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Koret Foundation Lawsuit Heats Up: New Website, Ads Call for Return to Founder’s Charitable Mission

Koret  Contributions to Hoover Institution, Polish Jewish Museum, Slammed by Koret Widow–Says Tad Taube, Anita Friedman of JCFS, Richard Green of Radovsky Green, Others, Use Charitable Funds for Own Pet Projects

President of Koret Foundation

Tad Taube, Ex-President of Koret Foundation

Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

Richard L. Green, Partner at law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

Jewish  Family and Children's Services

Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Anita Friedman

San Francisco—A new website seeks the support of Bay Area organizations and individuals to join the fight to reclaim the Koret Foundation and restore it to the Jewish, humanitarian, and community-oriented mission intended its founder, Joseph Koret. The website started this week and is at

Mrs. Susan Koret, Joseph Koret’s widow, filed a lawsuit in October 2014 against the Koret Foundation’s current Board of Directors for ignoring the wishes of her late husband to help the poor and disadvantaged in the Bay Area and supporting Jewish causes in the Bay Area and Israel. The suit alleges, among other things, that the Foundation’s directors have diverted millions in Foundation dollars to grantees outside of the Bay Area and Israel and other grantees directly associated with their own personal interests – including causes in former President Tad Taube’s native country of Poland.

Mrs. Koret is seeking to restore a more egalitarian foundation structure, whereby organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Israel can seek funding consistent with her husband’s intent.

Many organizations stand to gain from this reform and the new website,, encourages those interested in joining this effort to sign up in support.

“Mrs. Koret claims in her lawsuit that the current directors are shortchanging the people of the Bay Area and Israel who most need the help that her husband intended his legacy to provide, and that community support will be positive for a restored mission,” said Rob Bunzel, an attorney for Mrs. Koret.

Mrs. Koret’s lawsuit demands the removal of board members Tad Taube and his longtime legal counsel Richard L. Greene of Greene Radovsky Maloney Share & Hennigh LLP; co-president Anita Friedman, director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services; co-president Michael J. Boskin, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; board member Richard Atkinson, former president of the University of California; and board member Abraham D. Sofaer, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The suit calls for their replacement with the appointment of an independent board with a majority of Jewish directors.

The suit claims the Koret board is using foundation funds to promote programs closely affiliated with individual board members and is purposely confusing the public by putting signage that prominently features Taube’s name alongside the Koret Foundation name on buildings and grants for which the Koret Foundation is the principal funder.

The lawsuit also claims that, at Taube’s direction, the Koret Foundation has donated approximately $9 million to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, a pet project of Taube, who was born in Poland.  “While the Polish Museum commemorates significant Jewish history, the diversion of Koret funds to Poland is not in keeping with my husband’s charitable mission…and in effect drains funds that could benefit the needy in communities in the Bay Area and Israel,” the lawsuit states.

“Alleviating suffering and misfortune were my husband’s top priorities,” said Mrs. Koret when the lawsuit was filed. “Joe and Stephanie’s money shouldn’t be used for Tad Taube’s pet projects in Poland or to help conservative economic and policy think tanks–not when so many in the Bay Area go to bed hungry every night and Jewish causes need support.”

Mrs. Koret noted her husband was a native of Odessa, Russia, who immigrated to America, struggled growing up poor in the U.S., and then struck it rich later in life in clothing and real estate. He was deeply committed to humanitarian causes such as alleviating hunger,  and would “be deeply angered and offended by Tad Taube and the board’s strong support of conservative  causes and grants that divert money needed for the local community and Jewish causes.”

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the spending down of the Foundation’s assets by Taube and the board members with whom he has surrounded himself and allow the appointment of a new, independent board to carry out its mission and save the Foundation.

Mrs. Koret was named a lifetime director and chairwoman of the Foundation prior to her husband’s death in 1982. She was entrusted by her late husband to carry out the family legacy of caring for the poor and supporting Jewish and community causes through the Koret Foundation, according to the lawsuit.

Mrs. Koret said she has been marginalized as Taube, a Silicon Valley real estate investor, and his hand-picked supporters on the board steer donations toward causes in which they have affiliations.

Mrs. Koret said she filed the suit as a last resort after her efforts to diversify the board, get independent legal advice, confirm the perpetual nature of the Foundation and redirect funds back to her late husband’s mission were rebuffed.  She fears the Koret Foundation is facing destruction of its mission and eventual collapse unless changes are made.

The lawsuit alleges that Taube is a shameless self-promoter who has personally selected board members to rubber stamp his decisions in exchange for support of their own pet projects. Additionally, the suit says Taube established his own foundation, called Taube Philanthropies, but uses money and staff from the Koret Foundation to pay for and enhance joint projects of Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation. A review of the Koret Foundation’s public filings shows reported annual salaries and compensation of officers exceeded $1.9 million in 2011, while Taube Philanthropies showed no such expenses for the same period, according to the lawsuit.

Mrs. Koret’s lawsuit charges that out of the $79 million gifted by the Koret Foundation between 2010 and 2013, nearly 60 percent was spent on causes outside the stated mission of her husband, the late Joseph Koret.

Learn more about the lawsuit and recent developments by visiting

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Assistant DA Sharmin Bock Cleared in Investigation by Alameda County District Attorney Office

Bock Returns to Work in Alameda County D.A. Office 

Former DA Candidate Acted Legally, in Accordance with Campaign Finance Laws

Oakland—The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office today announced it completed an investigation of Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock and concluded that no ethical or legal campaign laws were violated in her unsuccessful bid for the Office of San Francisco District Attorney in 2011, according to the Office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. 

Sharmin Bock returned to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office after the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office’s investigation cleared the 26-year legal veteran of any wrongdoing over campaign finance issues.

While on administrative leave, we conducted a thorough and comprehensive investigation to determine whether any ethical violations were breached when she (Bock) ran for San Francisco District Attorney.  We (Alameda County District Attorney’s Office) have concluded that no ethical rules were violated.  Agreeing to ask for contributions from respective donor bases was in compliance with the local campaign finance laws.  There was no violation of any federal, state or local law,” according to a memo from Chief Assistant D.A. Kevin E. Dunleavy on behalf of Alameda County District Attorney O’Malley.

“I am honored to be back at work and serving the people of Alameda County,” Sharmin Bock said.  “It is unfortunate that the false and reckless accusations of a criminal defense attorney caused this situation, but this case demonstrates the justice system does work.  An investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office cleared me of any illegal or unethical behavior.”

Bock was placed on paid administrative leave in early August pending an investigation in to whether she violated any laws while attempting to retire campaign debt from her 2011 campaign for the Office of San Francisco District Attorney. 

The false allegations against Bock were made by a criminal defense attorney for Raymond Chow, who also targeted other elected leaders, in a desperate effort to deflect attention from his client who faces a significant prison term. The defense motion in which the claims were made was rejected by United States District Court Judge Charles Breyer.

Bock was in compliance with campaign finance laws when she and then State Senator Leland Yee solicited contributions from their respective contributors to retire campaign debt after they both lost their races. Bock was also completely unaware that Yee was involved in criminal activity.

“It is my privilege to work at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office which has the very highest of ethical standards.  I have always and will continue to always uphold these standards with pride,” Bock said.

Sharmin Bock, Assistant District Attorney Alameda County District Attorney Office

Sharmin Bock, Assistant District Attorney Alameda County District Attorney Office

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Warriors Plans for S.F. Arena Slammed by UCSF National Academy of Sciences Leaders


 Mission Bay Proposal is “Disaster” for Life Sciences, UCSF

Leaders Call on S.F. Mayor Ed Lee to Abandon Proposed Arena and Protect Biotech/Life Sciences in S.F. from “Critical Harm”

Joe Lacob and Peter GuberJoe Lacob and Peter Guber Asked to Abandon Mission Bay Warriors Plans to Protect Live-Saving Research, Science

San Francisco – A coalition of world-renowned scientists from the University of California at San Francisco and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences today said the proposed Golden State Warriors’ Arena in Mission Bay would be a “disaster” for the City’s growing biotech and life science hub and called for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to abandon the proposed plans.

