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LA Times
By Matt Pearce
05/04/2015

Two gunmen were killed and a security guard wounded in an attack Sunday outside a controversial Dallas-area event where organizers were holding a contest for cartoons featuring the Muslim prophet Muhammad, police said.

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, led by prominent conservatives who are critical of Islam, was ending when two men drove up in a car and began shooting at a Garland school security officer, Bruce Joiner, who was apparently helping protect the building, city officials said.

“He was shot in the leg, transported to the hospital and he’ll be fine,” Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said.

UPDATE: Gunman killed at event was terrorist 'wannabe,' source says

The attack lasted just seconds, police said. One of the gunmen was shot immediately by police, and the other was shot and killed when he reached for a backpack, leading police to fear the men may have brought explosives, Athas said.

Officials evacuated the area as attendees were led away from the front of the building. Police searched for possible explosives late into the night.

The shooting in Garland, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas, was preceded by messages from two social media accounts that expressed radical Islamic viewpoints.

One tweet, sent at 6:35 p.m., used the hashtag #texasattack. The user wrote, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.” Attendees at the contest didn’t get word about the shooting until about 6:50 p.m.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said the department had not been aware of any credible threats against the event.

The gathering was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is led by Pamela Geller, a well-known conservative political personality who has been harshly critical of Islam.

Classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group, the AFDI was behind controversial ad campaigns last year. Its ads on buses in San Francisco cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “war between the civilized man and the savage.”

Geller is perhaps best known for her opposition to what critics called the “ground zero mosque,” a cultural and prayer center that was to be built in New York about two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

In 2010, she led thousands of people in a march protesting the project, which has since been scrapped.

After the shooting, Geller posted an outraged statement on her blog. “This is a war,” she wrote. “This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

A cartoon on the AFDI’s website promoting the contest features a wild-eyed man in a turban wielding a sword, apparently the prophet Muhammad, and saying, “You can’t draw me!” The hand of an unseen artist replies, “That’s why I draw you.”

The Garland cartoon event was intended as a defiant gesture supporting free speech after the Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen opened fire, killing 12 members of the staff and wounding 11 others.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was prompted by the magazine’s caricature of Muhammad. In Islam, depicting the prophet is considered a sacrilege.

French police identified two brothers with Al Qaeda connections, Cherif and Said Kouachi, as the shooters. Both were later killed in a shootout with commandos.

The Garland contest reportedly received about 350 drawings of Muhammad and offered a top prize of $10,000, according to AFDI’s website.

It also advertised a $2,500 prize for the most popular cartoon, as voted by readers of Breitbart.com, a conservative website.

The keynote speaker was Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of the Dutch parliament. After seeking to ban the Koran, comparing the text to “Mein Kampf,” and calling Islam a totalitarian ideology, the controversial lawmaker faced charges of inciting hatred in the Netherlands, but he was acquitted in 2011.

Athas, Garland’s mayor, said the city was not associated with the politics of the event. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with Garland or Texas,” he said. “It just happened to be in our city. We provided security to make sure everybody would be safe.”

About 200 people attended, said Randy Potts, a contributing editor for the Daily Beast who was covering the event.

The center where the contest took place had been heavily guarded before the shooting, Potts said. “The security, as you can imagine, is pretty extensive,” he said. “Even before we came ... maybe 50 to 100 feet away from the building, all around, was all blocked off.”

He was about to leave the center when “guys rushed up to us yelling, ‘Get back to the conference room!’.” he said.

A livestream of the event captured a police official in tactical gear telling the calm crowd that two suspects and a policeman had been shot.

“Were the suspects Muslim?” an audience member asked.

“I have no idea right now,” the police official said, and attendees were ushered back into an auditorium as police attended to the scene outside.

Potts said he didn’t hear any gunfire, but that others inside had heard one to three gunshots.

“It’s pretty calm in here; people are telling jokes,” Potts said from inside the auditorium where the audience was taken. “We all know that security was so extensive we were not actually worried someone would actually get inside the building.”

Two social media accounts tweeted messages about the attack apparently before it happened.

A Twitter account titled “Shariah is Light” — bearing the image of extremist Islamic propagandist Anwar Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011 — posted an allusion to the attack just minutes before it happened.

Before the shooting, the “Shariah is Light” account also tweeted a command to follow another account, titled “AbuHussainAlBritani,” which also tweeted before and after the attack.

“The knives have been sharpened, soon we will come to your streets with death and slaughter!” tweeted the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account before the attack.

After the attack, the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account began tweeting praise of the Texas shooting, and linked the attack to the militant group Islamic State.

“Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the ... art exhibition in texas!” the account tweeted. “Kill Those That Insult The Prophet.”

“They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,” the account tweeted.

The accounts have since been suspended.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott condemned what he called the senseless attack in Garland and praised the police response. “This is a crime that was quickly ended thanks to the swift action by Garland law enforcement,” he said in a statement.

The FBI is providing investigative and bomb technician assistance, a spokeswoman said.

At summit on extremism, Obama defends his semantic choices regarding Islam At a news conference, investigators were uncertain of the identities and motives of the gunmen.

Late into the night, the two bodies were left on the street because of concerns that they might have explosives on them, he said.

“We don’t have any idea right now who they are,” Harn said.

