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Christie Seeks to Roll Back Pension Payments After Ruling

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will seek to roll back pension-fund contributions in his next budget, a day after a judge said he broke state law by withholding $1.6 billion from the retirement system this year.

The 52-year-old Republican will present a spending plan Tuesday that seeks to contribute $1.3 billion to New Jersey’s government-employee pensions for the year starting July 1, according to a figure released by his office. That’s less than half the $2.9 billion it was scheduled to pay.

For the governor, the pension decision comes at a pivotal moment as he considers a run for the White House next year. After being dogged by a scandal over deliberate traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge and a struggling economy, Christie has sought to boost his national profile with trips across the U.S. and abroad. Now, he’s refocusing on New Jersey, where his approval rating has fallen to record lows, with his latest plan to manage revenue shortfalls and rising pension costs.



Protecting LGBT People From Discrimination Is Now Illegal In Arkansas, And Texas May Follow Suit

As of Tuesday, it is now law that cities in Arkansas cannot pass ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination. That’s because a new bill became law — without Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signing or vetoing — that limits municipalities from extending nondiscrimination protections to any class not protected by state law. Since state law does not include “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” as protected classes, nor now can any locality throughout the state. The law will officially take effect later this summer.

In addition to blocking further extensions, SB 202 likely invalidates preexisting protections in cities like Little Rock and Eureka Springs, Eureka Springs having just passed its ordinance earlier this month to preempt the bill. Tennessee passed a similar law in 2011 and though cities have since still advanced LGBT protections, their validity under state law has not been tested.

SB 202 seems to have passed specifically thanks to silence from the state’s business community. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce told ThinkProgress last week, “We have no position on that piece of legislation.” Walmart, which is based in Arkansas and has corporate LGBT protections, only spoke out on the bill Monday evening, mere hours before it was to become law without Hutchinson’s signature. Tyson Foods, another prominent Arkansas business that protects its gay employees, remained silent on the legislation.

It was businesses who helped defeat a similar “license to discriminate” bill in Arizona last year that was couched in “religious freedom” language. Conversely, statewide LGBT protections are actually advancing in Wyoming right now with support from groups like the Wyoming Mining Association, Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, and the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, all of whom argue that protecting LGBT workers will help them recruit talented employees.


The Real American Exceptionalism

From Torture to Drone Assassination, How Washington Gave Itself a Global Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
By Alfred W. McCoy

"The sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation’s leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt’s service as Nazi Germany’s chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. They have, in fact, shaped the neo-conservative view of presidential power that has become broadly bipartisan since 9/11. Indeed, Schmitt has influenced American politics directly through his intellectual protégé Leo Strauss who, as an émigré professor at the University of Chicago, trained Bush administration architects of the Iraq war Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky.

All that should be impressive enough for a discredited, long dead authoritarian thinker. But Schmitt’s dictum also became a philosophical foundation for the exercise of American global power in the quarter century that followed the end of the Cold War. Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet’s last superpower or, in Schmitt’s terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power.

Just as Schmitt’s sovereign preferred to rule in a state of endless exception without a constitution for his Reich, so Washington is now well into the second decade of an endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy. Yet these many American exceptions are just surface manifestations of the ever-expanding clandestine dimension of the American state. Created at the cost of more than a trillion dollars since 9/11, the purpose of this vast apparatus is to control a covert domain that is fast becoming the main arena for geopolitical contestation in the twenty-first century.

This should be (but seldom is considered) a jarring, disconcerting path for a country that, more than any other, nurtured the idea of, and wrote the rules for, an international community of nations governed by the rule of law. At the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, the U.S. delegate, Andrew Dickson White, the founder of Cornell University, pushed for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration and persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build the monumental Peace Palace at The Hague as its home. At the Second Hague Conference in 1907, Secretary of State Elihu Root urged that future international conflicts be resolved by a court of professional jurists, an idea realized when the Permanent Court of International Justice was established in 1920.


Human hybrid bill sponsor talks centaurs, werewolves

ATLANTA-- "Everybody always asks," says Rep. Tom Kirby, repeating the question: "Is it even possible to mix non-human with human embryos? Yes it is."

Kirby (R-Loganville) says scientists did it at Cornell University with the embryos of jellyfish, merged with the genetic material of human beings. Kirby says it's time to draw a legislative line. His bill proposes to make it unlawful "to create a human animal hybrid."

"And I say no. And that's what the bill is really about," Kirby said Friday at the Georgia Capitol. Kirby emphasizes he is not trying to stop research that uses animal genetic material to cure human diseases. His bill specifically exempts such research from his proposed ban.

Still, the bill has drawn its share of skeptics.

"You've got to be real careful when you're dealing with scientific matters, that you're not doing something that has unintended consequences," said Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker and Senate minority leader.


Agnes Stevens dies at 79; former nun and schoolteacher founded School on Wheels

Agnes Stevens, a former nun and schoolteacher who founded School on Wheels, a nonprofit group that helps homeless children stay in school by giving them tutors, backpacks and other support services, died Feb. 13 in Ventura. She was 79.

The cause was complications from Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, said her brother, Bill Stevens.

Stevens formed School on Wheels in 1993 after 30 years of teaching elementary school. In two decades it has grown from a one-woman operation to a nationally recognized program with 1,800 volunteer tutors serving 3,000 homeless students a year throughout Southern California.

The tutors come from all walks of life and go wherever homeless children are, from shelters and skid row hotels to doughnut shops, libraries and foster homes. The program provides basic necessities, including bus tokens and classroom supplies, and helps with enrollment and the transferring of academic records. It also has an 800 phone number that enables students to stay in contact with the group despite being constantly uprooted.

One of the reasons Stevens created School on Wheels was to give homeless children some stability.



Tuesday Toon Roundup 4: The Rest




Tuesday Toon Roundup 3: The Bill-o-vator

Tuesday Toon Roundup 2: Good for nothing party

Tuesday Toon Roundup 1: Mr. Terror

Homeless man acquitted after smashing Uber Prius with skateboard

A San Francisco man who smashed an Uber driver’s windshield by hurling a skateboard into the moving Prius was acquitted at trial by a jury that found he acted in self-defense, the city public defender’s office said.

If convicted, 49-year-old Martin Knaak faced up to a year in jail on charges of vandalism and resisting arrest in connection with the Dec. 6 incident in the Marina District.

But testimony from the defendant and cell phone video that appeared to back up his account of the confrontation, led to his acquittal Friday, his attorney said.

“As a crime victim, Mr. Knaak deserved every bit of the police response and protection that would have been afforded to a wealthy San Franciscan,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Monday. “What happened to him is a betrayal of justice. Fortunately, his public defender was able to end his nightmare.”

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