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Drakes Bay Oyster Will Remain Open Pending Supreme Court Petition

Ninth Circuit Grants Motion Based on Significant Possibility of Oyster Farm Win in High Court

The Ninth Circuit has granted Drakes Bay Oyster’s motion to allow the historic oyster farm to remain open while its legal team petitions for the case to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The small, family-owned farm has been in a heated legal battle with federal regulators for its survival.

In granting the stay, the court had to find that there is a “reasonable probability” that the Supreme Court will take this case and a “significant possibility” that the oyster farm will win.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve our community while the high court considers our case,” said Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.

Observers of the closely watched case have expected the Supreme Court might want to hear the case in order to resolve three circuit splits—that is, issues on which two or more circuits in the U.S. court of appeals system have given different interpretations of federal law. The splits in this case are on important issues:  jurisdiction over agency actions, applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and prejudicial error under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The Ninth Circuit majority’s decision also presents a conflict with several decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court itself. In addition, Drakes Bay Oyster will suffer irreparable harm if the mandate is not stayed.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

The historic oyster farm in Drakes Estero, located in Point Reyes, Marin County, has been part of the community for nearly 100 years. The Lunnys, a fourth-generation Point Reyes ranching family, purchased the oyster farm in 2004. Modern environmentalists and proponents of sustainable agriculture praise Drakes Bay Oyster as a superb example of how people can produce high-quality food in harmony with the environment. The farm produces approximately one third of all oysters grown in California, and employs 30 members of the community. The Lunnys also contribute the oyster shells that make possible the restoration of native oysters in San Francisco Bay and the oyster shells used to create habitat for the endangered Snowy Plover and Least Tern. As the last oyster cannery in California, Drakes Bay is the only local (and thus the only safe and affordable) source of these shells. The Lunny family is proud of its contributions to a sustainable food model that conserves and maintains the productivity of the local landscapes and the health of its inhabitants. For more information, please visit www.drakesbayoyster.com.

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Is Fox News Dying?

This morning I woke up and had a piece ready to post on an America beyond our type of crony Capitalism. But then I stumbled onto a piece written by Frank Rich in the New York Magazine titled “Stop Beating a Dead Fox.” Why not start a Monday on a note of hope that a splinter will eventually be removed?

One must agree that a title like the above is going to peak one’s interest. Anything with Fox (News) in print or online generally does. After reading and digesting Frank Rich’s article, maybe it should not.

Early in the story Frank Rich wrote the following.

these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost.

He hits it on the nail. While the loudest person may get attention, many times they have nothing to say. Eventually only a few continue to react in any substantive manner to said noise maker or bully. One sees that as Chris Christie’s own bullying is tamed by reality and scandal. Bill Maher did a prescient New Rule skit on these tactics.

Frank Rich points out that as loud and disruptive as Fox News has been and still is, that has not turned into a net positive for the Right or Republicans.

a pair of political analysts wrote at Reuters last year, “When the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the ten presidential elections,” but since 1992, when “conservative media began to flourish” (first with Rush Limbaugh’s ascendancy, then with Fox), Democrats have won the popular vote five out of six times. You’d think they’d be well advised to leave Fox News to its own devices so that it can continue to shoot its own party in the foot.

In effect good solid straight fact based news is good for Democrats and Republicans alike. When American’s have fact based messages that resonate they react and vote for the best candidate they perceive at that  time, Democrat or Republican. In the aggregate, ultimately the charlatan loses and the Party is penalized.

Frank Rich points out a most important fact. The cable news audience is not all that large. So why is so much made of the relative strength’s between MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN?

But as Wolff also observed, “The cable audience, for all the attention heaped on it for its theoretical political sway, is not that large.” To put it mildly. As the overwhelming leader in its field, Fox draws just over a million viewers in prime time—a ­pittance and a niche next to even the ever-declining network newscasts, of which the lowest rated (CBS Evening News) still can attract a nightly audience as large as 8 million.

That the lowest rated broadcast news gets many times more viewers than the highest rated cable news show should be probative.

So exactly why is Fox News on a slow glide to irrelevance and broadcast death at least in its current form? Frank Rich gives the answer.

Hard as it may be to fathom, Fox Nation is even more monochromatically white than the GOP is, let alone the American nation. Two percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were black. According to new Nielsen data, only 1.1 percent of Fox News’s prime-time viewership is (as opposed to 25 percent for MSNBC, 14 percent for CNN, and an average of roughly 12 percent for the three broadcast networks’ evening news programs).

The above demographic gets worse every year. But it is not only about demographics. It is about culture. The American culture is changing. States legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage is anathema to everything Fox News is willing to report on objectively. This applies to many other societal issues.

Fox News is behind the curve in merging itself with New Media. It’s master, Roger Ailes is rather technophobic.

He doesn’t have a clue that his great cable-news innovation at Fox, The Crawl, is aging as fast in the day of Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr as ticker tape did with the advent of computer terminals. He is so tech-phobic that when Glenn Beck left Fox to start his own empire online, he pronounced him “crazy” because “no one walks away from television.”

Frank Rich gives some timely advice to those who continue to obsess on Fox News.He opines  that it is a waste of time that may actually be delaying necessary  progress in both the narrative and political battles to come.

while the right remains obsessed with fighting its unending war against a nearly lame-duck president, it behooves liberals to move on and start transitioning out of their Fox fixation. Paradoxically enough, the most powerful right-wing movement in the country, the insurgency in the Republican grassroots, loathes the Boehner-Christie-Rove-centric Fox News nearly as much as the left does. The more liberals keep fighting the last war against the more and more irrelevant Ailes, the less prepared they’ll be for the political war to come

One must admit that it is difficult to ignore the bully. It is difficult to ignore that loud, disruptive, and ever present voice. There is a middle ground however. As the current iteration of Fox News dies, one can help the demise of their misinformation by pointing it out and moving on without obsessing. One must remember however that as a star dies, it gets evermore so large and bright just before it is snuffed.

 

From Egberto Willies

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Peking Astronauts Tumble into Zellerbach

 

International stars The Peking Acrobats return to Cal Performances on Saturday, January 25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 26 at 3 p.m. for three performances described as “amazing—and stunning and breathtaking and WOW!” (Seattle Times). Led by director Ken T. Hai, the troupe delights audiences with a stunning variety of performances, including wire-walking, trick-cycling, precision tumbling, somersaulting, and gymnastics. This elite group consisting of gymnasts, jugglers, cyclists, tumblers and musicians is considered one of the top practitioners of the ancient art of Chinese acrobatics. The Peking Acrobats will be accompanied by Jigu! Thunder Drums of China, a world-renowned company of drummers, percussionists, and musicians who play traditional Chinese instruments, such as the erhu (small bowed instrument with two strings), pipa (lute-like string instrument), dizi (flute made of bamboo) and the yangquin (dulcimer played with bamboo mallets).

The Peking Acrobats have been ambassadors of the unique and storied pageantry of Chinese Carnivals since the group’s 1986 tour of North America. The origins of Chinese acrobatics began nearly 2,200 years ago during the Ch’in Dynasty (221–207 B.C.). However, the art truly started to flourish into a wide variety of juggling, tumbling, and magic acts known as the “Hundred Entertainments” during the Han Dynasty (207 B.C.–A.D. 220). To this day, acrobats are given high status and honor in China as they are chosen from a highly selective process and are dedicated, hardworking artists.

The Peking Acrobats have enjoyed success worldwide. Notable performances include collaborations with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Atlanta, San Diego, and San Francisco symphonies. The troupe has also been featured on many television shows and specials, including The Wayne Brady Show, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, NBC’s Ring in the New Year Holiday Special, Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous, and Fox’s Guinness Book Primetime TV in which they set the world record for on the height of the human chair stack.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets for The Peking Acrobats on Saturday, January 25 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, January 26 at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $22.00 to $56.00 and are subject to change. Tickets are available through the Cal Performances Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at calperformances.org; and at the door. Half-price tickets are available for children under 16 and UC Berkeley students. For more information about discounts, visit http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

 

 

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The Stealth War on Abortion

By Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone

On the morning of December 11th, Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic 42-year-old minority leader of the Michigan Senate, stood before her colleagues in the Statehouse in Lansing, and told them something she’d told almost no one before. “Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”

No one in the gallery said a word. Instead, with just hours to go before it broke for Christmas recess, Michigan’s overwhelmingly male, Republican-dominated Legislature, having held no hearings nor even a substantive debate, voted to pass one of the most punishing pieces of anti-abortion legislation anywhere in the country: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which would ban abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest, from virtually every health-insurance policy issued in the state. Women and their employers wanting this coverage will instead have to purchase a separate rider – often described as “rape insurance.” Whitmer, a Democrat known as a fierce advocate for women’s issues, described the new law as “by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve seen in the Michigan Legislature.”

And it’s not just Michigan. Eight other states now have laws preventing abortion coverage under comprehensive private insurance plans – only one of them, Utah, makes an exception for rape. And 24 states, including such traditionally blue states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ban some forms of abortion coverage from policies purchased through the new health exchanges. While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.

All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant.

Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade. “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front,” says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is currently litigating against some of the new anti-choice laws. “The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can’t come right out and say they’re trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place.”

Last June, the right’s stealth attack on abortion rights became front-page news, when, in an attempt to block a vote on a sweeping omnibus bill that included 20 pages of anti-abortion legislation, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis embarked on an 11-hour-plus filibuster in the Texas Statehouse. Wearing rouge-red Mizuno running shoes and an elegant string of pearls, the blond, blue-eyed Davis, a onetime single mother and a graduate of Harvard Law School, became an overnight symbol of what, in many states, is a growing popular resistance to the conservative anti-choice agenda. But Davis’ filibuster failed to prevent the Texas Legislature from holding a special session in July to pass the bill, despite widespread public opposition.

This was the latest failed battle to protect reproductive rights in a state that in the past few years has passed some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. Thanks to the cumulative impact of Texas law, a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure. This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when, in a specific attempt to defund Planned Parenthood – which operated only a portion of the state’s women’s-health clinics – the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screenings for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.

Much of the public outrage in recent years has revolved around extreme measures, like proposed “personhood amendments” that would have outlawed abortion outright, and banned many common forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. But the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business.

Twenty-six states, including Texas, have laws on their books requiring that abortion clinics become mini surgical centers, a costly proposition that would require clinics to widen hallways, expand parking lots, modify janitorial closets or install surgical sinks and pipelines for general anesthesia – regulations most providers say are unnecessary. Four states currently (and four more may soon) require that the doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which applies even in places where the nearest hospitals oppose abortion or are simply too far away to meet the state’s distance requirement. Sixteen states restrict medication-induced abortion; in 39 states, only licensed physicians – not their physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners – are permitted to hand out the drug. Fourteen states ban its use via telemedicine, which is often the only way a woman in a rural part of the country can consult with her doctor.

“It’s a brilliant strategy to package these laws as just making sure abortion is ‘safe,’ [and] in many states, they’ve been able to sell it that way,” says Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But abortion is already safe. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. By comparison, the mortality rate for colonoscopies, also commonly performed in outpatient clinics but not subject to similar restrictions, is about 20 out of 100,000.

