Pleasant Valley Winery

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Energy companies trying to stop solar power

Does this setting sun represent compromise over solar policies? Sure, why not? (photo: Kevin Dinkel/Flickr)
Does this setting sun represent compromise over solar policies? Sure, why not? (photo: Kevin Dinkel/Flickr)

By Brad Plumer, Vox
22 October 14

f you ask the people who run America's electric utilities what keeps them up at night, a surprising number will say solar power. Specifically, rooftop solar.

That seems bizarre at first. Solar power provides just 0.4 percent of electricity in the United States — a minuscule amount. Why would anyone care?

But utilities see things differently. As solar technology gets dramatically cheaper, tens of thousands of Americans are putting photovoltaic panels up on their roofs, generating their own power. At the same time, 43 states and Washington DC have "net metering" laws that allow solar-powered households to sell their excess electricity back to the grid at retail prices.

That's a genuine problem for utilities. All these solar households are now buying less and less electricity, but the utilities still have to manage the costs of connecting them to the grid. Indeed, a new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory argues that, without policy changes, this trend could soon put utilities in dire financial straits. If rooftop solar were to grab 10 percent of the market over the next decade, utility earnings could decline as much as 41 percent.

To avoid that fate, many utilities are now pushing for reforms that would at least slow the breakneck growth of rooftop solar — say, by scaling back those "net metering" laws. And that's opened up a war with many fronts. There are solar advocates who'd prefer not to see any changes. There are conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushing to pare back solar subsidies. And there are even Tea Party groups now defending solar. Meanwhile, state regulators are struggling to find compromises that would both allow solar to expand but also ensure that there's enough money to maintain the existing grid.

Battles over solar are now raging in more than a dozen states — from Arizona to Utah to Wisconsin to Georgia. (They're also flaring up abroad, in countries like Germany and Australia). And the debate raises some legitimately hard questions about how best to deal with a new energy technology. Here's a broad overview:
How cheap solar could lead to a utility "death spiral"

Solar panels are still a niche product. But the cost of solar rooftop systems has been plummeting in recent years (see chart). Firms like SolarCity will now install solar systems at no upfront cost to customers who can then make monthly payments.

Plus, there's a 30 percent federal tax credit for residential solar systems until the end of 2016.

So even though solar provides just 0.4 percent of America's electricity, it's growing at a shocking rate. Rooftop solar generation has roughly tripled since 2010. By some estimates, a new solar system is installed every four minutes in the United States.

To electric utilities, this poses a dilemma. As rooftop solar becomes more popular, people will buy less and less electricity from their local power company. But utilities still have plenty of fixed costs for things like maintaining the grid. So, in response, those utilities will eventually have to raise rates on everyone else. Trouble is, those higher electricity rates could spur even more people to install their own solar rooftop panels to save money. Cue the death spiral.

Sound far-fetched? This was the doomsday scenario laid out by the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group, back in January 2013. Even a relatively modest increase in rooftop solar power could cause havoc. David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, has called these trends "a mortal threat to the existing utility system." (Some utilities also have their own solar plants, but that doesn't pose a threat to their business model.)

One recent study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that some utilities could face serious financial trouble in the coming decade. Distributed solar now makes up nearly 2 percent of retail sales in some areas. If solar penetration reaches just 2.5 percent, shareholder earnings for some utilities could fall an estimated 4 percent. (Electricity prices, meanwhile, would rise just 0.1 to 0.2 percent.)

That's just the beginning. If the penetration of distributed solar reached as high as 10 percent — an admittedly aggressive scenario — a typical utility in the Southwest could see its earnings drop 5 percent to 13 percent, while a typical utility in the Northeast could see its earnings decline 6 percent to 41 percent. This is similar to what's happened in Germany, where distributed solar has halved the market value of some utilities.

The LBNL study did argue that there are policies that might help utilities recoup their lost revenues. Some states are trying to modify regulations so that utility profits are no longer wholly dependent on how many power plants they build and how much electricity they sell — a process known as "decoupling." But whether this softens the blow really depends on the fine details.

Utilities pushing to scale back solar subsidies
The potential disruptions caused by solar power have triggered a number of fierce policy disputes at the state level.

Some of the biggest fights are over "net metering" policies, found in 43 states and DC, that essentially require utilities to buy excess rooftop solar power from homes and businesses at retail prices. (These retail prices are higher than the wholesale prices that utilities typically pay for electricity generation.)

Electric utilities argue that these policies have become far too unwieldy. After all, these new solar-powered homes and businesses are all still connected to the grid (not least because they still need electricity from traditional power plants when the sun isn't shining). But the utility is getting less money from these customers to maintain and repair that grid.

