Friday Night Fun and Culture; Ruthie Foster

Tina and I are treating ourselves to a concert at the Kessler Auditorium down in Oak Cliff. We’re seeing Ruthie Foster this holiday season.

Considering my reputation for liking obscure artists you may well be asking,  “Who is Ruthie Foster?”

So here’s a sampling of music by Ruthie Foster.

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I AM: Trans People Speak

Jennifer Finney Boylan

Noah Lewis

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The Welcome, Long-Awaited Death of Political Homophobia and Transphobia

From Huffington Post:


Last week my friend Richard Socarides called this election “the gay rights election.” To me it was the moment that crystallized that LGBT civil rights are, indeed, the civil rights issue of our time, and that political homophobia is dead.

After losing 32 state ballot measures relating to marriage, we won not one, not two but four. The turnaround is remarkable. And though civil rights should never be put to majority vote, we can celebrate the impulse of Americans behind those affirmative votes and work to ensure that no one else’s civil rights can ever be put to a vote. For Americans not living in one of those four states, the victory is palpable and just as real, because their dignity has been repaired and elevated, as well. Those four state wins were the effect, the cause being the end of political homophobia.

It’s hard for me to comprehend this new state of affairs. The simpler side of the political equation is that gay and transgender persons were not used as a wedge by Karl Rove and company, just eight short years since they did so with impunity (and quite successfully). Eight years, two presidential cycles. Had the Republicans, and particularly the religious fundamentalists controlling that party, felt that it would win them votes, they would have used it. They certainly have not refrained from wading through the sewer on issues of sex, race, ethnicity and religion. The truly incredible inference is that they knew that not only would it fail but it could backfire. While some gay pundits voiced concerns over the fact that gay issues were not discussed during the debates, for instance, the truly important point is that they weren’t because they were no longer a wedge.

The more complex side of the equation is that in less than three years the LGBT community has gone from being politically toxic to a welcome and important part of the new American governing coalition. Three years ago the president’s inner circle shied away from the gay agenda presented by the nation’s leading LGBT rights organizations, believing that the president’s embrace of any of it would set back his administration. Today we have a president and vice president trumpeting their support for marriage equality. The vice president even called transgender discrimination “the civil rights issue of our time.”

I’m painting with a very broad brush, and I don’t want to minimize the challenges that still exist. This weekend we begin the 15th year of the observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place Nov. 20. We memorialize and grieve for our dead, as many are still killed today simply because of their gender expression. But the community has organically evolved from simple memorials to celebrations of progress and opportunities to take further action. The empowerment has been palpable to me since my first event on the Mall in D.C. in 2003, a very cold and lonely vigil tinged with only fleeting glimmers of hope.

I will also add that many of us know that although the overall climate has changed, with the Democratic Party embracing and recognizing LGBT Americans, those changes coming from the top have not yet reached down to individuals who struggle with their own demons of difference. We’ve doubled our representation in Congress and raised the percentage of women in the Senate to 20 percent, but those are still pathetic numbers. In an ideal society at least 50 percent of the members of Congress would be women, and at least 22 of them would be LGBT. There is much yet to do. And political racism, in our so-called post-racial society, is alive and well, as evidenced in the electoral map, on the airwaves and Interwebs and in the Republican Party.

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How Republicans persuaded women to re-elect President Obama

From The Guardian UK:

For the activists of Emily’s List, working to improve women’s political representation, Republicans like Todd Akin were a gift, Thursday 15 November 2012

In spite of the hype from Fox News that the gender gap of women voting in Democrats‘ favor has vanished, a new Gallup poll revealed that this year’s gap was the largest ever recorded in the polling company’s history. With Obama winning women by 12%, and Romney winning men by 8%, the full gender gap was an unprecedented 20 percentage points.

While analysts point to the obligatory “social safety net” appeal of Democrats for women, versus the entrepreneurship appeal of Republicans for men, few commentators are addressing the real reasons. Obama’s win, and the victories of the additional Democrats in Congress, are due to the Democrats’ success in appealing to minority voters, the youth vote and, in particular, women’s votes – by siding with each of those groups’ concerns on a variety of pertinent issues.

Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman at the pro-choice Democratic advocacy group Emily’s List, analyzed the role of women voters during this election thus:

“Emily’s list has been around for 27 years. We have been building the pipeline of women candidates who are ready for higher office. So when opportunities arise, we have a bench of strong women candidates ready to go. And they were ready to capitalize on this absolutely insane divisive social agenda.”