This incremental approach to eviscerating abortion rights grew out of the recognition at the highest levels of the pro-life movement that their previous message – equating abortion with murder – and the accompanying extremist tactics weren’t working. “Twenty years ago, we’d storm a clinic and close it down for a day – and then I’d get thrown in jail,” says Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, the infamous Kansas-based anti-abortion group that made its name during the 1980s and early 1990s by blocking the entrances to clinics and holding noisy sit-ins – a practice Congress outlawed in 1994. Other tactics, which ranged from handing out pamphlets emblazoned with the image of aborted fetuses, to “naming and shaming” the friends and associates of abortion providers, proved equally unfruitful. “All of that just made the community angry – at me, at the clinic,” says Newman. “And I hated that. I don’t want to wave pictures on the street just to piss people off. I want to win.” So Newman stopped the overt harassment, and settled on a new plan to push for TRAP laws and document alleged abuses at abortion clinics and report them to the authorities. Today, there are only four clinics offering abortions in all of Kansas, which, like Michigan, has its own version of the “rape insurance” law, and has also imposed myriad other restrictions, including the criminalization of abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy. The so-called “20-week ban” violates one of Roe’s central provisions, that a woman has the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb – roughly 24 weeks by today’s medical standards. Nonetheless, nine states currently impose the ban, basing it on a theory that is widely disputed by medical groups, that a fetus is able to feel pain at five months.

Polls have consistently shown that support for abortion after the first trimester drops precipitously – 64 percent of the country opposes it during the second trimester, and 80 percent opposes it during the third trimester. This has allowed pro-life groups to strike a note that might on the surface seem reasonable, and as Newman points out, “once you start enforcing a second-trimester ban, the camel’s nose is in the tent.” Arkansas has banned abortion after 12 weeks. North Dakota recently passed a law to criminalize abortion after six weeks, a point when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.

Two Washington-based advocacy groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, are responsible for much of the model legislation restricting abortion, as well as for the grassroots organizing that’s been needed to pass it. Of the two, AUL, which describes itself as both the legal arm and “intellectual architect” of the movement, is chiefly responsible for the most recent and highly successful under-the-radar strategy.

“We don’t make frontal attacks,” AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest told the National Catholic Register in 2011. “Never attack where the enemy is strongest.” Some abortion-rights advocates have compared AUL to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter-suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus “pro-life playbook,” Defending Life, which it describes as “the definitive plan for countering a profit-centered and aggressive abortion industry, while laying the groundwork for the ultimate reversal of Roe.” Among its annual features is a 50-state “report card” on the state of anti-abortion legislation, as well as a step-by-step guide, Yoest says, to help lawmakers “understand that Roe v. Wade doesn’t preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.”

While “each state has a different scenario,” says Yoest, AUL’s central strategy is to make women – not the “unborn” – the focal point of its efforts. In the past few years, AUL has drafted numerous bills that claim to protect women, recently including them in a new package it has dubbed the “Women’s Protection Project.” Based on misleading facts and dubious medical information, the package is full of model legislation with names like the “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” (which requires parental notification or consent for underage abortions), the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” (imposes draconian regulations on abortion providers), the “Women’s Health Defense Act” (designed to protect women from the supposed physical and emotional health risks posed by later-term abortion) and the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” perhaps the most punishing measure in the package. To make it possible for a woman to give her “informed consent” before terminating a pregnancy, it requires that she view the fetus she is about to abort, justifying a mandatory ultrasound. “Forced ultrasounds tell a woman exactly what she already knows – that she’s pregnant,” says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “These laws aren’t intended to provide new or useful information; they are intended to force more burden and shame on women who are simply exercising a constitutional right.”

In 2012, Arizona became the first state to pass a version of the Women’s Health Defense Act, one of 65 “life-affirming” laws that AUL claims credit for in the past three years. According to the ACLU, during the 2013 legislative session AUL worked in at least 27 states to, among other things, ban later-term abortion in North Dakota, further limit access to abortion care in Kansas, tighten regulations on parental-consent laws in Arkansas and Montana, and restrict access to medication abortion in Mississippi, a state where unnecessary regulation has already shut down all but one abortion clinic.

While all of this speaks to the clever tactics of anti-abortion groups, it also speaks to the new culture of the Republican Party. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Michigan, where gerrymandering combined with term limits have handed the GOP a hammerlock on the state Legislature, at least one-third of whose members are freshmen during any given term. Because of this, abortion opponents like the National Right to Life Committee’s Michigan affiliate now have the kind of broad political influence they might have only dreamed of a few years earlier. “Right to Life of Michigan is looked upon by most Republican legislators – and probably some Democratic legislators – as one of the most coercive, if not the most coercive lobbying group in the state,” says former U.S. congressman Joe Schwarz, a self-described pro-choice Republican who served 16 years in the Michigan Statehouse, from 1987 to 2002. “The amount of pressure Right to Life both directly and indirectly puts on legislators in Michigan is considerable. And some legislators aren’t exactly profiles in courage when it comes to standing up to these guys.”

Right to Life of Michigan’s president, Barbara Listing, who also sits on the board of the national organization, is known as a savvy operator who has wielded power in the Michigan Statehouse for more than 20 years. As far back as the early 1990s, recalls former Republican legislator Shirley Johnson, Listing would show up in the gallery and tell pro-life legislators how to vote. “We’d be voting on an amendment, something that those members who vote Right to Life did not have the opportunity to read, and they would look right up there and she’d give them a thumbs up or thumbs down,” says Johnson. “Most of us were shocked, but we got used to it.”

Michigan’s “rape insurance” law was written by Right to Life, which had proposed it twice before – most recently in 2012. Two governors, including Republican Rick Snyder, vetoed the bill – Snyder, who opposes abortion, nonetheless said he felt the bill “went too far.” So Right to Life employed a rarely used provision in the state constitution that allows for a citizens’ initiative to bring a bill to the Legislature, provided a certain percentage of the electorate supports it. Michigan abortion opponents spent four months gathering the requisite 258,088 signatures to reintroduce the insurance ban, skirting the veto entirely. “We used the democratic process and we won,” says Right to Life of Michigan spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling.

After the vote, says Gretchen Whitmer, a number of her Republican colleagues approached her to say they wished they’d had the courage to vote against the bill. “That was a tough thing to hear,” she says. “Not one Republican stood up and defended what they were doing – not one. Every one of them will get up and defend a business tax cut. Not one of them defended this action.”

Of the 30 states that have been actively pursuing the anti-abortion agenda, most, like Michigan, are also anti-union right-to-work states, where the alliance of powerful donors and corporate interests has been steadily working to change the political game. Thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision, conservative dark-money groups have spent millions on political campaigns, much of it impossible to trace. “There’s a lot of money behind this effort, and you have to ask, ‘Why is that?’” says the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northup. “It’s been apparent to me for a long time that this is part of a huge, larger agenda, and we’re just the canary in the coal mine. What this is really about is democracy.”

In Michigan, Amway scion Richard “Dick” DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state’s “freedom to work” legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state’s “rape insurance” bill.

A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor’s mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public’s scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the “motorcycle-vagina bill,” as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state’s 16 abortion clinics.

Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”

Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.

“This is what progressives don’t understand,” says Tabachnick. “The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they’re in a place where regardless of what’s happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that’s helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up.”

This union has been the key to not just the success of pro-life legislation, but also the avalanche of other model legislation to defeat the federal government promoted by groups like ALEC, which receives heavy backing from the State Policy Network, the free-market coalition of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” with branches in every state. Though they maintain their focus is strictly economic, many lawmakers who serve as state ALEC chairs also happen to be the leading proponents of anti-abortion legislation. At an ALEC conference last August in Chicago, Wisconsin Democrat Chris Taylor, a state senator, recalls that AUL had a prominent booth in the exhibition hall. “The relationship isn’t formal,” she says, “but they are clearly working in conjunction to help change the face of the legislatures.”

The good news is that in states where some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation has been proposed, the public is fighting back. On Monday, January 6th, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing arguments from pro-choice organizations on why the Texas laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges and regulating how they can prescribe abortion-induced drugs were unconstitutional. And Wendy Davis, whose filibuster catapulted her to national prominence, is now running for Texas governor, hoping to reverse two decades of Republican control. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters rejected a 20-week ban that would have amounted to the first municipal abortion restriction in the country. But the victory, decided by 55 percent of Albuquerque voters, only came after abortion-rights groups poured close to $700,000 into defeating the measure, outspending anti-abortion organizations by more than three to one.

“Republicans are alienating women voters with these policies, and the number of women who are running and winning at the state and federal levels proves that women reject this regressive agenda,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to state and federal offices. But while some on the left think the right may have overplayed its hand, others see these defeats as simply incidental. “This type of thinking is how progressives delude themselves,” says Tabachnick. “The problem with the left is that it pretty much fights every battle from scratch. But the right is playing chess: They are willing to lose a pawn here or there to achieve the larger goal.”

This story is from the January 30th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

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Legal experts: Alleged Sandy extortion could be more serious than Bridgegate

Legal experts in New Jersey aren’t surprised at how quickly area U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman responded to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that the Chris Christie administration tried to extort her into supporting a development project if she wanted more Sandy relief funding.  They not only think there’s enough evidence to open a preliminary investigation (a BFD in and of itself)–but that in the long run, Christie may have more to fear from this than Bridgegate.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.

“Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious.”

Aidan O’Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office considering the gravity of Zimmer’s charges and the enormous public interest.

“You’re going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do,” O’Connor said. “The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation.”

He said the mayor’s journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration’s struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer’s memory of the encounters.

“At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor’s word at this stage,” O’Connor said.

But Cohen said the diary would be “a very important piece of evidence.”

“It adds credibility to the statement,” the Fordham professor said. “She took the trouble to write something down.”

Cohen went on to say that this case will almost certainly go to court, since it’s a slam dunk that there’s probably more evidence.  He also thinks that if there is something to these charges, other local officials will likely speak up.  And if this ends up going to trial, anyone involved in this could face some serious jail time–with some of the potential offenses carrying a minimum of five years in prison.

Zimmer outlined some of that potential evidence last night on Anderson Cooper 360.  She produced two letters that document how she claims the Christie administration was turning the screws on her.  She also revealed why she waited so long to come forward–she was afraid if she spoke up any sooner, it would cripple her city’s chances of getting more funding.  Watch part 1 of that interview here and part 2 here.

The first letter, dated April 23, says that given the damage to Hoboken’s infrastructure, the proposed development project would be a waste.  She told Christie in no uncertain terms, “Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken’s flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development.”  The second letter, dated May 8, was penned less than 24 hours after the already battered city was slammed by a rainstorm; much of the western half of the city was flooded.  Zimmer was aghast that Christie refused to greenlight any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan.  The implication–that funding was dependent on the development project.  According to the Jersey (City) Journal the Hoboken planning board effectively deep-sixed the project on the same day Zimmer sent her second letter.

I have to admit, I was surprised that this could potentially be more serious than Bridgegate.  After all, it doesn’t seem that you could get more serious than an act that not only willfully interferes with interstate commerce, but also puts people’s lives in danger.  But after reading those letters Zimmer provided, I have to agree that this mess is at least as egregious as Bridgegate.  If Zimmer is telling the truth, Christie and his people knew that an entire city was finding it hard to survive–and yet were still willing to play games with their livelihood.  That makes Christie look even more depraved than Bush 43 partying while the levees blew during Katrina–and I didn’t think that was possible.

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Federal judge sent hundreds of racist messages

Last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Richard Cebull, an appointee of George W. Bush, was caught sending a racist email about President Obama from his courthouse chambers. At the time, Cebull, Montana’s chief federal judge for nearly five years, defended himself by saying the message “was not intended by me in any way to become public.”