Times staff writers Lauren Raab in Los Angeles and David Zucchino in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.


 
 
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PoliticusUSA
By: Rmuse
Saturday, April, 4th, 2015,

All resources, particularly natural resources, on Earth are finite and when they are gone there is nothing whatsoever that will bring them back. It is why conserving or managing resources is crucial to a civilization’s survival and why a resource like life-giving water is such a precious resource; particularly during a time of drought. As anthropogenic climate change is producing extremely warmer, and in many areas drier, weather, it would seem to be of paramount importance to take whatever steps possible to preserve a precious resource like water.

As California suffers the fourth straight year of an historic drought, Governor Jerry Brown took the unprecedented step of mandating a 25% reduction in water use for all Californians; it is virtually water rationing. However, it is unlikely California will reduce its water use by a quarter, partly because some residents do not believe the mandate applies to them, and partly due to corporations’ lust for profit. Curiously, some Californians cannot accept that the drought is serious in spite of what they see with their own eyes or empirical data showing the state is truly drying up.

Although there was some rain earlier in the year, meteorologists had already recorded the worst snowpack in history during December through February; typically very wet months. However, they were somewhat hopeful things would change in March which normally brings substantial rainfall, cooler temperatures, and significant additions to the mountain snowpack. As the Golden state’s climatologist, Michael Anderson, said, “Unless we end up with some particularly good snows here in March, we are going to end up with a new lowest rank here.”

Subsequently there was little rain, and record high temperatures, in March, so there was absolutely no snow which means no runoff to fill depleted, and nearly dried up, reservoirs. No reservoir water means agriculture is, for all intents and purposes, dead or in the throes of a slow economically painful death. Many irrigation districts, in league with corporate farms, are selling what precious water is still available to Southern California for three to four times the normal rate and letting their fields and crops go to Hell. They claim they can make more money selling Northern California’s water than they ever could after a good harvest and as usual, greed and money trumps common sense. Plus, farmers can claim crop losses to reap the benefits of federal crop insurance and make no mistake, the majority of the claims will be made by giant corporate farms that already drain government coffers through corporate agriculture subsidies; what small family farmers label corporate welfare.

There is a very limited and diminishing amount of water underground, but it is prohibitively costly to pump it for agricultural use. What little water is left underground is either being sucked out, blended with carcinogens and toxic chemicals for fracking and oil wells, or stolen by a giant multi-national corporation and sold to residents whose wells have dried up or have been shut down due to oil industry poisoning them.

Every single day in California, the oil and gas industry uses way more than 2 million gallons of what precious little water the state has remaining in dangerous extraction techniques such as fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection. This abominable waste of water is in spite of California farmers, cities, and residents struggling to find ways to conserve water and meet the new mandate to reduce water use by 25% to survive an historic drought. While the rest of the state is now forced to do its share to conserve a rapidly diminishing water reserve, the oil and gas industry continues using, contaminating, and disposing of staggering amounts of precious water each day.

To make matters that much worse, the over 2 million gallons of toxic water the oil and gas industry disposes of daily is pumped into the aquifer and poisons the diminishing underground supply at an alarming rate; so much so that well over a hundred (at last count) drinking-water wells have been shut down by state water regulators and the EPA due to oil waste-water contamination.

The shuttered wells have forced residents of some California cities that are completely out of water to travel to buy bottled water for all their needs. Worse, the water the people are forced to purchase for basic survival was absconded from Californians by another corporation that believes water is not a basic human right but a commodity reserved for the corporation’s profit in the ultimate representation of corporate greed at the expense of  human lives.

The Nestlé  company, one of the world’s largest multinational corporate entities, operates several water-bottling plants up and down California in some of the areas hardest hit by the historic drought. Instead of helping conserve a dwindling natural resource, Nestlé is robbing what little water the state has left either to sell on the foreign market or to the areas where wells are dried up or poisoned by the oil and gas industry. Just to demonstrate the Nestlé company’s disregard for California’s lack of water, it takes three litres of water to produce one litre of bottled water, and Nestlé rejected several requests and demands from resident and activists to “halt its irresponsible and wasteful” bottling operations because they are in business to make money. What is even more despicable, like the oil industry, Nestlé enlists willing Republicans and employs lobbyists to block attempts to force the company to adhere to water conservation efforts the rest of the state is held to in the name of protecting corporate profits. Nestlé’s CEO is notorious for claiming water is not a basic human right and just another commodity that exists for the company’s profits.

Californians are livid and virtually up in arms that the oil and water-bottling industry are not part of the conservation effort, and as water becomes scarcer, or vanishes next year as every expert under the California Sun projects, the two profitable industries will face a thirsty public literally up in arms. Make no mistake, California is a predominately liberal state, but its residents do stockpile weapons and are unafraid of using them; particularly if it means basic survival.

It is noteworthy that the state’s farm bureau acknowledges that there is such a thing as climate change and seems to understand it plays a role in increasingly warm weather, but they blame their members’ lack of irrigation water not on the oil or water-bottling industry, but government regulations; not the lack of rainfall from anthropogenic climate change because they are Republicans. Sadly, the preponderance of stupid in California’s conservative agriculturally productive Great Central Valley where the drought is wreaking the most havoc drives voters to believe EPA and Clean Water Act regulations are responsible for drought conditions and they dutifully send Republicans to Congress to wage war on what they regard as the real enemy; the EPA and not the oil industry responsible for exacerbating climate change.