As such, utilities argue that they should be allowed to charge rooftop solar owners a maintenance or connection fee of some sort. Alternatively, in some states, utilities have proposed reducing the price paid to these households for their excess solar electricity.

Solar advocates, for their part, counter that solar power provides a wide variety of ancillary benefits — it doesn't pollute, it helps address global warming, and it provides a handy source of peak power on hot days when A/C use surges. So, they say, solar should get some sort of subsidy for this, and net metering makes sense.

The first big battle over net metering came back in 2013, when Arizona Public Service proposed a new $50 monthly fee for all households with rooftop solar. That sparked a huge backlash from solar proponents, and regulators eventually pared the fee back to $5 per month.

Similar disputes are spreading to more and more states. As Zack Colman recently reported in the Washington Examiner, measures have now been filed in 20 states to either scale back or eliminate net metering laws. In Wisconsin, for instance, the largest utility in the state, We Energies, has proposed reducing the price paid to rooftop solar owners for their electricity, as well as charging all homeowners a higher price for connecting to the grid.

Some of these rollback efforts have been backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that has drafted "model legislation" to weaken net metering. Their argument? The growth of rooftop solar will force utilities to raise rates on the rest of us in order to maintain the grid.

Yet policies to moderate the growth of solar can be motivated by a variety of concerns — it's not just a conservative plot. On Hawaii's Oahu island, for instance, anyone who wants to install solar panels on their roofs now has to get permission from the local utility, which argues that the current grid can't handle the strain. In Pennsylvania, utilities want to limit how much solar power a homeowner can install on his or her roof to 110 percent of what the house needs in a year, so as to limit excessive profiting off solar panels.

Some Tea Party groups taking pro-solar stance
The debate over solar has also created some surprising tensions among conservatives. On the one hand, right-wing groups like ALEC are opposed to the heavy subsidies given to solar power by Congress and states. But another subset of conservatives have begun to view solar power more favorably — and oppose efforts by states to restrict it or impose new fees.

Case in point: Earlier this year in Oklahoma, the legislature passed a bill that would charge rooftop solar owners more for the electricity they sell back to the grid. This bill quickly attracted the ire of conservative group TUSK, which stands for "Tell Utilities Solar Won't Be Killed" and is led by Barry Goldwater, Jr. (See Slate's Josh Voorhees for the full Oklahoma story.)

TUSK, for its part, has argued that rooftop solar offers homeowners greater energy choice and should be valued by conservatives. "Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity," its website notes. "They have engaged in class warfare and tried to sabotage net metering, a billing method that gives individual homeowners fair credit for power produced on their own rooftops."

Similar conservative splits are now showing up elsewhere. In Georgia, the Green Tea Coalition — a Tea Party offshoot — is pushing for policies that would allow homeowners to buy solar systems from third parties (something that Georgia restricts). "Solar empowers the consumer and the individual," Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Coalition explained to Midwest Energy News. "These giant monopolies want to take away that consumer choice unless they can control it."

Possible compromise on solar power?
In the meantime, some states are trying to find a balance here, mulling over policies that both promote solar power but don't leave utilities struggling to maintain the grid.
Minnesota, for one, has put forward a "value of solar" policy, in which regulators determine a "fair value" for electricity generated by rooftop solar panels — taking into account both their environmental benefits and the costs they impose on the grid — and then letting utilities buy electricity at that price (rather than buying it at the retail electricity rate, which can fluctuate over time).

Still, even this policy has created rifts among solar proponents, with some arguing that current net metering policies work just fine. (One key difference? Under net metering, homes only sell the electricity they don't need back to the grid, whereas under "value of solar" policies, they have to sell all of it to the utility.)

If solar is to keep growing, though, regulators will ultimately have to figure out a workable compromise here. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency argued that the success of solar would depend on policies that "facilitate distributed [solar photovoltaic] generation while ensuring [transmission and distribution] grid cost recovery."

The issue's only likely to become more contentious as solar power keeps growing — and some experts are already suggest that utilities may be forced to make more drastic changes to their business model. See, for instance, this recent post by Matt Lehrman and Peter Bronski of the Rocky Mountain Institute on how radical changes to the old electricity-pricing model could be the best way to resolve this debate.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why DC is OK with Broken States of America


It seems the government is in a permanent state of gridlock and Congress has become even more dysfunctional throughout the years. Should we expect Washington to remain gridlocked for another decade?