It wasn’t long before the Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opened a misconduct review, and on Friday, we learned that Cebull kept awfully busy disseminating offensive messages to his personal and professional contacts. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:
A former Montana judge who was investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths, liberal political leaders, and some emails contained inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

Many of the emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull’s court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 15, 2013, order.
In case it’s not obvious, it’s critically important for federal judges to maintain a sense of credibility and impartiality. Once a jurist is exposed as a bigot, he or she can no longer expect to rule from the bench.

In Cebull’s case, the 9th Circuit was not lenient.

The panel issued a public reprimand, instructed that the judge receive no new cases for 180 days, ordered him to complete new round of judicial training, and told the judge he must issue an apology that acknowledged “the breadth of his behavior.”

Judicial impeachment was ruled out because he was not found to have violated any state or federal laws.

All of this, however, happened 10 months ago. Why didn’t we hear anything until now? Because Cebull resigned the same month as he received the judicial council’s report, making the sanctions moot.

That said, Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, petitioned the panel, arguing that the judicial council’s work should be made public. The committee agreed.

“The imperative of transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct,” the national judicial panel wrote in its decision.

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PG&E Attempt to Improperly Influence California PUC Should Result in Penalty, City of San Bruno Demands in Legal Filing

Jack Hagan, CPUC Safety HeadElizaveta Malashenko

Jack Hagan and Elizaveta Malashenko of the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division made allegedly illegal deal with PG&E

San Bruno, Calif. – An attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to broker what appears to be a secret deal with a California Public Utilities Commission staffer should result in significant penalties and fines for the utility company and the creation of an independent monitor to ensure transparency and accountability of the CPUC, San Bruno demanded in a legal filing with the CPUC today.

The apparent backroom deal, revealed in a report by Jaxon Van Derbecken San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, detailed how PG&E hoped to quietly pay  a $375,000 fine to avoid paying a proposed $2.5 billion in penalties and fines for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight, injured 66, destroyed 38 homes and left a giant hole in the center of the city.

In a legal motion filed with the CPUC on Friday, San Bruno officials demanded that PG&E face a significant fine for violating CPUC rules when, in December, it paid a $375,000 fine imposed by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division – and then quietly asked that the fine count against the multi-billion-dollar penalty it faces for violations stemming from the San Bruno pipeline disaster.

It was revealed that no parties involved in the more than three-year San Bruno penalty proceeding were made aware of PG&E’s secret payment. Instead, the CPUC withdrew the fine and refunded the $375,000 payment amid concerns that PG&E had attempted to broker a backroom deal that could have triggered a form of regulatory double jeopardy, preventing the CPUC’s administrative law judges from levying a sufficient future penalty.

“Instead of being transparent and forthcoming, PG&E appears to have consciously elected to conceal an ill-fated attempt to quietly settle for the fatal and tragic pipeline disaster in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We believe PG&E should be fined and reprimanded for trying to undermine the ongoing penalty investigation and possibly jeopardizing more than three years of work to ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

“This attempt to circumvent the legal and public process also raises troubling questions about the CPUC safety division and its staffer who attempted to conceal this backroom deal,” representatives for the city added. “This action is just the latest attempt by the PG&E and some members of the CPUC safety division to hide from public view the unholy alliance and power PG&E has with our State’s regulatory agency.  That is why San Bruno demands an independent monitor to ensure the CPUC is operating properly and transparently.”

The $375,000 fine was originally levied in December by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division in response to a 2012 audit, which concluded that for more than four decades PG&E lacked the proper procedures to monitor its gas-transmission pipelines. Reliable reports indicate that CPUC safety division deputy director Elizaveta Malashenko, who made this deal with PG&E, has a longstanding personal relationship with PG&E outside of her CPUC job.

Because the infraction related directly to the ongoing San Bruno-related penalty proceeding, it should have been handled as part of that process. Instead, it was handled and paid separately, without notification to any parties and in violation of CPUC’s own procedures.

San Bruno officials say they suspect that a backroom deal, involving illegal ex-parte communications between PG&E and the CPUC, played a role in this mishap. Attorneys for San Bruno have filed a public records request to determine whether PG&E officials spoke directly with CPUC leadership to arrange for the fine that PG&E paid – and later tried using to reduce their overall penalty.

In December, the CPUC fined PG&E $14 million for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

San Bruno officials say this latest attempt to undercut its obligation to the public further underscores the need for an Independent Pipeline Safety Monitor to serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and its regulator, the CPUC.

“The Commission lacks the resources to effectively comprehend and oversee PG&E’s compliance,” said the city’s filling. “An Independent Monitor would partner with and provide additional resources to the Commission in order to have more robust regulatory oversight necessary to protect the safety of the public.”

The San Bruno filing came on the same day as the announcement that CPUC Commissioner Mark Farron will be resigning from the Commission to concentrate on beating prostate cancer.

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Olympic Official Says U.S. Delegation is Too Gay

Whoops, someone at the Olympics seems to have gone a little off-message this week.

“It’s absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have (been established),” Mario Pescante told a committee. “The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily.”

Later, he added, “I just wanted to make the point not to let politics interfere with the Olympics.”

This is a common refrain from Olympic apologists: the event should be about sports, sports, and sports, never about anything else.

This is, of course, a bizarre fantasy. The idea that they have somehow created an event that is immune to politics — well, no such event has ever existed and never will. Saying “it’s not political” doesn’t make it true.

Besides which, as “political” stunts go, arranging for three highly-qualified LGBT athletes to appear together in public is a pretty mild demonstration.

Pescante, by the way, has in the past arranged talks between Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials. Nothing political about that.

 

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How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer.

All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stare—blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar café—was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.

The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked into the corner of a chic industrial-style art gallery and event space (clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Evernote, Google) in downtown San Francisco. There were just three employees working behind the counter: one making coffee, one taking orders, and the soulful guy making toast. In front of him, laid out in a neat row, were a few long Pullman loaves—the boxy Wonder Bread shape, like a train car, but recognizably handmade and freshly baked. And on the brief menu, toast was a standalone item—at $3 per slice.

It took me just a few seconds to digest what this meant: that toast, like the cupcake and the dill pickle before it, had been elevated to the artisanal plane. So I ordered some. It was pretty good. It tasted just like toast, but better.

A couple of weeks later I was at a place called Acre Coffee in Petaluma, a smallish town about an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 101. Half of the shop’s food menu fell under the heading “Toast Bar.” Not long after that I was with my wife and daughter on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, and we went to The Mill, a big light-filled cafe and bakery with exposed rafters and polished concrete floors, like a rustic Apple Store. There, between the two iPads that served as cash registers, was a small chalkboard that listed the day’s toast menu. Everywhere the offerings were more or less the same: thick slices of good bread, square-shaped, topped with things like small-batch almond butter or apricot marmalade or sea salt.

Back at the Red Door one day, I asked the manager what was going on. Why all the toast? “Tip of the hipster spear,” he said.

I had two reactions to this: First, of course, I rolled my eyes. How silly; how twee; how perfectly San Francisco, this toast. And second, despite myself, I felt a little thrill of discovery. How many weeks would it be, I wondered, before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in Slate telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know. Maybe I thought it would help me understand the rise of all the seemingly trivial, evanescent things that start in San Francisco and then go supernova across the country—the kinds of products I am usually late to discover and slow to figure out. I’m not sure what kind of answer I expected to turn up. Certainly nothing too impressive or emotionally affecting. But what I found was more surprising and sublime than I could have possibly imagined.

IF THE DISCOVERY OF artisanal toast had made me roll my eyes, it soon made other people in San Francisco downright indignant. I spent the early part of my search following the footsteps of a very low-stakes mob. “$4 Toast: Why the Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco” ran the headline of an August article on a local technology news site called VentureBeat.

“Flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows,” wrote the author, Jolie O’Dell. “We don’t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.” For a few weeks $4 toast became a rallying cry in the city’s media—an instant parable and parody of the shallow, expensive new San Francisco—inspiring thousands of shares on Facebook, several follow-up articles, and a petition to the mayor’s office demanding relief from the city’s high costs of living.

The butt of all this criticism appeared to be The Mill, the rustic-modern place on Divisadero Street. The Mill was also, I learned, the bakery that supplies the Red Door with its bread. So I assumed I had found the cradle of the toast phenomenon.

I was wrong. When I called Josey Baker, the—yes—baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood—a little spot called Trouble.

THE TROUBLE COFFEE & Coconut Club (its full name) is a tiny storefront next door to a Spanish-immersion preschool, about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean in one of the city’s windiest, foggiest, farthest-flung areas. As places of business go, I would call Trouble impressively odd.

Instead of a standard café patio, Trouble’s outdoor seating area is dominated by a substantial section of a tree trunk, stripped of its bark, lying on its side. Around the perimeter are benches and steps and railings made of salvaged wood, but no tables and chairs. On my first visit on a chilly September afternoon, people were lounging on the trunk drinking their coffee and eating slices of toast, looking like lions draped over tree limbs in the Serengeti.

The shop itself is about the size of a single-car garage, with an L-shaped bar made of heavily varnished driftwood. One wall is decorated with a mishmash of artifacts—a walkie-talkie collection, a mannequin torso, some hand tools. A set of old speakers in the back blares a steady stream of punk and noise rock. And a glass refrigerator case beneath the cash register prominently displays a bunch of coconuts and grapefruit. Next to the cash register is a single steel toaster. Trouble’s specialty is a thick slice of locally made white toast, generously covered with butter, cinnamon, and sugar: a variation on the cinnamon toast that everyone’s mom, including mine, seemed to make when I was a kid in the 1980s. It is, for that nostalgic association, the first toast in San Francisco that really made sense to me.

Trouble’s owner, and the apparent originator of San Francisco’s toast craze, is a slight, blue-eyed, 34-year-old woman with freckles tattooed on her cheeks named Giulietta Carrelli. She has a good toast story: She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Cleveland in the ’80s and ’90s in a big immigrant family, her father a tailor from Italy, her mother an ex-nun. The family didn’t eat much standard American food. But cinnamon toast, made in a pinch, was the exception. “We never had pie,” Carrelli says. “Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast.”

The other main players on Trouble’s menu are coffee, young Thai coconuts served with a straw and a spoon for digging out the meat, and shots of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice called “Yoko.” It’s a strange lineup, but each item has specific meaning to Carrelli. Toast, she says, represents comfort. Coffee represents speed and communication. And coconuts represent survival—because it’s possible, Carrelli says, to survive on coconuts provided you also have a source of vitamin C. Hence the Yoko. (Carrelli tested this theory by living mainly on coconuts and grapefruit juice for three years, “unless someone took me out to dinner.”)

The menu also features a go-for-broke option called “Build Your Own Damn House,” which consists of a coffee, a coconut, and a piece of cinnamon toast. Hanging in the door is a manifesto that covers a green chalkboard. “We are local people with useful skills in tangible situations,” it says, among other things. “Drink a cup of Trouble. Eat a coconut. And learn to build your own damn house. We will help. We are building a network.”