It is also noteworthy that another group not adhering to water conservation efforts is the bible crowd who claim lack of prayer is driving the lack of rainfall. A little over three months ago a cabal of evangelical churches in the Central Valley convened and decided the solution to the historic drought was mass prayer. Subsequently, when weather forecasts called for rain, the day before rain was due churches held prayer rallies and after rain showed up according to the forecasts, the faithful determined god intervened, claimed the drought was over, and ignored conservation efforts. They thanked their deity, watered their lawns, washed their cars, built swimming pools, hosed down their sidewalks, and took longer showers as acknowledgment their prayers were answered and the drought was over. In fact, despite water restrictions, churches continue wasting water on lawns and landscaping because churches are apparently not subject to water-reduction mandates any more than they are taxation.

California is in serious trouble due to the effects of climate change and it is an atrocity because the state has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the nation. Still, environmental regulations or not, the state is due to run out of water next year and it will take a concerted effort to preserve what little water there is left. The mountains that are typically covered with at least thirty inches of snow are barren dry, lakes and reservoirs are extremely low or dry, and while responsible and terrified residents take extraordinary measures to preserve the most necessary of natural resources, the oil and bottled-water industry are wasting water like it is incredibly abundant.

Republicans in Congress are using the devastating drought as a reason to eviscerate California’s environmental regulations and are having a measure of success among California conservatives who are certain the problem is not anthropogenic climate change, but federal and state agencies tasked with reducing the effects of climate change. Republicans have demonstrated their willingness to take everything from the people to enrich their corporate funders, but they have gone too far in protecting corporations that are robbing the people of a resource necessary for survival.


 
 
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Justices from fifth circuit court of appeals puts execution of Scott Panetti, who is schizophrenic, on hold over ‘complex legal questions’

The Guardian
Wednesday 3 December 2014 12.14 EST

A mentally ill death row inmate whose impending execution attracted international condemnation was granted a reprieve by a federal appeals court on Wednesday less than eight hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection in the Texas state penitentiary.

The fifth circuit court issued a stay of Scott Panetti’s execution so it could “fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue”.

“We are grateful that the court stayed tonight’s scheduled execution of Scott Panetti,” his attorneys, Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, said in a statement. “Mr Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years, and we believe that today’s ruling is the first step in a process which will clearly demonstrate that Mr Panetti is too severely mentally ill to be executed.”

Panetti shot dead Joe and Amanda Alvarado, the parents of his estranged wife, Sonja, in front of her and their three-year-old daughter in the Texas hill country in 1992.

As Panetti’s execution date approached his case gained widespread attention and a number of evangelical Christians, mental health groups, legal figures and prominent conservatives called for the sentence to be commuted, along with two United Nations human rights experts.

After discovering through a media report at the end of October that an execution date had been set, the 56-year-old’s attorneys launched a series of petitions asking state and federal courts to remove him from death row or at the least to afford them more time and allocate funds to hold a fresh competency hearing. They said that his mental health had deteriorated since his previous competency hearing in 2007.

They also argued that executing someone as delusional as Panetti would serve no useful retributive or deterrent purpose and would violate the constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishments.

The Wisconsin-born US navy veteran had been admitted to hospitals more than a dozen times for a variety of mental health problems since first being diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 20 in 1978. In 1986 his first wife sought to have him committed to hospital after he tried to “exorcise the devil” from their house by burying furniture in the back yard and nailing the curtains closed.


At his 1995 trial he was allowed to represent himself and tried to call Jesus, John F Kennedy, the Pope and Anne Bancroft as witnesses. He dressed in a purple cowboy suit in court and often rambled incoherently and on irrelevant topics such as Native Americans and the death of his dog. He said the killings were perpetrated by an alter ego known as “Sarge” and mounted an insanity defence despite calling veterinarians to the stand rather than mental health experts.

Over nearly two decades a variety of state and federal courts agreed that he is seriously mentally ill yet found him competent to be executed on the basis that he has a factual and rational understanding of the relationship between his crime and his punishment. That is the legal standard set out by the supreme court in a 2007 judgment known as Panetti v Quarterman.

His pro bono attorneys challenged that interpretation, saying that he had a fixed delusion that Texas prison officials hatched a satanic plot to kill him in order to stop him preaching Christianity.


 
 
By William La Jeunesse and Laura Prabucki
Published August 27, 2014FoxNews.com
Californians already pay the nation's second highest gas tax at 68 cents a gallon -- and now it will go up again in January to pay for a first-in-the-nation climate change law.

"I didn't know that," said Los Angeles motorist Tyler Rich. "It's ridiculous."

"I think it’s terrible," added Lupe Sanchez, pumping $4.09-a-gallon gas at a Chevron near Santa Monica. "The economy, the way it is right now with jobs and everything, it's just crazy."

When gas prices go up, motorists typically blame oil companies, Arab sheiks and Wall Street speculators. This time they can blame Sacramento and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for passing a bill requiring California to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The tax on carbon already raised about $1 billion in revenue by requiring manufacturers and utilities to buy credits for each ton of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. At the beginning of next year, the law will also apply to oil and gas. Refiners and distributors say they will pass another $2 billion in costs on - largely to consumers.

