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Barbara Boxer Knocks It Out Of The F*cking Park On GOP Hatred, Hypocrisy & Irresponsibility

“This is a self-inflicted crisis, made up by the Republicans. It is dangerous, it is the height of irresponsibility, and it’s unnecessary.”-Barbara Boxer, February 24, 2015 (regarding the GOP threat of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.)

I love this speech, I love this lawmaker. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) minced no words on Tuesday about Republicans. Here are portions of her amazing speech. I tried to choose just a few excerpts, but there were too many jewels. Tell me if you don’t agree.

Boxer engages:

We all know Republicans won in huge numbers in the 2014 election, and they took over the United States Senate and they run it. They run it. Or at least they’re trying to run it. And let’s be clear, less than eight weeks after they took  over the Senate, we are facing a shutdown; a shutdown of the very agency that protects the health, the safety, the lives, of the American people – the Department of Homeland Security.They’re shutting down the program that funds our police officers back home, our firefighters, our first responders. Any way you look at it, this is a national disgrace. And think about what our friends abroad, and those who are not our friends, are thinking about this.

Republicans say, ‘Oh, we’re in danger, we have to go to go to war, put combat troops on the ground!’ But they’re wiling to shut down the department that protects Americans here in the homeland, from a terrorist attack.

How does it make sense, at a time when we’re facing serious threats to our national security, to furlough 30,000, thirty thousand, department of homeland security workers, and to force more than 100,000 frontline homeland security personnel to work without pay?

Why don’t theses senators go without their pay?

Give up your pay! Give up your healthcare, give up your benefits, if this is so important to you. Oh, no, they’ll collect their pay!

Senator Boxer reminds Congress that this shutdown is in retaliation to President Obama’s recent plan for immigration. Boxer talks about those at risk of being deported. She talks about children who were born to American immigrants (as she was) who would be torn away from each other if the GOP had their way.

“I thought they were the party of ‘family values.’ Show me where that’s true? Ripping families apart? I thought they were the party of ‘economic prosperity.’ Show me how that’s true, when we know from study after study show that one of the greatest things we can do for our economy and job creation is get people out of the shadows so they can go buy a home and hold a good job. They (Republicans) can’t or won’t pass an immigration bill. They will not do their job. So when the president steps in and does his job, they say, ‘Oh, this is terrible! Let’s shutdown a totally unrelated department. The Department of Homeland Security.

To make her points about Republican hypocrisy, Boxer brings up the GOP’s claimed concern for ‘fiscal responsibility’ and executive orders.

The Center for American Progress, states it would cost more than $50 Billion to deport the entire population that the president is protecting.And here’s the deal – I’ve never heard of a Republican (and I will stand corrected if any Republican corrects me) I’ve never heard of a Republican complaining when President Eisenhower used his executive order power to help immigrants, when President Nixon did the same thing to protect immigrants, when President Ronald Reagan, their hero, protected immigrants, when George Bush Sr. protected immigrants, when George W. protected immigrants, they all used their authority.

Show me one Republican that stood up and said, ‘Oh this is outrageous! Let’s impeach the president. But it’s president Obama. And they’re annoyed because he won twice. Sorry. Sorry. Wake up and smell the roses. He IS the President.

The senator from California goes on to tell several stories, one about a young woman name Anna, born to hardworking undocumented immigrant parents. Anna has come out of the shadows and is now studying to be a bilingual first grade teacher.

So tell me, Republicans, how does it make sense to deport people like Anna, split her up from her parents, when all they want to do is contribute to the country that they love. How does it make sense?How does it make sense? Because you’re too incompetent to hold a vote on your immigration plan? You want to kick people out of the country? Put it to a vote! Let’s go. You want to deport 11 million people? Put it to a vote. Don’t hide behind the Homeland Security Bill, holding the President’s work hostage. You never did it to the other presidents.

Our national security is at stake, our family values are at stake. And our economy is at stake here. So get over the fact that you don’t like the president. We get it. You couldn’t beat him. Too bad for you. But you’re in charge here, in the Senate. Do your job! Bring an immigration bill to the floor. Let’s let this Homeland Security Bill go. It’s a bipartisan bill. It’s funding for the most important thing we’re doing today. Let it go. Don’t hold it hostage to your hatred of this president, and I use that word because that’s what I think. That’s what I think….

So I say to my Republican friends. There’s s presidential race coming. Forget this last one. Get over it. Okay? Let’s work together. Listen, I served with five presidents. I’m a strong Democrat. Everyone will tell you that. But I respect the office of the presidency. If I didn’t agree with Ronald Reagan, I came down here and said it. But we had the respect back and forth. If we lost, we lost. And we moved on. And that worked both ways. I know what it is not to like the policies of a president. I get it. But don’t overdue it and make it so personal. Get on with it. Grow up. Do your job, you know? Do your job! Have respect for the office of the presidency. Don’t suddenly say executive orders are bad when the president you don’t like does it, but you don’t say one word when a Republican president does the same thing!

The speech is glorious. Boxer is speaking not only for Democrats, she is speaking out for Americans. Her words are rousing and affirming much like those in the speeches of Senator Bernie Sanders  (I-Vermont) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Republican extremists are getting away with the closet thing to treason many of us have seen in our lifetimes. And it’s not only betrayal against the President, it’s betrayal against the U.S. Constitution and the tax-payers/citizens.

Here’s hoping Barbara Boxer’s words will resonate across social media. And let’s see if mainstream media picks up on a politician like this, instead of all the ego-driven Tea Party clowns like Ted Cruz. I mean for crying out loud.

 

Leslie Salzillo, Daily Kos

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AirBnB Host Speaks Out

This is my story as an Airbnb host; I am one of thousands of good citizens in San Francisco and around the world who have discovered the enriching phenomenon of homesharing.

I arrived in San Francisco 43 years ago and have lived on Potrero Hill ever since. I bought a 2 unit building in 1975, which I could never afford to purchase today. I rent the second unit long term and contribute to affordable housing in our city, historically charging well below market rate –because I want to make my space available to a regular person like myself – a retired social worker.

I became intrigued by what I heard about our quirky home grown start up Airbnb. It appealed to my friendly curious nature. So, starting three years ago, I’ve offered a small guest room with private bath in my home only while I am present. The income makes a huge difference in my retired standard of living. It has been a life saver with medical expenses. It secures my ability to remain in my house and in SF because I am spared depleting my savings so quickly. Thus, I can postpone selling the house which is my main asset. The income also literally allows me to subsidize my long term tenants’ rent.

Meeting amazing people from around the world is of equal value to the income. My guests add a wonderful flavor to my life. I get to know people young enough to be my grandchildren, learn about their lives and their dreams. Over the years, I’ve had several returning guests with whom I’ve created true friendships. I’ve had the pleasure to know two university professors from Kentucky whose son and family lived one block away without a guest room. They spent numerous holidays with me and came when a new baby was added to the family. Even when they could not stay with me they brought the baby by to say hello. I hosted a young woman from Manhattan doing reconnaissance on where she would move, who became my neighbor and invited me to her engagement party. I’ve had high tech workers based in the Ukraine. I’ve had visitors of all ages and walks of life from Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. The world has come to me from at least three if not all four corners of the globe. We’ve shared stories about our families, politics, and communities. My existence has been made much richer by this endeavor.

I had my first experience as a guest this past December and got to experience the magic of homesharing from the other side. It was so positive that I’ve changed plans for an upcoming trip to Italy and will stay in hosted Airbnb rooms instead of more traditional B&Bs.

I do not have the hosting experience in a vacuum. Being a good neighbor has always been crucial to me. I live on a very stable block where we have known each other for decades. When I decided to try homesharing, I let my nearest neighbors know in advance. When we are literally sharing space with our guests, we have a vested interest in safety, security and consideration–which impacts us as much if not more than our neighbors. While I definitely had some trepidation about trying this at first, my guests have been some of the most respectful, quiet, clean and delightful people I have ever encountered anywhere.

My guests have been very appreciative of the home sharing experience and love our City. They bring value to our community. They dine at local restaurants and cafes; they shop at our markets. I cherish my neighborhood and welcome the safeguards contained in the new law in San Francisco that protect against those bad apples who give our activity a bad name. I have faith that our Planning Department can and will enforce those provisions and will work towards making it easier for myself and fellow home sharers to comply.  We are all excited to share this marvelous adventure.

 

Nancy Neiderhauser

 

 

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Elizabeth Warren, Elijah Cummings Launch ‘Middle Class Prosperity Project’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) are launching a series of events focusing on Democratic solutions to the woes of the middle class.

The “Middle Class Prosperity Project” starts Tuesday with a forum featuring prominent economists. On Monday, Warren and Cummings co-authored a USAToday op-ed describing a decline in middle-class prosperity since 1980.

“Beginning in the late 1970s, corporate executives and stockholders began taking greater shares of the gains. Productivity kept going up, but workers were left behind as wages stagnated,” Warren and Cummings write.

“Families might have survived as their incomes flattened, except for one hard fact: the costs of basic needs like housing, education and child care exploded,” the op-ed continues. “Millions took on mountains of debt and young people began struggling to cling to the same economic rung as their parents.”

The Middle Class Prosperity Project, billed as an opportunity “to give a voice in Washington to those who need it most,” will first hear from a panel of economists including Jared Bernstein, Beth Ann Bovino, Joseph Stiglitz and Gerald Jaynes. The event is not a formal hearing of a congressional committee.

President Barack Obama, for his part, has been pushing a middle-class-themed agenda that includes higher taxes for the wealthy, a higher minimum wage and free community college. On Monday, the White House announced it would push a new rule to require investment brokers to act in the best interests of their clients.

 

The Huffington Post  |  By

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Historical Truth, Nazis and the Corruption of the Federal Judiciary

There was a time when it was permissible to think that the chief purpose of the judicial branch of government was to protect our constitutional rights as a check on runaway legislative majorities or executive overreach. To fulfill that duty, a judge is insulated from partisan maneuvering by a grant of lifetime tenure and a constitutionally guaranteed salary. In return, the federal judge must show discretion, decorum and above all, an unwillingness to be drawn into partisan quarrels. This behavior is known as having a judicial temperament.