The UCSF scientists joined the California Nurses Association and the Mission Bay Alliance, a coalition of UCSF employees, stakeholders and neighbors who oppose the 18,500-seat arena and entertainment center, in their decisive opposition of the proposed project, saying it would threaten “the entire future of UCSF as the center of a world-class academic/biotech/medical complex.”

“Our major fear is that the Mission Bay site will lose its appeal – not only for the new biomedical enterprises that the city would like to attract here, but also for most of its current occupants,” according to the letter, which was delivered to Mayor Lee and signed by more than 20 of UCSF’s leading scientists and researchers.

“The result could critically harm not only UCSF, but also the enormously promising, larger set of biomedical enterprises that currently promises to make San Francisco the envy of the world,” the letter said.

The letter sites traffic gridlock as a leading concern for both residents accessing UCSF’s emergency services and for the hospital workers and scientist and researchers who have turned Mission Bay into one of the most “prominent academic-industry biotechnology/medical complexes in the world.”

“It is unavoidable that terrible, and possibly even life-threatening, traffic congestion will be associated with the planned complex, given that it is intended to be the site of some 220 events per year, held both in the evening and during the day,” wrote the scientists. “Many of us have experienced the hours-long gridlock that paralyzes all Mission Bay streets before and after San Francisco Giants home games. The absolute paralysis that it creates is already a non-trivial problem, which the planned stadium promises to both greatly expand and intensify.”

The UCSF faculty who signed the letter are among the most prestigious and acclaimed scientists in the world and include Bruce Alberts, UCSF Chancellor’s Leadership Chair for Biochemistry and Biophysics for Science and Education, who is the former president of the National Academy of Sciences, a membership organization of the world’s leading scientists and Noble Prize winners.  Other signatories include:

  • Elizabeth Blackburn, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Nobel laureate
  • James Cleaver, Professor of Dermatology and Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • John A. Clements, Professor of Pediatrics and Julius H. Comroe Professor of Pulmonary Biology, Emeritus
  • Robert Fletterick, Professor of Biochemistry, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology
  • Carol Gross, Professor of Microbiology
  • Christine Guthrie, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Lily Jan, Professor of Physiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Yuh-Nung Jan, Professor of Physiology
  • Alexander Johnson, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Cynthia Kenyon, Emeritus Professor, UCSF, and Vice President, Aging Research, Calico Life Sciences
  • Gail Martin, Professor Emerita, Department of Anatomy
  • Frank McCormick, Professor Emeritus, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer CenterDavid A. Wood Distinguished Professorship of Tumor Biology and Cancer Research
  • Ira Mellman, Professor (Adjunct) of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • William J. Rutter, Chairman Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry, and Chairman, Synergenics LLC
  • John Sedat, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics
  • Michael Stryker, William Francis Ganong Professor of Physiology
  • Peter Walter, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Arthur Weiss, Professor of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Zena Werb, Professor of Anatomy

The scientists said special traffic routes proposed to protect UCSF employees would not work.

“Those of us at Mission Bay have experienced the unruly behavior of frustrated drivers stuck for long times in traffic jams,” they wrote. “In fact, there is no believable transportation solution for two very large complexes placed in such close proximity at Mission Bay.”

Bruce Spaulding of the Mission Bay Alliance said he commended the courage of UCSF’s preeminent scientists and researchers for taking a stand and protecting the growth of Mission Bay’s biotech and life science community.

“These concerns are consistent with those shared by Mission Bay Alliance and the healthcare employees, neighbors and others who recognize what a disaster this project would be on the thousands of people and budding industries in this growing community,” Spaulding said. “This is a significant community and a quality of life issue in San Francisco.  We hope the Mayor recognizes the danger to public health and life sciences of this ill-conceived project.”

Anchored by UCSF’s new, $1.6 billion hospital and research campus, Mission Bay has given rise to San Francisco’s flourishing life science and biotech industry, generating nearly $4 billion in economic activity, $1.4 billion in income and 21,000 jobs.

The City’s Mission Bay project – the largest ongoing biomedical construction project in the world – can be credited for the City’s biotech success and would be jeopardized by the proposed stadium.

“We face increasing competition from other rapidly growing complexes of this type, both in the US and abroad,” the scientists wrote. “It will be critical to keep moving aggressively forward, if we are to continue to attract the very best talent – both academic and private sector – to SanFrancisco….We are seriously concerned that this future is threatened by the plan to construct a very large sports, entertainment, and event arena in our midst.”

 About the Mission Bay Alliance

 The Mission Bay Alliance is a coalition of UCSF stakeholders, donors, faculty, physicians and the working men and women of San Francisco who are concerned about the impact of the proposed Golden State Warriors’ stadium on the future of the vibrant community and medical campus at Mission Bay. The Alliance fully supports the Warriors’ team and congratulates its tremendous championship win. However, the Alliance believes the proposed arena and entertainment center is ill-conceived for this site. For more information about the Mission Bay Alliance, visit

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S.F. Chinese Community Health Plan Sued by its Own Physicians for Endangering Patient Health Care

S.F. Physicians Sue For Contract Breach, Criticize CCHP Management for Endangering Patient Safety, Health Care

In Separate Legal Action, Whistleblower Sues CCHP in S.F. for Overbilling Medicare

CCHP accused of harming Chinese patients, endangering healthcare in S.F. Chinatown

CCHP accused of harming Chinese patients, endangering healthcare in S.F. Chinatown


The physicians association representing the medical staff at the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown has filed suit against the for-profit Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP), claiming that recent actions by CCHP management to siphon doctors from the association threaten to tear apart longstanding health-care alliances in the community while putting the very future of the hospital at risk.

The non-profit, independent physicians association, known as Chinese Community Health Care Association (CCHCA), represents 197 doctors serving the Chinese Hospital and community health clinics in Chinatown.  For more than three decades the physicians association has served as a gatekeeper between CCHP, the Chinese Hospital and health care providers, ensuring that everyone in the community received high-quality health care.

Recently, however, CCHP sent doctors in the physicians association Participating Provider Agreements – individual physician contracts – in an attempt to pressure doctors into signing directly with the health plan. The contract offer included language that intentionally misled doctors into believing that the PPA was simply a renewal of an existing agreement, when in fact it was a completely new offer that would have legally bound the physicians directly to CCHP.

“We believe the purpose of these unprecedented solicitations is to decimate the independent physicians association, destroy the unique health care alliance that has served this community so well for so long and ultimately drive up profits for CCHP at patients’ expense,” said Dr. Raymond Li, President of CCHCA.  “The actions by the management of CCHP will leave our community with fewer doctors and far fewer health-care choices.”

The CCHP contract offer threatens to divide the health-care community in Chinatown and diminish the availability of care for thousands of Chinese patients. Without the protections of CCHCA, health plan management would be free to manipulate fees and other reimbursements, driving qualified, culturally sensitive doctors from the community and depleting the medical ranks within the Chinese community.

San Francisco elected representatives told the San Francisco Sentinel they will investigate the allegations made by physicians to ensure the safety of Chinese patients from price gauging, unsafe medical practices, overbilling and other questionable actions by CCHP and its management and board of directors.