"Ultimately it hurts the consumer," said California Independent Oil and Marketing Association spokesman Mike Rohrer. "It is going to affect anyone who has a vehicle. Be it a motorist that is commuting back and forth to work or a trucker just moving goods throughout the state of California, the cost is immediately going to increase because whatever we have to pay for in carbon credits ultimately we have to pass through to the consumer."

Estimates of the cost of the tax vary. The California Air Resources Board, the Golden State's premier anti-pollution agency, predicts the new tax will raise gasoline prices from 20 cents to $1.30 per gallon. A prominent state senator who helped author the bill estimated the cost at 40 cents a gallon. Environmental activists downplay the cost, but hail the impact.

"We're going to now tackle probably 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state that are emitted mostly through transportation - oil and gas use," said Climate Resolve Executive Director Jonathan Parfrey.

The cost of the climate change law never was spelled out in the original bill in 2010, which did not even include transportation fuels.But any meaningful climate change law would have to address driving, the state's largest single source of pollution. By raising the price, officials hope to reduce the number of miles driven as consumers are forced to consider options.

"We have to effect a transition away from the polluting of fuels that we currently have," said Parfrey. "We have to pay a little extra so that we're making sure that our energy in the future is not going to be spoiled."

Not everyone is sold on the idea. Europe tried a cap and trade program in the last decade and pollution levels still increased dramatically.

California is the only state to extend the idea to gasoline. By the end of the decade, the state is expected to collect $5 billion in revenue by charging businesses and consumers for the right to pollute. So far the state collected $833 billion by selling 'carbon credits' to polluters.

"They have generated close to a billion dollars in revenue just from the carbon tax credit auctions that have been going on for over a year. Where has that money gone?" asked Rohrer.

"And why do we have to tax the consumer to make this happen for clean air? Everyone is for clean air but let’s not hurt the consumer in the process and not giving them a full explanation of how this exactly works and why."

Last week California sold all of the nearly 22.5 million carbon credits it offered this year. Revenue from the auction is deposited into California's greenhouse gas reduction account. There it is used not just to reduce emissions or the cost of pollution controls for business, but also to build low-income housing near mass-transit hubs and support construction of the state's high-speed rail project.

Critics claim the money could be better spent to directly reduce emissions from industrial sources. Instead, some say the fund acts more like a pot of money for state politicians to build projects in their district for residents who may or my not use the transportation alternatives.

 
 
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 A California school district hired a private detective to build a case against a 7-year-old Latina
Alternet
Robert Reich
December 1, 2014  |     America is embroiled in an immigration debate that goes far beyond President Obama’s executive order on undocumented immigrants. It goes to the heart of who “we” are. And it’s roiling communities across the nation.

In early November, school officials in Orinda, California, hired a private detective to determine whether a seven-year-old Latina named Vivian – whose single mother works as a live-in nanny for a family in Orinda — “resides” in the district and should therefore be allowed to attend the elementary school she’s already been attending there.

On the basis of that investigation they determined that Vivian’s legal residence is her grandmother’s home in Bay Point, California. They’ve given the seven-year-old until December 5 to leave the Orinda elementary school.

Never mind that Vivian and her mother live during the workweek at the Orinda home where Vivian’s mother is a nanny, that Vivian has her own bedroom in that home with her clothing and toys and even her own bathroom, that she and her mother stock their own shelves in the refrigerator and kitchen cupboard of that Orinda home, or that Vivian attends church with her mother in Orinda and takes gym and youth theater classes at the Orinda community center.

The point is Vivian is Latina and poor, and Orinda is white, Anglo and wealthy.

And Orinda vigilantly protects itself from encroachments from the large and growing poor Latino and Hispanic populations living beyond its borders.

Orinda’s schools are among the best in California – public schools that glean extra revenues from a local parcel tax (that required a two-thirds vote to pass) and parental contributions to the Educational Foundation of Orinda which “suggests” donations of $600 per child.

Orinda doesn’t want to pay for any kids who don’t belong there. Harold Frieman, Orinda’s district attorney, says the district has to be “preserving the resources of the district for all the students.”

Which is why it spends some of its scarce dollars on private detectives to root out children like Vivian.

The bigger story is this. Education is no longer just a gateway into the American middle class. Getting a better education than almost everyone else is the gateway into the American elite.

That elite is now receiving almost all the economy’s gains. So the stakes continue to rise for upscale parents who want to give their kids that better education.

The competition starts before Kindergarten and is becoming more intense each year. After all, the Ivy League has only a limited number of places.     

Parents who can afford it are frantically seeking to get their children into highly regarded private schools.

Or they’re moving into towns like Orinda, with excellent public schools.

Such schools are “public” in name only. Tuition payments are buried inside high home prices, extra taxes, parental donations, and small armies of parental volunteers.  

These parents are intent on policing the boundaries, lest a child whose parents haven’t paid the “tuition” reap the same advantages as their own child. Hell hath no fury like an upscale parent who thinks another kid is getting an unfair advantage by sneaking in under the fence.

The other part of this larger story is that a growing number of kids on the other side of the fence are Hispanic, Latino, and African American. Most babies born in California are now minorities. The rest of the nation isn’t far behind. 