Republican extremists, she noted, have managed in past election cycles not to tip their hand about an agenda that broadly targets reproductive rights – let alone let slip their views regarding “legitimate rape“. So why did these messages come out now? McIntosh further explained:

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Gay Vote Proved a Boon for Obama

From The New York Times:

Published: November 15, 2012

While President Obama’s lopsided support among Latino and other minority voters has been a focus of postelection analysis, the overwhelming support he received from another growing demographic group — Americans who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual — has received much less attention.

But the backing Mr. Obama received from gay voters also has a claim on having been decisive. Mitt Romney and Mr. Obama won roughly an equal share of votes among straight voters nationwide, exit polls showed. And, a study argues, Mr. Romney appears to have won a narrow victory among straight voters in the swing states of Ohio and Florida.

Mr. Obama’s more than three-to-one edge in exit polls among the 5 percent of voters who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual was more than enough to give him the ultimate advantage, according to the study, by Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, in conjunction with Gallup. The results are consistent with earlier research on the number and political beliefs of gay voters.

Democrats have been winning big over Republicans among gay voters, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Jews. Some of the groups are relatively small, but together they make up about one-third of the electorate, forcing Republicans to capture much of the remaining two-thirds to win elections. By comparison, white evangelical voters, who vote overwhelmingly for Republicans, make up about one-fourth of the electorate, and their numbers are not growing as rapidly.

As with Latinos and Asian-Americans, the number of voters who say they are gay appears to be growing. Only 1.9 percent of Americans over 65 call themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the Gallup survey, while 3.2 percent of those between 30 and 49, and 6.4 percent of those between 18 and 29 do.

“In the younger population, there is a much wider range in the geography and ethnicity of those who are identifying as L.G.B.T.,” Dr. Gates said, using a common term for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That range now extends well beyond major cities and into multiple swing states.

As Republicans plan to reach out to Hispanics and Asian-Americans, another question is whether they would also help themselves by improving their standing among gay voters. Some analysts say Republicans should try to do so, in part to win over moderate straight voters, while others see any such effort as having more risk than upside.

Research by Patrick J. Egan, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University, suggests that gay voters may prove difficult to bring into the Republican tent. Many of them “aren’t swingable because they have liberal positions on a whole bunch of issues besides gay rights,” Dr. Egan said.

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Women and Gay People of Texas, Beware! Tea Partying State Senator Dan Patrick is Coming for Your Rights

From RH Reality Check:

by Andrea Grimes
November 15, 2012

Women and gay people of Texas, take heart: Tea Partying state senator Dan Patrick has not forgotten you! No, taking away your rights and privileges as human beings is still a cause as near and dear to him as ever, even as many parts of the country—including some parts of Texas—move progressively forward in terms of women’s rights and marriage equality. His recent actions give us Texans a peek into what we can look forward to in state politics in 2013.

Patrick has continued his efforts to turn back the time machine this month with two proposals: that municipalities in Texas that provide domestic partner benefits be investigated by the state’s attorney general, and that medical abortions become harder to obtain than ever.

Patrick, who co-hosts an uber-conservative talk radio show when he’s not standing up for the benighted and oppressed heterosexual white Christian males of his state, has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to opine on whether domestic partner benefits–for both heterosexual and same-sex partnerships—are “violating the [Texas] constitution and circumventing the will of the people.” In 2005, Texas passed a provision that constitutionally defines marriage as “only the union of one man and one woman,” dictating that neither the state nor any of its “political subdivisions” could “create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

It appears as though Patrick got spooked by the increasing number of Texas cities and school districts that provide these kinds of benefits. Among them: Austin, Dallas County, San Antonio, El Paso and the Austin suburb of Pflugerville’s school district.

We don’t need to stretch our imaginations to wonder what Abbott’s opinion will be: the Republican attorney general intervened in a gay divorce case in Texas in 2010, arguing that because Texas doesn’t recognize gay marriage, it can’t recognize gay divorces. This is the same attorney general who threw a legal fit in October over international delegates coming to the state to monitor polling locations and championed Texas’ unconstitutional voter ID laws. When it comes to the Republican party line, Abbott doesn’t just toe it, he casts it. As friend to Patrick and his ilk, Abbott will almost certainly make sure that Texans can look forward to a fight for their domestic partner benefits.