If Trouble’s toast itself made instant sense to me, it was less clear how a willfully obscure coffee shop with barely any indoor seating in a cold, inconvenient neighborhood could have been such a successful launch pad for a food trend. In some ways, the shop seemed to make itself downright difficult to like: It serves no decaf, no non-fat milk, no large drinks, and no espressos to go. On Yelp, several reviewers report having been scolded by baristas for trying to take pictures inside the shop with their phones. (“I better not see that up on Instagram!” one reportedly shouted.)

Nevertheless, most people really seem to love Trouble. On my second visit to the shop, there was a steady line of customers out the door. After receiving their orders, they clustered outside to drink their coffees and eat their toast. With no tables and chairs to allow them to pair off, they looked more like neighbors at a block party than customers at a café. And perhaps most remarkably for San Francisco, none of them had their phones out.

Trouble has been so successful, in fact, that Carrelli recently opened a second, even tinier location in the city’s Bayview neighborhood. I met her there one sunny afternoon. She warned me that she probably wouldn’t have much time to talk. But we chatted for nearly three hours.

In public, Carrelli wears a remarkably consistent uniform: a crop top with ripped black jeans and brown leather lace-up boots, with her blond hair wrapped in Jack Sparrowish scarves and headbands. At her waist is a huge silver screaming-eagle belt buckle, and her torso is covered with tattoos of hand tools and designs taken from 18th-century wallpaper patterns. Animated and lucid—her blue eyes bright above a pair of strikingly ruddy cheeks—Carrelli interrupted our long conversation periodically to banter with pretty much every person who visited the shop.

At first, Carrelli explained Trouble as a kind of sociological experiment in engineering spontaneous communication between strangers. She even conducted field research, she says, before opening the shop. “I did a study in New York and San Francisco, standing on the street holding a sandwich, saying hello to people. No one would talk to me. But if I stayed at that same street corner and I was holding a coconut? People would engage,” she said. “I wrote down exactly how many people talked to me.”

The smallness of her cafés is another device to stoke interaction, on the theory that it’s simply hard to avoid talking to people standing nine inches away from you. And cinnamon toast is a kind of all-purpose mollifier: something Carrelli offers her customers whenever Trouble is abrasive, or loud, or crowded, or refuses to give them what they want. “No one can be mad at toast,” she said.

Carrelli’s explanations made a delightfully weird, fleeting kind of sense as I heard them. But then she told me something that made Trouble snap into focus. More than a café, the shop is a carpentered-together, ingenious mechanism—a specialized tool—designed to keep Carrelli tethered to herself.

 

toast-2

 

EVER SINCE SHE WAS in high school, Carrelli says, she has had something called schizoaffective disorder, a condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolarity. People who have it are susceptible to both psychotic episodes and bouts of either mania or depression.

Carrelli tends toward the vivid, manic end of the mood spectrum, she says, but the onset of a psychotic episode can shut her down with little warning for hours, days, or, in the worst instances, months. Even on good days, she struggles to maintain a sense of self; for years her main means of achieving this was to write furiously in notebooks, trying to get the essentials down on paper. When an episode comes on, she describes the experience as a kind of death: Sometimes she gets stuck hallucinating, hearing voices, unable to move or see clearly; other times she has wandered the city aimlessly. “Sometimes I don’t recognize myself,” she says. “I get so much disorganized brain activity, I would get lost for 12 hours.”

Carrelli’s early years with her illness were, she says, a blind struggle. Undiagnosed, she worked her way through college—three different colleges, in different corners of the country—by booking shows for underground bands and doing stints at record stores and coffee shops. But her episodes were a kind of time bomb that occasionally leveled any structure in her life. Roommates always ended up kicking her out. Landlords evicted her. Relationships fell apart. Employers either fired her or quietly stopped scheduling her for shifts. After a while, she began anticipating the pattern and taking steps to pre-empt the inevitable. “I moved when people started catching on,” she says. By the time she hit 30, she had lived in nine different cities.

Like a lot of people with mental illness, Carrelli self-medicated with drugs, in her case opiates, and alcohol. And sometimes things got very bad indeed. Throughout her 20s, she was in and out of hospitals and periods of homelessness.

One day in 1999, when Carrelli was living in San Francisco and going to school at the University of California-Berkeley, she took a long walk through the city and ended up on China Beach, a small cove west of the Golden Gate. She describes the scene to me in stark detail: The sun was flickering in and out of intermittent fog. A group of Russian men in Speedos were stepping out of the frigid ocean. And an elderly man was sitting in a deck chair, sunbathing in weather that suggested anything but. Carrelli struck up a conversation with the man, whose name was Glen. In a German accent, he told her that people congregated regularly at China Beach to swim in the ocean. He had done so himself when he was younger, he said, but now he just came to the beach to sunbathe every day.

Carrelli left San Francisco shortly thereafter. (“Everything fell apart,” she says.) But her encounter with the old man made such a profound impression that five years later, in 2004—after burning through stints in South Carolina, Georgia, and New York—she drove back across the country and headed for China Beach. When she arrived, she found Glen sitting in the same spot where she had left him in 1999. That day, as they parted ways, he said, “See you tomorrow.” For the next three years, he said the same words to her pretty much every day. “He became this structure,” Carrelli says, “a constant.”

It was perhaps the safe distance between them—an elderly man and a young woman sitting on a public beach—that made Glen relatively impervious to the detonations that had wiped out every other home she’d ever had. “He couldn’t kick me out,” Carrelli says. She sat with her notebooks, and Glen asked her questions about her experiments with strangers and coconuts. Gradually, she began to find other constants. She started joining the swimmers every day, plunging into the Pacific with no wetsuit, even in winter. Her drinking began to taper off. She landed a job at a coffee shop called Farley’s that she managed to keep for three years. And she began assiduously cultivating a network of friends she could count on for help when she was in trouble—a word she uses frequently to refer to her psychotic episodes—while being careful not to overtax any individual’s generosity.

Carrelli also found safety in simply being well-known—in attracting as many acquaintances as possible. That’s why, she tells me, she had always worked in coffee shops. When she is feeling well, Carrelli is a swashbuckling presence, charismatic and disarmingly curious about people. “She will always make a friend wherever she is,” says Noelle Olivo, a San Francisco escrow and title agent who was a regular customer at Farley’s and later gave Carrelli a place to stay for a couple of months. “People are taken aback by her, but she reaches out.”

This gregariousness was in part a survival mechanism, as were her tattoos and her daily uniform of headscarves, torn jeans, and crop tops. The trick was to be identifiable: The more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.

But Carrelli’s grip on stability was still fragile. Between apartments and evictions, she slept in her truck, in parks, at China Beach, on friends’ couches. Then one day in 2006, Carrelli’s boss at Farley’s Coffee discovered her sleeping in the shop, and he told her it was probably time she opened up her own space. “He almost gave me permission to do something I knew I should do,” she recalls. It was clear by then that Carrelli couldn’t really work for anyone else—Farley’s had been unusually forgiving. But she didn’t know how to chart a course forward. At China Beach, she took to her notebooks, filling them with grandiose manifestoes about living with guts and honor and commitment—about, she wrote, building her own damn house.

“Giulietta, you don’t have enough money to eat tonight,” Glen said, bringing her down to Earth. Then he asked her a question that has since appeared in her writing again and again: “What is your useful skill in a tangible situation?”

The answer was easy: she was good at making coffee and good with people. So Glen told her it was time she opened a checking account. He told her to go to city hall and ask if they had information on starting a small business. And she followed his instructions.

With $1,000 borrowed from friends, Carrelli opened Trouble in 2007 in a smelly, cramped, former dog grooming business, on a bleak commercial stretch. She renovated the space pretty much entirely with found materials, and with labor and advice that was bartered for, cajoled, and requested from her community of acquaintances.

She called the shop Trouble, she says, in honor of all the people who helped her when she was in trouble. She called her drip coffee “guts” and her espresso “honor.” She put coconuts on the menu because of the years she had spent relying on them for easy sustenance, and because they truly did help her strike up conversations with strangers. She put toast on the menu because it reminded her of home: “I had lived so long with no comfort,” she says. And she put “Build Your Own Damn House” on the menu because she felt, with Trouble, that she had finally done so.

GLEN—WHOSE FULL NAME was Gunther Neustadt, and who had escaped Germany as a young Jewish boy with his twin sister during World War II—lived to see Trouble open. But he died later that year. In 2008, Carrelli became pregnant and had twins, and she named one of them after her friend from China Beach.

That same year, after having lived in her shop for months, Carrelli got a real apartment. She went completely clean and sober, and has stayed that way. She started to hire staff she could rely on; she worked out a sustainable custody arrangement with her children’s father. And Trouble started to get written up in the press. Customers began to flock there from all over town for toast and coffee and coconuts.

The demands of running the shop, caring for two children, and swimming every day allowed Carrelli to feel increasingly grounded, but her psychotic episodes hardly went away; when they came on, she just kept working somehow. “I have no idea how I ran Trouble,” she says. “I kept piling through.” In 2012, after a five-month episode, Carrelli was hospitalized and, for the first time, given the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Under her current treatment regimen, episodes come far less frequently. But still they come.

At bottom, Carrelli says, Trouble is a tool for keeping her alive. “I’m trying to stay connected to the self,” she says. Like one of her old notebooks, the shop has become an externalized set of reference points, an index of Carrelli’s identity. It is her greatest source of dependable routine and her most powerful means of expanding her network of friends and acquaintances, which extends now to the shop’s entire clientele. These days, during a walking episode, Carrelli says, a hello from a casual acquaintance in some unfamiliar part of the city might make the difference between whether she makes it home that night or not. “I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” she says. “I take the same routes every day. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”

After having struggled as an employee in so many coffee shops, she now employs 14 people. In an almost unheard of practice for the café business, she offers them profit-sharing and dental coverage. And she plans on expanding the business even further, maybe opening up to four or five locations. With the proceeds, she hopes to one day open a halfway house for people who have psychotic episodes—a safe place where they can go when they are in trouble.

WHEN I TOLD FRIENDS  back East about the craze for fancy toast that was sweeping across the Bay Area, they laughed and laughed. (How silly; how twee; how San Francisco.) But my bet is that artisanal toast is going national. I’ve already heard reports of sightings in the West Village.

If the spread of toast is a social contagion, then Carrelli was its perfect vector. Most of us dedicate the bulk of our attention to a handful of relationships: with a significant other, children, parents, a few close friends. Social scientists call these “strong ties.” But Carrelli can’t rely on such a small set of intimates. Strong ties have a history of failing her, of buckling under the weight of her illness. So she has adapted by forming as many relationships—as many weak ties—as she possibly can. And webs of weak ties are what allow ideas to spread.

In a city whose economy is increasingly built on digital social networks—but where simple eye contact is at a premium—Giulietta Carrelli’s latticework of small connections is old-fashioned and analog. It is built not for self-presentation, but for self-preservation. And the spread of toast is only one of the things that has arisen from it.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Trouble because I hadn’t yet built my own damn house. When my coconut came, the next guy at the bar shot me a sideways glance. Sitting there with a slice of toast and a large tropical fruit, I felt momentarily self-conscious. Then the guy said to the barista, “Hey, can I get a coconut too?” and the two of us struck up a conversation.


This post originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issue ofPacific Standard as “A Toast Story” by John Gravous.

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Keystone contractor gives us 5 more reasons it has a conflict of interest

Politico just broke a big story. Environmental Resources Management, the firm hired by the State Department to do the environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is a member of five oil industry booster groups that have advocated for the approval of the pipeline and spent millions to lobby for its approval.