  • Since 1992, the Democrats’ presidential candidate has won a majority of the popular vote in all but one election – Bush vs. Kerry in 2004. In the 2000 election – decided by the Supreme Court, not the electorate – Democrat Al Gore outpolled Republican George W. Bush by over half a million votes.
  • Due in no small part to systematic partisan redistricting in every state in the Union, Republicans are now firmly in control of the lower house; if they succeed in taking control of the Senate, where seats are awarded via state-wide contests rather than in gerrymandered congressional districts, they can easily pass laws pursuant to an extreme pro-business, anti-immigrant, military interventionist agenda.
  • The chances that a Republican will be elected president in 2016 are remote: loyal Republican voters constitute a mere 25% of the electorate according to a 2014 Gallup poll, while fully 42% identify themselves as Independents.
  • People who consider themselves Independents are generally moderate, middle-of-the-road voters who vote for candidates rather than parties; they tend to shun extremist candidates and parties; if Congress is dominated by one party, especially one in thrall to the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party, they are like to vote for the other party’s presidential candidate.
  • President Obama will veto laws and programs passed by a solidly Republican Congress with an extreme rightwing agenda, and even the tepid Democrats in the Senate will use the filibuster to sustain Obama’s vetoes for the next two years.
  • The Democratic presidential candidate elected in 2016 election will almost certainly be re-elected, virtually guaranteeing eight more years of gridlock.
Hence, the ominous prospect of a coming decade of dysfunctional government and politics looms over the republic like the proverbial sword of Damocles.

But, unlike the rest of us, the denizens of the Nation’s Capitol have nothing to worry about – Washington, D.C., continues to prosper even as Detroit and other American cities that were once pulsing with energy and industry decay. Fact: Washington is the richest metropolitan area in America.

What the paradox of a gridlocked, debt-ridden government and a corrupt US Congress with trillions of tax dollars at its disposal means for the country and the world is the subject of my next post.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Right's sneaky new strategy to control women

Clinics that council against abortions are popping up all over the country. (photo: Third Box)
Clinics that counsel against abortions are popping up all over the country. (photo: Third Box)

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet
18 October 14

Their latest effort to hoodwink women is even more shameless than usual.

ecent months have revealed a scary new trend in the anti-choice movement: claiming, falsely, that anti-choice conservatives are the ones trying to give women more control over their reproductive decision-making. Yes, the new lie coming from anti-choicers is to pretend, as hard as it may be to believe, that they are actually pro-choice.

In the Bay Area, a crisis pregnancy center whose entire purpose is to try to guilt and bully women out of abortions is now trying to trick people into believing it’s a pro-choice counseling center. As reported by Katie Baker at Buzzfeed, the city of San Francisco passed a law requiring crisis pregnancy centers, which often pretend to be abortion clinics in order to lure women seeking abortion, to put up signage to explain that they do not actually offer abortion services. After their lawsuit to stop the law failed, the crisis pregnancy center First Resort has started a rebranding effort, calling itself Third Box and claiming it’s a counseling center for “undecided” pregnant women.

Third Box goes out of its way to give the appearance of being a pro-choice organization, even using the phrase “pro-choice” in a press release. Its website insinuates that women will be given fair and honest counseling about all their options, including abortion. Most women would, in fact, get the impression from the website that Third Box offers abortion referrals. That’s highly unlikely, however, because, as Baker pointed out in her article, the CEO of Third Box, Shari Plunkett (who also runs the First Resort crisis pregnancy centers that have been called out for trying to trick women out of getting abortions) celebrated the closing of local abortion clinics in a 2011 email, writing that they offered “one of the most amazing opportunities we’ve ever had to serve abortion-minded women.”

You also see a turn toward "pro-choice" language in the campaign over Amendment 1 in Tennessee. Currently, the state constitution provides broad rights to medical privacy that have made it hard for legislators to pass unnecessary regulations to close down abortion clinics. Amendment 1, which is a ballot initiative, would remove those protections and allow the legislature to pass intrusive laws banning abortion, which is exactly the point of putting this on the ballot for November.

But even though the goal of the “yes on 1” forces in Tennessee is to end legal abortion in their state, advocates pretend that they have no intention of removing women’s reproductive choices.

“You're saying yes to making the constitution once again neutral on the issue of abortion,” Sharon White of the Yes on 1 campaign told WTVC, falsely implying that her campaign is about neutrality, which sounds awfully pro-choice. In fact, her campaign is about ending neutrality, and allowing the legislature to single out abortion clinics for regulations that aren’t applied to any other clinics. It’s the opposite of neutral, and sure isn’t pro-choice.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is another prominent example of an anti-choicer masquarading as pro-choice. After Emily’s List released an ad highlighting Walker’s long and storied campaign to end legal abortion in his state, Walker hit back with an ad implying he’s actually pro-choice. After admittedly briefly that he’s “pro-life,” Walker goes on to falsely suggest that his personal views on abortion don’t influence his policy ideals. “That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options,” he says, even though all his actions as governor have been about reducing a woman’s options. “The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” 

As Andy Kroll at Mother Jones noted, a voter watching that ad “could easily conclude that Walker is personally opposed to abortion but supports the right of a woman to decide (in consultation with a doctor) to choose an abortion.” After all, more than half the people who call themselves “pro-life” also believe that abortion should be legal. In fact, 43 percent of Americans identify as both “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Walker’s ad was clearly meant to suggest he is one of those Americans who believes abortion to be wrong on some level but who doesn’t want it to be banned.