“The unique alliance between CCHP, CCHCA and the Chinese Hospital served the Chinese community well for many years,” said Dr. Eric Leung, Vice President of CCHCA.  “But the tradition of affordable, reliable care and services is threatened by the actions of profit-driven corporate leaders bent on controlling and manipulating the health-care marketplace. The pending opening of the new Chinese Hospital will mean little if the historical structure of health care in the community has been destroyed by corporate greed.”

CCHCA took legal action against CCHP reluctantly and only after a cease and desist letter from CCHCA was ignored. Indeed, instead of ending the solicitation, CCHP sent out an addendum to the physicians that continued the deception in an attempt to coerce their signatures. Despite these veiled threats and strong-armed tactics, only two physicians have signed the CCHP contract.

The California Medical Association and the San Francisco Medical Society recently penned a joint letter to Brenda Yee, CEO of the health plan, expressing their grave concerns about CCHP’s actions. “It is critical that the health plan respect the important role CCHCA has played in delivering much-needed, culturally appropriate, affordable health care to the Chinese community,” the letter stated. “CMA and the SFMS are prepared to support CCHCA and its physicians to continue to achieve its charitable purposes.”

As the letter from SFMS and CMA points out, CCHCA for three decades has promoted social welfare in Chinatown by providing financial support for health-related community programs, including the Chinese Community Health Resource Center, the Neighborhood Disaster Response Plan and treatment room services at the Chinese Hospital. CCHCA has also provided more than $2 million in direct grants to innovative community projects.

“We have asked our elected representatives to join us in condemning the recent actions by CCHP management,” Dr. Li said. “In the spirit of transparency and cooperation, CCHP must drop its efforts to destroy our health network so we can continue our mission of serving our community and providing high-quality health care to all.”

CCHCA Doctors Stand Up for Chinese Patients

Non-Profit CCHCA Doctors Stand Up to Protect Rights of Chinese Patients Against For-Profit CCHP

Separate Legal Action Claims Chinese Community Health Plan Overbilled Medicare

In another lawsuit filed this week against Chinese Community Health Plan in San Francisco, a whistleblower in Texas has brought a lawsuit against former employer CenseoHealth and numerous Medicare Advantage Organizations (including CCHP in S.F.) alleging they overcharged Medicare for in-home patient care.

Plaintiff and former Censeo Coding Manager Becky Ramsey-Ledesma of Texas has demanded a jury trial, according to court documents filed with the U.S. District Court of Texas. So far, no trial date has been set.

The court documents were ordered unsealed by the court on June 17 after the United States Department of Justice declined to intervene in the civil action, according to Judge Barbara Lynn.

[Also: Feds look closely at Medicare Advantage plans in risk adjustment probe]

Plaintiff Ramsey-Ledesma claims Censeo knew diagnoses of patients were not supported by medical record documentation, but were “picked up” from diagnoses predicted by medications used, according to court documents.

“If a prescribed medication could potentially support a diagnosis, they were to code for that diagnosis,” according to the lawsuit.

Ramsey-Ledesma claims Censeo Chief Medical Officer Mark Dambro developed an evaluation process designed to maximize the capitated payment rates paid to Censeo’s client Medicare Advantage Organizations.

Rather than rely on medical records provided by physicians treating patients, the plaintiff alleges Censeo obtained self-reported data directly from certain MAO members, according to court documents. The data was collected through evaluation forms completed by physicians retained by Censeo, not for the purpose of treatment, but to create ICD-9 codes for submission to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to the lawsuit.

Censeo targeted those MAO plan members who were likely to yield the most serious diagnoses, and more likely to generate higher capitation payments for Censeo’s MAO clients, the lawsuit states. Medicare Advantage plans get higher rates for patients who are sick than those in good health.

The company completed twice as many assessments in 2013 as it did in 2012, saying its clients propelled the company into a record-setting first quarter, increasing the number of evaluations by 250 percent, according to the lawsuit.

[Also: Medicare Advantage proposal means rates fall, rise depending on risk ]

Revenue growth for 2013 was projected to reach $120 million, a 140 percent year-over-year increase, according to court records.

Censeo contracted with at least 30 MAOs to provide the home assessments, including Blue Cross Blue Shield in several states and Humana, which are both named as defendants.

Defendants include: CenseoHealth LLC, Mark Dambro, Chief Compliance Officer James Edward Barry Greve Jr., Director of Quality Joy Ridlehuber, Altegra Health Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield Alabama, Blue Cross of Idaho, Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee, Care Plus Health Plans Inc., Chinese Community Health Plan, Commonwealth Care Alliance, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coventry Health Care Inc., Health Net Inc., Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Hill Physicians Medical Group Inc., Humana, Inc., and North Texas Specialty Physicians.

Ramsey-Ledesma said she was fired August 9, 2013, after advising coders she would code only those diagnoses that could be supported by a doctor’s assessment. Messages for comment to Censeo were not returned.

This case is among several whistleblower cases filed alleging billing fraud of Medicare Advantage plans. CMS has said in the past it suspects home visits improperly raise risk scores.

In July, the Center for Public Integrity published a report of government audits showing widespread billing errors — mostly overcharges — in private Medicare Advantage health plans.

The audits involved five health plans: Aetna Health Inc. in New Jersey; Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia; Lovelace Health Plan in Albuquerque, N.M.; Care Plus, a division of Humana, South Florida; and PacifiCare in Washington State, an arm of UnitedHealth Group, and considered the nation’s largest Medicare Advantage plan.

Among the findings: Medicare paid the wrong amount for 654 of the 1,005 patients in the sample, an error rate of nearly two-thirds. The payments were too high for 579 patients and too low for 75 of them. The total payment error topped $3.3 million in the sample.

Auditors concluded that risk scores were too high for more than 800 of the 1,005 patients, which in many cases, but not all, led to hefty overpayments.

Auditors could not confirm one-third of the 3,950 medical conditions the health plans reported, mostly because records lacked “sufficient documentation of a diagnosis.” The names of the medical conditions were redacted by federal officials.The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which conducted the audits, had no comment, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

None of the health plans would discuss the audit findings.

Aetna, in a statement, said the company had “raised a number of questions and concerns” regarding the results and was “awaiting a response from CMS.”

Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s primary trade group, said the audits “overstated” the payment errors, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative news organization. The records are coming to light at a time of rapid expansion – and consolidation–in the Medicare Advantage market. Enrollment has neared 17 million. An estimated one of every three people are eligible for Medicare.


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True Leaders at the Presidio Trust: Nancy Bechtle, William Hambrecht, Charlene Harvey: Editorial

1 presidio trust

San Francisco should be justly proud of the independent and visionary leadership of outgoing Presidio Trust President Nancy Hellman Bechtle and board members William Hambrecht and Charlene Harvey.   Their hard work, independence and dedication to serving the public deserves praise from every San Franciscan and California resident.

During their tenure, and because of their leadership–along with the guiding hand of recently retired Presidio Trust Executive Director Craig Middleton–the Presidio is financially self-sufficient and a thriving example of public-private partnerships that exemplify the very best in public parks, recreation and conservation in the World today.

In the face of overwhelming political pressure, these individuals and other Trust board members Paula Robinson Collins and Alex Mehran created new opportunities for San Franciscans, Californians and visitors to access one of the great treasures of American parks—The Presidio. Our Presidio.

And, just recently, the leadership of these individuals was demonstrated for everyone to see: they unanimously stood up to megalomaniac billionaire Star Wars director George Lucas, whose proposed vanity museum would have been a disgrace to San Francisco and the Presidio Trust.  Through open hearings, transparency and fairness their process concluded that not only should Lucas’s horrific design be rejected, but that two other competing proposal should turned down as well.