The groups include the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Western Energy Alliance, all of whom signed a letter to Congress calling for approval of the pipeline. API has spent upwards of $16 million lobbying for the pipeline since 2011, not a small sum by any standard.

These latest revelations should be the final nail in the coffin for the State Department’s flawed review which had already come under fire from the EPA and environmental groups for downplaying the climate impacts of the pipeline. Add the ongoing inspector general inquiry into ERM’s conflicts of interest which was launched in August, and it’s clear that  Secretary Kerry and President Obama should scrap ERM’s environmental review and start anew.

It’s not just me questioning the validity of the environmental review of Keystone XL.

Last week, led by Congressman Raul Grijalva, 25 members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama asking him to delay the release of the State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline until its inspector general completes its inquiry into the conflict of interest at the heart of the report.  “If the allegations that ERM lied…about its conflicts of interest turn out to be true” they wrote, then the State Department “must conduct a new EIS that is not tainted by conflicts of interest.”

For the uninitiated, here’s the backstory: TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, was asked in 2012 to submit a list of possible contractors to the State Department to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline. Unfortunately, this cozy practice of approving contractors is standard practice. Every contractor on TransCanada’s list had conflicts of interest. So State hired ERM, a London-based firm with offices in 36 states plus the District of Columbia.

What followed is isn’t quite Watergate, so we don’t need a Deepthroat to know what happened next. In fact all of the incriminating evidence that ERM lied on its application to get the Keystone contract is available on the internet, something not available to Watergate investigators.  On the official conflict of interest disclosure form it was required to submit ERM claimed that it had “no direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” In truth, ERM worked with TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, on the Alaska Pipeline Project in 2011. We also know that ERM has worked for over a dozen oil companies with a direct stake in whether Keystone XL gets built, despite stating on its conflict of interest disclosure form that it had no such ties.

All of this amounts to a big problem, a problem State Department officials should have avoided by denying ERM’s application. Congress now wants to find out why. We all should.

Changing market forces

While the State Department finishes its faulty environmental assessment of Keystone XL, new information keeps coming to light which undercuts the oil industry’s (and the State Department’s) argument that tar sands crude is coming out of the ground with or without Keystone XL. Chevron, for instance, recently estimated that bottlenecks in the supply chain for tar sands have cost the industry more than $16 billion per year. Two of the largest tar sands shippers, the ironically named Canadian Natural and Suncor, are waiting for Keystone XL to increase their production and losing money everyday that they can’t expand.

We also have learned from internal government documents that the Canadian government seems to have no intention of putting a cap on global warming emissions from the tar sands. NRDC’s Danielle Droitsch explains:

The newly released documents reveal industry and the Canadian and Alberta governments have been negotiating behind closed doors to identify possible new climate regulations for the tar sands sector.  Promises for new regulations on the oil and gas – including tar sands – sector have been sold to U.S. audiences as part of an aggressive lobbying campaign to promote the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  What the documents show is that under any of the proposals tar sands emissions will grow.  Industry’s proposal would enable a 70 percent growth in tar sands carbon pollution levels by 2020 from today’s level. Even the “toughest” proposal under consideration would lead to an increase of 60 percent of tar sands emissions.  And none of proposals under consideration will enable Canada to meet its international climate target.

Whatever happens with the inspector general’s report and the State Department’s review is anyone’s guess and is made more complicated by the fact that TransCanada and the Province of Alberta have hired, in the words of the Financial Times, a “who’s who of lobbyists and communications professionals with links to the Obama administration – and to John Kerry in particular.”

What we do know for sure is that eventually this will all land on President Obama’s desk. The president was swept into office, in part, by people who believed that he would tackle the climate crisis. Now is his chance to make good on his promises. He can show Big Oil that they can’t game the system by cleaning up the State Department’s flawed review and ultimately saying no to Keystone XL.

 

- See more at: http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2013-12-keystone-contractor-gives-us-5-more-reasons-they-hav#sthash.n99SvFRZ.dpuf

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Dozens arrested for being gay in north Nigeria

First the police targeted the gay men, then tortured them into naming dozens of others who now are being hunted down, human rights activists said Tuesday, warning that such persecution will rise under a new Nigerian law.

The men’s alleged crime? Belonging to a gay organization. The punishment? Up to 10 years in jail under the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that is getting international condemnation.

Dubbed the “Jail the Gays” bill, it further criminalizes homosexuality and will endanger programs fighting HIV-AIDS in the gay community, Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

On Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan’s office confirmed that the Nigerian leader signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them.

The witch hunt in Bauchi state all began with a wild rumor that the United States had paid gay activists $20 million to promote same-sex marriage in this highly religious and conservative nation, according to an AIDS counselor.
He said he helped get bail for some 38 men arrested since Christmas. The man spoke on condition of anonymity for fear he too would be arrested.

He and Aken’Ova said dozens of homosexuals have fled Bauchi in recent days.

Aken’Ova, whose organization is helping with legal services for the arrested men, said a law enforcement officer pretending to be a gay man joined a group being counseled on AIDS. Police detained four gay men and then tortured them until they named others allegedly belonging to a gay organization, she said, adding that police now have a list of 168 wanted gay men.

She said the arrests began during the Christmas holidays and blamed “all the noise that was going on surrounding the (same sex marriage prohibition) bill.”

Chairman Mustapha Baba Ilela of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, which oversees regulation of Islamic law, told the Associated Press that 11 gay men have been arrested in the past two weeks. He said community members helped “fish out” the suspects.

“We are on the hunt for others,” he said, refusing to specify how many.

Bauchi state has both Shariah law and a Western-style penal code. Shariah is Islamic law, which is implemented to different degrees in nine of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Ilela said all 11 arrested — 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim — signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization, but that some of them retracted the statements in court.

He denied there was any force involved: “They have never been tortured, they have never been beaten, they have never been intimidated.”

Nigerian law enforcers are notorious for torturing suspects to extract confessions. They also are known for extorting money from victims to allow them to get out of jail cells.

Olumide Makanjuola said lawyers for his Initiative For Equality in Nigeria are backing lawsuits of several homosexuals arrested by police without cause. He said police regularly and illegally go through the cell phone of a gay suspect, then send text messages to lure in others.

Then the men or women are told they will be charged and their sexuality exposed unless they pay bribes. “Some pay 5,000, some 10,000 naira ($30 to $60). Even though they have done nothing wrong, people are scared, people are afraid that even worse things will happen,” Makanjuola said in a recent Associated Press interview.

The United States, Britain and Canada condemned the new law in Africa’s most populous nation, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians.

While harsh, Nigeria’s law is not as draconian as a bill passed last month by legislators in Uganda that is awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. It provides penalties including life imprisonment for “aggravated” homosexual sex. Initially, legislators had been demanding the death sentence for gays.

The Nigeria law provides penalties of up to 14 years in jail for a gay marriage and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for membership or encouragement of gay clubs, societies and organizations. That could include even groups formed to combat AIDS among gays, activists said.

The U.N. agency fighting AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed “deep concern that access to HIV services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will be severely affected by a new law in Nigeria — further criminalizing LGBT people, organizations and activities, as well as people who support them.”
UNAIDS said the law could harm Jonathan’s own presidential initiative to fight AIDS, started a year ago.

It said Nigeria has the second-largest HIV epidemic globally with an estimated 3.4 million people living with the virus. The disease affects many more gay men per capita than heterosexuals.

Jonathan has not publicly expressed his views on homosexuality.

But his spokesman, Reuben Abati, told The Associated Press on Monday night, “This is a law that is in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. … Nigerians are pleased with it.”

Many have asked why such a law is needed in a country where sodomy already was outlawed, and could get you killed under Shariah. Ilela said sodomy carries the death sentence in Bauchi state, with a judge deciding whether it should be done by a public stoning or by lethal injection. No gay person has been subjected to such punishment.

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“Like a Book Burning” The Canadian government is closing scientific libraries and destroying docs

“Paranoid ideologues have burned books and records throughout human history to try to squelch dissenting visions that they view as heretical, and to anyone who worships the great God Economy monotheistically, environmental science is heresy.”

Post Media News has  obtained a document stamped “SECRET” which exposes the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries and countless scientific documents that they contain. The destruction and burning of documents has little if anything to do with digitizing the books and documents for cost savings as claimed by the Harper government.

As reported by The Tyee earlier this month and again here, scientists are sounding alarms about libraries dismantled by the government, including Maurice-Lamontagne Institute, which housed 61,000 French language documents on Quebec’s waterways, as well as the newly renovated $62-million library serving the historic St Andrews Biological Station (SABS) in St Andrews, New Brunswick. (Famed environmental scientist Rachel Carson corresponded with researchers at SABS for her groundbreaking book on toxins, Silent Spring. The station’s contaminant research program has been axed by the Harper government.) Also shut down are the famous Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and one of the world’s finest ocean collections at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.Scientists who use the libraries say priceless information — essential for the legal and political security of Canada’s waterways as well as the defence of the longest coastline in the world — was thrown into dustbins, burned or scavenged by private consultants. In Winnipeg, a consultant’s group operating for Manitoba Hydro backed up a truck to collect materials from the dismantled library.
A DFO scientist anonymously told The Tyee, “The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions.”

In addition, the Harper government has forced hundreds of researchers and Coast Guard workers  to be laid off. Harper has dismantled a marine contaminants program, closed the Kitsilano (Vancouver) Coast Guard station which is reportedly the first line of defense against oil spills.

The document lists 26 “tracks” or changes within the Department of Fisheries being carried out to help reduce Canada’s federal budget deficit. Very few of those tracks’ descriptions make claims for bolstering or improving marine safety, contaminant research, protection of fish habitat or the efficacy of the Coast Guard.Instead, the document details numerous actions which create reductions or total elimination of these environmental services.They include:

•The shrinkage of 20 Marine Communications and Traffic Service centres down to 11;
•The reduction of Inshore Rescue Boats;
•The reduction of Marine Search and Rescue services;
•The defunding of species at risk recovery oriented programs in the Maritimes;
•The closure of 21 Conservation and Protection offices, as “part of a broader departmental footprint reduction plan.” Comox, Pender Harbour, Quesnel, Hazelton and Clearwater all lost offices;
•The closure of the Kitsilano Lifeboat Station in Vancouver;
•Closure of the Experimental Lakes Area;
•The killing of all biological effects contaminant research within the department.

The document explains that ending the capacity to do public research on freshwater and ocean pollutants such as bitumen spills “involves eliminating the in-house research program aimed at biological effects of contaminants, pesticide and oil and gas, and establishing a small advisory group to oversee the outsourcing of priority research needs.”

Sounds like “quiet little rooms” if you ask me.

Environmental activists through out the world celebrated when George W. Bush was finally out of office. Since the election of Harper’s regime,  the world now has Canada with a leader, who like Bush, prides himself in the part that he plays in the destruction of the planet. Maurice Strong, the Canadian diplomat who was secretary-general of the famous 1992 Earth Summit, calls Harper’s government, “the most anti-environmental government that we’ve ever had, and one of the most anti-environmental governments in the world.”

Canada holds more than 20 per cent of the surface freshwater in the world, and its rivers and streams annually transport almost 10 per cent of the world flow of freshwater. Canada is also one of the world’s largest seafood-exporting nations. All of which is now at risk of damage or destruction along with scientific evidence documenting the pollution and the damage to marine and freshwater systems.

