New Billboard Asks Scientologists To Reconnect With Estranged Loved Ones.

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New Billboard Asks Scientologists To Reconnect With Estranged Loved Ones.

A billboard that went up in Echo Park Monday is asking members of the Church of Scientology to reconnect with their estranged loved ones.

“To my loved ones in Scientology … call me,” the billboard says.

The billboard is an effort to call attention to the church’s policy of disconnection, in which church members sever ties from non-church members who are “suppressive or antagonistic to Scientology or its tenets.”

The billboard was paid for by a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort spearheaded by Las Vegas couple Phil and Willie Jones that has raised nearly $14,000.

The two were members of the church for 40 years, but decided to leave the church.

“… Heavy pressure to donate money. We were just not interested in that anymore,” Willie Jones said.

For the past three years, they’ve been estranged from their two grown children, Mike and Emily. Mike and Emily are still involved with the church and are employees of the church’s Sea Org, which reportedly pays meager wages and comes with a billion-year commitment.

“We know people who’ve had kids in Scientology, or people with family in Scientology who’ve died before they ever got to see them. So we don’t want to be in that situation,” Phil Jones said.

The couple originally planned to put the billboard up closer to the Hollywood offices of church leader David Miscavige, but outdoor advertising companies Regency Outdoor Advertising and Outfront Media pulled out of the deal, according to Scientology blog Underground Bunker.

The Echo Park billboard went up through Lamar Media.

The Joneses said they are working on a documentary about their experiences, and they regret raising their children as Scientologists.

In a written statement, Linda Wieland, a representative of the church said, “It is shameful that two people desperate for publicity would hook up with a reality TV producer to shamelessly exploit their two adult children over their choice of faith,”

Source: http://cbsloc.al/1PXkHTm

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Another atheist blogger has been killed in Bangladesh.

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Another atheist blogger has been killed in Bangladesh.

A 28-year-old Bangladeshi law student who was critical of radical Islamists has been hacked to death here by machete-wielding militants, the latest in a series of attacks on secular bloggers and activists in the Muslim majority country.

Nazimuddin Samad, a masters student of the state-run Jagannath University’s law department, was killed by suspected Islamist militants in Old Dhaka’s Sutrapur area on Wednesday night.

He was attacked by three assailants while walking to his home in Gendaria with another youth after completing classes at the university near Bahadur Shah Park.

While murdering Samad, the killers shouted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), witnesses said.

The youth accompanying the victim has been missing since the incident, a police official said.

“They initially hacked him and then fired gunshots to confirm his death,” the official said.

Nazim, who hailed from Sylhet, was the information and research secretary of Sylhet district unit of Bangabandhu Jatiya Jubo Parishad. He was also an activist of Gonojagoron Moncho’s Sylhet wing.

His friends said Nazim used to campaign for secularism on Facebook and was critical of radical Islamists. A day before the murder, he expressed concerns over the country’s law and order in a Facebook post.

Businessmen in the area closed their shops immediately after hearing the gunshots. Police cordoned off the crime scene. They recovered a bullet shell from the spot.

Nurul Amin, assistant commissioner of Sutrapur division, was quoted as saying that police went to the spot and found the body in a pool of blood.

Nurul said it was clear that the assailants kept an eye on Nazim’s activities for long.

University Proctor Nur Mohammad said Nazim got admitted to the university two months ago.

“We have informed his family about the murder and are taking detailed information about him,” he said.

There have been systematic assaults in Bangladesh over the past six months specially targeting minorities, secular bloggers and foreigners.

Source: http://bit.ly/1MgtF3u

Making Salt Water Drinkable Just Got 99 Percent Easier.

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Making Salt Water Drinkable Just Got 99 Percent Easier.

Access to steady supplies of clean water is getting more and more difficult in the developing world, especially as demand skyrockets. In response, many countries have turned to the sea for potable fluids but existing reverse osmosis plants rely on complicated processes that are expensive and energy-intensive to operate. Good thing, engineers at Lockheed Martin have just announced a newly-developed salt filter that could reduce desalinization energy costs by 99 percent.

The Reverse Osmosis process works on a simple principle: molecules within a liquid will flow across a semipermeable membrane from areas of higher concentration to lower until both sides reach an equilibrium. But that same membrane can act as a filter for large molecules and ions if outside pressure is applied to one side of the system. For desalinization, the process typically employs a sheet of thin-film composite (TFC) membrane which is made from an active thin-film layer of polyimide stacked on a porous layer of polysulfone. The problem with these membranes is that their thickness requires the presence of large amounts of pressure (and energy) to press water through them.