But the implication of his ad is flat-out false. Walker may be trying to pretend he’s a moderate, but he has been open in the past about his desire to ban all abortions, even in the case of rape and incest. The bill he mentions in the ad was actually a medically unnecessary restriction on abortion providers in the state that was clearly intended to shut down as many abortion clinics as possible, a move denounced by Wisconsin doctor and former president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Doug Laube.

Walker’s hostility to reproductive rights doesn’t stop at hostility to abortion. As Robin Marty at Talking Points Memo notes, Walker tried to ban the coverage of birth control in Wisconsin’s healthcare plans and has been trying to shut down family planning clinics across the state, even if they don’t offer abortion. “[I]t’s clear that contraception is just as big of a target to him as abortion is,” Marty writes.

Walker is an extreme example, but many anti-choice wolves are trying to dress up in pro-choice sheep costumes in a bid to trick female voters into thinking they aren’t so bad. Take the number of Republican candidates for Senate this year claiming to support over-the-counter birth control pills. These candidates, such as Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, and Ed Gillespie, are all rabidly anti-abortion and are generally hostile to Democratic efforts to improve both reproductive healthcare and healthcare, because they oppose both the Affordable Care Act and the HHS requirement that insurance companies cover contraception. But in order to distract from the fact that they support policies that would make contraception (and healthcare generally) harder for women to get, they’ve been touting themselves as the real protectors of choice with this OTC birth control pill idea.

It’s 100% for show. Congress doesn’t determine what drugs are over-the-counter and what are prescription-only (only the FDA has that power), so they never have to actually make good on this supposed support for OTC birth control pills. It’s nothing but an effort to look like they’re supportive of reproductive choice while continuing to push for the same old policies to reduce reproductive choice. Like Scott Walker’s ad, the whole plan is to appear pro-choice while actually wanting to take women’s choices away.

Being perceived as pro-choice is clearly desirable, particularly if you want to appeal to women. Pro-choice is widely understood, for good reason, as the only stance that actually respects women’s intelligence and basic right to equality. Pro-choice is the bare minimum standard in order not to be understood as a misogynist waging the war on women.

However, none of these Republican politicians—much less crisis pregnancy center leaders—are actually pro-choice. It’s just an illusion, an attempt to hoodwink women long enough so that they can take their choices away.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why GOP wants you to be scared of Ebola

House Speaker John Boehner is among those raising the fear of an Ebola outbreak in the US. (photo: Getty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner is among those raising the fear of an Ebola outbreak in the US. (photo: Getty Images)

Party of Bad Guys outdoes itself with deplorable election strategy

By Brian Beutler, New Republic
16 October 14

he first transmission of Ebola within the United States, from Liberian visitor Thomas Eric Duncan to a Dallas nurse, marked a turning point in the political dialogue surrounding the virus toward an unbridled opportunism. The subsequent diagnosis of a second nurse and other revelations—that she took a flight shortly before she began showing symptoms, apparently with Centers for Disease Control's approval—have only accelerated it. Obviously a degree of paranoia and sensationalism has colored the Ebola story since long before this week. But this week’s developments provided conservatives the psychological ammunition they needed to justify using the specter of a major Ebola outbreak as an election-year base-mobilization strategy.

Republican candidates like Scott Brown are now in on the game, and so is House Speaker John Boehner. Fox News, with the exception of Shepard Smith, is ginning up more Ebola terror than CNN, which had been the vanguard of Ebola hysteria until this week. Matt Drudge’s call to panic was not only deranged but unintentionally self-defeating, as one cannot vote if one is self-quarantined.

Engaging in the politics of fear requires a pretense. You can find people who hype mortal danger, without a sheen of plausibility, shouting into bullhorns on street corners. Politicians and their enablers need persuasive stories that make the threats sound real. And the story that many conservatives are telling about Ebola goes something like this: We'd love to eschew hysteria, and we’d love to believe our public health officials can break the chain of transmission within the U.S., but the Obama administration has proven itself untrustworthy.