The tradition of apolitical judges has come under strain recently, given the habit of even Supreme Court justices to pop off like opinionated customers in a saloon (I’m thinking of you, Tony Scalia). But new ground has been broken in partisan mudslinging by Justice Laurence H. Silberman, an appellate judge appointed by Ronald Reagan. He has taken to the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to attack as dangerously irresponsible the millions of Americans who believe George W. Bush lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for invading Iraq.

How does Silberman know this? He writes on the authority of having been co-chairman of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. This commission, appointed by Bush, found no intent by the president to mislead Congress or the public about the presence of WMD; after all, the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate made the claim about Iraqi WMD, not Bush.

That conclusion is hardly surprising, because the commission’s scope was so narrowly defined as to preclude examining whether the president and his advisers put pressure on the intelligence community to produce the worst NIE (national intelligence estimate) in history. The failings of the commission and Silberman’s misrepresentation of its findings have been covered more than adequately elsewhere. It is worth mentioning though, that the commission was stacked with partisan Republicans (can one imagine Senator John McCain, who was on the panel, performing a dispassionate analysis of anything?). Among the token Democratic panel members was the co-chairman, former Sen. Charles Robb, a walking vacuum.

Whatever his other cognitive weaknesses, Bush certainly knew what he was doing when he appointed Silberman to run the commission. In 1980, Silberman was a co-chair of presidential candidate Reagan’s foreign policy team. Later, when on the federal bench, he overturned Colonel Oliver North’s conviction on three felony counts in the Iran-Contra case. He upheld key portions of the Patriot Act, an unconstitutional statute that had been stampeded through a panicked and fearful Congress. As a judge who served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, he is a member in good standing of the Deep State. No wonder Bush awarded Silberman the Medal of Freedom; that little spangle was the customary gold watch for George Tenet, L. Paul Bremer and all the other hired help who cleaned up after the president’s messes.

Distasteful as it may be for someone to flaunt his judicial credentials while claiming to adjudicate the historical truth of a subject on which he has a partisan conflict of interest, that is hardly the limit of his transgression. What is truly insulting is for Silberman to compare critics of the war who believed Bush lied to Nazis. He writes:

I am reminded of a similarly baseless accusation that helped the Nazis come to power in Germany: that the German army had not really lost World War I, that the soldiers instead had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by politicians.

One hardly knows where to begin with this historical falsification. The “stab-in-the-back” myth, the “Dolchstosslegende,” was concocted by far-right Germans, including Nazis, in an attempt to justify rather than discredit the war. They claimed the German army could have continued fighting, but was stabbed in the back by pacifist politicians. Critics of the Iraq war, by contrast, always believed the war should never have been fought in the first place. German critics of their country’s participation in World War I, like Karl Liebknecht or Rosa Luxemburg, ended up being murdered for their views. One shudders to think that a federal judge has so much difficulty sorting out facts and evidence.

The stab-in-the-back myth has been a standard right-wing refrain throughout my lifetime. The slippery politician Harry S. Truman stabbed General MacArthur in the back over Korea by refusing to let him win. Dirty hippies and the media stabbed our boys in the back as they fought in Vietnam. And now, of course, ISIS is Obama’s fault because he withdrew troops from Iraq. Never mind that Obama withdrew them precisely according to Bush’s already-negotiated timetable and that ISIS was the bastard child of our invasion. Yet Silberman smears critics of war, rather than chickenhawk proponents of war, because it fits so neatly into his worldview.

Judicial corruption does not require a cash nexus. The justices of the federal judiciary, who have lifetime tenure and fixed salaries, receive no bribes to rule the way they do. What Laurence Silberman has shown us is the fact that intellectual corruption can be as corrosive to the integrity of the bench as a cash bribe.

by Mike Lofgren, TruthOut

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Is the Bay Area in a Bubble and Will it Burst?

Are we in a bubble? Is it going to burst? And if not, what do I do?

N’Jeri Eaton lives in Oakland’s Eastlake neighborhood. “Funktown,” she told us. “It’s amazing.”

It’s part of what she loves most about Oakland, where she has lived for 10 years. She remembers her first visit to the Grand Lake Farmers Market near Lake Merritt — she couldn’t believe how diverse it was.

“Seeing white Rastafarians and Ethiopians and Vietnamese musicians playing for the crowd … it was just everyone. Oakland felt like a real-life version of United Colors of Benetton,” she said. “This is the first place that has felt like home ever in my entire life.”

Eaton loves her cozy apartment and would like to stay here forever, but she’s worried that she won’t be able to. She’s in her 30s, with a full-time job in documentary film. Her life can stay the way it is only if absolutely nothing changes — not her job, not her rent, not the number of people living in her apartment. And, of course, that’s not realistic.

“I just feel vulnerable,” says Eaton, who grew up outside Chicago and has lived many places in the Midwest and on the East Coast. “And I want control of my own space. I want to have kids someday soon, and I can’t have a kid in this apartment and have a healthy semblance of a life.”

So Is It a Bubble?

“This is not a bubble,” says Chris Thornberg, an economist in Los Angeles.

Though he’s just one guy, we called him because he has the dubious distinction of having predicted the 2008 market crash. His colleagues used to call him “Dr. Doom.”

He says that the money flooding the Bay Area isn’t built on speculation like the last boom.

“These are people with real money, with real incomes,” he says. “They have enough money to live in whatever cities and neighborhoods they want, so if there’s not enough high-end housing, they’ll just gentrify lower-income neighborhoods.”

And while the growth may slow, it won’t stop, Thornberg predicts. He believes the solution is a matter of adding to the housing supply. As more units come on the market, prices become more reasonable for everybody, he says.

But others argue that without policies making sure some of the housing is affordable, it’s not going to make any difference for middle-class and poor people.

“That’s completely wrong,” Thornberg says. “The evidence tends to suggest that for the most part, when you start layering rule after rule after rule on real estate developers, ultimately you end up simply hurting the supply worse.”

So what should Eaton do?

Thornberg’s answer? Buy now. Anything you can get.

The Bigger Problem

“Did you tell him what I do for a living?” Eaton said, laughing, when we told her Thornberg’s advice. “I can’t just plop down $200K for a condo in deep East Oakland. That’s great advice for someone who has a lot of equity and doesn’t work in nonprofits.”

Eaton reached a troubling conclusion: “It’s time for me to leave.”

But is that really her only hope?

Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster who thinks about the future of the Bay Area for a living. He said he’d understand if someone like Eaton chose to leave, but he thinks we should try really, really hard to keep her here.

“I’m less concerned about your caller’s problem than the region’s problem,” he says.

More and denser housing alone isn’t going to keep people like Eaton here, says Saffo. We also have to build better transit, bend outdated rules and think creatively about how the region works.

Some work on this front is already underway. People have proposed new rules for in-law apartments, and some are banding together to buy buildings cooperatively through structures like co-ops and land trusts.

Saffo says we all need to start thinking cooperatively — to see the Bay Area as a city-state. Even if this isn’t a bubble, the reality is that single-industry booms don’t last forever, he says.

“I think the danger today is becoming a monoculture,” said Saffo. “So we need to keep thinking about diversity in the ecological sense of lots of different kinds of people, lots of different kinds of industries, lots of different kinds of housing. That’s what protects us when booms go bust.”

From KQED

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LGBT Heroes worthy of a Bio-Pic

The Imitation Game, up for eight Academy Awards on Sunday, gave us a glimpse into the life of Alan Turing, a codebreaker who helped turn the tide of World War II for the Allies. Turing (pictured above) was a gay man who left the world a better place, but like so many LGBT heroes, he was forced to live a closeted life that denied him the full pleasure of his achievements and success. While Turing is now finally getting his due — last year, the Queen of England officially pardoned him, lifting his 1952 conviction for homosexuality — there are others like him worthy of recognition.

George Washington Carver (1864-1943)

George Washington Carver was born into slavery in southwestern Missouri during the Civil War. A sickly child, Carver threw himself into education and was admitted to Iowa’s Simpson College as the only African-American student, eventually joining the faculty after graduating. He would then head the agriculture department at Tuskegee University, where he devised agricultural innovations, including new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes, including oil, flour, and ink. His work paved the way for modern advances in biofuels and cleaning products. Gay rumors followed Carver at Tuskegee, which were not dispelled when he and his research assistant, Austin Wingate Curtis, Jr., began living together. Curtis worked hard after Carver’s death to preserve his companion’s legacy.

Oliver Sipple (1941-1989)

Oliver Sipple, a highly decorated U.S. Marine and Vietnam War Veteran, saved President Gerald Ford’s life during a 1975 assassination attempt in San Francisco. Sipple was among thousands waiting to catch a glimpse of Ford and noticed the woman next to him had drawn a gun and was pointing it at the president. His quick lunge at the woman saved Ford’s life. Sipple was quickly thrust into the media spotlight and despite his request that his homosexuality remain a secret, he was outed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Sipple sued the newspaper for invasion of privacy, but the Chronicle eventually won the drawn-out legal battle. After the assassination attempt, Ford merely sent Sipple a thank-you letter, but the president would later contend a White House invitation was not witheld because Sipple was gay. Sipple, sick and nearly penniless, died of pneumonia in 1989 at age 47.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Known as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale trained and managed British nurses caring for soldiers in the Crimean War. She laid the foundation for the modern profession with her establishment of the nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. While it was never confirmed by Nightingale that she was in fact a lesbian, she refused marriage proposals from men and made it known she preferred the company of women. This quote is attributed to Nightingale: “I have lived and slept in the same beds with English Countesses and Prussian farm women. No woman has excited passions among women more than I have.”

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Bayard Rustin was a leader in civil rights movement of the 20th century. In 1947 he planned the first Freedom Ride, which challenged segregation on interstate bus systems and inspired further such rides in the 1960s. Rustin combined his organizational skills with support for nonviolent resistance and became a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. He was often arrested for his stances and spent two years in prison for refusing to register for the draft. Widely known as gay to his contemporaries, Rustin was also jailed for homosexual activity in 1953 and often attacked as a “pervert” by his political opponents. Although he rarely served as a public spokesman, his influence on civil rights never dimmed. Rustin died in 1987; 26 years later, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hans Scholl (1918-1943)

Hans Scholl was a founding member of the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany in the 1940s, leading opposition to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. The group produced six political resistance leaflets that demanded freedom for the German people, called Hitler a murderer, and encouraged resistance and revolt against his regime. The White Rose leaflets, distributed throughout Germany, became a rallying cry, and anti-Hitler graffiti began appearing in Munich, Scholl’s home. The Gestapo was on the hunt for the leaflets’ authors and Scholl, his sister Sophie, and the other founders of White Rose were discovered in February 1943 and immediately executed; Scholl’s last words were “Long live freedom!” Prior to beginning the White Rose movement, Scholl was arrested and tried under the German code that criminalized homosexuality.