They took this action against the political and social pressure of Mayor Ed Lee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.  That, in itself, is no small feat. They also stood strong against venture capitalist Ron Conway, who became a one man sycophant for Lucas and his museum.  Even now, in defeat, Ron Conway continues to embarrass himself by claiming a conspiracy against George Lucas.

We believe and hope that new members Lynne Benioff, Nicola Miner, Janet Reilly, and John Keker will continue to keep the independent leadership exhibited by Bechtle, Hambrecht and Harvey alive.  The legacy left by Bechtle, Hambrecht and Harvey is an important milestone in San Francisco and Presidio history.  And, it is something that would have made Congressman Philip Burton, who championed the Presidio’s preservation, very proud.


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Can PG&E Be Trusted? Carmel Puts Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Notice in Carmel Explosion

Jason Burnett, Mayor of Carmel, California

Jason Burnett, Mayor of Carmel, California


Five years after a devastating pipeline explosion ripped through the city of San Bruno, killing eight, and a year after another explosion destroyed a house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. still doesn’t have accurate records of the gas pipes around our homes, neighborhoods and businesses, the business practices to compensate for their inaccurate records, or the tools in place to immediately halt a gas leak. Each day this situation is not fixed puts the public’s safety at risk.

That’s not my opinion alone, but the concern of the California Public Utilities Commission, which opened a formal investigation of PG&E’s practices and record-keeping after recent pipeline accidents in Carmel, Mountain View, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Castro Valley highlighted the risk to public safety of PG&E not having accurate records or maps of its vast pipeline network.

The proceeding — which could lead to more penalties and fines against PG&E — follows a report by the CPUC’s Safety Enforcement Division finding that PG&E’s pipeline records are too inadequate and too flawed to be trusted when making critically important, ongoing safety decisions. The public remains at risk until these issues are resolved.

It’s the same problem that caused tragedy in 2010, when PG&E’s record-keeping errors led to a fatal fire and explosion in San Bruno. PG&E is now facing a $1.6 billion penalty and fine for its mistakes.

And it’s the reason that another explosion shook Carmel, when in 2014 bad records misled construction crews replacing a gas-distribution line at Guadalupe and Third Street. The pressurized “live” line was punctured, causing gas to escape into a nearby house. PG&E knew it had caused a leak but allowed this dangerous situation to persist for more than 30 minutes without calling 911. Our police and firefighters were therefore not alerted and were not able to evacuate the area. The house exploded, sending building debris just over the heads of crews and residents walking nearby. Shrapnel was hurled into neighboring houses and windows were blown in by shock waves. It was a miracle nobody was killed, but we cannot rely on miracles to protect the public safety. The incident should have been prevented.

Yet bad records seem to be only part of the problem with PG&E in the Carmel region, which has suffered a string of incidents and life-threatening service delays since the initial incident.

Immediately prior to the 2014 explosion, construction crews realized they had accidentally tapped into an inserted plastic main, a main that records did not indicate existed. Once the main started leaking, PG&E did not have the “squeezer” tools in place to immediately stop gas flow.

PG&E crews were forced to halt the leak manually and it took them more than 60 minutes to do so. It was too late — the house exploded within 30 minutes.

PG&E has since been fined $10.8 million for its role in the Carmel explosion, with more penalties to come, depending on the outcome of the CPUC investigation.

Despite PG&E’s lip service and empty promises of recovery, five subsequent pipeline accidents and leaks in the Carmel area have shaken our confidence in the company’s commitment to safety.

Last year, shortly after the house explosion, another gas leak was reported in a major hotel. PG&E took more than five hours to respond. Weeks later another gas leak threatened Carmel when a third-party construction crew hit a pipe outside another hotel. A 20-foot gas cloud lingered for 20 minutes before PG&E crews finally arrived and they took over an hour to stop the leak.

While PG&E was able to halt these leaks before tragedy struck in the crowded area, the incidents underscored our urgency to make sure PG&E implements several potentially lifesaving safety measures to prevent future pipeline breaches from threatening this community again.

These include better training of construction crews with the necessary emergency tools to make sure gas leaks are stopped quickly. Crews must respond to odor calls in a timely fashion, and a project manager must be designated to monitor construction projects and make regular site visits for possible pipeline interference.

As we prepare to participate in the upcoming CPUC investigation of PG&E’s record-keeping and safety practices, we intend to require these measures as part of any penalties levied. We simply can’t trust that PG&E will impose these measures on its own. The safety of our communities and the lives of our residents depend on our diligence.

Jason Burnett is mayor of Carmel.

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Golden State Warriors Arena Would Create Gridlock in SF, Mission Bay Alliance Says

Legal Team Announced to Challenge Golden State Warriors San Francisco Arena, Real Estate Development

Warriors Stadium: Gridlock, No Way to Reach UCSF Hospital in an Emergency

Warriors Stadium: Gridlock, No Way to Reach UCSF Hospital in an Emergency


San Francisco – The Mission Bay Alliance, which is greatly concerned with the grave environmental impact of the proposed Golden State Warriors’ Stadium and Events Center on the entire Mission Bay Community including the UCSF Mission Bay Campus, has retained four major law firms including some of the state’s top legal minds with expertise in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to review the Warriors’ stadium plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

David Boies, the Chairman of the firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has been described by the Wall Street Journal as a national legal “powerhouse,” will serve as the Mission Bay Alliance’s Lead Counsel and help the Alliance carefully vet the project and strategize tactics going forward.  The Boies Schiller firm has worked on landmark cases, including Bush v. Gore, United States v. Microsoft, and the case to overturn Proposition 8 which resulted in all Californians gaining the equal right to marry the person of their choosing.

In addition to the appointment of Boies Schiller, the Mission Bay Alliance has engaged a CEQA legal team with decades of experience advising and litigating impacts of high-profile public and private projects. The team includes:

Thomas Lippe, who has dedicated his career to environmental law with a specialty in litigating land use cases at both the administrative level and in state courts that typically require enforcement of CEQA and the California Planning and Zoning Law. Lippe has litigated dozens of high-profile cases, including many involving land use in San Francisco, recently representing environmental organizations that worked to minimize the environmental impacts of the America’s Cup event in San Francisco.

Susan Brandt-Hawley of the Brandt-Hawley Law Group, who has represented hundreds of public-interest groups in widely-varied CEQA and land use issues statewide, often with special focus on historic resources. In February she won a significant land use victory when a San Francisco Superior Court Judge struck down all approvals for the controversial 8 Washington St. waterfront luxury condo project, ruling that the project EIR was inadequate.

Osha Meserve and Patrick Soluri, who are principals at Soluri Meserve, a Sacramento-based environmental law firm that also specializes in land use planning and policy and large entitlement projects. Soluri has specific experience challenging NBA arenas and, most recently, represents a group of Sacramento residents fighting an arena deal for the Sacramento Kings.  That deal includes more than$100 million in taxpayer-funded sweeteners. Meserve has extensive experience challenging major projects on environmental grounds, most recently representing groups fighting the Governor’s controversial plan to divert the Sacramento River into the so-called Delta Water Tunnels.

“Our team of attorneys – some of the nation’s best – will be tasked with analyzing the Warriors’ proposed plan and advising us on the environmental and civic impacts of a project that we believe would wreak havoc on Mission Bay for UCSF and bioscience research,” said Bruce Spaulding of the Mission Bay Alliance.

The MBA is hopeful that litigation will not be necessary because the EIR will reveal fatal flaws, resulting in abandonment or rejection of the project. However, the MBA is preparing itself in the event that the City provides an inadequate review and a “rubber stamp approval” of a project it seems to have prejudged before any public vetting of its impacts.

“CEQA will analyze environmental impacts and identify mitigation. Our job is to protect the public’s right to know what these impacts will be by ensuring the City and the Warriors comply with CEQA,” said attorney Osha Meserve of Soluri Meserve.