“This is an episode when people want to trust the government, people need to trust the government and they can’t,” columnist George Will intoned on Fox News earlier this month. “What was happening exactly 12 months ago? A government shutdown and the disastrous rollout of Since then we’ve had intelligence failures regarding ISIS; we’ve had the debacle of the veterans handling of healthcare; and the Secret Service that couldn’t lock the front door of the White House. So people think this is a gang that can’t shoot straight.”

University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds repackaged Will’s basic argument in USA Today on Monday. Among those he cited was "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, who added lost IRS emails, Edward Snowden's NSA disclosures, and the child-migrant crisis to the litany. Members of the media are enabling this opportunism. They should be anathematizing it.

The competence argument is appealing because it doesn’t require dabbling in pseudoscience or xenophobia—just healthy skepticism of our governing institutions. Moreover, I’m certain this sort of skepticism does help explain why a large minority of people in the U.S. feels at risk of contracting Ebola. But they are at no great risk. That the risk is provably infinitesimal underscores the fact that the issue with Ebola isn’t the virus itself so much as paranoia about it.

Even if each of the failures and crises enumerated above were as unambiguous and damning as the administration's critics claim, it doesn’t follow that federal health officials aren’t up to the task of controlling Ebola, or that the public at large faces any meaningful risk. It might follow that we shouldn’t believe this season’s Affordable Care Act enrollment period will be glitch-free, and that the Vetrerans Affairs’s problems won’t be solved with new management alone. The point is not that we should never draw inferences from this administration's previous failings. But it’s a fallacy to arbitrarily extend that second-guessing to the Ebola containment effort, while at the same time happily taking it for granted that the vast majority of things we entrust the government to do will continue apace.

Ebola carries a crucial mix of novelty, visibility, and lethality that ripens it for demagogy. But conservatives have selected a familiar line of demagogy—that you can't trust the government to administer things and solve problems—and imposed it on to a situation where stoking reflexive distrust of the government tugs at the lid of a big Pandora's box.

The sad irony is that state and local institutions, so beloved on the right, were apparently out to sea when Ebola arrived in Dallas, and health officials there would have let things drift further into chaos had the federal government not intruded further. Not that they've performed flawlessly, but we need more of their expertise and involvement, not less. Texas Governor Rick Perry—who in gentler times plays footsie with secession—is grateful for this intrusion, and has “great faith” that their efforts will succeed. Perhaps he’ll surprise us further by dismissing the idea that the federal officials who’ve stepped up against Ebola shouldn't be trusted because about a year ago, some federal healthcare website was beset by glitches.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Study: Seniors given lighter sentences

ASU criminologists Weston Morrow, Sam Vickovic and Hank Fradella
ASU criminologists Weston Morrow, Sam Vickovic and Hank Fradella studied how federal judges treat seniors more leniently.
New research shows older people sentenced in federal district courts receive more leniency than younger offenders. The study was published Sept. 23 in the online edition of Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society.

Besides receiving a "senior citizen discount" in sentencing, the research discovered that older women are treated with greater leniency than men. Interestingly, it found that Latinos over the age of 60 were sentenced more harshly, while older blacks received shorter sentences on average.

ASU researchers Weston Morrow, Sam Vickovic and Hank Fradella used data from the United States Sentencing Commission from fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The data covered more than 95,000 people sentenced in 89 district courts. Immigrations cases were excluded.

“We usually don’t think of people older than 40 as being the folks who commit crimes, but the proportion of criminal defendants age 40 or older more than doubled in the past 25 years such that they now comprise one in four defendants,” says Fradella.

Although the data do not explain why judges sentence older offenders more leniently, there are three plausible explanations: they are less blameworthy due to issues outside the offender’s control; they are not considered dangerous because they are less likely to commit more crime; or they could be in poor health.

“Our criminal justice system is ill-equipped to handle the special needs of older offenders, many of whom have health problems that might impair their ability to 'do time,'" Fradella says. “If they are incarcerated, the taxpayers are footing the bill for their care. Thus, we all have vested interest in figuring out why older offenders are committing crimes, and how the courts are sentencing them if they are convicted.”

The study’s authors suggest future research employ qualitative methods to better understand why older individuals are given more leniency. They also recommend looking at the effect of age by offense type. Finally, they suggest that research look at the specific role that an offender’s health has on sentencing.

About the authors
Weston J. Morrow is a doctoral candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. His current research interests primarily revolve around the effects of race, gender and age, and their intersectionality on various decision-makers in both the juvenile justice system and the federal court system.

Samuel G. Vickovic is a doctoral candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU and a visiting faculty member at Long Beach State University. His current research interests include correctional officers and the intersection of corrections, media and popular culture.