Teresa Butz

Teresa Butz made the ultimate sacrifice for her partner during a nightmare come true. In 2009, Butz and her partner were awakened in the middle of the night to see a naked man standing at the foot of their bed holding a butcher knife. For 90 minutes the women were raped and stabbed. When Butz saw that her partner was losing massive amounts of blood and growing weak, Butz tackled the maniac, allowing her partner to run from the room. Butz then hurled a nightstand through a window and dove out of it. She bled to death on the street, while her killer ran from their Seattle home. Butz’s partner survived — she was there when Butz’s mentally disturbed killer, Isaiah Kalebu, was convicted of aggravated murder, attempted murder, rape, and burglary.

Tori Johnson (1976-2014)

In December, 18 people were taken hostage by Muslim extremist Man Haron Monis in a café in downtown Sydney, including café manager Tori Johnson. After hours of being held at gun point, Johnson noticed the gunman getting tired and tried to wrestle the gun out of his hand. Unfortunately, Johnson’s attempt failed and he was executed by Monis. To Johnson’s credit, that gunshot is what prompted police to force their way into the café, kill Monis, and save the lives of 16 hostages (another hostage, Katrina Dawson, died before police stormed the restaurant). Johnson’s partner of 14 years, Thomas Zinn, spoke after his death about their dreams of being married one day, once it was legal in Australia.

Leonardo da Vinci

Known as one of the greatest painters in history, the man behind the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper was more than just an artist. He was the preeminent mind of the Renaissance, intrigued by anatomy, technology, and alternate energy sources, subjects he advanced with his studies and drawings. da Vinci was also very human; at the age of 24, he was charged with sodomy (accusations later dropped because, allegedly, the men charged with him were from wealthy families). Though the television drama Da Vinci’s Demons included some of the artist’s gay relationships, no mainstream film has done the same.

Torill Hansen and Hege Dalen

Four years ago, Norway suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. It was a horrific tragedy that claimed 77 lives, but would have been much worse if not for the actions of Torill Hansen and Hege Dalen, a couple vacationing at a campsite across from Utöyan Island. The women heard gunshots coming from the campsite, where a man named Anders Behring Breivik was murdering scores of people. They jumped in a boat and, making four trips, ferried 40 teenagers to safety as bullets hit the side of their craft.

Daniel Hernandez Jr.

As an intern with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez Jr. was only five days on the job when tragedy struck. On January 8, 2011, Gifford and her team set up a booth in front of an Arizona supermarket to talk to her constituents — Jared Lee Loughner walked up to the booth, shot Giffords in the head, and then turned his gun on the crowd, ultimately killing five people. Hernandez, a certified nursing assistant, sprung to action: He wrapped Safeway aprons around Giffords’s head and sat her upright so she didn’t drown in her blood. Hernandez held Giffords’s hand as she was wheeled on a gurney toward an ambulance — he told her not to worry, he would contact her husband and parents. Hernandez’s quick actions helped save the congresswoman’s life. Unlike Sipple, Hernandez was embraced as a gay hero and later elected to a Tucson-area school board.

Eric Alva (born 1970)

Staff Sergeant Eric Alva was the first Marine injured in the invasion of Iraq. He was in charge of 11 Marines in a supply unit when he stepped on a land mine in 2003, resulting in the loss of his right leg. Alva was given a Purple Heart for his bravery and received medical discharge after his service of 13 years in the United States Marine Corps. Alva went on to become an LGBT rights activist, eventually featured on the cover of The Advocate, and a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, focusing on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904)

Born in 1822, Frances Power Cobbe was known as one of the most influential women to speak out against domestic violence and animal abuse. She founded the National Anti-Vivisection Society, a nonprofit animal welfare organization in London. As a writer, Cobbe published several articles on feminism, spousal abuse, and the legal rights of women in marriage. She was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In 1860, Cobbe met Mary Lloyd, who shared her love for animals, and the two were together until Cobbe’s death.

Source: The Advocate

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5 Terrible Things Ronald Reagan Did As President

Conservatives like to pretend that Presidents Day is a holiday for the exclusive celebration of Ronald Reagan, their favorite president and a man they lionize as an earthbound saint crossed with the world’s manliest cowboy.

So it’s a good idea to remember Reagan’s real legacy: a bad president surrounded by bad people who did bad things. Here are five of the worst things Reagan did as president to remind you exactly the kind of leader he was.

5. Reagan Stole Money from the Social Security Trust Fund

Remember those Saturday Night Live sketches in 2000 where Al Gore promised to put Social Security in a lockbox? (If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, Al Gore is the man who invented the Internet and came up with the global warming hoax.)

The reason Gore was so committed to protecting Social Security is that Ronald Reagan used the funds as his personal piggy bank. After his tax cuts devastated the federal treasury, ushering in the era of giant deficits we’re still mired in today, Reagan raised Social Security taxes ostensibly to protect Social Security for future generations. Instead, he dumped that money into the general treasury fund to reduce the deficits he had created. Speaking of corruption…

4. Reagan Filled His Administration With Corrupt People

No administration was as corrupt as Ronald Reagan’s, not even Nixon’s. His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts. His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.

Reagan’s vice president and successor, George Bush, pardoned six separate people for their roles in the Iran-Contra affair, including Reagan’s National Security adviser and his secretary of defense. Speaking of Iran-Contra…

3. Reagan Presided Over the Iran-Contra Affair

In 1985 and 1986, Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran, locked in a horrific war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for cash and the release of U.S. hostages. The sales to Iran violated sanctions against Iran.

But much of the money that came from the sales was diverted to fund the Contras, right-wing rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua. That was in violation of laws against helping the Contras.

As noted above, George Bush had to pardon several Reagan aides in the wake of the scandal

Speaking of aides…

2. Reagan Refused to Mention AIDS, Then Cut Funding for Research

In the early 80s, a horrific new epidemic ravaged America’s gay population. Because so many of the victims of AIDS were gay, the right-wing viewed the disease as a kind of divine retribution for their sins.

Reagan didn’t mention AIDS in public until September 1985, after more than 10,000 people had died from the disease. In 1986, Reagan called for a report on AIDS but also proposed cutting federal funds for research and patient care as treatments were just starting to make it to market. Speaking of inhumanity towards his fellow man…

1. Reagan Opposed Sanctions on Apartheid Era-South Africa

When Congress looked likely to pass sanctions on South Africa to battle apartheid in 1985, Reagan vigorously opposed any action. In order to stop moderate Republicans from defecting, he issued a half-assed executive order imposing some sanctions.

The next year, when Congress realized Reagan’s sanctions didn’t have teeth, it overwhelmingly passed a bill imposing real sanctions on the racist regime. Reagan vetoed the bill. Happily there were enough votes to override his veto, and the sanctions became a key part of the eventual end of apartheid.

Jesse Berney, Blue Nation Review

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In Case You Missed It: Joni Ernst Caught On Tape Saying Poor People Aren’t Entitled to Food, Clothing, or Health Care

Last year, around the time after the elections, an unearthed recording of now Senator Joni Ernst was revealed to the public, truly showing the lack of compassion and monstrosity that has engulfed the GOP. The video captures Ernst’s monologue in which she says Americans are insufficiently “self sufficient,” and therefore feel entitled to government programs:

“What we have to do a better job of is educating not only Iowans, but the American people that they can be self-sufficient. They don’t have to rely on the government to be the do-all, end-all for everything they need and desire, and that’s what we have fostered, is really a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them. It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that. So do we have the intestinal fortitude to do that?…

We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”

Yeah, the government will give you a six-figure salary, free healthcare, a lifetime pension, travel expenses, your own paid staff, allowances for food and office renovations…oh wait…that’s you, Senator Ernst.

“It’s going to be very painful and we know that. So do we have the intestinal fortitude to do that.”

Well if this doesn’t sound like a sadistic elitist I don’t what is. Exactly why is this going to be painful? Why would one want to inflict such pain on people who are clearly in need after having the rug pulled out from underneath them in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? And if you even have to question whether or not you “have the intestinal fortitude to do that,” here’s really big hint: you don’t do it. You don’t hurt people so you can be this semi-important unsung hero of the right. You’re never going to be Reagan, so stop trying.

“And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do.”

I got a few words for you, Senator Bread-Bags: your family’s “reliance” came from the federal government at a cost to the tax-payers of $460,000. I rest my case on that point.

Congratulations, Iowa (where over 900,000 residents- or one-third of the state- receives some form of government assistance) on electing this woman who thinks you’re all just a bunch of lazy, entitled moochers, and who wants to inflict a “painful” ideology on you.

, Addicting Info

 

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What does science say about the difference between religious and non-religious people?

Normally, I’m the quiet passenger in a taxi cab. I’ll ask the driver how he’s doing and follow through with a bit of small talk, but after a few minutes I retreat into my own bubble, watching New York City’s lights pass me by. But around 4 a.m. on a cold Wednesday morning last December, I was on my way home from a concert, sitting in an Uber cab, and the conversation didn’t stop.

Not long after I hopped in, my driver started talking about his faith — he was a devout Christian and pastor — and the hope and peace it has brought to his family.  These types of conversations, in which God is mentioned more than a few times, would normally make some people uncomfortable, especially those who either question his existence or deny it outright. For me, however, it was an opportunity to see the world through a different lens (I’m agnostic), and about five blocks before we reached my apartment building, his wife was talking to him through his phone’s speaker, reciting prayers before going to bed.

This conversation might have gone in a different direction if we’d been in a different city — NYC is one of the most tolerant in the country. Sometimes atheists feel the need to compare their beliefs to those of someone who is religious, and they form opinions on why atheism is better. In truth, it’s simply not right to compare like that; each person is entitled to their own faith. But, because we live in a society that’s constantly clashing, it should come as no surprise that scientists have already found some interesting trends when it comes to the health, personality, and intelligence of both groups.

Here’s what they’ve found.