Lockheed Martin’s Perforene, on the other hand, is made from single atom-thick sheets of graphene. Because the sheets are so thin, water flows through them far more easily than through a conventional TFC. Filters made through the Perforene process would incorporate filtering holes just 100 nm in diameter—large enough to let water molecules through but small enough to capture dissolved salts. It looks a bit like chicken wire when viewed under a microscope, John Stetson, the Lockheed engineer credited with its invention, told Reuters. But ounce for ounce, its 1000 times stronger than steel.

“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” Stetson explained to Reuters. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

Lockheed is reportedly already ramping up production efforts for the filters—and trying to find a way to keep them from tearing—though there are no announced plans on when they’d hit the market. Tomorrow isn’t soon enough.

Source: http://reut.rs/1S1RvlJ

Tesla Motors & Elon Musk will eliminate petrol cars from the planet.

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Tesla Motors & Elon Musk will eliminate petrol cars from the planet. 

“Adios gas-powered cars.” That was the reaction of Barclays analyst Brian Johnston over the weekend to news that Tesla Motors had received orders for nearly 200,000 of its Model 3 electric vehicle in less than two days.

By nightfall on Saturday, that order tally had jumped to 276,000. That’s more than $US280 million in zero-cost capital to Tesla, from the $US1,000, $A1,500 and €1,000 deposits, and total orders for more than $A13 billion of electric vehicles.

It is – by a long shot – the fastest growing customer order book in the history of the automobile industry. And for a car that will not even enter production for 18 months, and has a price tag of $US35,000.

Barclay’s Johnston says the huge order numbers – more than the monthly sales of General Motors – suggests the tide is turning away from the internal combustion engine. Other analysts agreed.

“Tesla has changed the game again,” said Andrea James, an analyst with Dougherty & Co. Alliance Bernstein’s Mark Jones also called it a “game changer”, and so too did Evercore ISI analyst George Galliers.

“To us the vehicle is ‘the game changer’ and will likely play a critical role in Elon Musk’s desire to expedite the auto industry’s transition from internal combustion engine to electric,” Galliers wrote in a client’s note.

It’s hard not to agree with Johnston and the other analysts. There could have been no greater demonstration of the latent demand for electric vehicles than the response to the Model 3.

This is not just a Tesla thing, as alluring as the brand might be. It is a sign, noted Johnston and the other analysts, that the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered. Some say it may be over by 2025.

Musk has not played a lone hand in this. The German automaker VW managed to kill the future of the diesel car when it was forced to admit that its fuel efficiency claims were completely bogus – a development that forced it and other car makers to throw all their efforts into electric vehicles.

Then there are technology developments and environmental concerns. China and other countries are trying to kick petrol and diesel cars off the road to try to make their cities more livable. China’s BYD tripled EV sales to 150,000 in 2015, and expects that number to double each year for the next three years.

India’s roads minister last week was quoted as saying he wanted all cars to be electric by 2030. Norway intends to do this by 2025, and the Netherlands has said it will ban sales of new petrol cars from that date. And just to add to the mega-themes, Saudi Arabia said it is planning to establish a $US2 trillion sovereign wealth fund by selling off its state petroleum assets in preparation for a world beyond oil.

This, of course, represents a massive disruption to several industries that have dominated world economies and politics over recent decades. The big one is obviously the oil industry, but the whole nature of the auto industry is also being tipped on its head.

Electric vehicles do not just mean a different source of fuel – of electricity over liquids. Tesla has also managed to up-end the whole concept of networks and dealerships, which rely on repairs and maintenance to click over the revenues. That threat explains why some states in the US have refused access to Tesla cars because they won’t play by the rules.

And this is where it gets interesting – the fight for dominance in Auto 2.0.

Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note that Tesla – despite its many worthy accomplishments –  had not yet truly disrupted the auto industry. Before last Friday it had been nothing more than a niche player.

“We are now getting a feeling that this may be starting to change,” they wrote.

“Elon Musk referred several times last night to the important stages of the company’s ‘master plan’, thanking the early owners of the Tesla Roadster for funding the Model S and thanking the owners of the Model S for funding the Model 3.”

And what would that master plan be? According to Morgan Stanley analysts, it’s not actually the volumes that will count. Musk’s vision, they say, if for a shared, autonomous electric transport network where revenue is generated through the sales of miles rather than units.

They noted Musk’s announcements during the frenzy of the Model 3 launch on doubling the numbers of stores and superchargers in the next 12 months.