Spaulding said the Warriors’ own initial estimates indicated that development will generate 38.5 million vehicle miles traveled per year for games and events in addition to the impact of the new proposed office buildings that are part of the development. Spaulding said this means as many as an additional 450,000 vehicle trips in San Francisco every year.

“These overwhelming impacts raise obvious questions about how the City will avoid gridlock stretching for miles around the proposed Arena,” Spaulding said. “We will be taking a hard look at the City’s CEQA analysis of these impacts in the forthcoming Draft Environmental Impact Report.”

For more information about the Mission Bay Alliance, visit or contact Singer Associates Public Relations and Public Affairs San Francisco at: 415.227.9700.

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State Passes Law to Legalize Shooting Police

Finally some rational legislation is passed concerning ‘public servants’ unlawfully entering another person’s property.

All too often, we see examples of cops breaking into the wrong house and shooting the family dog, or worse, killing a member of the family.

Well, Indiana has taken action to “recognize the unique character of a citizen’s home and to ensure that a citizen feels secure in his or her own home against unlawful intrusion by another individual or a public servant.”

This special amendment is no revolutionary new thought, only common sense.

Self-defense is a natural right; when laws are in place that protect incompetent police by removing one’s ability to protect one’s self, simply because the aggressor has a badge and a uniform, this is a human rights violation. Indiana is leading the way by recognizing this right and creating legislation to protect it.

Of course cops have already begun to fear monger the passage of this bill, “If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’ ” said Joseph Hubbard, 40, president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”

Instead of looking at the beneficial aspect of this law, which creates the incentive for police to act responsibly and just, Hubbard takes the ‘higher than thou’ attitude and is simply worried about himself.

How about questioning the immoral laws that you are enforcing in the first place? Or how about sympathizing with the innocent people whose pets and family members have been slain, due to police negligence?


Who’s to say that a cop pulling you over to extort money from you for the victimless crime of not wearing a seatbelt, isn’t an unlawful act? Or how about breaking down your door in the middle of the night to kidnap you and throw you in a cage for possessing a plant?

Hopefully this legislation will lead to these arbitrary traffic and drug enforcement “laws” in place solely for revenue collection (aka theft), being brought into question.

The law states:

(i) A person is justified in using reasonable force against a public servant if the person reasonably believes the force is necessary to:
(1) protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force;
(2) prevent or terminate the public servant’s unlawful entry of or attack on the person’s dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle; or
(3) prevent or terminate the public servant’s unlawful trespass on or criminal interference with property lawfully in the person’s possession, lawfully in possession of a member of the person’s immediate family, or belonging to a person whose property the person has authority to protect.

It is through legislation such as this, which will empower people again and aid in bringing down these tyrants from their pedestals, who are given free rein to murder and pillage without consequence.

Matt Agorist, the Free Thought Project

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Warren: Explosion of contract workers ‘a problem’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wouldn’t say Tuesday night whether she thought that employees for companies like Uber and Lyft that use an army of contractors to meet growing demand should instead be classified as employees, and thus receive greater protections and more benefits.

The topic came up during an on stage appearance at a conference produced by news organization Re/Code, when a BuzzFeed News reporter asked whether “1099” workers, named after the tax form they fill out as contractors, should instead be seen as more traditional workers for the many startups that rely on their labor.

Warren didn’t answer, but she did express concern about the way companies in general are using their contractors.

“I think there is evidence that increasingly employers use independent contractors not in ways that were originally intended but in ways that permit them to treat employment laws differently than they otherwise would be responsible for, and I think that’s a real problem,” she said. “And I think the Department of Labor is looking into this and I think they’re right to do that.”

It was not clear what Department of Labor investigation she was referring to, though the agency does run investigations into whether employers are misclassifying their employees as contractors.

Contractors are not eligible for certain benefits afforded to regular employees, including unemployment. Uber and Lyft drivers in California have sued in order to be recognized as employees, and a Florida agency found this month that an Uber driver seeking unemployment benefits was an employee.

On Tuesday, Warren also seemed to strike some notes that were sympathetic with Silicon Valley.

“Our only chance for survival to innovate our way out of this,” she said, when asked about how Silicon Valley is changing the economy. “We’re not going to stop tech so that lots of people can work. That’s like saying ‘Oh, let’s get rid of heavy equipment and have everybody dig with a spoon, because that way lots of people will be employed.’ No, that’s not going to work.”

She also said that “work is changing in America.”

“The old notion, you work for one employer forever and ever, that’s just gone,” she said. “People are going to piece together a lot of different work, and a lot of different kinds of work, over the arc of a career.”

Many politicians have seized on startups, including sharing economy firms like Uber, as a symbol of Silicon Valley’s place as an economic driver. Earlier this month, two congressmen launchedthe Sharing Economy Caucus to educate people on Capitol Hill about the issues facing the burgeoning industry.

The Republican National Committee has said that sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb are evidence of the kind of innovations they say can be stifled by regulation.

David McCabe, The Hill

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On Guard: What made SF Pride change its mind on Facebook’s parade sponsorship?

If you’re a high-profile donor to San Francisco Pride, you might be able to discriminate against the LGBT community and get away with it.

The Facebook real-name debate is raging again. Amid this push for digital civil rights, the San Francisco Pride board considered dropping Facebook’s sponsorship of its parade. But it appears a phone call changed the board’s mind.

Banning the social media giant would have been a bold move that might have put pressure on Facebook to change its stance on its controversial “authentic name” policy.

However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Gary Virginia, the board’s president, and perhaps other board members to discuss the issue, according to documents obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

Insiders said this call may have been key in swaying the vote in favor of Facebook.

Virginia did not return calls for comment.

The board backed Facebook in a 5-4 vote to allow the social media giant to march in the Pride Parade next month.

Last year, Facebook came under fire from local drag queens when its authentic-name policy led to local performer Sister Roma and others being barred from the social network. The policy allows users to report people they believe are using fake names.

Sister Roma and others said LGBT users were disproportionately targeted by bigots. Trans people, drag queens, drag kings and others in the LGBT community often go by something that is not their legal name, but nonetheless honestly reflects their identity.

As the issue heated up, others who rely on pseudonyms on Facebook spoke out. They included domestic violence survivors, people fleeing stalkers, teachers who want private lives away from their students, those transitioning to a different gender and many more.

“We firmly believe in and are committed to our authentic name policy,” Facebook wrote in a statement last week, adding that “we’ve made significant improvements over the last nine months in the way the policy is enforced.”

But Sister Roma, a leader in the #MyNameIs campaign, was in those negotiations with Facebook. She said she feels fooled, as the social media giant barely budged on its policy.

Supporters of #MyNameIs plan to protest at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on June 1. The protest is one thing, but a black eye from San Francisco’s Pride board could have put serious pressure on the social media giant.

So what happened?

The Examiner obtained draft minutes of the contentious meeting.

“Since Gary [Virginia] mentioned it at the Tuesday meeting, advocates know that Mark Zuckerberg has been on the phone with us,” say the minutes recapping testimony from board member Jesse Oliver. “What does it say if all it takes is a 15-minute phone call from Zuckerberg for Pride to sell out our own community?”

Board member Larry Crickenberger, who voted in favor of Facebook, said booting Facebook was the “nuclear option” and “too extreme,” meeting minutes show.

Many worried a vote to ban Facebook would hurt future donations.

Before the board voted to back Facebook, member Jose Cital pleaded for his colleagues to put people’s rights ahead of corporate interests:

“Why am I here? I am supposed to represent youth and I am a person of color, but my view is never listened to on this board. If we aren’t here to take a stand, why are we even doing this?

“I don’t care about raising money for a party. I care about making a difference.”

