The missing transgender woman, and what’s (not) being done

From LGBTQ Nation:

By Zack Budryk
Monday, December 31, 2012

There’s a particularly cynical exchange in an episode of the cult HBO series “The Wire,” wherein a couple of homicide detectives remark upon how little priority is being given to the unsolved murders of several poor African-Americans.

To drive the point home, one of the detectives refers to these homicides as “misdemeanor murders”.

Complaining about the media’s exclusive fascination with kidnapped or missing white children has become something of a dead horse. At a certain point, just observing that something is a problem isn’t really helping matters; if it bothers you, logic dictates, you actually try to do something about it.

That said, it’s hard not to be disturbed by the near-dearth of coverage that the case of Sage Smith has received, in Virginia or nationally, and the tone of the scant coverage that she has been given.

Smith is a 19-year-old African-American transgender woman who disappeared from her Charlottesville, Va., home nearly a month ago; she was last seen leaving to meet one Eric McFadden at a train station and still had not returned two days later.

According to Daryl C. Hannah of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), since Smith’s disappearance, the only remotely “mainstream” media coverage the disappearance has received has been a local news report.

During this report, despite identifying as female, Smith is repeatedly referred to using male pronouns; the local police have insisted on the same terminology, issuing a statement in which they refer to Smith as a “young man.” Even “Missing” posters in Richmond refer to Smith as “him/her.”

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Transgender conference calling it quits after 30 years

From Windy City Media Group:

by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

Citing waning participation and a shortfall of funds, one of the nation’s largest transgender conferences has ceased organizing after more than three decades in the Chicago area.

The Be-All Conference, which gathered hundreds and hosted big name speakers in Downers Grove, has been cancelled.

“Everything has a life cycle, and unfortunately, it looks like we’re at the end of ours,” said Katie Thomas, an organizer of the conference.

According to Thomas, attendance at the spring event has dwindled in recent years, from about 500 at its peak to around 325 in 2012. That combined with a struggling economy and a lack of volunteers did the conference in.

Organizers faced a Dec. 28 deadline for booking a hotel for the 2013 conference. Facing declining attendance and financial liability, they finally called the event off.

News of the cancellation comes just weeks after Illinois Gender Advocates, longtime the only transgender policy organization in the state, announced it was considering dissolution due to declining membership.

Both organizations were primarily run by middle-aged transgender women, a large community currently experiencing waning participation across the board.

Chicago Gender Society, a transgender social group that formerly organized Be-All, has also struggled to maintain members.

“It’s all in decline, really,” Thomas said. “It’s no fun playing in an empty house.”

For years, Be-All served as one of few places in the country where many wanting to explore gender could go. While some identified as transgender publicly, others only crossed gender boundaries at the conference, often safely away from spouses or kids.

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A Year to Begin the World Over Again

From The Nation:

John Nichols
on January 1, 2013

America was called into being not with mere cannon fire or musket shots but with ideas, with words that inspired yeomen farmers and small shopkeepers to throw off the physical and mental yoke of empire.

Thomas Jefferson offered some of the finest words, in a Declaration of Independence that proposed the radical notion “that all men are created equal.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls Convention would extend the Jeffersonian promise by opening their Declaration of Sentiments with the line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.” The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would further bend the arc of history with his declaration: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ ”

But the truest imagining of the American prospect came not from Jefferson but from the writer who the third president said did “with [his] pen what in other times was done with the sword.”

Thomas Paine electrified the colonies with a call to action that promised much more than mere independence from the British crown. Much more, even, than basic liberty or cherished freedoms.

Paine promised that a United States, founded in revolution against the British Crown, could become the city on a hill that would inspire all the peoples of all the world to reject the brutish repressions of empire, to throw off the barbarous hands of prejudice and superstition, to usher in an age of reason and justice.

“We have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth,” wrote Paine in the seminal work of the American experiment, Common Sense. “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months.”

It is not merely good but indeed necessary to remember, on this and every New Year’s Day, that we still have it in our power to begin the world over again.

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6 Reasons Joseph Stiglitz and Other Top Economists Think Means-Testing Medicare & Social Security Is a Destructive Idea

From Alternet:

Means-testing is a back-door strategy for taking away benefits earned by hard-working Americans.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
December 31, 2012

In Washington-speak, “means-testing” is a scheme to deny or reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits for people who are “too wealthy” in the name of saving money. It’s a counterproductive, harmful idea, but one that well-intentioned liberals often get snookered into embracing.

It’s easy to see why. Economic inequality has exploded to dangerous levels, and the argument for means-testing seems to appeal to a powerful sense that the rich are getting more than their fair share at the expense of everyone else. Combine this with the deficit hysteria promoted by conservatives, and the trap is set.