According to the 2010 census, Orinda is 82.4 percent white and 11.4 percent Asian. Only 4.6 percent of its inhabitants are Hispanic or Latino, of any race. All of its elementary schools get 10 points on the GreatSchools 10-point rating system.

Bay Point, where Vivian’s grandmother lives, is 54.9 percent Hispanic or Latino. Bay Point’s elementary schools are rated 2 to 4 on GreatSchools’ 10-point scale.

Many of the people who live in places like Bay Point tend the gardens and care for the children of the people who live in places like Orinda. 

But Orinda is intent on patrolling its border.

The nation’s attention is focused on the border separating the United States from Mexico, and on people who have crossed that border and taken up residence here illegally.

But the boundary separating white Anglo upscale school districts from the burgeoning non-white and non-Anglo populations in downscale communities is fast becoming a flashpoint inside America.

In both cases, the central question is who are “we.”


 
 
New York Times.--By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA NOV. 19, 2014
The day unfolded as a showdown between Mr. Brown, who holds himself out as a force for fiscal restraint, and Janet Napolitano, the president of the university system, who has insisted that only more money from the state can head off the tuition increase. Mr. Brown has countered that if the regents went ahead with the increase, they would get less from Sacramento, not more, and he bolstered his position by appointing two allies this week to vacant seats on the board.

But even as sign-waving protesters tried to block entrances to the building, which led to shoving and jostling as officials tried to make their way in, Ms. Napolitano got her way: Under the plan, undergraduate tuition and fees for California residents would rise from $12,192 a year to as much as $15,560 in 2019-20.

Out-of-state students, who now pay more than $35,000 in tuition and fees, could see those charges rise to nearly $45,000. And those figures do not cover room and board, now about $14,000 for all students.

California’s prices are far above the national average of about $9,100 in tuition and fees for public four-year colleges, but below some, including elite public institutions like the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. And California officials say that with financial aid to low- and middle-income students, more than half of California residents pay no tuition, and that would remain true after the increases.

People on both sides argued that at stake was nothing less than the basic character of one of the nation’s largest university systems: whether it can remain elite, yet still accessible to middle- and working-class families.

“I would have real trouble paying any more, and so would a lot of people,” said Buckminster Barrett, an undergraduate at the Santa Cruz campus. “They say they’re worried about student debt, but this would force a lot of us to take more loans.”

But after almost four hours of debate, and with students in the audience drowning out the regents’ voices with their chants, a committee of the board voted 7 to 2 to approve increases of up to 5 percent in each of the next five years. A vote of the full board is expected Thursday, and regents taking head counts based on the debate said it appeared likely that the plan would pass.

The clash between Mr. Brown and Ms. Napolitano pitted two powerful Democrats and experienced political infighters against each other. On Wednesday, the governor, who sits on the board, asked the regents to delay voting on the plan until their next meeting in January, and to form a committee to find ways for the university to overhaul the way it does business.

“The pressure of not having enough money can force creativity that otherwise cannot even be considered,” Mr. Brown said. And, in the meantime, “we’re not talking that there’s a scarcity here that makes it impossible to live with,” he added.

Ms. Napolitano, a former secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Arizona, insisted that 5 percent was a ceiling, and that the figure could still be reduced if state lawmakers pitched in more money. Citing “massive state disinvestment” during the recent recession, budget cuts that eliminated thousands of university jobs, and a three-year tuition freeze, she said the system had no choice but to raise tuition to sustain quality and enable students, families and administrators to plan for the future.

“I wanted tuition increases to be as low as possible and as predictable as possible,” she said.

Starting during the recession, California cut support for the university system by $1 billion a year, prompting tuition increases of more than 60 percent, after inflation.

Systemwide, state support has rebounded partly in the last two years, and now supplies $2.8 billion of the university system’s nearly $7 billion core operating budget. But as regents and university trustees noted repeatedly, it remains well below its peak, despite increased costs and enrollment that has grown to more than 230,000 students.

Versions of California’s higher education battles have been playing out in states across the country in recent years. State governments slashed support for public universities during the recession, driving big tuition increases and drawing criticism from political leaders. In several states, university administrators have frozen tuition, while protesting that they are still underfunded by their states.

Recent efforts by some University of Texas regents to oust William Powers Jr., the president of the flagship Austin campus, were prompted in part by his repeated calls for higher tuition, as the regents imposed a multiyear freeze.

The California students who descended on the university conference center here where the regents met — driving or taking buses from campuses across the state — had harsh words for both state lawmakers and the regents. But they aimed most of their ire at Ms. Napolitano and called for her resignation. Many said they had been turned into pawns in a larger political game.

“They’re all at fault — all of them,” said Victor Ye, a student at the Berkeley campus.

Mike Hirshman, president of the Graduate Students Association at the Los Angeles campus, said of the regents, “You may be frustrated with the state, but it doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to keep our education affordable.”

In his address to the regents, Mr. Brown called on the university to look into changes like three-year bachelor’s degrees, concentrating some specialties at specific campuses, raising the number of students admitted as transfers from community colleges, sharply increasing online courses, and giving college credit for work experience. Those ideas are being debated across the country as cost-savers and ways to get more people through college, but many educators see them as an erosion of standards.