Take Action: Join the #MyNameIs supporters as they take a caravan of buses to protest at Facebook HQ on June 1, and sign their petition at

, SF Examiner

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Here are 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand

“Well, I’m conservative, but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”’

And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty. This is the big one. Poverty is a social issue. The cycle of poverty — the ways that poverty itself makes it harder to get out of poverty, the ways that poverty can be a permanent trap lasting for generations — is a social issue, and a human rights issue.

If you’re poor, there’s about a two in three chance that you’re going to stay poor for at least a year, about a two in three chance that if you do pull out of poverty you’ll be poor again within five years — and about a two in three chance that your children are going to be poor. Among other things: Being poor makes it much harder to get education or job training that would help you get higher-paying work. Even if you can afford job training or it’s available for free — if you have more than one job, or if your work is menial and exhausting, or if both of those are true (often the case if you’re poor), there’s a good chance you won’t have the time or energy to get that training, or to look for higher-paying work. Being poor typically means you can’t afford to lose your job — which means you can’t afford to unionize, or otherwise push back against your wages and working conditions. It means that a temporary crisis — sickness or injury, job loss, death in the family — can destroy your life: you have no cushion, nobody you know has a cushion, a month or two without income and you’re totally screwed. If you do lose your job, or if you’re disabled, the labyrinthine bureaucracy of unemployment and disability benefits is exhausting: if you do manage to navigate it, it can deplete your ability to do much of anything else to improve your life — and if you can’t navigate it, that’s very likely going to tank your life.

Also, ironically, being poor is expensive. You can’t buy high-quality items that last longer and are a bargain in the long run. You can’t buy in bulk. You sure as hell can’t buy a house: depending on where you live, monthly mortgage payments might be lower than the rent you’re paying, but you can’t afford a down payment, and chances are a bank won’t give you a mortgage anyway. You can’t afford the time or money to take care of your health — which means you’re more likely to get sick, which is expensive. If you don’t have a bank account (which many poor people don’t), you have to pay high fees at check-cashing joints. If you run into a temporary cash crisis, you have to borrow from price-gouging payday-advance joints. If your car breaks down and you can’t afford to repair or replace it, it can mean unemployment. If you can’t afford a car at all, you’re severely limited in what jobs you can take in the first place — a limitation that’s even more severe when public transportation is wildly inadequate. If you’re poor, you may have to move a lot — and that’s expensive. These aren’t universally true for all poor people — but way too many of them are true, for way too many people.

Second chances, once considered a hallmark of American culture and identity, have become a luxury. One small mistake — or no mistake at all, simply the mistake of being born poor — can trap you there forever.

Plus, being poor doesn’t just mean you’re likely to stay poor. It means that if you have children, they’re more likely to stay poor. It means you’re less able to give your children the things they need to flourish — both in easily-measurable tangibles like good nutrition, and less-easily-measurable qualities like a sense of stability. The effect of poverty on children — literally on their brains, on their ability to literally function — is not subtle, and it lasts into adulthood. Poverty’s effect on adults is appalling enough. Its effect on children is an outrage.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, poverty — including the cycle of poverty and the effect of poverty on children — disproportionately affects African Americans, Hispanics, other people of color, women, trans people, disabled people, and other marginalized groups.

So what does this have to do with fiscal policy? Well, duh. Poverty is perpetuated or alleviated, worsened or improved, by fiscal policy. That’s not the only thing affecting poverty, but it’s one of the biggest things. To list just a few of the most obvious examples of very direct influence: Tax policy. Minimum wage. Funding of public schools and universities. Unionization rights. Banking and lending laws. Labor laws. Funding of public transportation. Public health care. Unemployment benefits. Disability benefits. Welfare policy. Public assistance that doesn’t penalize people for having savings. Child care. Having a functioning infrastructure, having economic policies that support labor, having a tax system that doesn’t steal from the poor to give to the rich, having a social safety net — a real safety net, not one that just barely keeps people from starving to death but one that actually lets people get on their feet and function — makes a difference. When these systems are working, and are working well, it’s easier for people to get out of poverty. When they’re not, it’s difficult to impossible. And I haven’t even gotten into the fiscal policy of so-called “free” trade, and all the ways it feeds poverty both in the U.S. and around the world. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)

Fiscal policy affects poverty. And in the United States, “fiscally conservative” means supporting fiscal policies that perpetuate poverty. “Fiscally conservative” means slashing support systems that help the poor, lowering taxes for the rich, cutting corners for big business, and screwing labor — policies that both worsen poverty and make it even more of an inescapable trap.

2: Domestic violence, workplace harassment, and other abuse. See above, re: cycle of poverty. If someone is being beaten by their partner, harassed or assaulted at work, abused by their parents — and if they’re poor, and if there’s fuck-all for a social safety net — it’s a hell of a lot harder for them to leave. What’s more, the stress of poverty itself — especially inescapable, entrapped poverty — contributes to violence and abuse.

And you know who gets disproportionately targeted with domestic violence and workplace harassment? Women. Especially women of color. And LGBT folks — especially trans women of color, and LGBT kids and teenagers. Do you care about racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist violence? Then quit undercutting the social safety net. A solid safety net — a safety net that isn’t made of tissue paper, and that doesn’t require the people in it to constantly scramble just to stay there, much less to climb out — isn’t going to magically eliminate this violence and harassment. But it sure makes it easier for people to escape it.

3: Disenfranchisement. There’s a cycle that in some ways is even uglier than the cycle of poverty — because it blocks people from changing the policies that keep the cycle of poverty going. I’m talking about the cycle of disenfranchisement.

I’m talking about the myriad ways that the super-rich control the political process — and in controlling the political process, both make themselves richer and give themselves even more control over the political process. Purging voter rolls. Cutting polling place hours. Cutting back on early voting — especially in poor districts. Voter ID laws. Roadblocks to voter registration — noticeably aimed at people likely to vote progressive. Questionable-at-best voter fraud detection software, which — by some wild coincidence — tends to flag names that are common among minorities. Eliminating Election Day registration. Restricting voter registration drives. Gerrymandering — creating voting districts with the purpose of skewing elections in your favor.

Voter suppression is a real thing in the United States. And these policies are set in place by the super-rich — or, to be more precise, by the government officials who are buddies with the super-rich and are beholden to them. These policies are not set in place to reduce voter fraud: voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S., to the point of being almost non-existent. The policies are set in place to make voting harder for people who would vote conservative plutocrats out of office. If you’re skeptical about whether this is actually that deliberate, whether these policies really are written by plutocratic villains cackling over how they took even more power from the already disempowered — remember Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai, who actually said, in words, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

Remember former Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer, who actually said, in words, “We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.” Remember the now-former North Carolina Republican official Don Yelton, who actually said, in words, that voter restrictions including voter ID were “going to kick Democrats in the butt.” Remember the Texas Republican attorney general and candidate for governor Greg Abbott, who actually said, in words, that “their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.” Remember Doug Preisse, Republican chair of Franklin County (Ohio’s second-largest county) who actually said (well, wrote), in words, that Ohio Republicans were pushing hard to limit early voting because “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” (And no, the “read African-American” clarification isn’t mine — it’s his.) Remember… oh, you get the idea. Disenfranchisement is not some accidental side effect of Republican-sponsored voting restrictions. Disenfranchisement is the entirely intentional point.

And on top of that, you’ve got campaign finance laws saying that corporations are people, too — “people” with just as much right as you or I to donate millions of dollars to candidates who’ll write laws helping them out. When you’ve got fiscal policies that enrich the already rich — such as regressive tax policies, deregulation of businesses, deregulation of the financial industry — and you combine them with campaign finance laws that have essentially legalized bribery, you get a recipe for a cycle of disenfranchisement. The more that rich people control the political process, the richer they get — and the richer they get, the more they control the political process.