Religious People Are Happier

One thing my driver showed me during our ride to Queens together was how content he was with his way of life. Believing in God, and his plan, put him at ease, and it brought his family and friends together. Surprisingly, it’s the latter, having a community, which confers these higher levels of happiness, according to a study published in 2010.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Harvard surveyed 3,108 adults in 2006, asking them about their religious activities, beliefs, and social networks. A year later, they called back just under 2,000 of them to ask the same questions. They found that, overall, religious people were more satisfied with their lives than non-religious — 28 percent reported being “extremely satisfied” compared to 19.6 percent of non-religious folk. “We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” sociologist Chaeyoon Lim told Live Science.

“We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”

Non-Religious People Are More Tolerant

It’s probably important to note now that there are a variety of ways people can be non-religious. Some are atheist, meaning they lack a belief in God, while others are agnostic, who neither believe nor disbelieve in God. Secular groups tend to include people who’ve strayed from religion — the growing populationof Americans who’ve become unaffiliated.

Secular groups, a 2010 study from Duke University found, are far more likely to be tolerant of other races. Looking at the links between religiosity and racism since the Civil Rights Act, researchers found that “religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups,” because being part of the in-groups “promotes general ethnocentrism.” While some of these groups’ racism tended to recede as societal acceptance of racism decreased, it was only “religious agnostics,” or secular groups, that were racially tolerant. Moreover, the researchers found racial tolerance wasn’t evinced from humanitarian values, or treating others as you would like to be treated (the Golden Rule), which was “consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members.”

Other studies have shown that because morality among secular groups is based on the Golden Rule, secular groups tend to be less vengeful, less militaristic, less authoritarian, less sexist, and less homophobic than religious groups, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.

Religious People Can Handle Stress, Anxiety Better

It’s a common response in our brains to immediately become anxious or stressed when we make mistakes, or get things wrong in general. People who believe in God, however, seem to be protected against that response, at least to a certain extent.

study from the University of Toronto, Scarborough, found that a higher belief in God resulted in lower activity in the area of the brain responsible for the bodily states of arousal associated with a stress response — the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). They discovered this by asking participants to write about religion or complete a scrambled word task that included religion and God-related words. Then, they had participants complete a Stroop task, in which they were told to name the color of a word printed in a different color while hooked up to electrodes that scanned their brains — the test is meant to elicit a high rate of errors.

They found believers were less likely to experience activity in the ACC when compared to non-believers, and suggested the reason could be because belief in God provides a way to order the world and explain seemingly random events.

Non-Religious People Are More Intelligent

Atheists can call this one, as they probably wanted to. A review of 63 scientific studies spanning the ages — OK, maybe just since 1928 — found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 of them, and a positive correlation in 10. However, only two of those showed a significant link. The researchers defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.”

How is this true? According to the University of Rochester researchers, “First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.”

In other words, intelligent people already have many of the qualities religion seeks to bestow on a person because, well, they’re intelligent. “Intelligent people typically spend more time in school — a form of self-regulation that may yield long-term benefits,” Miron Zuckerman wrote. “More intelligent people get higher level jobs, and better employment may lead to higher self-esteem and encourage personal control beliefs.”

Religious People Have Better Physical Health

Maybe it’s because they’re so happy and stress-free, but several studies have found religious people’s physical health benefits from believing, too. One such study, from researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia, found people coping with chronic health conditions and disability, such as spinal cord injuries, stroke, and cancer, fared better when they had religious and spiritual support.

“Both genders benefit from social support provided by fellow congregants and involvement in religious organizations,” said co-author Brick Johnstone, a health psychology professor, in apress release. “Encouragement to seek out religious and spiritual supports can assist individuals in coping with stress and physical symptoms related to health issues.”

In that same vein, another study from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that out of 92,395 postmenopausal women, those who frequently attended religious services cut their risk of death by 20 percent.

Non-Religious People Are More Generous

It’s common in almost any church to pass around a collection plate, in which congregants can donate. And donate they do, according to a 2012 study that found states with more religious residents were also the most charitable. These states included Utah, where residents gave about 10.6 percent of their discretionary spending to charity, as well as Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. In comparison, states along in the Northeast, like Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine were the least charitable — only 2.5 percent of Maine residents gave to charity.

But giving more to charity doesn’t make a person more generous. It’s common in religious communities to give up to 10 percent of annual income to charity, a practice called tithe. While the donation amount varies with each faith, it’s typically encouraged as a way to thank God, care for others, and show faith in God’s giving. It’s worth reminding that religious in-groups tend to show humanitarian values most to those in their congregation.

By contrast, atheists who give to charity tend to do so on the basis of empathy and compassion, according to another 2012study. Researchers arrived at their conclusion after conducting three experiments, one of which involved 101 adults who were asked to watch two videos — one neutral and the other about children living in poverty — and then given 10 “lab dollars” to donate however much they wished to a stranger. Those who were least religious were more motivated by the emotionally charged video, and thus gave more money to a stranger.

Although science has all this to say about one group prevailing over the other, it really shouldn’t matter whether you’re religious or not. Religious people can also seek education and become successful, and today there are more tolerant views of people of different races, sexual orientations, and religions all over the country. At the same time, atheists and other non-religious groups can still build communities that support each other, as well as develop systems of meaning that help instill an understanding of the world.  

Anthony Rivas, The Raw Story

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida Is The U.S. City With The Highest Concentration Of Gay Couples

Did San Francisco just get out-gayed?

Recently released data from the 2012 U.S. Census revealed which cities have the highest concentration of same-sex couple households (among cities with a population of 65,000 or above). The surprising frontrunner? Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where same-sex couples make up a whopping 2.8 percent of total households.

The Florida beach town has long been a destination for the vacationing LGBT community and is home to 19 gay resorts.

The real jaw-dropper, however, comes with a switch-up between two much larger cities. With 2.5 percent same-sex households, San Francisco came in a close third (third!) to Seattle, where gay households are suddenly booming. The city leaped from an estimated 1.7 percent of households in 2011 to 2.6 percent, according to recent data, nudging San Francisco from its cherished gay pedestal.

Seattle has long been hailed as a gay-friendly city, but its recent hold on same-sex households may be attributed to its overall family-friendliness.

“Most same-sex couples, in choosing a place to live, want what other families want — affordable housing, more space, good schools,” the Seattle Times noted in 2011, when the city’s surge in gay couples was first noted.

 

Huffington Post

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THE TECH BACKLASH IS OVER?

On the whiteboard above the bar at Doc’s Clock in the Mission, “Google” was scribbled in red marker. But the tech giant’s name wasn’t highlighted for the sake of criticism or mockery as one might have expected a year ago. Instead, the message described Google’s offer to match all donations in a fundraiser hosted last weekend to raise money for victims of a devastating fire on 22nd street.

At the Doc’s Clock fundraiser, people from all walks of life gathered in support of the community and a shared goal. The experience of the event itself, plus the collaboration between Google and the “real” Mission institution seem to support new research from Mayor Ed Lee’s office that suggest the anti-tech movement has run its course.

As we reported last week, a new survey conducted by Mayor Lee’s office in December polled 501 probable SF voters and reported that 65% had a positive view of the tech industry and 68% thought the mayor should support its growth. Of course, 501 isn’t the hugest sample size, and since this is the first survey of its kind, we don’t have a baseline against which we can measure. But on top of that news came a story in SF Gate Friday asking if the antitech movement is now obsolete. Reporter Kristen V. Brown answers that question with purely qualitative assessments seem to indicate that energy around protests has notably died down. Despite the occasional screed stereotyping workers as “tech invaders,” it seems safe to assume that the anti-tech movement has drawn to a close, with people focusing more now on criticizing individual companies and leaders for specific misdeeds instead of slamming the industry as a whole. But why?

As an anonymous member of the protest group Counterforce told the SFGate, they were unable to recruit the necessary support for their group because most people in SF “are either captured by the capitalist economy and working full time to pay rent, have been priced out, or are a transplant working for the tech industry.” But even here in the Flaky Capital of America, it’s hard to believe the movement dissipated simply due to lack of human resources.

Instead it seems a few big things have changed in the past year. For starters, tech companies seem to be trying harder to do good; tech dollars comprised almost 50% of the $9.8 billion donated in 2014 by the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 50 list. They’re not only engaging in generic philanthropic efforts, but also choosing projects that actually serve the SF community, such as the Doc Clock’s fundraiser or Google’s donation of $6.8 million towards free Muni passes for lower income students. Those types of activities, combined with the taxes that companies now pay to use Muni stops, indicates that the Google bus protests actually resulted in positive action from tech companies.

As tech companies have made an effort to support the city, it’s been easier for people to focus on the real issues rather than scapegoating the city’s newer residents. For example, most people now understand that while the tech boom caused the spike in population, the housing crisis is much more tied to city regulations around building. It’s also become clearer that the average tech worker isn’t all that wealthy and is having trouble finding and affording housing here, as well. That issue is reflected in Lee’s survey, in which the cost of housing was voted a top concern for respondents. It’s also reflected in the news, where we hear about tech collectives for those who can’t find housing (or friends) and of course that programmer on Reddit who wants to live in a tent. There’s still the urge to condemn or mock the occasionalentitled Dropbox employee, but there’s also a more realistic view of the problems we face as a city.

There’s also the fact that San Franciscans seem to be tired of getting swept up into a toxic, internal battle based on generalizations about an entire industry. In the past year, I’ve spoken to many people who were negatively impacted by tech wealth and gentrification for various articles. So many of them, particularly influential people who had the opportunity to get their supporters riled up, opted instead to take the high road. When the Urban Flow yoga studio closed, its owner Rusty Wells decided not to speak poorly about the landlord who was evicting them because it was against the values of the studio. When I spoke to Randy Shaw from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, he didn’t exaggerate tech’s negative impact on the SRO community  — even though if he had, it would have made an incendiary story. I was and am impressed by these community leaders who have chosen not to feed the dragon.

Even in the artist community, I see people who are mourning the economic changes but are still continuing to create. When Jason Kick was priced out of the city and had to move to Oakland, he developed the concept album and band “Rent Control.” People are still mourning and undoubtedly experiencing difficulty as a result of this latest boom. But it seems like hostility and blame are slowly giving way to behavior that better exemplifies the hippie city we knew and love: working together, solving problems, and making stuff

Rachel Balik, Bold Italic

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Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets

The final week of January saw an annual ritual in government statistical gathering that few people know about — the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time survey of the homeless population, in which HUD recruits volunteers around the country to go out and try to count up all the homeless people living in America. This year, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough even joined up, volunteering as part of the San Francisco PIT crew.