Mr. Brown has proposed 4 percent annual increases in state support for the system, but Ms. Napolitano and her allies contend that is not nearly enough. They said that if the state gave more, they would shrink the tuition increase. The governor said he would withhold the 4 percent increase if the regents went ahead with raising tuition.

In keeping with the bare-knuckled prelude, the meeting was characterized by sharp exchanges. John A. Pérez, a former Assembly speaker and one of the newly appointed regents who spoke against the tuition plan, said, “If you come in in a hostage-taking posture, saying give us X or this is what we’re going to do to our students, it’s not the most productive path.”

Responding to Mr. Brown’s proposal, Ms. Napolitano said, “We don’t have time to wait for another commission.” But, she conceded, “maybe we’ll actually get some nifty ideas out of it — that’s always possible,” prompting scattered laughter.

Another regent, Richard C. Blum, who is married to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, endorsed the tuition increase, arguing that the system simply needed more money to stay competitive. Referring to the years of cutting, he said it was harder than ever to debate the matter civilly, describing himself as “apoplectic.”

Mr. Brown replied, “Money doesn’t buy everything in the world.” Noting pointedly that Mr. Blum is an investment banker, the governor added: “This is not Wall Street. This is the University of California.”

 
 
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Mother Jones
By Shane Bauer
Wed Nov. 5, 2014 4:29 PM EST

Voters in the birthplace of mass incarceration just gave it a major blow. With California's passage of Proposition 47, which reclassifies nonviolent crimes previously considered felonies—think simple drug possession or petty theft—as misdemeanors, some 40,000 fewer people will be convicted of felonies each year. Thousands of prisoners could be set free. People with certain kinds of felonies on their records can now apply to have them removed.

The state's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the reforms will save California hundreds of millions of dollars annually, money that will be reinvested in school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.

The proposition's passage represents a pendulum swing: Just two decades ago, California overwhelmingly passed a three-strikes ballot initiative that would go on to send people to prison for life for stealing tube socks and other minor offenses. Last night, the state's voters turned back the dial.

The new law requires the savings from reducing prison rolls to be reinvested into other areas that could, in the long-term, further reduce the prison population. Take dropout prevention: Half of the nation's dropouts are jobless, and according to a 2006 study by the Gates Foundation, and they are more than eight times as likely to get locked up.

The same goes for increased funding to aid the mentally ill. In California, the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled over the last 14 years. Mentally ill inmates in state prisons serve an average of 15 months longer. Lockups have become our country's go-to provider of mental health care: the nation's three largest mental health providers are jails. There are ten times as many mentally ill people behind bars as in state hospitals. Sixteen percent of inmates have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, which is two and a half times the rate in the early 1980s. Prop 47 will provide more money for mental health programs that have been proven to drop incarceration rates. For example, when Nevada County, California started an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, average jail times for the mentally ill dropped from 521 days to just 17.

Keeping drug users out of prison and putting more money into drug treatment is probably the most commonsense change that will come out of the measure. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. Yet there is growing evidence that incarceration does not reduce drug addiction. And while 65 percent of US inmates are drug addicts, only 11 percent receive treatment in prison. Alternatives exist: a pilot project in Hawaii suggested that drug offenders given probation over being sent to prison were half as likely to be arrested for a new crime and 70 percent less likely to use drugs.

California's vote comes at a time when it seems more and more Americans are questioning how often—and for how long—our justice system incarcerates criminals. Last year, a poll of, yes, Texas Republicans showed that 81% favored treatment over prison for drug offenders. The passage of Prop 47 is yet another example that prison reform is no longer a partisan issue. The largest single backer of the ballot measure was Bradley Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative multimillionaire who has been a major financial supporter of Republicans and Karl Rove's American Crossroads. His donation of $1.3 million was second only to contributions from George Soros's Open Society Policy Center.

The passage of Prop 47 might inspire campaigners to put prison on the ballot in other states. It might also push lawmakers to realize they can ease the penal code on their own without voters skewering them for letting nonviolent people out of prison—and keeping them out.


 
 
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GMO bans pass in counties in Hawaii and California, while millions in industry spending drown out labeling efforts in Colorado

Common Dreams
by Lauren McCauley,
11/05/2014

Residents of Maui County in Hawaii, frequently referred to as 'GMO Ground Zero,' claimed a victory Tuesday evening when a measure to ban the planting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) passed with 50.2 percent.

Agribusiness giants Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, which for decades have run enormous growing and testing operations on the island, spent nearly $8 million dollars to defeat the ban, making it the most expensive campaign in Hawaii's history, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. 

Known as the Maui County Genetically Modified Organism Moratorium Initiative, the measure will ban all GMO growth, testing or cultivation in the county until an environmental and public health study is conducted and finds the proposed cultivation practices to be safe and harmless.

"I think that this is a really strong message to the entire agrochemical industry in the state of Hawaii that we are no longer going to sit idly by and watch them expand their operations without the kinds of regulations that ensure the health and safety of people across Hawaii," Ashley Lukens, who directs the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety, told Civil Beat.

Hawaiians have become increasingly concerned over GMO crop production and how its associated heavy pesticide use impacts the health of both people and environment. Over 80 different chemicals are sprayed on GMO fields, which ban proponents warn, creates billions of untested chemical combinations which then spread into "our neighborhoods, oceans, reefs, groundwater, drinking water, food supply and bodies."