The below corporations along with Charles and David Koch are pushing a libertarian brand of political activism that presses a large footprint on energy and climate issues. They have created and supported non-profit organizations, think tanks and political groups that work to undermine climate science, environmental regulation and clean energy. They are also top donors to politicians, who support the oil industry and deny any human role in global warming.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
Petroleum Services Association of Canada
Propane Gas Association of Canada
Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors
Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association
Alberta Chamber of Resources
Alberta Chambers of Commerce
The Cement Association of Canada
Canadian Council of Chief Executives

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Penis Size and Gay Men’s Stereotyping

Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”

Nico Lang is a contributor at the L.A. Times, Huffington Post and Thought Catalog as well as the co-editor of BOYS, an anthology series featuring the stories of gay, queer and trans* men. Lang’s debut novel, “The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses,” was released earlier this year.

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U.S. to Recognize Utah Gay Marriages Despite State Stance

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday said that it would recognize as lawful the marriages of 1,300 same-sex couples in Utah, even though the state government is refusing to do so.

Wading into the fast-moving legal battle over same-sex marriage rights in one of America’s most socially conservative states, the administration posted a video on the Justice Department’s website making the announcement. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the federal government would grant federal marriage benefits to the same-sex couples who rushed to obtain marriage licenses after a federal judge last month unexpectedly struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder said in the video. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

The Justice Department’s intervention added a further sense of whiplash to the highly charged dispute, which began on Dec. 20 when a Federal District Court judge, Robert J. Shelby, ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violated the federal Constitution.

As same-sex couples flooded county clerk’s offices in Utah, the state government asked a higher court to block the order while it appealed the ruling, but a federal appeals court declined to do so, and the marriages continued. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a stay, bringing a halt to further same-sex marriages while the litigation continues. That decision effectively left those same-sex couples in legal limbo.

Then, on Wednesday, the office of the governor of Utah, Gary R. Herbert, said that the state would not recognize as lawful the same-sex marriages already licensed while it pressed forward with its appeal of the ruling.

“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” Derek Miller, the chief of staff to Mr. Herbert, wrote in a memo to state officials. “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”

But Mr. Holder said the federal government would not do likewise. He invoked as a historic call for equality a June ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are legal under state law, saying the Justice Department was “working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit.”

“In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled — regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder said. “And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

A variety of federal benefits are accorded to legally married couples, including being able to file jointly for federal income taxes; exemption from estate taxes and eligibility for some Social Security claims if one spouse dies; eligibility for health and life insurance for spouses of federal employees; the ability to sponsor a spouse who is not a United States citizen for a family-based immigration visa; and eligibility for survivor benefits for spouses of soldiers and diplomats.

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A Modern tragedy

After more than 40 years in San Francisco, the progressive independent bookstore Modern Times may have to close its doors in the near future, but not before issuing one final appeal for help from the community.

In the 1990s, Modern Times managed to survive chain retailers’ predatory business strategies and cheap prices. More recently, it was able to withstand changes in the industry due to the increasing popularity of e-books and online retailers. More than half of the independent bookstores in the country shut down between 1990 and 2011.

This time, the threat is local: the gentrification and eviction crises that are on so many San Franciscans’ minds these days.

“Our rents on Valencia Street, where we were for 20-some years, kept going up,” explains Ruth Mahaney, the senior member of the collective that runs Modern Times. “When our most recent lease was up in 2011, the landlord wanted to raise it by over $1,000 a month, probably $2,000.”

The bookstore had already been functioning at a loss for years because of its continually rising rent and other factors. There was no way it could afford such a massive rent increase, so Mahaney and her associates moved deeper into the Mission to their current location on 24th and Alabama streets.

“It’s been lovely,” Mahaney says of the new location. “People in the neighborhood have been really welcoming. We have much better rent and a great landlord. We’re getting new customers and younger people. So we’re really happy there.”

Unfortunately, the bookstore has continued to function at a loss, albeit a much smaller one.

“Since we’ve moved, I think a lot of people haven’t found us again, so we’re not as much a center of activity as we used to be,” Mahaney speculates. “I think a lot of our old customers thought we closed.”

Progressive hub

Modern Times first moved to the Mission District in 1980, nine years after the bookstore opened as an all-volunteer collective project responding to “the hopes and passions” of the ’60s. In the ’70s, it was a resource for political activists striving to make progressive changes for social justice in the US. But by the ’80s, the nation’s political and economic climate had changed. If it wanted to survive, Modern Times would have to change as well.

The bookstore broadened its focus to meet the literary needs and interests of progressive people and the Latino community. It developed the city’s first broad selection of Spanish-language literature and non-fiction. It was among the first bookstores in San Francisco to feature feminist and queer sections. From poetry readings to its Fall Zine Expo showcasing local artists, the variety of events it has hosted over the years made Modern Times a gathering place.

Mahaney and her associates have many ideas for how to make Modern Times a vibrant community space again, from new books to expanded lighting and more comfortable reading chairs.

“We want to make it more of a place for people to hang out and have meetings and events,” she explains. “We want to have all sorts of new events, not just readings. We’ve been remodeling and we have a wonderful space in the back now that works really well for small things. We just need people to find us again.”

Before this new vision of Modern Times can be realized, it will have to find some way to get rid of the debt it incurred trying to pay the rents on Valencia Street.

“We’re hoping to raise $60,000 by the end of January,” Mahaney states. “We need more than that ultimately, but $60,000 will take care of a lot of the back debt and get us going so that we’re on more stable footing. If we can raise that, I think we have a chance. We can make it on the kind of business we have at this point and earn the rest of what we need more gradually, but we need this push first.”

Friends are spreading the word through e-mail and Facebook. During meetings held in the store, these people have spoken up about how important its presence is in the city, and how much they want to see it survive. If the money cannot be raised in time, there is a good chance that Modern Times will shut down.

“We really, really don’t want to do that,” Mahaney is quick to declare, “but we cannot continue to operate at a loss at this point.”

Changing city

When the bookstore first moved to Valencia in 1991, the street was very different. Then, gentrification hit quick and hard. Witnessing the same transformation on 24th Street, the purveyors of Modern Times have joined the anti-gentrification and anti-eviction cause. It might be too late though; the twin plagues might have already fatally infected the bookstore.

“I’ve known Modern Times as a really important part of the fabric of the city since they opened,” says Paul Yamazaki, a coordinating buyer for City Lights, the legendary local independent bookstore harking back from the days of the Beat Generation. “They were not only great booksellers, they were also great citizens of San Francisco.”

City Lights is doing remarkably well, considering the recent economic crisis and the specific hardships that have afflicted the print industry. The last three years have been its best three years, but Yamazaki sees what’s happening to the city.

“We’re losing our economic diversity, which has been such a key part of how San Francisco has developed,” Yamazaki states. “When we lose artists and arts organizations, we lose another thread of that tapestry that’s made San Francisco such a rich and vital place, that diversity of voices. And if we let this continue happening, we’ll walk down 24th Street 10 years from now, and we’ll see not a lot of independent businesses, but a lot of places that look like anywhere else in the United States.”

Whenever Yamazaki finds himself on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, where the independent bookstore Cody’s Books stood from 1956 to 2008, he feels a hole in his heart. He knows the hole made by Modern Times will be even bigger because of the bookstore’s unique political role here.

“It represents a real important part of the politics of the Bay Area, and has been able to keep us informed about a variety of issues throughout its years,” he explains.

This is the bookstore whose phone rang off the hook when the Gulf War began, with calls from people from all over the city who wanted to educate themselves about the Middle East and the economics of oil. In the immediate wake of 9/11, it was here that one could attend a series of lectures investigating media and military responses to the event.

Back in the heyday of protests and demonstrations, Modern Times was who you called to ask where the rally would be starting that day. And if you were arrested by the evening, your one phone call would often go to Modern Times as well, and they would find you a lawyer. There aren’t as many demonstrations as there used to be, but the bookstore remains a crucial source of progressive political information because it has never abandoned its core objective—the mission of keeping dissident ideas in circulation.

From the Bay Guardian

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Former Gov. Has Best Quote of the Year on GOP’s ‘Family Values’

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer had strong words about the hypocrisy of the “family values” touted by members of his state’s Republican Party.

During an interview with Slate magazine, Schweitzer, who is considered a likely challenger to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries, made the remarks when asked about the Republicans who attempted to set “‘family values’ traps” regarding marijuana and same-sex marriage during his successful campaign for governor of Montana in 2004.

“Oh, yeah, name these Republicans,” the 58-year-old politician prompted. “The ones cheating on their third wives while they’re talking about traditional family values? Those ones?”

“Each society has to make choices about what’s against the law,” Schweitzer had remarked beforehand on the legalization of marijuana. “You have a large percentage of the population that’s already using this. The war on drugs is another war that appears to have been lost. This experiment with prohibition of marijuana doesn’t seem have to been working. Colorado might have it more right than the rest of us.”

Schweitzer, who bested Republican opponent Roy Brown by 33 percentage points in the state’s 2008 gubernatorial election and enjoyed one of the highest approval ratings of governors in the United States, ended his second term as governor of Montana in January 2013.

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Dr. Pedro Moura Carvalho Appointed Deputy Director for Art and Programs at the Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum announced today the appointment of Dr. Pedro Moura Carvalho as the museum’s new Deputy Director for Art and Programs, a key leadership position overseeing the curatorial, museum services, education and public programs departments. Reporting to the museum Director, Moura Carvalho will be responsible for providing strategic oversight and management of collections, exhibitions, education and interpretive initiatives that enhance audience engagement. He begins his tenure at the museum in March 2014.

 


A scholar of Islamic art with deep interests in cross-cultural artistic traditions, Moura Carvalho has been serving as Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Curatorial, Collections, and Exhibitions at the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum, Singapore, since 2011. While there, he curated the exhibitions Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum; Islamic Art in Southeast Asia, and was the lead curator of The Peranakan World presented at The National Museum of Korea, Seoul, in the spring of 2013.

“I am delighted to join Jay Xu and museum trustees and commissioners in supporting the museum’s vision to deliver captivating art experiences centered on stunning artworks,” says Moura Carvalho. “The museum is a great institution with an extraordinary collection. I feel privileged to partner with staff, volunteers, and patrons to shape remarkable and innovative visitor-centered endeavors in the rapidly growing and changing field of Asian art and cultures.”

“Pedro brings an impressive record of accomplishments—including exhibition development, research and scholarship, and strong managerial experience—to the Asian Art Museum,” says museum Director Jay Xu. “We welcome his passion for art, creative spark, and finely tuned sense of humor to help guide our vision for presenting exhibitions and programs that stimulate discovery, discussion and excitement.”

Before his work in Singapore, Moura Carvalho was the curator and co-organizer of exhibitions at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, McMullen Museum of Art, both in Boston; Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and Hermitage Rooms/Somerset House, London. He lectured at the Catholic University of Portugal, and was deputy-curator of the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London.

Moura Carvalho has also published extensively. Among his books are Mirʾât al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): A Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar (Leiden/ Boston, 2012); Gems and Jewels of Mughal India, in the Khalili Collection (London, 2010); and Luxury for Export. Artistic Exchange Between India and Portugal around 1600 (Pittsburgh, 2008). He is the main author and editor of the exhibition catalogue The World of Lacquer; Two Thousand Years of History (Lisbon, 2001), and is co-author of the forthcoming catalogue of Later Islamic Pottery in the Khalili Collection. Moura Carvalho is also widely published on the European contribution to the art of India, Iran, China and Japan.