Patrick has also now rededicated his efforts to make abortions harder to perform and obtain in Texas. Just this week, he took advantage of the earliest opportunity to “pre-file” a bill he hopes to address in Texas’ next legislative session in 2013 which would create new regulations for abortion-inducing medication. Physicians who prescribe the drug would be required to draw up a “contract,” which must be produced “on demand,” with the abortion-seeking person signed by that physician and another physician, who both agree to “treat emergencies arising from the administration or use of the drug,” and who have hospital admitting privileges at a pre-determined location provided to the patient. The bill also dictates that a follow-up examination be scheduled within two weeks and that the physician or their agent make a “reasonable effort” to ensure the patient returns for the exam.

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Walmart hit by walk-outs in build-up to ‘Black Friday’ disruptions

From The Guardian UK:

Workers plan week of action ahead of major shopping day in response to perceived greed from the retail giant

in New York, Thursday 15 November 2012

Strikes and protests aimed at disrupting the retail giant Walmart during next week’s Black Friday sales events began on Thursday with walk-outs at a number of stores and the promise of more actions in the lead-up to what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

The news comes amid controversy about plans by Walmart and other large chains to open on Thanksgiving evening, kicking off Black Friday a day early. It also comes as another strike has hit part of Walmart’s warehouse supply chain in southern California.

At least 30 workers from six different Seattle-area Walmarts have gone on strike, organisers and Walmart staff from the OUR Walmart group said. The group, which is not a union but has close ties with the labour movement, is seeking to protest what it says is low pay, too few hours and retaliation by managers against workers who speak out.

Seattle Walmart worker Sara Gilbert said she had taken the decision to go on strike to protest the fact that she could only make around $14,000 dollars a year. Despite working as a customer service manager, she said, her family remained reliant on food stamps and other benefits. “I work full time at the richest company in the world,” she said.

The Seattle strike is aimed at kickstarting a series of protests in the run-up to Black Friday, when more than a thousand separate demonstrations ranging from walk-outs to leafleting to flash mobs are planned. So far they are set to hit Walmart stores in Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington DC.

But organisers say they expect it eventually to be country-wide. “You are going to see unprecedented activity starting now and going into the holiday season. This is going to continue this year and next year,” said Dan Schlademan, director of the union-backed Making Change at Walmart group which is helping organise the effort.

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The Growing Global Movement Against Austerity

From Truth Dig:

By Amy Goodman
Nov 15, 2012

Amaia Engana didn’t wait to be evicted from her home. On Nov. 9, in the town of Barakaldo, a suburb of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country, officials from the local judiciary were on their way to serve her eviction papers. Amaia stood on a chair and threw herself out of her fifth-floor apartment window, dying instantly on impact on the sidewalk below. She was the second person in two weeks in Spain to commit suicide as a result of an impending foreclosure action. Her suicide has added gravity to this week’s general strike radiating from the streets of Madrid across all of Europe. As resistance to so-called austerity in Europe becomes increasingly transnational and coordinated, President Barack Obama and the House Republicans begin their debate to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The fight is over fair tax rates, budget priorities and whether we as a society will sustain the social safety net built during the past 80 years.

The general strike that swept across Europe Nov. 14 had its genesis in the deepening crisis in Spain, Portugal and Greece. As a result of the global economic collapse in 2008, Spain is in a deep financial crisis. Unemployment has surpassed 25 percent, and among young people is estimated at 50 percent. Large banks have enjoyed bailouts while they enforce mortgages that an increasing number of Spaniards are unable to meet, provoking increasing numbers of foreclosures and attempted evictions. “Attempted” because, in response to the epidemic of evictions in Spain, a direct-action movement has grown to prevent them. In city after city, individuals and groups have networked, creating rapid-response teams that flood the street outside a threatened apartment. When officials arrive to deliver the eviction notice, they can’t reach the building’s main door, let alone the apartment in question.

The general strike across Europe ranged from mass rallies in Madrid, with participation from members of Parliament, to protests in London, to outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, to high atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, where protesters flew anti-austerity flags and banners. In calling for the first pan-national general strike in Europe in generations, the European Trade Union Confederation hoped to express “strong opposition to the austerity measures that are dragging Europe into economic stagnation, indeed recession, as well as the continuing dismantling of the European social model. These measures, far from re-establishing confidence, only serve to worsen imbalances and foster injustice.”