Henry F. Fradella is a professor and assistant director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU. His area of specialization is the social scientific study of courts and law.

Paul Atkinson,
College of Public Programs

Gay marriage legal in Arizona

Courtesy Arizona Republic

Arizona same-sex couples can begin marrying immediately, after Attorney General Tom Horne announced this morning he will not appeal the court ruling striking down Arizona's marriage restriction.

Horne said legal ethics dictated he drop any appeal of the 9th Circuit court's ruling.
Horne has issued a letter instructing county clerks to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

"Effective immediately, the clerks of Arizona county superior courts cannot deny a marriage license to any otherwise eligible licensees on the grounds that the license permits a marriage between persons of the same sex," Horne wrote in his letter.

Arizona now becomes the 31st state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

County clerks are expected to be at various stages of readiness for couples who have been anticipating the ruling.

Maricopa County clerk's offices were ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, pending Horne's directions. Some locations already had couples waiting in lobbies as Horne made the announcement, Deputy Clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court Chris Kelly said.

For more coverage, click on

Horne's statement:

Phoenix, AZ (Friday, October 17, 2014) – Attorney General Tom Horne is today issuing the following statement: 
“A number of Attorneys General have refused to defend laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I have not been among that group. I have fought to defend the laws as passed by the voters of Arizona, which I believe is the duty of the Attorney General.
Both the Federal District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled against us, and the United States Supreme Court has shown an unwillingness to accept review in the case of three other circuits in essentially identical circumstances.
The decision I make today has to be based on legal considerations rather than policy considerations. I believe the first duty of the Attorney General is to be a good lawyer.
Lawyers live under a rule called Rule 11, which provides that it is unethical for a lawyer to file a pleading for purposes of delay rather than to achieve a result.
The probability of persuading the 9th circuit to reverse today’s decision is zero. The probability of the United States Supreme Court accepting review of the 9th circuit decision is also zero.
Therefore, the only purpose to be served by filing another appeal would be to waste the taxpayer’s money. That is not a good conservative principle.
I have decided not to appeal today’s decision, which would be an exercise in futility, and which would serve only the purpose of wasting taxpayers’ money.
I am issuing a letter today to the 15 county clerks of court with the directive that based on today’s decision by the Federal District Court, they can issue licenses for same sex marriages immediately.” 
Several same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit in January, 2014, seeking a court order declaring Arizona’s traditional marriage laws unconstitutional and enjoining Arizona officials from enforcing those laws. The Attorney General’s Office defended Arizona’s marriage laws, including Arizona’s state constitutional provision that defines marriage exclusively as “a union of one man and one woman.” 
After the Connolly lawsuit was filed, federal courts in other parts of the United States ruled that similar traditional marriage provisions in other states were unconstitutional. That led the States in those cases to petition the United States Supreme Court to review and overturn those rulings. On Monday, October 6, the Supreme Court declined to review those cases, leaving the lower federal court decisions in effect. The following day, consistent with rulings by the other federal appellate courts, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit filed an opinion in Latta v. Otter, holding that traditional marriage laws in Nevada and Idaho were unconstitutional. Because Arizona is in the Ninth Circuit, Judge Sedwick asked the Attorney General and the plaintiffs in the Connolly case to file briefs no later than October 16, addressing whether the Latta decision controlled the outcome of the Arizona case. 
The Attorney General’s Office filed a brief on October 16 advising the Court that the Latta decision is not yet considered final under Ninth Circuit case law, and requesting that Judge Sedwick refrain from issuing any ruling based on Latta until it becomes final. Despite the Arizona Attorney General’s request, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick issued an order and injunction declaring Arizona’s traditional marriage laws unconstitutional and prohibiting Arizona officials from enforcing the Arizona laws that ban marriage between persons of the same sex.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why the rich wall themselves off from us

Russell Brand leads a protest on Wall Street on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014. (photo: Downtown Express)
Russell Brand leads a protest on Wall Street on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014. (photo: Downtown Express)

Russell Brand: What Monkeys and the Queen Taught Me About Inequality

By Russell Brand, Guardian UK
16 October 14

We humans have an inherent sense of fairness. Deep down, we don’t like inequality. In a second extract from his new book, Russell Brand goes in search of ways to build a more just world

hen travelling in impoverished regions in galling luxury, as I have done, you have to undergo some high-wire ethical arithmetic to legitimise your position. If you can’t geographically separate yourself from poverty, then you have to do it ideologically. You have to believe inequality is OK. You have to accept the ideas that segregate us from one another and nullify your human instinct for fairness.