A native of Portugal, Moura Carvalho has lived in nine countries and traveled in over ninety. He holds a MA and PhD degrees in Art and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was a Aga Khan Fellow at Harvard University for 16 months, a scholar-in-residence at the Doris Duke Foundation for the Islamic Arts, Honolulu, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, and received numerous grants namely from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and Fundação Oriente.

The Asian Art Museum is one of San Francisco’s premier arts institutions and home to a world-renowned collection of more than 18,000 Asian art treasures spanning 6,000 years. Through rich art experiences, centered on historic and contemporary artworks, the museum unlocks the past for visitors, bringing it to life, while serving as a catalyst for new art, new creativity, and new thinking. Founded in 1966, the Asian Art Museum is a public/private partnership with an annual operating budget of $21.6 million. The museum’s home at San Francisco’s Civic Center is an architectural gem featuring a dynamic blend of beaux arts and modern design elements. The building is the result of a dramatic $170 million transformation of San Francisco’s former main public library in 2003 by noted Italian architect Gae Aulenti. For more information, visit www.asianart.org.

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Sexual Harrassment in the Vatican?

A former member of the Swiss Guard, the pope’s security force, has alleged that during his tenure he was solicited for sex by many Roman Catholic clergy members, including bishops and cardinals.

The guard, whose name was not published, told Swiss newspaperSchweiz am Sonntag that he had received as many as 20 “unambiguous requests” from clergy for sexual liaisons, according to The Local, an English-language Swiss news publication. One of them, he said, came from “a dignitary close to Pope John Paul II,” The Local reports.

The man told of being invited to a Vatican official’s room in the middle of the night, receiving gifts of liquor, and being told he would be “dessert” after dinner with a priest. He said he reported the sexual advances as harassment, but his superiors took no action. He accused the church of “hypocrisy” because of the contrast between its stand against sex outside marriage, including gay sex, and what he alleges he experienced. Also, Catholic clergy take a vow of celibacy.

Spokesmen for the Vatican and the Swiss Guard said they gave no credence to the former guard’s report.

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Far From Russia’s Biggest Cities, Being Gay Means Being Always Under Threat

The last two years have been brutal for Konstantin Golava, a 22-year-old environmental activist and the only publicly out gay person in this gritty industrial city known for car factories, chemical plants, and nothing else.

In early 2012, as soon as Golava started disseminating news items related to LGBT issues through his social media accounts, rumors about his sexual orientation began to spread. Since then, he’s been beaten up by unidentified thugs, dismissed from his job at a community center working with teenagers, and vilified by national and local media as having desecrated the memory of Soviet victims of WWII by deliberately placing condoms near the city’s eternal flame.

One evening in November 2012, while Golava was attending a conference in another city, he agreed to meet on a street corner with a young man who had contacted him. When Golava arrived, several men grabbed him, pushed him into a car with tinted windows, and drove him to a dark, quiet courtyard. They punched him, grabbed his phone, found his mother’s number, called, and informed her that her son was a “pedophile” and a “pervert.” Then they asked her if they should kill him.

“They threw me out of the car, made me get down on my knees, and pointed the gun at my head,” Golava recalled over a recent cup of coffee at a brightly lit café in downtown Tolyatti, a city still crisscrossed by multiple streets named after Vladimir Lenin. “They said, ‘A disgusting pig like you, it’s not even worth killing you.’ And they got in the car and took off.” Although he filed a complaint, the police refused to take up the case.

The Russian government’s decision last June to ban “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors startled the world and sparked aninternational uproar, especially as it came in the run-up to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. But for members of the LGBT community living in Tolyatti and elsewhere in “the provinces” — which in Russia means anywhere that isn’t Moscow or St. Petersburg — the federal move was almost anticlimactic.

In the years leading up to the federal law, at least 10 regional governments passed similar anti-LGBT propaganda laws, starting with the regions of Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma. St. Petersburg, seen as Russia’s cultural capital, began debating its own law in late 2011 and passed it in March 2012, followed by the Samara region and several others.

Tolyatti is in the Samara region, 500 miles southeast of Moscow, and named after Palmiro Togliatti, a longtime leader of the Italian Communist Party. Life in Tolyatti is stifling and repressive, said Vyacheslav, another gay man who, like Golava, grew up here. If people suspect you’re gay, he said, it can be dangerous.

“It’s like a small village,” he said. “People will point their fingers, call youpederast, they could set your apartment on fire out of hate. Here it’s better to be quiet and a bit underground.”

Vyacheslav, 30, is wiry and energetic, a former firefighter who is currently unemployed. He wasn’t surprised when the Russian government finally passed the federal anti-propaganda law in June. “Once the law passed in St. Petersburg, it was evident,” he said. “I figured it would end up being all over Russia. It felt like the country was closing up.”

Like many young adults here, Vyacheslav has lived in the same small apartment with his parents most of his life; comings and goings are observed by longtime neighbors as well as family members. Because he would often return home late after being at a gay club or gathering, his parents worried that his nocturnal schedule meant he was dealing drugs. They once surreptitiously checked his phone messages, discovered a love note from a man, and confronted him. Vyacheslav dismissed it as a joke, but since then, he has known that they knew.

Even so, they regularly berate him for his lack of interest in getting married. “It torments them,” he said. “And then they constantly torment me, ‘Where’s the wife and children?’” He fantasizes about making an announcement at a large family gathering, in front of his parents and his many aunts, uncles and cousins. “I would just like to say it to all of them, but I’m afraid,” he said. “Because people don’t know anything about this issue, and the information they have is bad.”

The imposition of anti-propaganda legislation, first in the regions and then nationally, clearly exacerbates the problem of “bad information” by hampering efforts to promote positive LGBT-related images and attitudes. In early December, the new federal law was cited in fining Russian LGBT activists Nikolai Alekseyev and Yaroslav Yevtushenko 4,000 rubles (about $120) each for holding a banner reading “Gay propaganda doesn’t exist. People don’t become gay, people are born gay” near a library in the far northern city of Arkhangelsk. Weeks later, a court in Kazan found another activist guilty of propaganda for participating in a demonstration last June.

Beyond the legal minefield, however, the anti-gay campaign appears to have provided sanction for unfettered expressions of anger and hatred toward the LGBT community, without fear of consequences. There are frequent reports from around the country about people being fired for their sexual orientation, being beaten up by anti-gay gangs, or otherwise suffering mistreatment and discrimination.

“I’m afraid in Tolyatti — every fifth person knows my face,” said Golava, who hopes to move to St. Petersburg soon. “Here, if you do something, you become a star. But I don’t need to be a star, I just want to live within my rights.”

Golava, a tall, slender man, smiled nervously when talking about the recent events that had made him into the kind of star he doesn’t need to be. Before and after the physical assault last fall, he experienced increased bullying and harassment at work, he said. In December, his supervisor called him in and requested him to remove all references to LGBT issues from his social media accounts.

“She closed the door, and I understood what the conversation was about,” he recalled. “She started with that phrase all homophobes use, ‘I am of course a very tolerant person myself, but…’ She said, ‘Of course, we like you, but we will have problems because of the laws.’”

Last January, when the federal propaganda law came up for discussion in the parliament, Golava attended a local protest and for the first time publicly declared his sexual orientation to journalists and others who were there. After that, his problems at work intensified, and he was let go in early May.

Two weeks later, his participation at an HIV-prevention event led to the explosive charge that he had defiled the memory of those who perished in the war. The event was organized by Project April, a group that dispenses HIV information; it was held near an eternal flame honoring the war dead in Tolyatti’s central plaza, a common site for all sorts of political and nonpolitical events and gatherings. The activists placed more than a dozen candles in red jars on the ground, in the form of a big ribbon. Next to that, they spread out a large piece of red fabric and laid out blue brochures with information about HIV/AIDS and a yellow bowl with condoms meant for distribution to bystanders.

Several days after the event, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a leading Moscow tabloid, published an article headlined: “In Tolyatti, LGBT Activists Laid Condoms at the Eternal Flame.” Taking umbrage at the purported disrespect shown by the participants, the journalist wrote that “the tongue can’t even twist itself to call them ‘citizens.’” The article, which specifically named and ridiculed Golava, triggered an uproar, fanned by further coverage in the news and discussion on social media.

In an effort to quell the furor, Golava and other activists called a news conference to explain their actions. At the event, several men rushed at Golava, handcuffed him to a 70-pound weight, and dumped a bucket of red paint over his head; he still has damage to the vision in one eye from chemicals in the paint, he said. No one has been punished for the assault, but local officials have fined Golava 10,000 rubles (about $300) for having held an unauthorized gathering. His appeal of the fine has been rejected; he is now in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

Konstantin Golava after unknown men attacked him with paint last year. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Golava

Golava has received moral and legal support from gays and lesbians in nearby Samara, a historic Volga River port and the regional capital that counts more than 1 million residents. A key ally has been Mikhail Tumasov, a longtime Samara resident who two years ago organized an advocacy group to push back against the anti-gay momentum.

Tumasov, 38, moved to Samara from Astrakhan, about 500 miles farther south, when he was in his mid-twenties. Until a couple of years ago, he lived quietly with his partner, socialized with friends, and worked as a sales and distribution manager for local media companies. He never publicly declared his sexual orientation. In fact, Samara had already gained a reputation as a bastion of hostility to LGBT people. In 2011, the magazine Spletnik, which translates as “The Gossip,” citing such incidents as a recent effort by a local right-wing party to strip LGBT people of work rights, declared that “the Samara region is among the most homophobic in the country.”

By late 2011, the ripple of anti-propaganda legislation spreading across Russia had alarmed Tumasov. “I was afraid for my family, because this was a threat to my partner and me being able to be together,” he said. He decided he needed to speak out, and sought support from other Samara gays and lesbians through VKontakte, a Russian social network. They called their organization Avers, which translates as the “obverse” or “heads” side of a coin. The group has about 600 members through its online network, although Tusamov said that only a few dozen participate in Avers activities and only about 10 are “very active” in the group.

After Samara passed its anti-propaganda law in June 2012, Tumasov and several others sued to overturn it; not surprisingly, they lost. Despite the regional and federal laws, Avers has continued to organize events, such as an educational presentation on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day; public gatherings during an annual “week against homophobia,” which LGBT groups across the country have organized each spring for several years; and surveys of people in public venues that have revealed an increase in negative attitudes toward LGBT people as the regional and federal government campaigns have progressed.

At the end of December, Avers released an open letter offering profuse thanks to three anti-gay public figures: a politician and two journalists. The letter noted, ironically, how much their actions helped in motivating local LGBT people to organize and find one another as well as in informing the general public about their very existence.

“Two years ago in Samara, there was no civil LGBT-activism,” read the letter. “No one living in Samara even knew what gays and lesbians were, and only thanks to the fight for morality…the Samara region has learned that there are in fact gays, and lesbians, and bisexuals, and even transgender people here.”

 

From Buzzfeed

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Bill Nye to Debate Creationist in February

(Daily Kos)

We’re going to be in for a treat next month–a creation vs. evolution debate between Bill Nye and Answers in Genesis co-founder and CEO Ken Ham. It’s set for February 4 at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (south of Cincy).

Nye has been critical of creationists for their opposition to evolution and their assertions that the Old Testament provides a literal account of the earth’s beginnings. In an online video that has drawn nearly 6 million views, Nye said teaching creationism was bad for children.