Back in the U.S., a group from Occupy Wall Street, which itself was inspired in part by the Spanish M-15 movement against austerity that began on May 15, 2011, has taken a creative approach to the blight of debt that is afflicting millions. Calling itself “Rolling Jubilee,” after the ancient practice of forgiving all debts every 50 years, the group is buying debt from lenders, for pennies on the dollar, and canceling it. This discounted debt market exists primarily because collection agencies and “vulture capitalists” acquire bad loans that people have stopped paying for 2 to 3 cents on a dollar, and still make a profit by hounding people to pay back some or all of that debt. Rolling Jubilee, according to its website, “believes people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing. Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it … to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99 percent by the 99 percent.” To date, Rolling Jubilee has raised $175,000, which it says will be used to abolish $3.5 million in debt.

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‘Grand Bargain’ Charade a Scheme to Protect Corporate Welfare

From Common Dreams:

Preserve Benefits: Cut Gouging and Inequities

by Ralph Nader
Published on Thursday, November 15, 2012 by Common Dreams

Congress is still talking about a “Grand Bargain” that “balances” far more spending cuts than tax increases. That is another way of saying that you – the consumer of Medicare and Medicaid services, the recipient of Social Security, and the average taxpayer will take the brunt of the spending cuts, while the wealthy get their income taxes restored, not raised, to their pre-Bush modest levels. Don’t buy it!

There are two ways to cut Medicare and Medicaid. The right wingers want to cut benefits. Consumers want to cut vendor fraud, the overcharging and the immense over-diagnosis, over-treatment and erroneous or unnecessary procedures and prescriptions documented so often by, among others, the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Don’t think this is small stuff. The waste and fraud amount to hundreds of billions of dollars a year! Americans pay the highest prices for drugs in the world even though most of them were developed in the U.S. significantly based on government research, development and with tax credit subsidies for Big Pharma. Even Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget recognizes savings from excessive drug industry pricing.

The nation’s leading expert, Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, has estimated that computerized billing fraud and abuse is anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the nation’s health bill. This adds up to $270 billion to $650 billion a year. A big slice of that fraud is taken out of Medicare and Medicaid.

A single-payer, full Medicare for all system – formerly supported by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and many members of Congress, before Mr. Obama took it off the table in 2009 – would cut present administrative costs in half. Canada’s system, which allows patients to freely choose their doctor and hospital, covers everyone for half of the $9000 per capita that Americans will pay this year. Our system leaves 50 million people uncovered of whom 45,000 will die this year alone due to lack of coverage, according to a peer-reviewed study by Harvard Medical School researchers.

Longer range savings come from reducing medical malpractice, hospital-induced infections and plain errors that annually cost 200,000 lives, and more injuries and sicknesses. Some hospitals are proving these savings can come quickly with common sense solutions: better sanitation, checklists and stronger internal peer reviews.

The trilogy of health care fraud, waste and abuse requires public discussion, along with the vastly greater returns from better funded policing of the healthcare system. Yet pundits and columnists ignore reaping savings from the bloated healthcare industry and assume the cuts must overwhelmingly come out of people’s hides – namely benefits.

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Will the EU Protests Be the Turning Point for Austerity?

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How Germany Is Getting to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

From Truth Dig:

By Thomas Hedges
Nov 15, 2012

There is no debate on climate change in Germany. The temperature for the past 10 months has been 3 degrees above average and we’re again on course for the warmest year on record. There’s no dispute among Germans as to whether this change is man-made, or that we contribute to it and need to stop accelerating the process.

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.

Since then, Germany has created strong incentives for the public to invest in renewable energy. It pays people to generate electricity from solar panels on their houses. The effort to turn more consumers into producers is accelerated through feed-in tariffs, which are 20-year contracts that ensure a fixed price the government will pay. Germany lowers the price every year, so there’s good reason to sign one as soon as possible, before compensation falls further.

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How Google Is Helping the Gas Lobby Support Fracking

From Truth Out:

By Michael Corcoran
Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ads on Google have placed pro-fracking propaganda at the top of Google search results and into the middle of an important discussion on the environmental impacts of fracking. The practice raises important questions about the role of search engines in the new media world.

For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper’s conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 “people who matter” in 2011.

The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth’s name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth’s research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.

The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public?

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