Last year, the Hawaiian Department of Health tested the surface water around the island and pesticides were found in 100 percent of the samples. According to official election results, the moratorium passed with just over 1,000 votes. In comparison to the millions raised in industry dollars by ban opposition group Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban (CAMCFB), supporters of the initiative raised just under $65,000.

"It's only a matter of time before no amount of spending by Monsanto and Pepsi will be able to suppress the evidence against our industrial model of toxic monoculture crops."
—Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association

A GMO ban also passed in the community of Humboldt County, California on Tuesday, marking the third county in California to pass such a prohibition. Efforts to mandate the labeling of GMOs faced a windfall in outside, industry spending in both Colorado in Oregon. In Colorado—where corporate contributions lead by Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer topped $16 million—the measure lost 66.78 to 33.22 percent.

Oregon Measure 92 also lost by a slim margin, 51 to 49 percent. Multinational food and agriculture companies such as PepsiCo and Monsanto poured over $18 million into that race, shattering previous election spending records.

Organic food advocates say that the huge number of people who did back the labeling measures, despite industry-led misinformation campaigns, made it "clear that the GMO labeling movement is growing stronger with each of these initiatives."

As Katherine Paul, communications coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams: "Change doesn't happen overnight. But as we've seen with other movements (women's right to vote, gay marriage) over time, the will of the people ultimately overcomes the opposition—even opponents like Monsanto that can, and do, spend millions to protect corporate power."

"The science is on our side," Paul continued, noting that in addition to the impacts from the countless toxic chemical combinations, GMO crops have also been linked to numerous chronic illnesses. "It's only a matter of time before no amount of spending by Monsanto and Pepsi will be able to suppress the evidence against our industrial model of toxic monoculture crops."


 
 
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Tom Butt elected mayor and slate of progressive candidates all win city council seats after grim battle with corporate power
Common Dreams
by Nadia Prupis, staff writer
11/05.2014

Members of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network march against Chevron in Richmond, Califordia on August 9. (Photo: Malena Mayorga/Flickr)

A slew of progressive candidates were elected in Richmond, California on Tuesday night in a resounding defeat of corporate power, after a multi-million-dollar opposition campaign funded by Chevron brought national attention to the race but failed to take control of City Hall.

Local politician Tom Butt, a Democrat, was elected mayor with 51 percent of the vote, beating the Chevron-backed candidate, Nat Bates, by 16 points. Richmond Progressive Alliance representatives Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and outgoing  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also won three of the four open seats on the City Council.

Collectively, those candidates became known as Team Richmond.

In a victory speech from his campaign base, Butt said, "I’ve never had such a bunch of people who are dedicated and worked so hard. It’s far away above anything that I’ve ever experienced."

The sweeping win in the David-and-Goliath story was seen by many as an excoriation of corporate influence in elections after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Uche Uwahemu, who finished third in the mayoral race, said, "The election was a referendum on Chevron and the people obviously made it clear they did not appreciate the unnecessary spending by Chevron so they took it out on the rest of the candidates."

Chevron spent more than $3 million funding three political action committees that executed an opposition campaign including billboards, flyers, and a mobile screen, spending roughly $72 per voter in hopes of electing a slate of candidates that would be friendly to the oil giant.

Martinez, Beckles, and McLaughlin have all criticized the company and promised to tighten regulations on it. Chevron has an ugly history in the city, particularly in the wake of a large and destructive fire at their refinery in 2012, for which Richmond sued the company.

Butt spent roughly $58,000 on his campaign—a shoestring budget relative to Chevron's resources.


 
 
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A measure to mandate drug testing of doctors is getting Californians all riled up. Here's why.
Mother Jones
By Sam Brodey
Oct. 24, 2014

Politicians occasionally get death threats. Authors of state ballot measures usually don't. Yet that's what happened to Bob Pack, the coauthor of Proposition 46, a medical-regulation initiative on the California ballot this fall. Recently, Pack got a call at home from a menacing stranger who demanded he withdraw his support for Prop. 46 or else harm would come to Pack's eight-year-old daughter. Prop. 46 deals with doctor drug testing and lawsuit caps. So why is it making people so riled up?

Prop. 46, or the Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing of Doctors Initiative, is marketed as a safeguard against medical malpractice. It would require mandatory drug tests of doctors, making California the first state to adopt such a system. But parts of the proposition make some people queasy—for instance, its provision to raise the cap on damages in malpractice suits to over $1 million. As signaled by Pack's threatening phone caller, Prop. 46 is quickly turning into the most controversial initiative on California's ballot this fall.

Where did Prop. 46 come from? Prop 46 has roots in a tragic accident: 10 years ago, Pack lost two of his children when they were struck by a car while walking to get ice cream. The driver was high on prescription painkillers. Pack tried to sue the doctors who supplied the driver with what he said were "thousands" of pills. No lawyer picked up his case, which Pack blamed on the state's low damages cap.

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In the years since, he's made it his mission to harness his tragedy and strike back at prescription drug abuse, starting with the development of the CURES database in 2009. CURES is a statewide database that contains patient prescription records that doctors can check before doling out meds. By authoring Prop. 46, Pack hopes to make it even harder for patients to take advantage of doctors to get high, and to stop doctors from doing so themselves.