The video prompted a response video from the Creation Museum, and Ham later challenged him to a debate.

In a blog post announcing the debate, Ham says that he and Nye will debate the topic, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Ham sees this as a way to highlight why so many young people are being swayed away from creation. That’s easy to answer, Ken. When people are actually trained to think, they’re open to consider possibilities other than an Earth that was only a few thousand years old and was created in six literal 24-hour days.
For those who don’t remember, almost two years ago Nye dropped a bombshell with a YouTube video that declared in no uncertain terms that denying evolution is harmful to kids. Answers in Genesis responded with two videos of their own–one starring Ham himself and another starring two of his colleagues, Georgia Purdom and David Menton. Their argument, if I’m parsing it right, is that evolution is illegitimate because the Bible is the only reliable account of how we got here. If Ham peddles that, Nye should mop the floor with him.

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This Is What San Francisco Could Look Like In 2033

It’s been a wild year for San Francisco. Batkid took over the city, the tech community came under attack and the only thing people can agree on is that the rent is too damn high.

But if the city’s big plans are any indication, the future looks bright — projects are underway from the Embarcadero to the beach. Take a look through some renderings of what San Francisco could look like 20 years from now. Happy New Year to the cool, gray city of love.

1. Warriors Waterfront Arena
NIMBY concerns notwithstanding, the Golden State Warriors’ potential move to San Francisco would bring a 18,000-seat waterfront arena to piers 30-32. The plan faces obstacles from affordable housing advocates and environmental groups, but the stated goal of the project is to “restore the crumbling pier, build a new event pavilion and create nearly eight acres of new public open space on the waterfront –- the equivalent of three new Union Squares.” And, of course, bring the Warriors across the bay to San Francisco.
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2. Transbay Transit Center
Envisioned as the “Grand Central Station of the West,” this transit hub will replace the Transbay Terminal with a new structure near Second and Mission Streets connecting eight Bay Area counties through 11 different transit systems. Scheduled for completion in 2017, the Transbay Transit Center will feature a rippling metal facade, a column allowing natural light into the station and a rooftop City Park with gardens, trails, an open-air amphitheater, a children’s play space, a restaurant and a cafe. Following the transit center’s completion, planners will begin developing a surrounding residential and business neighborhood and extend Caltrain and California High Speed Rail underground.
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Project Architect Pelli Clarke Pelli. Renderings courtesy of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

3. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Set to open in 2016, the new SFMOMA will tower seven levels and double the former museum’s capacity for art presentation. A threefold expansion of its schoolchildren education program and nearly 15,000 square feet of art-filled space aims to make SFMOMA a stronger pillar of the community, while an environmental design puts it on track to achieve LEED Gold certification.
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4. Candlestick Park
It was one heck of a game. The Atlanta Falcons led the San Francisco 49ers 27-24 and, with less than two minutes on the clock, Atlanta recovered an onside kick, priming the team for victory. But with a deflection and a miracle interception, San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman ran 89 yards for a game-winning touchdown: one final victory for Candlestick Park’s final game.

The San Francisco 49ers head to a new stadium in Santa Clara this year and, though the departure is bittersweet, San Francisco has big plans for the old site. Part of the Hunter’s Point Shipyard project, the park will become an outdoor commercial center with shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues. The center will anchor the massive neighborhood redevelopment plan — the largest development project in the city since the 1906 earthquake. The neighborhood will be home to apartment complexes, affordable housing, community facilities and office space.
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5. Hunter’s Point Shipyard
The decommissioned naval shipyard was closed in 1974 and has since been used by the Shipyard Artists Community. While the artist community will remain, thousands of homes, parks and commercial space will soon rise up around it.

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6. The Fisherman’s Wharf Public Realm Plan
The Fisherman’s Wharf Public Realm Plan reimagines the popular tourist destination with more waterfront access, improved walkability, a stronger identity and more diverse activities to attract locals. The central element of the plan is a revamped Jefferson Street — the most widely used route through the wharf — with widened sidewalks allowing for cafe seating and public recreation space. With improved appearance and street schemes, Danish urban design firm Gehl Architects visualizes a destination that takes advantage of its waterfront access and welcomes tourists and strengthens the community with a clear heart, or center, of Fisherman’s Wharf.
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7. Geary Bus Rapid Transit
The Geary BRT project aims to improve transportation and street conditions on the heavily used Geary Corridor, which includes Geary Boulevard, Geary Street and O’Farrell Street and brings riders from the Richmond district to Downtown. Proposals include lanes exclusively for buses with transit-signal priority and all-door boarding, high-visibility crosswalks with corner “bulb-outs” and medians with improved lighting and stations, landscaping and added trees. The approximately $240 million project is aiming for a 2018 opening.
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8. Central Subway
Already underway, the Central Subway Project will create a light-rail connecting the Bayshore and Mission Bay areas to downtown with stops in SOMA, Yerba Buena, Union Square and Chinatown. The 1.7 mile, $1.56 billion project is expected to open to the public in 2019.
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WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who for the past forty-seven years has served as a weekend scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, angrily resigned from that position yesterday, effective immediately.

Justice Scalia quit his post in a terse resignation letter that read, in part:

“Some of the happiest memories of my adult life have been as a scoutmaster. Huddling under blankets around the campfire, and so forth. But now, all of that has been ruined. Ruined.”

Shortly after sending the letter, Justice Scalia destroyed his scoutmaster uniform in the blazing fireplace of his Supreme Court office.

Later, he went across the hall to share his decision with his close confidant on the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, telling him, “There’s nowhere I feel safe anymore, Clarence. The military? The N.B.A.? Nowhere. I guess the only p\lace I still feel safe is the Supreme Court. This is still a safe place, isn’t it?”

Justice Thomas said nothing in reply.

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GOP support for modern biology drops

When it comes to polling Americans’ views on science, surveys often offer very different results based on the wording of the question. Gallup, for example, has published a series of reports over the years that suggest a plurality of Americans is, in effect, creationists.
A new Pew Research Center report approached the issue a little differently and found slightly less discouraging results: a 60% majority of Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33% reject evolutionary biology, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Whether one is relieved or discouraged that “only” a third of the country doesn’t believe in modern biology is a matter of perspective.
But as is often the case on so many issues, there are stark partisan differences within the results. Among Americans who identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, support for biology has been rather steady since the last Pew Research poll on this issue in 2009, with about two-thirds of each group on board with life evolving over time.
Among self-identified Republicans, however, acceptance of biology has suffered a noticeable drop, from 54% four years ago to 43% now. Indeed, note that in 2009, most Republicans believed in evolution, while in 2013, most Republicans don’t.
In other words, there’s a science gap driven by politics – the Democratic advantage on embracing modern biology is now 24 points – and it’s getting worse, not better.
This does help explain, by the way, why prominent Republican officials – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, et al – seem entirely comfortable making public comments expressing skepticism, if not outright hostility, towards evolution. They apparently realize they’re simply keeping pace with their party’s rank-and-file supporters.
Regardless, the larger trend just isn’t healthy for anyone. There are so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans, but scientific truths need not be one of them. We’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue,” abandoned altogether by Republicans hostile to reason and evidence.
As we discussed in November, a few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that only 6% of self-identified scientist say they tend to support Republican candidates. That total now appears likely to drop to new depths in the coming years.
Asked to explain the trend, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, recently told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Where did we go wrong?

Which country do people around the world think is the biggest threat to peace today? The US.As 2013 draws to a close, pollsters have been finding out how people feel about the state of their lives and the coming 12 months.
Pollsters interviewed nearly 68,000 people in 65 countries.

The research also found that the #US#Australia and#Canada where the most desirable destinations for those who want to move country.

 

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MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS LEADS THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY IN TWO WEEKS OF CONCERTS PAIRING WORKS BY BEETHOVEN AND MASON BATES

Programs include Mason Bates’ Liquid Interface and The B-Sides and Beethoven’s Mass in C, Symphony No. 7, Romances for Violin and Orchestra and Excerpts from King Stephen

Programs to be recorded for future release on the Orchestra’s SFS Media label

 

Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) leads the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in two weeks of concerts pairing the works of Ludwig van Beethoven and Mason Bates January 8-18 in Davies Symphony Hall.  MTT and the SFS continue their multi-season exploration of the music of both composers, pairing some of Beethoven’s most influential works with those by a composer who similarly expands the classical experience through his use of electronics, found recordings and the rhythms of techno.  Festival highlights include Bates’ SFS commission The B-Sides and the first SFS performances of Liquid Interface, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Mass in C, with soloists Joélle Harvey, Kelley O’Connor, William Burden and Shenyang.  Both programs will be recorded for SFS Media, the Orchestra’s in-house label.

“One of my goals as a symphonic composer is to bring back the large-scale narrative forms, pioneered by Beethoven, but in the digital age with a 21st-century palette of sounds,” Bates said of his symphonic works. “Beethoven launched the age of programmatic music with the choral finale of his Symphony No. 9—the first symphony to include text and choral writing with symphonic music. After being explored by some of the greatest 19th century composers—Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner—programmatic music was largely forgotten, as the 20th century moved on to the ‘purity’ of serialism and, eventually, minimalism.  I’ve found a lot of inspiration in creating big works that work on both a musical and extra-musical level, exploring the programmatic approach with the sounds of the digital age.  For instance, recording the actual sounds of glaciers calving for Liquid Interface is, in my own small way, a response to the inclusion of text in the Ninth Symphony.”

 

PROGRAM 1

The first week of concerts January 8-11 juxtapose Beethoven’s energetic, dance-infused Symphony No. 7 with Bates’ The B-Sides, which was originally premiered by the SF Symphony in 2009. “I had often imagined a suite of concise, off-kilter symphonic pieces that would incorporate the grooves and theatrics of electronica in a highly focused manner,” says Bates, whose work as a DJ under the moniker DJ Masonic highly informs his approach to electronics. “So, like the forgotten bands from the flipside of an old piece of vinyl, The B-Sides offers brief landings on a variety of peculiar planets, unified by a focus on fluorescent orchestral sonorities and the morphing rhythms of electronica.” Also on this program are Beethoven’s Romances for Violin and Orchestra Nos. 1-2, featuring SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.

Please note that The B-Sides replaces the previously announced Alternative Energy, which will be performed and recorded in the fall of 2014.

 

PROGRAM 2

SF Symphony Concerts January 15-18 feature Beethoven’s powerful Mass in C major, excerpts from King Stephen, and the first SFS performances of Bates’ Liquid Interface. The Mass in C features soloists Joélle Harvey, Kelley O’Connor, William Burden and Shenyang. While it is much less frequently performed than his massive Missa solemnis, the Mass in C is considered by many critics and scholars to be one of the composer’s underrated masterpieces. Of Liquid Interface, Bates remarks, “Water has influenced countless musical endeavors—La Mer and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey quickly come to mind. But after living on Berlin’s enormous Wannsee and seeing this huge body of water transform from an ice sheet thick enough to support sausage venders, to a refreshing swimming destination heavy with humidity, I became consumed with writing a new take on the idea. If the play of the waves inspired Debussy, then what about water in its variety of forms?” These varying states are illustrated in Liquid Interface, most notably with an actual recording of glaciers breaking into the Antarctic. “Again, the distinguishing elements of Liquid Interface are not just the electronic sounds, but more so the way that these expanded palettes articulate large narrative forms,” Bates explains.

 

 

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