Edward Slingerland, a professor of ancient Chinese philosophy at Stanford University, demonstrated this instinct to me with the use of hazelnuts. As we spoke, there was a bowl of them on the table. “Russell,” he said, scooping up a handful, “we humans have an inbuilt tendency towards fairness. If offered an unfair deal, we will want to reject it. If I have a huge bowl of nuts and offer you just one or two, how do you feel?”

The answer was actually quite complex. Firstly, I dislike hazelnuts, considering them to be the verminous titbits of squirrels. Secondly, they were my hazelnuts anyway; we were in my house. Most pertinently though, I felt that it was an unfair offering when he had so many nuts. He explained that human beings and even primates have an instinct for fairness even in situations where this instinct could be seen as detrimental. “You still have more nuts now than before,” he chirped, failing to acknowledge that all the nuts and indeed everything in the entire house belonged to me.

We then watched a clip on YouTube where monkeys in adjacent cages in a university laboratory perform the same task for food. Monkey A does the task and gets a grape – delicious. Monkey B, who can see Monkey A, performs the same task and is given cucumber – yuck. Monkey B looks pissed off but eats his cucumber anyway. The experiment is immediately repeated and you can see that Monkey B is agitated when his uptown, up-alphabet neighbour is again given a grape. When he is presented with the cucumber this time, he is furious – he throws it out the cage and rattles the bars. I got angry on his behalf and wanted to give the scientist a cucumber in a less amenable orifice. I also felt a bit pissed off with Monkey A, the grape-guzzling little bastard. I’ve not felt such antipathy towards a primate since that one in Raiders of the Lost Ark with the little waistcoat betrayed Indy.

Slingerland explained, between great frothing gobfuls of munched hazelnut, that this inherent sense of fairness is found in humans everywhere, but that studies show that it’s less pronounced in environments where people are exposed to a lot of marketing. “Capitalist, consumer culture inures us to unfairness,” he said. That made me angry.

When I was in India, a country where wealth and poverty share a disturbing proximity, I felt a discomfort in spite of being in the exalted position of Monkey A. Exclusive hotels require extensive, in fact military, security. As we entered the five-star splendour through the metal detectors, past the armed guards, I realised that if this was what was required in order to preserve this degree of privilege, it could not be indefinitely sustained.

These devices that maintain division are what my friend Matt Stoller focused on when I asked him what ideas he had that would change the world. I first met Matt in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan, in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011. Matt understands power: at the time, he worked as a policy-wonk for a Democratic congressman and his days were spent in the cogs of the lumbering Washington behemoth. Beneath his cherubic, hay-coloured curls and proper job, he detested the system he was trapped in.

Since then, he has regularly prised apart the clenched and corrupt buttocks of American politics and allowed me to peer inside at its dirty workings. I asked Matt for ideas that would aid the revolution; his response was, as usual, startling and almost proctologically insightful. “No more private security for the wealthy and the powerful,” he said. I nervously demanded he explain himself. He did: “One economist argued in 2005 that roughly one in four Americans are employed to guard in various forms the wealth of the rich. So if you want to get rid of rich and poor, get rid of guard labour.”

This may be the point in the article where you start shouting the word “hypocrite”. Don’t think I’m unaware of the inevitability of such a charge. I know, I know. I’m rich, I’m famous, I have money, I have had private security on and off for years. There is no doubt that I as much as anyone have to change. Revolution is change. I believe in change, personal change most of all. Know, too, that I have seen what fame and fortune have to offer and I know it’s not the answer. Of course, I have to change as an individual and part of that will be sharing wealth, though without systemic change, that will be a sweet, futile gesture.

Now let’s get back to Matt Stoller, banning private security and ensuring that I’ll have to have my own fist fights next time I’m leaving the Manchester Apollo.

“The definition of being rich means having more stuff than other people. In order to have more stuff, you need to protect that stuff with surveillance systems, guards, police, court systems and so forth. All of those sombre-looking men in robes who call themselves judges are just sentinels whose job it is to convince you that this very silly system in which we give Paris Hilton as much as she wants while others go hungry is good and natural and right.”

This idea is extremely clever and highlights the fact that there is exclusivity even around the use of violence. The state can legitimately use force to impose its will and, increasingly, so can the rich. Take away that facility and societies will begin to equalise. If that hotel in India was stripped of its security, they’d have to address the complex issues that led to them requiring it.

“These systems can be very expensive. America employs more private security guards than high-school teachers. States and countries with high inequality tend to hire proportionally more guard labour. If you’ve ever spent time in a radically unequal city in South Africa, you’ll see that both the rich and the poor live surrounded by private security contractors, barbed wire and electrified fencing. Some people have nice prison cages, and others have not so nice ones.”