4: Racist policing. There’s a whole lot going on with racist policing in the United States. Obviously. But a non-trivial chunk of it is fiscal policy. Ferguson shone a spotlight on this, but it isn’t just in Ferguson — it’s all over the country. In cities and counties and towns across the United States, the government is funded, in large part, by tickets and fines for municipal violations — and by the meta-system of interest, penalties, surcharges, and fees on those tickets and fines, which commonly turn into a never-ending debt amounting to many, many times the original fine itself.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a tax. It’s a tax on poor people. It’s a tax on poor people for being poor, for not having a hundred dollars in their bank account that they can drop at a moment’s notice on a traffic ticket. And it’s a tax that disproportionately targets black and brown people. When combined with the deeply ingrained culture of racism in many many many police forces — a police culture that hammers black and brown people for the crime of existing — it is a tax on black and brown people, purely for being black or brown. But Loki forbid we raise actual taxes. Remember the fiscal conservative mantra: “Low taxes good! High taxes bad!” High taxes are bad — unless we don’t call them a tax. If we call it a penalty or a fine, that’s just peachy. And if it’s disproportionately levied by a racist police force on poor black people, who have little visibility or power and are being systematically disenfranchised — that’s even better. What are they going to do about it? And who’s going to care? It’s not as if black lives matter. What’s more: You know some of the programs that have been proposed to reduce racist policing? Programs like automatic video monitoring of police encounters? An independent federal agency to investigate and discipline local policing, to supplement or replace ineffective, corrupt, or non-existent self-policing? Those take money. Money that comes from taxes. Money that makes government a little bit bigger. Fiscal conservatism — the reflexive cry of “Lower taxes! Smaller government!” — contributes to racist policing. Even if you, personally, oppose racist policing, supporting fiscal conservatism makes you part of the problem.

5: Drug policy and prison policy. Four words: The new Jim CrowDrug war policies in the United States — including sentencing policies, probation policies, which drugs are criminalized and how severely, laws banning felons convicted on drug charges from voting, and more — have pretty much zero effect on reducing the harm that can be done by drug abuse. They don’t reduce drug use, they don’t reduce drug addiction, they don’t reduce overdoses, they don’t reduce accidents or violence that can be triggered by drug abuse. If anything, these policies make all of this worse.

But they do have one powerful effect: Current drug policies in the United States are very, very good at creating and perpetuating a permanent black and brown underclass. They are very good at creating a permanent class of underpaid, disenfranchised, disempowered servants, sentenced to do shit work at low wages for white people, for the rest of their lives.

This is not a bug. This is a feature.

You don’t have to be a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist to see how current U.S. drug policy benefits the super-rich and super-powerful. It is a perfect example of a “social issue” with powerful ripple effects into the economy. And that’s not even getting into the issue of how the wealthy might benefit from super-cheap prison labor, labor that borders so closely on slavery it’s hard to distinguish it. So people who are well-served by the current economy are strongly motivated to keep drug policy firmly in place.

Plus, two more words: Privatized prisons. Privatized prisons mean prisons run by people who have no interest in reducing the prison population — people who actually benefit from a high crime rate, a high recidivism rate, severe sentencing policies, severe probation policies, and other treats that keep the prison population high. It’s as if we had privatized fire departments, who got paid more the more fires they put out — and thus had every incentive, not to improve fire prevention techniques and policies and education, but to gut them.

Privatization of prisons is a conservative fiscal policy. It’s a policy based on the conservative ideal of low taxes, small government, and the supposedly miraculous power of the free market to make any system more efficient. And it’s a policy with a powerful social effect — the effect of doing tremendous harm.

It’s true that there are some conservatives advocating for criminal justice reform, including drug policy reform, on the grounds that the current system isn’t cost-effective. The problem with this, as Drug Policy Alliance Deputy State Director Laura Thomas points out: When you base policy decisions entirely on whether they’re cost-effective, the bottom line will always take priority. Injustice, racism, corruption, abuse — all of these can stay firmly in place. Human rights, and the human cost of these policies? Meh. Who cares — as long as we can cut government spending?

6: Deregulation. This one is really straightforward. Deregulation of business is a conservative fiscal policy. And it has a devastating effect on marginalized people. Do I need to remind anyone of what happened when the banking and financial industries were deregulated?

Do I need to remind anyone of who was most hurt by those disasters? Overwhelmingly poor people, working-class people, and people of color.

But this isn’t just about banking and finance. Deregulation of environmental standards, workplace safety standards, utilities, transportation, media — all of these have the entirely unsurprising effect of making things better for the people who own the businesses, and worse for the people who patronize them and work for them. Contrary to the fiscal conservative myth, an unregulated free market does not result in exceptional businesses fiercely competing for the best workers and lavishly serving the public. It results in monopoly. It results in businesses with the unofficial slogan, “We Don’t Care — We Don’t Have To.” It results in 500-pound gorillas, sleeping anywhere they want.

7: “Free” trade. This one is really straightforward. So-called “free” trade policies have a horrible effect on human rights, both in the United States and overseas. They let corporationshire labor in countries where labor laws — laws about minimum wage, workplace safety, working hours, child labor — are weak to nonexistent. They let corporations hire labor in countries where they can pay children as young as five years old less than a dollar a day, to work 12 or even 16 hours a day, in grossly unsafe workplaces and grueling working conditions that make Dickensian London look like a socialist Utopia.

And again — this is not a bug. This is a feature. This is the whole damn point of “free” trade: by reducing labor costs to practically nothing, it provides cheap consumer products to American consumers, and it funnels huge profits to already obscenely rich corporations. It also decimates blue-collar employment in the United States — and it feeds human rights abuses around the world. Thank you, fiscal conservatism!


This list is far from complete. But I think you get the idea.

Now. There are conservatives who will insist that this isn’t what “fiscally conservative” means. They’re not inherently opposed to government spending, they say. They’re just opposed to ineffective and wasteful government spending.

Bullshit. Do they really think progressives are in favor of wasteful and ineffective government? Do they think we’re saying, “Thumbs up to ineffective government spending! Let’s pour our government’s resources down a rat hole! Let’s spend our tax money giving every citizen a solid-gold tuba and a lifetime subscription to Cigar Aficionado!” This is an idealized, self-serving definition of “fiscally conservative,” defined by conservatives to make their position seem reasonable. It does not describe fiscal conservatism as it actually plays out in the United States. The reality of fiscal conservatism in the United States is not cautious, evidence-based attention to which government programs do and don’t work. If that were ever true in some misty nostalgic past, it hasn’t been true for a long, long time. The reality of fiscal conservatism in the United States means slashing government programs, even when they’ve been shown to work. The reality means decimating government regulations, even when they’ve been shown to improve people’s lives. The reality means cutting the safety net to ribbons, and letting big businesses do pretty much whatever they want.

You can say all you want that modern conservatism in the United States isn’t what you, personally, mean by conservatism. But hanging on to some ideal of “conservatism” as a model of sensible-but-compassionate frugality that’s being betrayed by the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party — it’s like hanging onto some ideal of Republicanism as the party of abolition and Lincoln. And it lends credibility to the idea that conservatism is reasonable, if only people would do it right.

If you care about marginalized people — if you care about the oppression of women, LGBT people, disabled people, African Americans and Hispanics and other people of color — you need to do more than go to same-sex weddings and listen to hip-hop. You need to support economic policies that make marginalized people’s lives better. You need to oppose economic policies that perpetuate human rights abuses and make marginalized people’s lives suck.

And that means not being a fiscal conservative.