“(That) starts to imply some very serious physical numbers of real estate and service assets in the field to support the captive ecosystem of a transportation megafleet,” the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

“Tesla is shouldering the costs of an ever growing physical network of captive service and free charging. While these costs could be considered partially a marketing expense today, we believe the proprietary network is critical to delivering mobility service-based revenue in the future.”

It is fascinating, though, to see how some in the media are reacting to this. My copy of the Weekend Australian  did not include the story, and neither did my Monday copy.

The Australian Financial Review at least reported it, but tried to mock the event as a “launch resembling an environmental revival meeting.”

Really? Maybe that’s because Musk spent two minutes talking about rising Co2 levels and soaring temperatures and the need to do something about climate change. Clearly, the  AFR is still shocked that corporations talk about such things.

As events go, it was as corporate as corporate events can be – slick video, music, displays. Slick products. Enough to generate more than 250,000 orders and potential sales of more than $13 billion. If that’s the standard, let’s have more environmental revival meetings.

It’s that kind of thinking, though – oh, that this is just a fad – that has got the automotive industry into the mess it has been in, along with the media industry, the telco industry, and now the electricity supply industry, and so many sectors disrupted by the internet.  (I still remember the former editors of the AFR closing down the first iteration of afr.com more than a decade ago, on the basis that print sales would rebound and the “internet might go away”).

There are questions about Tesla’s ability to ramp up its production and meet this demand, and how many of these refundable deposits will turn into firm orders, and how much this new model will cannibalise the Model S.

All valid questions. Musk has already recognised that delivery will be the key and the need to rethink the company’s production plans. This already includes a possible new factory in Europe. Wouldn’t it be great if South Australia could attract Tesla to replace the petrol car production lines due to close in next few years?

But the shift from the petrol car to the electric car won’t ride on the ability of Musk to implement his strategy. The internet didn’t die because some firms that enjoyed early successes later collapsed so spectacularly.

The big story here in the untapped potential of the electric vehicle. If his master plan proves too hard, Musk’s legacy will be his ability to make electric vehicles an attractive consumer product, just as Apple did with the laptop and the iPhone.

When Musk began building his Roadsters eight years ago, EVs were seen as something useful for the golf course and the DIY community. Tesla built around 2500 of the those roadsters, and now it has pre-orders of 100 time that sports car’s entire production, two years out.

That, said one observer, surely establishes Tesla as the electric transport catalyst in the history of the world. “It really cements them as serious agents of change in the EV realm – exactly what Elon has been pouring his heart and soul into achieving,” said one.

Source: http://bit.ly/1UUyeUf

Africa loses more money to financial fraud than it receives in foreign aid.

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Africa loses more money to financial fraud than it receives in foreign aid.

A huge trove of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm that’s a major player in offshore tax havens has revealed the secret companies controlled by members of the African elite, from Kenya’s deputy chief of justice and Rwanda’s former intelligence chief to the son of former United Nations general secretary Kofi Annan.

Every year, Africa loses between $30 and $60 billion to illicit financial flows according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). A “major enabler” of these flows, UNECA says, are offshore tax havens like Panama, the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, and other jurisdictions that happen to feature prominently in the “Panama Papers” leak.

There are legitimate uses for privacy-shielding offshore companies, and the firm from which the leak sprung, Mossack Fonseca, says it has operated “beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations.”

Africa’s losses to illegal financial flows negate the impact of economic growth on the continent. (Indeed, these illicit activities appear to rise in lock-step with economic growth.) They also cancel out the amount of foreign aid the continent receives—the OECD estimates that illicit financial flows from Africa are three times the amount of official development assistance it receives. The Tax Justice Network, an activist research group, says these flows are 10 times the amount of aid (pdf, p. 64).

For the past year, journalists led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, acting on the leak first received by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, have been analyzing millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca that link 72 current and former heads of state to shell companies and other obscure offshore vehicles. Here are a some of the noteworthy African names:

The son of Kofi Annan

Kojo Annan, the son of Kofi Annan, used a company registered in Niue, a tiny Pacific island, to buy an apartment in London for more than $500,000. He is also a joint shareholder and director of two companies listed in the British Virgin Islands. His lawyers say there is nothing untoward about Annan’s offshore holdings. He “pays taxes in the jurisdictions in which taxes are due to be paid. In other words, any entity and account held by Mr. Annan has been opened solely for normal, legal purposes of managing family and business matters,” according to the ICIJ.

Joseph Kabila’s twin sister

Jaynet Désirée Kabila Kyungu is the twin sister of Congolese president Joseph Kabila as well as a member of parliament. She is the co-director of Keratsu Holding Limited, which was incorporated in Niue a few months after her brother became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is also the owner of a media conglomerate in the country, Digital Congo.