Matt here, metaphorically, broaches the notion that the rich, too, are impeded by inequality, imprisoned in their own way. Much like with my earlier plea for you to bypass the charge of hypocrisy, I now find myself in the unenviable position of urging you, like some weird, bizarro Jesus, to take pity on the rich. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, and I’m not suggesting it’s a priority. Faced with a choice between empathising with the rich or the homeless, by all means go with the homeless.

He continues: “Companies spend a lot of money protecting their CEOs. Starbucks spent $1.4m. Oracle spent $4.6m. One casino empire – the Las Vegas Sands – spent $2.45m. This money isn’t security so much as it is designed to wall these people off from the society they rule, so they never have to interact with normal people under circumstances they may not control. If you just got rid of this security, these people would be a lot less willing to ruthlessly prey on society.”

Matt here explains that at the pinnacle of our problem are those that benefit most from the current hegemony. The executors of these new empires that surpass nation. The logo is their flag, the dollar is their creed, we are all their unwitting subjects.

“People can argue about the right level of guard labour. You conceivably could still have public police, but their job should be to help protect everyone, not just a special class. If you got rid of all these private systems, or some of these systems of surveillance and coercive guarding of property, you’d have a lot less inequality. And powerful and wealthy people would spend a lot more time trying to make sure that society was harmonious, instead of just hiring their way out of the damage they can create.”

Matt’s next idea to create a different world was equally cunning and revolutionary: get rid of all titles. “Mr President. Ambassador. Admiral. Senator. The honourable. Your honour. Captain. Doctor. These are all titles that capitalism relies on to justify treating some people better than other people.”

Matt is an American, so when it comes to deferring to the entitled, he is, let’s face it, an amateur compared with the British. Look at me, simpering to Professor Slingerland. I can’t wait to prostrate myself before his sceptre of diplomas. Plus we’ve got a bloody royal family. What’s he going to say about that?

“One of the most remarkable things you learn when you work in a position of political influence is just how much titles separate the wealthy and the politicians from citizens. Ordinary people will use a title before addressing someone, and that immediately makes that ordinary person a supplicant, and the titled one a person of influence. Or if both have titles, then there’s upper-class solidarity. Rank, hierarchy, these are designed to create a structure whereby power is shaped in the very act of greeting someone.”

I’m getting angry again. Matt’s right! Titles are part of the invisible architecture of our social structure. I’m never using one again. If I ever see Slingerland in the street, I shall alert him by hollering: “Oi, fuck-face!” and then throw a hazelnut at him.

What does Matt propose?

“One thing you can do to negate this power is to be firm but respectful, and address anyone and everyone by their last name. Mr, Ms or Mrs is all the title you should ever need. This allows you to treat everyone as your equal, and it shows everyone that they should treat you as their equal.”

This is a provocative suggestion – particularly to those of us who live in monarchies. I mean, in England, we have a queen. A queen! We have to call her things like “your majesty”. YOUR MAJESTY! Like she’s all majestic, like an eagle or a mountain. She’s just a person. A little old lady in a shiny hat – that we paid for. We should be calling her Mrs Windsor. In fact, that’s not even her real name, they changed it in the war to distract us from the inconvenient fact that they were as German as the enemy that teenage boys were being encouraged, conscripted actually, to die fighting. Her actual name is Mrs Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Mrs Saxe-Coburg-Gotha!! No wonder they changed it. It’s the most German thing I’ve ever heard – she might as well have been called Mrs Bratwurst-Kraut-Nazi.

Titles have got to go.

I’m not calling her “your highness” or “your majesty” just so we can pretend there isn’t and hasn’t always been an international cabal of rich landowners flitting merrily across the globe, getting us all to kill each other a couple of times a decade. From now on she’s Frau Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Come on, Frau Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, it’s time for you to have breakfast with Herr Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. And you can make it yerselves. And by the way, we’re nicking this castle you’ve been dossing in and giving it to 100 poor families.

Actually, you can stay if you want, they’ll need a cleaner. You’ll have to watch your lip, Herr Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, some of ’em ain’t white.

We British have much to gain from Matt’s titleless utopia.

He continues: “If this became common, you’d shortly see sputtering rage from the powerful, and increased agitation from the erstwhile meek. People need to mark their dominance; that is the essence of highly unequal capitalism. If they can’t do so, if they aren’t allowed to be dominant, to be shown as being dominant, then the system cannot long be sustained.”

Matt’s ideas are like the schemes of a cackling supervillain from a Bond movie. At first, they seem innocuous, but then they elegantly unravel the fabric of society. He suggests we start now: “This is something that anyone and everyone can act on, a tiny act of rebellion that takes no money, influence or social status. You just need courage, and every human has that.”