What will it do, exactly? The first of Prop. 46's three broadly related provisions requires hospitals to conduct random tests of doctors, much like how airlines are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to drug-test pilots. If a doctor commits a medical error, he'd have to submit himself to a drug test within 12 hours or face immediate suspension.

Prop. 46's second provision seeks to curb overprescription of drugs by requiring that doctors check CURES. The database has been around for years to monitor how much and how often doctors prescribe to individual patients. But docs have never been made to consult CURES beforehand to check for potential prescription drug abusers.

The last provision—which seems like it should be its own bill—would raise the cap on noneconomic "pain and suffering" damages in medical malpractice suits from $250,000 to $1.1 million and allow it to continue to increase according to inflation. California set the cap in 1975, but hasn't raised it since then. (The state places no cap on economic or punitive damages in malpractice suits.) California has the lowest noneconomic damages cap in the country: Most are in the range of $300,000 to $600,000, but states like New Hampshire have set it as high as $875,000. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have no cap at all.

Who stands to gain? Activists like Pack constitute the public face of Prop. 46, but without a doubt, California's trial lawyers stand to gain most if it passes. It's no surprise, then, that the lawyers—led by their "nonprofit ally" group, Consumer Watchdog—have been the lead cheerleaders for the initiative. (Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has long enjoyed support from the legal profession, is one of the few high-profile politicians endorsing 46.) Trial lawyers say that the current cap discourages them to pick up cases like Pack's. And since lawyers generally take home one-third of court payouts, they're especially keen on raising the cap. Consumer Watchdog has led the fundraising effort in favor of Prop. 46, raising more than $2 million out of a total $9 million to support the initiative.

Those in favor of Prop. 46 argue that doctor drug abuse in California is at "epidemic levels"—leading to devastating medical malpractice that kills millions per year. That claim doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny: Backers cite a 14-year-old report stating that 18 percent of California doctors abused drugs or alcohol. But from 2003 to 2013, only 62 doctors had their licenses revoked for that reason. Estimates put the total number of practicing California physicians at about 100,000. It's worth noting that the majority of Californians support testing—making this provision the "sweetener" to the other provision: raising the $250,000 award cap.


Some argue the cap raise is needed to redress socioeconomic injustice. Los Angeles Times' George Skelton argues that in California, pain and suffering awards tend to help children, the elderly, and the poor.


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But raising the cap steeply, and all at once, could lead to some nasty side-effects. The Los Angeles Times noted that with a higher cap, insurance for doctors and health care providers could skyrocket overnight, meaning higher premiums for consumers and reduced (or eliminated) care for low-income Californians who rely on free clinics. Dr. Michael Rodriguez, a physician and UCLA professor, says it's clear that a higher cap will lead to more lawsuits, and higher costs for providers as a result. "When you're sued, you have to get lawyers yourself, whether you're an individual or public official or public entity," he says. "All of a sudden, that's going to be money being spent to address lawsuits as opposed to money being spent to help people."

Who's opposed to Prop. 46? To no one's surprise, nearly every group representing doctors in California—from the California Medical Association to the California Academy of Cosmetic Surgery—has lined up to oppose 46. Together, the doctors' and health industry's lobbies have kicked in over $57 million to fight the ballot initiative, dwarfing the amount supporters have raised. And opposition to Prop. 46 has been the rare cause in California that's united Democrats, Republicans, labor, business, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP under one banner.

Medical professionals unleashed tens of millions of dollars worth of advertisements against the measure. "Prop. 46 would quadruple the payout in medical lawsuits," a concerned looking doctor says in one anti-Prop. 46 ad. "It will cost your family $1,000 more a year in health care costs," adds another. "If 46 passes, it may cause doctors to leave California."

No one loves random drug testing, but in most doctors' eyes, the system Prop. 46 proposes is fundamentally flawed. They would be required to submit to drug testing 12 hours after a medical error or risk suspension. But complications from malpractice can take weeks, even years, to appear. Theoretically, the East Bay Express notes, doctors could get suspended for not getting a drug test after an error they didn't know they committed. Beyond that, the ACLU has argued that random drug tests would be an "unconstitutional violation of due process."

But one of the biggest talking points coming out of the "No on 46" camp is suspect. The following ad, for instance, argues that the CURES database—and thus peoples' medical information—is vulnerable to hackers:


In explaining what a danger CURES could be, the figure "4.5 million records stolen" flashes on the screen. That refers to a breach of a nationwide database run by a private company, not CURES. In fact, the ad completely ignores that CURES has already been around for several years, with no security breaches to speak of.

What should we expect? While it's hard to say now, it seems unlikely that Prop. 46 will pass. Every major newspaper in the state, from the generally liberal Los Angeles Times to the generally conservative Orange County Register, has lined up against 46. A September University of Southern California poll found 39 percent of voters support it and 50 percent oppose it. As they near the end of a long campaign, many observers of California politics are eager to say good riddance to a flawed law. Prop. 46 proposes mending a relatively uncommon problem (doctor drug abuse) and it quietly slips voters a quick fix to a problem worth considering more carefully (the low damages cap). It's symptomatic of California's problematic ballot initiative politics: When special interests get to write and debate laws, the results aren't pretty. While other initiatives have proposed physically tearing California apart, Prop. 46 might actually be doing so.