Kenya’s deputy chief justice

Kalpana Rawal has been linked to 11 offshore companies. According to the files, Rawal and her husband used various offshore companies to buy and sell real estate in and around London. Rawal has responded to the report by defending the registrations as a “perfectly legal and legitimate corporate practice in the UK,” according to the Kenyan daily, the Nation.

Kagame’s former doctor-cum-intelligence chief

Emmanuel Ndahiro, a close confidant of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, is know for his harsh stance on corruption. He served as the president’s physician, security advisor, and spokesperson. According to the Panama leaks he was the director of an offshore company, Debden Investments, registered in the Virgin Islands and owned by Hatari Sekoko, a wealthy Rwandan businessman. The company was shuttered in 2010.

Hosni Mubarak’s son

Alaa Mubarak, the son of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, owned the Virgin Islands-registered firm Pan World Investments. When his father stepped down in 2011 amid the Arab Spring, local authorities acted on an EU order and froze the company’s assets. Mossack Fonseca was fined $37,500 in 2013 for not vetting Mubarak carefully enough. Alaa and his brother were convicted last year of embezzling state funds and await trial on charges of insider trading.

The son of Ghana’s former president

John Addo Kufuor hired Mossack Fonseca to manage his trust, the Excel 2000 Trust, in 2001, after his father, John Agyekum Kufuor, took office. The trust controlled a bank account in Panama containing $75,000, of which his mother was also a beneficiary. The younger Kufuor was linked to two other offshore companies also registered during his father’s term that are now inactive.

 

Source: http://bit.ly/1TyNVPg

Panama Papers: Millions of leaked documents reveal how world’s rich and powerful hide their money.

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Panama Papers: Millions of leaked documents reveal how world’s rich and powerful hide their money.

An enormous trove of confidential documents from the notorious Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca was made public on Sunday, exposing a vast web of offshore shell companies used by members of the global elite to evade taxes, hoard money, and skirt economic sanctions.

The massive leak — dubbed the “Panama Papers” — includes more than 11.5 million documents and implicates 72 current and former heads of state. The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

“The leak exposes the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and reveals how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies,” the ICIJ wrote in its overview of the leak on Sunday. “The files contain new details about major scandals ranging from England’s most infamous gold heist, an unfolding political money laundering affair in Brazil and bribery allegations convulsing FIFA, the body that rules international soccer.”

SZ explained that an anonymous source contacted its reporters more than a year ago and provided them with 2.6 terabytes of data from Mossack Fonseca, which sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. “These shell firms enable their owners to cover up their business dealings, no matter how shady,” SZ wrote, noting that the Panamanian firm’s clients include “criminals and members of various Mafia groups,” in addition to government officials and their relatives and close associates.

“Generally speaking, owning an offshore company is not illegal in itself. In fact, establishing an offshore company can be seen as a logical step for a broad range of business transactions,” SZ explained. “However, a look through the Panama Papers very quickly reveals that concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim in the vast majority of cases.”

Related: The Law Firm That Works with Oligarchs, Money Launderers, and Dictators

The ICIJ and SZ have teamed up with reporters from more than 100 news organizations around the globe to sift through the leaked documents. The Panama Papers have been public for less than 24 hours, but the unprecedented leak is already causing repercussions.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davîo Gunnlaugsson is facing calls for a snap election after the Panama Papers revealed him as one of many politicians using shell companies to hide money. Documents in the leak revealed that Gunnlaugsson, together with his business partner and wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottis, set up a shell company with Mossack Fonseca in 2007 in the British Virgin Islands.

Gunnlaugsson, who took office after Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis, vowed to defend the country from foreign creditors, who he described as “vultures,” but he did not disclose the fact that he had $4 million in bonds tied up in an offshore shell company. He has also denied having an offshore account in the past.

‘These shell firms enable their owners to cover up their business dealings, no matter how shady.’

“Myself? No,” he reportedly said when questioned recently by the Guardian about his links to Mossack Fonseca. “Well, the Icelandic companies I have worked with had companies with offshore companies.”

The leak has also exposed the use of offshore companies by a number of high-level Russian government officials, including many in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. AGuardian analysis of the documents found a tangled web of offshore deals and loans — collectively worth about $2 billion — that all led back to Putin. That money has made members of his close circle extremely rich.

While Putin himself is not directly implicated in the leak, many of his family members and close friends are. The Guardian noted that many of the enormous loans detailed in the leak were almost certainly secured through the Russian president’s patronage.