Counting the homeless is, of course, a critical element to making appropriate homelessness policy. But good policy also requires greater awareness of a discovery that research continuously confirms — it’s cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.

The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.”

By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Coloradofrom focusing on simply housing the homeless.

The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a “housing first” approach to homelessness. And by and large it’s worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That’s a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.

Screen_shot_2014-05-30_at_9.26.15_am

Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.

When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don’t need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don’t even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem — a lack of housing — and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven’t yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.

 

, VOX

 

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Wow! David Brooks passionately defends President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast statements

David Brooks must be giving kudos for getting it right. He went against the Right Wing grain as well as against rather elitist comments from journalists Andrea Mitchell and Jon Meacham.

Jon Meacham claimed that within Christianity, the Crusades was an exception to the rule. This illustrates how one can change a narrative when the context is kept limited in scope for a self-serving purpose. As noted in my previous post “This Obama speech put fear into Right Wing Evangelical Leaders,”

The President was rather kind by not articulating the fact that similar heinous behavior in our country is less than just a few centuries and decades past. Isolated heinous acts are less than a few months in our past.

Andrea Mitchell’s comment was simply ludicrous. She does not believe the prayer breakfast is a place to speak truth. “You don’t use the word Crusade in any context right now. It’s too fraught,” Andrea Mitchell said. “And the week after a pilot is burned alive and a video shown, you don’t lean over backward to be philosophical about the sins of the fathers. You have to deal with issues that are in front of you or don’t deal with it at all.” In other words ignore the sins that indirectly impact or have impacted all that is occurring in the world.

Jon Meachem does seem to believe that atrocities in the name of Christ ended with the Crusades. He forgot the savagery Christianity inflicted on Native Americans from the tip of South America, the Caribbean, Central America, to North America. He forgot that African slaves throughout the America’s were murdered, lynched, burned, and beheaded, many of these acts justified by religion. He forgot that while some did these bad deeds in the name of Christ, most Christians remained quiet.

Yet, many Americans now want to condemn Islam because many of its members seem to be just as quiet as Christians still are for many still occurring injustices in America and abroad.

When Chuck Todd asked if politicians can have the debate, David Brooks got it perfectly right.

I am pro Obama. I am totally pro Obama on this. I think he said the right thing. It was a gospel of humility. What sorts of people need a little gospel of humility? People in Washington, pundits, religious believers, — I happen to be all three of those things — and so we are told to walk humbly in the path, that the Lord’s paths are mysterious. And so he was saying we are prone to zealotry. As Jon said we are fallen. So to underline that, that’s useful in Washington today. That’s useful always.

When Chuck Todd asked if it was necessary for a President to leave office before he could speak that candidly, David Brooks response was again on point.

No I think he was right. He gave the race speech. It was a beautiful speech. He has given a whole series of great speeches, Trayvon Martin. I think this was utterly fine. This is exactly the moment you want to say this. We are most in moral danger to ourselves when we are caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe. Which is what we have. So while we exercise hard power, we have to take morally hazardous action, we are prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness. This is exactly the moment you want this.

The President’s speech was about humility. It was about ALL humans being fallible. As such we should all get of the high horses and work together to bring us all together for a better nation, for a better world.

 

by Egberto Willies, Daily Kos

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Wall Street Pays Bankers to Work in Government and It Doesn’t Want Anyone to Know

Citigroup is one of three Wall Street banks attempting to keep hidden their practice of paying executives multimillion-dollar awards for entering government service. In letters delivered to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over the last month, CitiGoldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley seek exemption from a shareholder proposal, filed by the AFL-CIO labor coalition, which would force them to identify all executives eligible for these financial rewards, and the specific dollar amounts at stake. Critics argue these “golden parachutes” ensure more financial insiders in policy positions and favorable treatment toward Wall Street.

“As shareholders of these banks, we want to know how much money we have promised to give away to senior executives if they take government jobs,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “It’s a simple question, but the banks don’t want to answer it. What are they trying to hide?”

The handouts recently received attention when Antonio Weiss, the former investment banker at Lazard now serving as counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, acknowledged in financial disclosures that he would be paid $21 million in unvested income and deferred compensation upon exiting the company for a job in government. Weisswithdrew from consideration to become the undersecretary for domestic finance under pressure from financial reformers, but the counselor position—which does not require congressional confirmation—probably still entitles him to the $21 million. The terms of the award are part of a Lazard employee agreement that nobody has seen.

These payments are routine at major banks, several of which have explicit policies, found in filings with the SEC, outlining automatic awards for executives who rotate into government. Goldman Sachs offers “a lump sum cash payment” for government service, for example.

Other banks’ policies are subtler. Banks often defer certain types of compensation in order to retain talent. When an executive terminates employment, unvested stock options and other forms of deferred compensation are usually forfeited. But several companies let executives’ equity options continue to vest if they leave for a government position, or allow them to keep retention bonuses that would otherwise be returned to the firm. A 2004 tax law banned accelerated payments but made an exemption for employees who leave for government service. Critics wonder whether the gifts are intended to fill the government with friendly faces who will act in their former employer’s interests.

“It fuels the revolving door between banks and the government,” said Michael Smallberg, an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), whose 2013 reportdetailed these types of compensation agreements. The average executive branch salary is substantially less than these millions in awards, so the bonuses effectively supplement the lower pay, raising questions about who the government officials actually work for.

Citigroup is a serial user of these practices, if only because so many of its alumni serve in government. Jack Lew, Weiss’ boss at Treasury, had $250,000 to $500,000 in restricted stock vested after he left an executive position at the bank, part of a $1.1 million golden parachute revealed during the confirmation process. Stanley Fischer, currently the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, had a similar clause in his Citigroup employment contract. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman received over $4 million in multiple exit payments from Citigroup when he left for the Obama Administration.

A template of Citi’s compensation policy, filed with the SEC, states that executive stock options continue to vest in the event of a “Voluntary Resignation to Pursue Alternative Career,” including a government job. But Citi’s agreement does not specify which executives are eligible.

Last November, Trumka wrote letters to seven mega-banks—Citi, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Lazard—asking their compensation committees to explain why giving incentives to executives for government service benefits shareholders or the company. The labor federation holds shares in many public companies through its pension funds. “We oppose compensation plans that provide windfalls to their executives unrelated to performance,” the letter states.

“We did not get much of a response,” said Heather Slavkin Corzo, Director of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment. So the federation decided to use their shareholder rights to file proposals, to be voted on at the companies’ annual meetings, seeking full disclosure of the golden parachutes, with the names of each executive eligible for the awards, and the amounts. “We wanted to get a sense of how prevalent the practice was before proposing an outright ban,” Slavkin Corzo said.

Of the four banks with explicit golden parachute policies (the others have discretionary policies on a case-by-case basis), only JPMorgan Chase has not asked the SEC to exclude the AFL-CIO’s proposal. According to Slavkin Corzo, Citigroup never so much as reached out for a conversation before filing the SEC request. The letter is dated December 19, 2014, just a week after a provision written by Citigroup lobbyists repealing derivatives rules in the Dodd-Frank Act passed Congress.

The SEC oversees the shareholder proposal process, but in a strange, passive-aggressive fashion. A rule dating back to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 14a-8, defines how a proposal can be placed on the ballot. Corporations use all sorts of well-honed arguments to disqualify proposals from a vote under Rule 14a-8. Then they send a “no-action” letter to the SEC to get clearance to exclude the proposal. “The company requests that the SEC will not take any enforcement action against the company if they don’t put the proposal on the ballot,” said Slavkin Corzo. “It’s a bizarre intermediary world that has built up around the entire process.”

Citigroup’s no-action letter essentially argues that they “substantially implemented” the proposal already, a key provision in Rule 14a-8. They claim that disclosure of their equity award agreement with the SEC does the job, and since its named executive officers have their unvested awards disclosed elsewhere, there’s no need to duplicate the request with an additional report. They also deny the existence of golden parachutes, arguing that these officers would receive the same treatment no matter how they left the company, as long as it wasn’t for a competitor.

But, as the AFL-CIO’s response states, though the shareholder proposal requests the names of all “senior executives,” Citigroup wants to narrow the playing field to merely “named executive officers,” which for them would only be five people. Citigroup wrote in a footnote in their no-action letter that they “interpreted the phrase ‘senior executives’ to refer to its named executive officers,” which the federation believes varies from the SEC’s definition of senior executives. Jack Lew and Michael Froman, who received golden parachutes for government service, would not fall under this named executive officer standard.

Later in the no-action letter, Citigroup actually cites an article by New York Timescolumnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, celebrating the golden parachute payments as a way to “encourage public service,” as part of their argument. “The piece is nothing more than an opinion,” the AFL-CIO responds, and “irrelevant to the standard set by Rule 14a-8.”

No-action letters from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley argue mostly the same thing, that they have substantially implemented the proposal already and that the golden parachutes don’t exist. Corporations frequently build on each other’s no-action letter arguments. “If it works, they do it more and more, and broaden the scope of what the commission will kick out,” said Slavkin Corzo.

Though the SEC values corporate disclosure, according to Slavkin Corzo, it has leaned more in favor of corporations over shareholders on these requests. A 2013 Project on Government Oversight report found that SEC alumni often represent companies trying to kick shareholder proposals off the ballot. For example, Martin Dunn, a 20-year SEC veteran who worked for the division that decides on no-action letters, became a corporate lawyer for O’Melveny and Myers, and repeatedly obtained favorable rulings from his former employer on behalf of Alaska Airlines, Yahoo, UnitedHealth Group and JPMorgan Chase.

The SEC will make a ruling on the no-action letters sometime in the next couple months. “It would be really unfortunate if shareholders are not allowed to get basic information about what’s being done with their money,” said Slavkin Corzo.

If stymied on disclosure, action could move to Congress, with legislative action to ban these windfall payments that make the revolving door more attractive. “At a time when people are worried about the over-representation of Wall Street in policymaking positions, we see that the revolving door is baked into the compensation structure,” said Michael Smallberg of POGO, “It’s worth considering whether these provisions should be banned altogether.”

