson Parker

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s what Matier and Ross wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the Contra Costa Times,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Truth Behind Swimming with Dolphins

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

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

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

One trainer’s story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s wrong about swimming with dolphins?

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

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

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

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

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

A dolphinarium’s view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All aboard: the role of the cruise ship

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

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

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

How wild dolphins end up in captivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

The endless cycle: breeding for captivity

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

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

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

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

Christina Russo, The Dodo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Gittleson, Addicting Info

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