The documents reveal that Sergey Roldugin, a famous cellist and one of Putin’s oldest friends, owns three offshore companies worth more than $100 million: Sonnette Overseas, International Media Overseas and Raytar Limited. The first two companies were created by Bank Rossiya, which is based in St. Petersburg and has been described by US officials as Putin’s “crony bank.” In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order designating Bank Rossiya a target of economic sanctions as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Related: From Drug Money to FIFA: How Banks Facilitate Illicit Transfers Around the World

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is also mentioned in the documents. The oligarch came to power in 2014 after a popular uprising ousted his corrupt predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. Poroshenko touted himself as a different kind of politician, but the Panama Papers reveal that the “chocolate king” — as he is known due to the inclusion of a prominent confectionary company in his corporate empire — was stashing his assets from his companies in offshore accounts. In 2014, the tycoon became the sole owner of “Prime Asset Partners Limited,” a company in the British Virgin Islands.

The Cypriot law firm representing “Prime Asset Partners Limited,” noted that although the new company belonged to “a person involved in politics,” it had “nothing to do with his political activities.” A spokesperson for Poroshenko told ICIJ that neither Prime Asset Partners nor two related companies in Cyprus and the Netherlands held his assets, and that they were instead part of a corporate restructuring plan designed to sell his confectionary company.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s two cousins, Rami and Hafez Makhlouf, are also named in the documents. Rami controlled oil and telecommunication sectors in Syria, among other important areas. Hafez, meanwhile, ran Syria’s intelligence and security apparatus.

In 2012, as the international community started to slap key players in the Assad regime with economic sanctions, the US Treasury Department discovered Drex Technologies, a limited liability company (LLC) with an address in the British Virgin Islands. The Makhlouf borthers were using the shell company to conceal their international financial holdings and evade sanctions. By the time the Makhloufs were linked to the company, the brothers had had enough time to move their assets to another offshore address.

The data also shows how Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has used money from a company in the British Virgin Islands to pay for mortgages on luxury properties in London and for a yacht he keeps parked in Marbella, Spain. The vessel has its own banquet hall and enough space to comfortably sleep 30 guests.

While Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, was mayor of Buenos Aires, he failed to disclose the fact that he had assets in a family-owned shell company in the Bahamas.

The leak also details the offshore activities of family members and associates of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, and former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, among many others.

Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ, told the BBC that the documents covered the daily business operations of Mossack Fonseca for the last 40 years. “I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents,” he said.

Source: http://bit.ly/1S1bFWZ

Same-Sex Couples Can Now Adopt Children In All 50 U.S States.

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Same-Sex Couples Can Now Adopt Children In All 50 U.S States.

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples adopting children is unconstitutional, making gay adoption legal in all 50 states.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, citing the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide last summer. The injunction blocks Mississippi from enforcing its 16-year-old anti-gay adoption law.

The Supreme Court ruling “foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage,” Jordan wrote. “It also seems highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits — expressly including the right to adopt — would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit.”

The challenge to Mississippi’s law was filed last year by four same-sex couples, who were joined by the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Family Equality Council.

“Two sets of our clients have waited many (almost 9 and 16) years to become legal parents to the children they have loved and cared for since birth,” Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “We hope that it should finally be clear that discrimination against gay people simply because they are gay violates the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s Mississippi state director Rob Hill also praised the ruling.

“This welcome decision affirms that  qualified same-sex couples in Mississippi seeking to become adoptive or foster parents are entitled to equal treatment under the law, and commits to the well-being of children in our state who need loving homes,” he said in a statement. “Judge Jordan has repudiated reprehensible efforts by our elected leaders to deny legal rights to our families. They are on the wrong side of history, and today’s decision confirms, yet again, that they are also on the wrong side of the law.”

The one-sentence Mississippi law — which reads, simply, “Adoption by couples of the same gender is prohibited” — was adopted in 2000. While several other states, including Alabama, Florida, Nebraska and Michigan, had similar bans, all have since been overturned.

Mississippi remained the lone holdout until Thursday’s ruling. (Some states still have restrictions on fostering children, however, and other roadblocks for same-sex couples remain.)

In a 2013 blog post for The Huffington Post, former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who signed the adoption bill into law, said he supported overturning it.

“This decision that all of us made together has made it harder for an untold number of children to grow up in happy, healthy homes in Mississippi — and that breaks my heart,” Musgrove wrote.

The ruling came soon after Mississippi’s Senate passed a “religious freedom“ bill, which would give businesses the right to deny service to LGBT people.

Source: http://huff.to/1SrnDcJ