 

David Dayen, New Republic
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“Fascism is rising in America”: The Koch brothers and the depressing demise of democracy

As the American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

Well, it it may well on our doorstep.  And the oligarchs are plotting their final takeover by using their economic dominance to capture governmental power – specifically, the governmental power which sets the rules for the very marketplace that provides the oligarchs with such massive wealth.

Once the American corporate barons own the institutions that are meant to regulate them, it’s game-over for both rational capitalism (including competition) and for democracy.

Last week, at David and Charles Koch’s annual winter meeting near Palm Springs, California, it was announced that the Koch Brothers’ political organization would spend close to $900 million on the 2016 election.  If this goal is met, the group of corporate leaders will spend far more than the Republican Party and its congressional campaign committees spent, combined, in the 2012 campaign.

Once upon a time, it would have been illegal for the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs to buy an election.  Of course, that time was before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, presented the best opportunity for the Roberts Court to use its five vote majority to totally re-write the face of politics in America, rolling us back to the pre-1907 era of the Robber Barons.

As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”): “In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.”

 

Back then, the modern Republican Party and the oligarchs that dominated it, knew that the only way to recover power was to immediately clear away all impediments to unrestrained corporate participation in electoral politics.  If a corporate board likes a politician, they can make sure he or she is elected every time; if the CEO oligarchs become upset with a politician, they can carpet-bomb her district with a few million dollars worth of ads and politically destroy her.

And it looks like that’s exactly what the Roberts Court accomplished.  The oligarchs succeeded. In the Citizens United case, forces within the Republican Party asked the Supreme Court to go all the way back to the 1980s and re-examine the rationales for Congress to have any power to regulate corporate “free speech.”

As Robert Barnes wrote in The Washington Post on June 30, 2009, “Citizens United’s attorney, former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, had told the court that it should use the case to overturn the corporate spending ban the court recognized in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, as well as its decision in 2003 to uphold McCain-Feingold as constitutional.”

The setup for this came in June of 2007, in the case of the Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right To Life, in which the Roberts Court ruled that the FEC couldn’t prevent WRTL from running ads just because they were a corporation.

“A Moroccan cartoonist,” Justice Scalia opened his opinion with his usual dramatic flair,  “once defended his criticism of the Moroccan monarch (lèse majesté being a serious crime in Morocco) as follows: ‘I’m not a revolutionary, I’m just defending freedom of speech. I never said we had to change the king-no, no, no, no! But I said that some things the king is doing, I do not like. Is that a crime?’”

“Well,” Scalia wrote, “in the United States (making due allowance for the fact that we have elected representatives instead of a king) it is a crime, at least if the speaker is a union or a corporation (including not-for-profit public-interest corporations)… That is the import of §203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).”

The idea of Congress passing laws that limited corporate “free speech” was clearly horrifying to Scalia.  He went after the 1990 Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce case, in which the MCC was limited in their “free speech” in a political campaign because they were a corporation.

“This (Austin) was the only pre-McConnell case in which this Court had ever permitted the Government to restrict political speech based on the corporate identity of the speaker,” he complained.  “Austin upheld state restrictions on corporate independent expenditures,” and, God forbid, “The statute had been modeled after the federal statute that BCRA §203 amended…”

The Austin case, Scalia concluded his opinion with four others nodding, “was a significant departure from ancient First Amendment principles. In my view, it was wrongly decided.”

Scalia also quoted at length from opinions in the Grosjean v. American Press Co case, “holding that corporations are guaranteed the ‘freedom of speech and of the press, safeguarded by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,’” and from the 1986 Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. Public Util. Comm’n of Cal. case: “The identity of the speaker is not decisive in determining whether speech is protected”; “[c]orporations and other associations, like individuals, contribute to the ‘discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas’ that the First Amendment seeks to foster.”

The bottom line, for Scalia, was that, “The principle that such advocacy is ‘at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection’ and is ‘indispensable to decision making in a democracy’ is ‘no less true because the speech comes from a corporation rather than an individual.”

Continuing to quote from a plurality opinion in Pacific Gas, Scalia “rejected the arguments that corporate participation ‘would exert an undue influence on the outcome of a referendum vote’; that corporations would ‘drown out other points of view’ and ‘destroy the confidence of the people in the democratic process…”

He even quoted an opinion in the Grossjean case, writing that “corporations are guaranteed the ‘freedom of speech and of the press…safeguarded by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.’”

The Fourteenth Amendment, which says that no “person” shall be denied “equal protection of the laws,” was promulgated after the Civil War to free the slaves.  But corporations have long asserted that because it says “person” rather than “natural person” it included giving, in 1868 when the Amendment was ratified into law, full Constitutional rights under the Bill of Rights to corporations.  (Corporations are, at law, known as “artificial persons” and humans are “natural persons” – both have to have some sort of “personhood” in order to pay taxes, sue and be sued, etc.)

As Scalia wrote in his opinion in FEC v. Wisconsin Right To Life:  “…FECA was directed to expenditures not just by ‘individuals,’ but by ‘persons,’ with ‘persons’ specifically defined to include ‘corporation[s].’”

Chief Justice Roberts weighed in, too, in the main decision.  It’s a fascinating decision to read – and search for occurrences of the word “corporation” – and here’s one of Roberts’ more convoluted observations in defense of corporate free speech rights:

Accepting the notion that a ban on campaign speech could also embrace issue advocacy would call into question our holding in Bellotti that the corporate identity of a speaker does not strip corporations of all free speech rights. It would be a constitutional ‘bait and switch’ to conclude that corporate campaign speech may be banned in part because corporate issue advocacy is not, and then assert that corporate issue advocacy may be banned as well, pursuant to the same asserted compelling interest, through a broad conception of what constitutes the functional equivalent of campaign speech, or by relying on the inability to distinguish campaign speech from issue advocacy.

Bottom line – corporate free speech rights are Real Rights that Must Be Respected.

Justice Souter wrote a rather frightening dissent (this was a 5-4 decision, with the usual right-wing suspects on the “5″ side): “Finally, it goes without saying that nothing has changed about the facts. In Justice Frankfurter’s words, they demonstrate a threat to ‘the integrity of our electoral process, which for a century now Congress has repeatedly found to be imperiled by corporate, and later union, money: witness the Tillman Act, Taft-Hartley, FECA, and BCRA.

“McConnell was our latest decision vindicating clear and reasonable boundaries that Congress has drawn to limit ‘the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth,’ and the decision could claim the justification of ongoing fact as well as decisional history in recognizing Congress’s authority to protect the integrity of elections from the distortion of corporate and union funds.

“After today, the ban on contributions by corporations and unions and the limitation on their corrosive spending when they enter the political arena are open to easy circumvention, and the possibilities for regulating corporate and union campaign money are unclear.

“The ban on contributions will mean nothing much, now that companies and unions can save candidates the expense of advertising directly, simply by running ‘issue ads’ without express advocacy, or by funneling the money through an independent corporation like Wisconsin Right To Life.”

Sounding almost depressed, Souter closed his dissent with these words: “I cannot tell what the future will force upon us, but I respectfully dissent from this judgment today.”

The attempt of corporations (and their lawyers, like Roberts was before ascending to a federal court) to usurp American democracy is nothing new, as David Souter well knew. Fascism has always been a threat to democracy.  Oligarchs have sought to buy the power of government to suit themselves, since the beginning.

In early 1944 the New York Times asked Vice President Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”

Vice President Wallace’s answers to those questions were published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan:

“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those… With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

“American fascism will not be really dangerous,” he added in the next paragraph, “until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information…”

Noting that, “Fascism is a worldwide disease,” Wallace further suggested that fascism’s “greatest threat to the United States will come after the war” and will manifest “within the United States itself.”

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism the Vice President of the United States saw rising in America, he added:

“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

Finally, Wallace said, “The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people. … Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must…develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels.”

As Wallace’s President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said when he accepted his party’s renomination in 1936 in Philadelphia:

“…Out of this modern civilization, economic royalists [have] carved new dynasties…. It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction…. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man….”

Speaking indirectly of the fascists that Wallace would directly name almost a decade later, Roosevelt brought the issue to its core:

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.”

But, he thundered in that speech:

“Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power!”

We now stand at the same crossroad Roosevelt and Wallace confronted during the Great Depression and World War II. Fascism is rising in America.  Oligarchs like the Koch Brothers are poised to capture more political power.  The point of their spear is “corporate personhood” and “corporate free speech rights.”

The Roberts’ Court’s decisions and the election plans of the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs now eerily parallels the day in 1936 when Roosevelt said: “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.”

 

 Thom Hartmann, AlterNet
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JOFFREY BALLET RETURNS TO CAL PERFORMANCES

With a program of three acclaimed works new to Bay Area audiences, Joffrey Ballet returns to Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall onSaturday, March 14 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 15 at 3:00 p.m. Two West Coast premieres include local luminary Val Caniparoli’s Incantations (2012), set to music by minimalist composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky and rising star choreographer Alexander Ekman’s multimedia work, Episode 31 (2011). The Bay Area premiere of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony (2012) is set to composer John Adams’s weighty score of the same name. Both Welch and Caniparoli’s dances were created specifically for Joffrey Ballet, and Ekman has adapted the video component of his production to showcase company dancers.

Joffrey Ballet members will participate in residency activities on campus and in the community, including a pre-performance talk on Saturday, March 14 at 7:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall; this talk is free to event ticketholders.

The arc of Val Caniparoli’s most recent work for the Joffrey, Incantations, is a long, meditative spiral, inspired by the slowly percolating minimalism of its musical score and Caniparoli’s interest in contemplation and prayer. Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony meets John Adams’s rhythmically restless score with a mix of classicism, virtuosity and exuberant theatricality. Episode 31, by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, first premiered in New York and is an imaginative work of dance-theater that channels urban dance into the context of contemporary ballet, beginning with frenetic energy before simmering into an intimate duet.

For more than half a century, Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet has been celebrated for its definitive and influential brand of American ballet, bringing impeccable technique and a youthful, daring spirit to contemporary works and restaged classics.  Founded by Robert Joffrey in 1956, and guided by choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under its current Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. The company expresses its longstanding commitment to accessibility through a rigorous touring schedule, a robust education program including Joffrey Academy of Dance, and collaborations with myriad visual and performing arts organizations. Noted for its many “firsts,” Joffrey Ballet was the first American ballet company to appear on television, as well as the first and only dance company to appear on the cover of Timemagazine. The troupe was also the subject of Robert Altman’s 2003 film, The Company.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets for Joffrey Ballet on Saturday, March 14 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 15 at 3:00 pm. in Zellerbach Hall range from $40.00 to $96.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, atwww.calperformances.org, and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

 

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North Korea Warns US of ‘Disastrous Final Doom’

North Korea’s National Defense Commission took to the airwaves today to threaten the United States with the “most disastrous final doom on its mainland,” warning that “the time of the nightmare” is near.