Greta Christina, Raw Story

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Nestle bottled water operations spark protests amid California drought

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of two Nestle bottling plants in California on Wednesday to deliver petitions demanding the company stop bottling operations in the drought-stricken state.

The petitions – carrying more than 500,000 signatures – were accepted by Nestle staff members at both the Sacramento and Los Angeles bottling plants, protesters said, as residents and activists chanted slogans like “Our water is not for sale” and “Water is a human right, don’t let Nestle win this fight.”

In Sacramento, where around 50 protesters gathered, one eight-foot-long banner read: “Nestle, 515,000 people say leave California’s precious water in the ground,” referring to the total number signatures collected on the delivered petitions.

California has now entered its fourth consecutive year of drought, and residents of the state’s cities have been told to cut their consumption by as much as 36%.

“It is very disturbing and actually quite offensive that a foreign company is taking our water, bottling it and selling it back to us,” said Nick Rodnam, one protester at the Los Angeles plant, who launched one of the petitions on

While Starbucks recently pulled its water bottling operations from the state on ethical grounds, Nestle and other companies like Walmart continue to source water for bottling in California, buying at the same rate as residents and selling at one hundred times the profit.

Morgan Goodwin, a 30-year-old city council member in Truckee, California, who took part in the protests at the Sacramento plant, said Nestle was treating California water as a “free-for-all”, while his constituents had been ordered to cut their water consumption by 28% in a state-issued mandate.

At the beginning of last month, California governor Jerry Brown took a historic step by issuing an executive order outlining mandatory water conservation measures, including a 25% average cut in urban areas.

Last week, Nestle CEO Tim Brown declared he had no intentions of pulling his water sourcing operations out of the state. If anything, he said in a radio interview, he would like to increase operations.

“There are over 1 million Californians who are without safe access to clean water in California today,” said Walker Foley of Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based NGO.

In some small, poor California communities facing clean-water crises, residents spend up to 10% of their income on bottled water, the organization says.

“It is a glaring contradiction that water is a human right, but companies like Nestle are allowed to bottle and privatize a public asset at a tremendous markup,” Foley said.

“We feel good about what we’re doing delivering healthy hydration to people throughout the state of California,” Nestle’s Tim Brown said last week.

“As the second-largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others are filling. It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate,” he said.

Rose Hackman, The Guardian

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Bush blasts ‘arrogance’ of those who believe climate science

In Connecticut yesterday, President Obama delivered a commencement at the Coast Guard Academy, and devoted much of his remarks to one specific topic: the national security implications of climate change.

”I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” the president said. “And so we need to act, and we need to act now.”

Just a little further north, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was campaigning in New Hampshire, where he offered a very different perspective on the climate crisis. The Washington Post reported overnight:

“The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted,” he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. “And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

In response [to Obama’s remarks], Bush said that climate change should be just “part of, a small part of prioritization of our foreign policy.” He suggested that the United States should encourage countries that have higher carbon emissions rates to reduce them.

The Florida Republican went on to argue that President Obama deserves no credit for recent decreases in U.S. carbon emissions. Instead, Bush said fracking and new drilling techniques have helped.

Oh my.

Clearly, some of these claims are very hard to take seriously. President Obama’s policies, for example, have made a positive impact. To see fracking and new drilling techniques as contributing to reduced emission is a stretch.

But the real problem here is Bush’s rejection of the scientific consensus. The GOP candidate thinks the debate is “convoluted.” It’s not. Bush rejects the idea that the science is “decided.” That’s backwards.

The former governor believes it’s “intellectual arrogance” to skip the “conversation” between people who believe reality and climate deniers. That’s ridiculous – the conversation has already ended, and the deniers lost.

What’s actually arrogant is the belief that confused politicians can ignore a scientific consensus on a global crisis.

Oddly enough, during another swing through New Hampshire last month, Jeb Bush told an audience that “we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.” His concerns about “arrogance” have apparently emerged in the weeks since.

In the larger context, Bush’s latest nonsense further undermines the reputation he worked so hard to cultivate. The former governor was supposed to be “the smart one” – the one who takes his responsibilities seriously, the one who cares about policy details, the one who describes himself as a “wonk.”

But in recent weeks, Bush seems to have decided to shed that reputation for, well, this new-and-not-improved model. This more recent iteration of the Florida Republican can’t speak coherently about Iraq, thinks his Apple Watch is part of an anti-Obamacare vision, isn’t up to speed on immigration policy, and thinks people who believe in climate science are “arrogant.”

I’m reminded of Gail Collins’ column from last week: “As a presidential hopeful, Bush’s most attractive feature was an aura of competence. Extremely boring competence, perhaps. Still, an apparent ability to get through the day without demonstrating truly scary ineptitude.”

The more he dabbles in climate nonsense, the more that “aura” disappears.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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Church Warns Congregants Not To Read Rev. Makela Grindr Story, Deactivates FB Page

On Monday, Queerty broke the news that Reverend Matthew Makela, a pastor in Midland, Michigan with a track record of making damaging statements towards the gay and transgender communities had stepped down from his position at St. John’s Lutheran Church after his wife and church officials learned that he’d been cruising Grindr for sex with men.

Today the Senior Pastor of St. John’s, Reverend Daniel Kempin, posted an open letter to congregants on the church’s website.

“It is my grief to inform you that Pastor Makela announced his resignation as a pastor of St. John’s through a letter that was read in worship on Sunday, May 17,” he begins. That’s the day before the story broke here.

To make matters worse,” he continues, “the details of sin that have been kept confidential are being posted online by those who seek to do harm to the Makela family and to St. John’s. This is taking an already difficult situation and making it even more painful… The facebook pages associated with St. John’s have been taken down in an attempt to remove the opportunity for malicious posters to have access to St. John’s members…”

Here’s the typical closed-door religious attitude that we find appalling. If Kempin had it his way, Rev. Makela would have broken ties with St. John’s congregation without ever having the “details of sin” made known to them.

His community would never have known that the man telling them being gay is a condition comparable to alcoholism and that gay marriage is just another blemish on the holy institution was in fact seeking the intimacy of men himself.

And not just a quick fling — he says in Grindr messages he likes to “make out naked,” “massage” and “cuddle.”

But don’t expect a conversation on what’s real to gain much traction at St. John’s.

“I write this to you to warn you that you may be confronted with the details of the sin, and to remind you that sin is never pretty,” writes Kempin. “Don’t panic…Don’t respond…Be patient and trust God. This too shall pass.”

He leaves the reader with one final piece of advice from scripture:

“Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

From Queerty

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Jeb Bush Says Christian Business Owners Can Refuse To Serve Gay Weddings

Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that Christian business owners should not have to provide services for gay weddings if it goes against their religious beliefs.

“Yes, absolutely, if it’s based on a religious belief,” he said when asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview Saturday if businesses should be able to decline services to same-sex weddings.

The former Florida governor justified his position by claiming that not providing a service does not count as discrimination if business owners feel that it violates their religious rights.

“A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs,” he said. “This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.”

The blurry distinction has become a controversial topic, as many wedding-related businesses around the country, like florists and bakeries, have turned down gay customers, citing religious freedom. The issue became politically charged in March, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allows businesses to cite religious rights as a reason for refusing service. Many in the GOP presidential field, including Bush, defended the law. “Once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all,” he said in March.

After widespread backlash, Pence was forced to sign a revised version of the law, which delineated that businesses could not discriminate against customers and clients on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. But gay rights advocates argued that the revised law did little to amend the original one, and that it still leaves much room for interpretation and opens the door for discrimination.

In Saturday’s interview, Bush also reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, saying that gay marriage is not a constitutional right and that “we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.” He did say last month that he would attend a gay wedding if asked.
Mariana Fang, Huffington Post

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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 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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