The United States has “gone mad,” a North Korean State Television newsreader said, boasting of North Korea’s superior cyber and nuclear warfare and adding that North Korea “has neither the need nor the willingness to sit at the negotiating table with the U.S. any longer.”

The broadcast continued: “It is our firm resolution to counteract through our own nuclear strikes [if the United States] provokes a nuclear war [against North Korea), and bring the U.S. to an early demise with our own pre-eminent cyberwarfare if the U.S. tries to bring us down through a cyberattack.

"The U.S. had better know clearly that our means in ground, naval, underwater, air and cyberwarfare, including nuclear strike capability, which are miniaturized, precise and diversified, will be used by our people and army who display the strongest mental power and indomitable ideology and Juche-oriented [self-reliance] strategy and tactics and unique war methods are unprecedented in the human history of wars, which the gangster-like U.S. imperialists can never think of or imitate.”

Molly HunTer, ABC

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Oro Loma Sanitary District Board Member Laython Landis Competency Questioned

Oro Loma Sanitary District Seek California Attorney General Kamala Harris Permission to File Quo Warranto Action

1 landis 

 San Lorenzo, Calif.–The Board of Directors of Oro Loma Sanitary District  decided Tuesday to seek permission from the Attorney General of the State of California to sue to remove District Board Member Laython Landis from the Board on questions of mental competency.

“We are compelled to take this action to remove Director Landis because of concerns related to his mental capacity to hold office, ” said Board President Timothy P. Becker.

There have been numerous instances and complaints about the mental stability of Landis.  On a recent talk show appearance on KGO Radio, host Brian Copeland reported that Landis was unaware of his location or why he had been invited to attend – all after detailed invitations had been provided to him and he had travelled to the radio station’s studio.  At the Board Meeting of February 2, 2015, while members of the public described how hurtful his comments about African Americans had been, Director Landis stated “Who are they talking about?”

The District said it will seek permission from California Attorney General Kamala Harris to file a Quo Warranto action against Landis.  Quo Warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.

Details about how a Quo Warranto works in California.

The District believes this action against Landis is warranted because his diminishing capacity is hurting the community and hindering the District’s ability to conduct normal business.

In a separate action, on Dec. 23, 2014, the District voted unanimously to publicly censure District Board Member Landis for a racially derogatory comment about African Americans made during a public committee meeting, as well as for other personal misconduct.

“As public servants to the citizens of the Oro Loma Sanitary District, we hold ourselves, our staff, and our elected officials to the highest standards.  That is why we were compelled to respond swiftly and responsibly to the unacceptable racial slur against African Americans made by District Board Member Laython “Judge” Landis at a Committee meeting held on December 10, 2014,” said Board President Becker.

Becker added that the District has previously warned and reprimanded Director Landis, but he seemed unwilling or unable to change his behavior.  The Board took the action to publically censure Director Landis for his behavior because it wants the public and the District staff to know that offensive, repugnant and wrongful behavior will not be tolerated.

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Sweet Cakes By Melissa Violated Oregon Law By Turning Away Lesbian Couple, Officials Rule

The owners of an Oregon bakery who turned away a lesbian couple who sought a wedding cake violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws, state officials announced Feb. 2.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein, who own Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, will have to pay the lesbian couple up to $150,000, USA Today is reporting. The final amount is set to be determined at a March 10 hearing, according to the report.

Bureau spokesman Charlie Burr said in a statement cited by Reuters that although Oregon law provides an exemption for religious institutions, it “does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion.”

He added, “The bakery is not a religious institution under the law.”

Attorney Paul Thompson, who is advising the lesbian couple, told OregonLive that he was happy with the ruling, noting, “The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white.”

Meanwhile, Anna Harmon, the Kleins’ lawyer, called the ruling “wrong and dangerous,” and added, “Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means.”

In October, the Kleins told The Daily Signal that a large fine from the state would “definitely” be enough to bankrupt the couple and their five children. Meanwhile,footage of Melissa Klein’s emotional speech about the case at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. went viral in the blogosphere around the same time.

At the time of the 2013 incident, Aaron Klein argued that he and Melissa were simply living in accordance with their religious beliefs by rejecting the lesbian couple’s request.

“I believe that marriage is a religious institution ordained by God,” Klein is quoted as saying at the time. “I’d rather have my kids see their dad stand up for what he believes in than to see him bow down because one person complained.”

With more U.S. states implementing same-sex marriage legislation, bakeries have become an unlikely battleground for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in recent months.

In January, the owner of a Colorado-based bakery was slapped with a religious discrimination complaint after she refused to bake a cake decorated with anti-gay images and phrases.

CurtiS Wong, Huffington Post

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ZERO WASTE Grocery Store: This is what every market on Earth should look like

Berlin grocery store, Original Unverpackt, is an experiment in grocering.  They sell upwards of 350 products dispensed from refillable containers, while some of the liquids come in bottles with deposits on them.  The store creates zero waste and the customer is able to purchase exactly as much as he or she needs, which contributes to less waste at home.

Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski crowdfunded the store and, driven by the idea to do “something impossible,” have established a way to economically sell food without contributing to the huge amounts of municipal waste caused by food packaging.

Click here:

Zero Waste Grocery Store

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Christie Says Parents Should Have ‘Choice’ on Vaccinations

Amid an outbreak of measles that has spread across 14 states, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey on Monday said that parents “need to have some measure of choice” about vaccinating their children against the virus, breaking with President Obama and much of the medical profession.

In remarks here, Mr. Christie at first stopped short of recommending that parents immunize their children against measles, or any other illness, calling for “balance” and “choice.” But his remarks quickly sparked an outcry, prompting the governor to modify his position about an hour later and declare, through a spokesman, that “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

Mr. Christie, when asked about the connection between the new measles cases and parents who object to the long-recommended vaccine against it, said that he and his wife had vaccinated their four children. He called that “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.”

But he added: “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Mr. Christie said that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

Mr. Obama on Sunday night issued an unambiguous call for parents to have their children vaccinated. He called the scientific rationale for using the vaccines “pretty indisputable.”

Mr. Christie did not offer any such urgency or firmness in his original remarks. That prompted a scolding response from the White House. Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, took to Twitter to request that Mr. Christie “clarify” his statement. “It’s important that responsible leaders speak with one voice,” Mr. Pfeiffer wrote.

Doctors warn that up to 1,000 people may have been exposed to measles in recent weeks, a risk linked to parents who, against the advice of the medical profession, refuse to vaccinate their children for a variety of reasons.

Mr. Christie spoke during an impromptu news conference in front of a facility for MedImmune, an American company that makes a nasal flu vaccine, called FluMist. Inside, Mr. Christie donned a lab coat and protective plastic goggles.

He is traveling in the London area on a three-day trade mission.

NYTimes

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Nine young gay men, attacked by mob, arrested and tortured by Uganda police

Nine young gay men, who were attacked by a homophobic mob, were arrested by Uganda police and tortured while in jail.

They could face charges of sodomy, and could be punished with life imprisonment.

On 15 January, the Rainbow Health Foundation helped the nine men go to an STI screening and treatment visit to a rural area in western Uganda.

After being tested, some of the young men went to go visit a friend, but an anti-gay mob soon gathered with the intention of beating or killing them.

Police initially detained the men to protect them, and began the consideration of filing sodomy charges against them.

But as they were doing this, the mob was not deterred.

‘The mob kept increasing. They followed the boys to the police station, chanting and saying, “Show them no mercy,”‘ Dismus Aine Kevin, director of the RGF, told 76 Crimes.

He said the ‘angry mob made it clear they wanted to break down the police doors’ to get at the young men.

Police took the boys from the local station to district police headquarters, with the mob increasing ‘by the minute’.

Reinforcements were called in, and armed police officers arrived with a vehicle. When the young men were taken to a much more secure district police station, they were put in cells.

During that time, they were subject to an ‘anal examination’. These procedures, which ‘doctors’ claim the larger the width of the whole the more ‘likely’ the person is gay, have been deemed scientifically nonsensical and human rights organizations have condemned these tests as being inconclusive, degrading and a form of torture’.

Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum and the Defenders Protection Initiative spent five days trying to free the young men, but were eventually successful on 20 January.

The local council chairman, who confirmed what had occurred has been quoted as saying he wished at least two of them had been killed, so the others ‘would learn a lesson’.

Due to the lack of finances, the men had no option but to return home and to possibly face being attacked again.

76Crimes.com’s Denis LeBlanc said: ‘The young men are living in fear for their lives. Some are house hopping, others are hiding in fields; these young men are in real danger should they be found.’

There are now efforts to raise funds for the victims in order to place them in a safe house or relocate them to a more secure area. Donations can be made to RHF’s PayPal account using their e-mail address donate2rhfm@gmail.com.

From GayStarNews
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FORMER SAN FRANCSICO SENTINEL OWNER PAT MURPHY DIES AFTER LONG ILLNESS

Pat Murphy, a San Francisco political reporter and rabble-rouser, died this week after a series of health complications including emphysema and cirrhosis.

 Murphy was the founder and previous owner of the San Francisco Sentinel, an online information source for local and national politics and culture. He took over the publication in May of 1997 (then called the “District 9 Sentinel”) out of his “concern over the republican control of Congress.”  Knowing that all politics is local, he covered San Francisco city hall and local politics to make sure that views from the left and libertarians were heard and celebrated.

Murphy worked as publisher, editor, and reporter at the paper for 10 years until he went into semi-retirement due to health problems in 2009.

Murphy began his career as a General Assignment reporter for the Richmond Independent, the Berkeley Daily Gazette, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as Managing Editor of the St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger at age 21.

He also launched ValPak couponing in San Francisco, as the company’s first San Francisco franchise owner. He walked the bricks, developing ad strategy for a broad range of restaurants and merchants.

As Terence Alan, former board member of the North of Market Neighborhood Improvement Corporation once said, “Murphy is an excellent example of hands-on journalism in a changing delivery news market.”

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Desperate Republicans Are Trying To Recruit Elizabeth Warren To Run Against Hillary Clinton

Republicans are so worried about Hillary Clinton that they are trying to recruit Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to run against the former Secretary of State.

The New York Times reported:

On cable television and in private strategy sessions, conservatives are steadily stoking the flames of a movement to recruit Ms. Warren, who has said she will not run but whose anti-Wall Street economic message resonates with the liberal base of the Democratic Party.

The tactic says much about the 2016 landscape for Republicans. A crowded field of people who say they are considering running for president — including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and the 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney — has emerged. That means the party is expecting a bruising ideological battle for the nomination.

An easy path to the nomination could allow Mrs. Clinton to enter a general election with more funding than the Republican nominee, who would have had to spend heavily to beat a wide field of competitors. Ms. Warren represents Republicans’ best hope for an expensive, prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination, weakening Mrs. Clinton along the way, political operatives on both sides say.

Republicans see the same dynamic that played out in 2012 happening again in 2016. The difference being that Hillary Clinton has the potential to take back the White House and have long enough coattails to help Democrats take back the Senate and pick up House seats. Republicans have been terrified for years of Clinton’s candidacy. The RNC was so worried about the impact of a long and bruising primary that they tried to front load and rig the process so that a nominee could be chosen quickly.

Things are quickly spiraling out of control for the Republicans as they head into 2016. Currently, there are no less than eighteen Republicans who could be presidential candidates. The establishment was ready to rally around Chris Christie until Bridgegate happened. Jeb Bush is a candidate who isn’t generating much enthusiasm outside of the donor class, and the resurfacing of Mitt Romney has added chaos to the entire process. It is looking more like the Republicans will go through a bloody fight to pick their nominee.

Sen. Warren can see the writing on the wall. There is no way that she will do the GOP’s dirty work for them. The so-called Warren wing of the Democratic Party is tiny and heavily outnumbered compared to the Obama/Clinton coalition that is lining up behind the former Sec. of State. Republicans can see what is coming down the road, which is why their last best hope may be to try to cause a fracture in Democratic unity. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to take the bait.

Republicans know that they probably won’t be able to stop Hillary Clinton, so they are hoping that Elizabeth Warren will do their dirty work for them. Democrats will likely stand together and watch the Republican Party tear itself apart.

 

From Politicus USA

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“Has America gone crazy?”

Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States.  Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet.  I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world for way too many reasons to go into here.

That’s changed, of course. Even after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I still met people — in the Middle East, no less — willing to withhold judgment on the U.S.  Many thought that the Supreme Court’s installation of George W. Bush as president was a blunder American voters would correct in the election of 2004. His return to office truly spelled the end of America as the world had known it.  Bush had started a war, opposed by the entire world, because he wanted to and he could. A majority of Americans supported him.  And that was when all the uncomfortable questions really began.

In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.

Then recently, I traveled back to the “homeland.”  It struck me there that most Americans have no idea just how strange we now seem to much of the world. In my experience, foreign observers are far better informed about us than the average American is about them. This is partly because the “news” in the American media is so parochial and so limited in its views both of how we act and how other countries think — even countries with which we were recently, are currently, or threaten soon to be at war. America’s belligerence alone, not to mention its financial acrobatics, compels the rest of the world to keep close track of us.  Who knows, after all, what conflict the Americans may drag you into next, as target or reluctant ally?

So wherever we expatriates settle on the planet, we find someone who wants to talk about the latest American events, large and small: another country bombed in the name of our “national security,” another peaceful protest march attacked by our increasingly militarized police, another diatribe against “big government” by yet another wannabe candidate who hopes to head that very government in Washington.  Such news leaves foreign audiences puzzled and full of trepidation.

Question Time

Take the questions stumping Europeans in the Obama years (which 1.6 million Americans residing in Europe regularly find thrown our way).  At the absolute top of the list: “Why would anyone oppose national health care?” European and other industrialized countries have had some form of national health care since the 1930s or 1940s, Germany since 1880.  Some versions, as in France and Great Britain, have devolved into two-tier public and private systems.  Yet even the privileged who pay for a faster track would not begrudge their fellow citizens government-funded comprehensive health care. That so many Americans do strikes Europeans as baffling, if not frankly brutal.

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially advanced in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program, funded by the state, is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system.  In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have an equal right to education (state subsidized preschool from age one, and free schools from age six through specialty training or university education and beyond), unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining services, paid parental leave, old age pensions, and more.  These benefits are not merely an emergency “safety net”; that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy.  They are universal: equally available to all citizens as human rights encouraging social harmony — or as our own U.S. constitution would put it, “domestic tranquility.”  It’s no wonder that, for many years, international evaluators have ranked Norway as the best place to grow old, to be a woman, and to raise a child. The title of “best” or “happiest” place to live on Earth comes down to a neighborly contest among Norway and the other Nordic social democracies, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

In Norway, all benefits are paid for mainly by high taxation. Compared to the mind-numbing enigma of the U.S. tax code, Norway’s is remarkably straightforward, taxing income from labor and pensions progressively, so that those with higher incomes pay more. The tax department does the calculations, sends an annual bill, and taxpayers, though free to dispute the sum, willingly pay up, knowing what they and their children get in return. And because government policies effectively redistribute wealth and tend to narrow the country’s slim income gap, most Norwegians sail pretty comfortably in the same boat. (Think about that!)

Life and Liberty

This system didn’t just happen. It was planned. Sweden led the way in the 1930s, and all five Nordic countries pitched in during the postwar period to develop their own variations of what came to be called the Nordic Model: a balance of regulated capitalism, universal social welfare, political democracy, and the highest levels of gender and economic equality on the planet. It’s their system. They invented it. They like it. Despite the efforts of an occasional conservative government to muck it up, they maintain it. Why?

In all the Nordic countries, there is broad general agreement across the political spectrum that only when people’s basic needs are met — when they can cease to worry about their jobs, their incomes, their housing, their transportation, their health care, their kids’ education, and their aging parents — only then can they be free to do as they like. While the U.S. settles for the fantasy that, from birth, every kid has an equal shot at the American dream, Nordic social welfare systems lay the foundations for a more authentic equality and individualism.

These ideas are not novel. They are implied in the preamble to our own Constitution. You know, the part about “we the People” forming  “a more perfect Union” to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Even as he prepared the nation for war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt memorably specified components of what that general welfare should be in his State of the Union address in 1941. Among the “simple basic things that must never be lost sight of,” he listed“equality of opportunity for youth and others, jobs for those who can work, security for those who need it, the ending of special privileges for the few, the preservation of civil liberties for all,” and oh yes, higher taxes to pay for those things and for the cost of defensive armaments.

Knowing that Americans used to support such ideas, a Norwegian today is appalled to learn that a CEO of a major American corporation makes between 300 and 400 times as much as its average employee. Or that governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey, having run up their state’s debts by cutting taxes for the rich, now plan to cover the loss with money snatched from the pension funds of workers in the public sector. To a Norwegian, the job of government is to distribute the country’s good fortune reasonably equally, not send it zooming upward, as in America today, to a sticky-fingered one percent.

In their planning, Norwegians tend to do things slowly, always thinking of the long term, envisioning what a better life might be for their children, their posterity.  That’s why a Norwegian, or any northern European, is aghast to learn that two-thirds of American college students finish their education in the red, some owing $100,000 or more. Or that in the U.S., still the world’s richest country, one in three children lives in poverty, along with one in fiveyoung people between the ages of 18 and 34. Or that America’s recent multi-trillion-dollar wars were fought on a credit card to be paid off by our kids. Which brings us back to that word: brutal.

Implications of brutality, or of a kind of uncivilized inhumanity, seem to lurk in so many other questions foreign observers ask about America like: How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba, and why can’t you shut it down?  Or: How can you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty? The follow-up to which often is: How could you pick as president a man proud of executing his fellow citizens at the fastest raterecorded in Texas history?  (Europeans will not soon forget George W. Bush.)

Other things I’ve had to answer for include:

* Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?

* Why can’t you understand science?

* How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?

* How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?

* How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?

* How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?

* Why do you Americans like guns so much?  Why do you kill each other at such a rate?

To many, the most baffling and important question of all is: Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up more and more trouble for all of us?

That last question is particularly pressing because countries historically friendly to the United States, from Australia to Finland, are struggling to keep up with an influx of refugees from America’s wars and interventions. Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies. Only last month, such a party almost toppled the sitting social democratic government of Sweden, a generous country that has absorbed more than its fair share of asylum seekers fleeing the shock waves of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

The Way We Are

Europeans understand, as it seems Americans do not, the intimate connection between a country’s domestic and foreign policies. They often trace America’s reckless conduct abroad to its refusal to put its own house in order.  They’ve watched the United States unravel its flimsy safety net, fail to replace its decaying infrastructure, disempower most of its organized labor, diminish its schools, bring its national legislature to a standstill, and create the greatest degree of economic and social inequality in almost a century. They understand why Americans, who have ever less personal security and next to no social welfare system, are becoming more anxious and fearful. They understand as well why so many Americans have lost trust in a government that has done so little new for them over the past three decades or more, except for Obama’s endlessly embattled health care effort, which seems to most Europeans a pathetically modest proposal.

What baffles so many of them, though, is how ordinary Americans in startling numbers have been persuaded to dislike “big government” and yet support its new representatives, bought and paid for by the rich. How to explain that? In Norway’s capital, where a statue of a contemplative President Roosevelt overlooks the harbor, many America-watchers think he may have been the last U.S. president who understood and could explain to the citizenry what government might do for all of them. Struggling Americans, having forgotten all that, take aim at unknown enemies far away — or on the far side of their own towns.

It’s hard to know why we are the way we are, and — believe me — even harder to explain it to others. Crazy may be too strong a word, too broad and vague to pin down the problem. Some people who question me say that the U.S. is “paranoid,” “backward,” “behind the times,” “vain,” “greedy,” “self-absorbed,” or simply “dumb.”  Others, more charitably, imply that Americans are merely “ill-informed,” “misguided,” “misled,” or “asleep,” and could still recover sanity.  But wherever I travel, the questions follow, suggesting that the United States, if not exactly crazy, is decidedly a danger to itself and others. It’s past time to wake up, America, and look around.  There’s another world out here, an old and friendly one across the ocean, and it’s full of good ideas, tried and true.

Ann Jones, tomdispatch.com

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