Don’t fall into it. The truth is that means-testing is a sneak attack on vital programs meant to weaken and eventually destroy them. There’s a reason why an ultra-conservative like Paul Ryan pushed means-testing during the presidential campaign. And there’s a reason why private equity billionaire Pete Peterson, enemy of Social Security and Medicare who served in Richard Nixon’s cabinet, makes a special point of bringing up means-testing when he is talking to liberals.

Conservatives push means-testing because it’s a highly effective political strategy for getting liberals and progressives to act against their own values and interests — so effective that some economists billing themselves as liberal, such as Jared Bernstein, a former adviser to the Obama administration, sometimes talk about means-testing as if it’s a reasonable idea. Bernstein recently went on CNBC and said that means-testing “sounded like a good idea” and characterized people opposed to it as “fringe.”

Bernstein’s assertion that means-testing opponents are “fringe” is nonsense. Does that include Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who describes means-testing as “an even worse idea, on pure policy grounds, than even most liberals realize”? In researching this article, I communicated with several highly respected economists, including Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, James K. Galbraith, Dean Baker, and Thomas Ferguson. All of them expressed their concerns about means-testing and provided a variety of sound arguments against it. (Bernstein, after being roundly criticized, backtracked in a blog and admitted that means-testing is a bad policy idea and a questionable way to address income inequality. He just forgot that when he was on TV!)

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View From the Left: Obama ‘Kept Giving Stuff Away’

From The New York Times:

Published: January 1, 2013

WASHINGTON — For President Obama, the fiscal deal pending in the House would finally end four years of debate with Republicans about raising tax rates on the wealthy. But it seemed to reopen a debate within his party about the nature of his leadership and his skills as a negotiator.

While Mr. Obama got most of what he sought in the agreement, he found himself under withering criticism from some in his liberal base who accused him of caving in to Republicans by not taxing the rich more. Just as Speaker John A. Boehner has been under pressure from his right, Mr. Obama faces a virtual Tea Party of the left that sees his compromise as capitulation.

The main difference is that in the Obama era, the Democratic establishment has been less influenced, or intimidated, by the left than the Republican establishment has been by the right. Liberals have not mounted sustained primary challenges to take out wayward incumbents the way conservatives have. And so, despite the misgivings, all but three Democratic senators voted for the compromise on Tuesday, even as House Republicans balked, giving Mr. Obama more room to operate than Mr. Boehner.

But the wave of grievance from liberal activists, labor leaders and economists suggested that the uneasy truce between Mr. Obama and his base that held through the campaign season had expired now that there was no longer a threat of a Mitt Romney victory. It also offered a harbinger of the president’s next four years.

The criticism has irritated the White House, which argued that Mr. Obama held true to principle by forcing Republicans to raise income tax rates on the wealthy and extend unemployment benefits and targeted tax credits. Mr. Obama also quashed Republican demands to trim the growth of entitlement benefits. Aides dismissed armchair criticism from those who have never had to negotiate with intractable opposition.

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The Ongoing War: After the Battle Over the Cliff, the Battle Over the Debt Ceiling

From Robert Reich:

Robert Reich
Tuesday, January 1, 2013

“It’s not all I would have liked,” says Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, speaking of the deal on the fiscal cliff, “so on to the debt ceiling.”

Regardless of what happens in the House of Representatives (at this moment, it’s still a cliff-hanger), the battle over the fiscal cliff is only a prelude to the coming battle over raising the debt ceiling – a battle that will likely continue through early March, when the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default on the nation’s debt.

The White House’s and Democrats’ single biggest failure in the cliff negotiations was not getting Republicans’ agreement to raise the debt ceiling.

The last time the debt ceiling had to be raised, in 2011, Republicans demanded major cuts in programs for the poor as well as Medicare and Social Security.

They got some concessions from the White House but didn’t get what they wanted – which led us to the fiscal cliff.

So we’ve come full circle.

On it goes, battle after battle in what seems an unending war that began with the election of Tea-Party Republicans in November, 2010.

Don’t be fooled. This war was never over the federal budget deficit.

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Everything We Tell Ourselves About America and the World Is Wrong

From Alternet:

Why we need a new story that gives meaning to the world.

By Charles Eisenstein
December 29, 2012

Every culture has a Story of the People to give meaning to the world. Part conscious and part unconscious, it consists of a matrix of agreements, narratives, and symbols that tell us why we are here, where we are headed, what is important, and even what is real. I think we are entering a new phase in the dissolution of our Story of the People, and therefore, with some lag time, of the edifice of civilization built on top of it.

Sometimes I feel intense nostalgia for the cultural mythology of my youth, a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the Superbowl was important, in which the world’s greatest democracy was bringing democracy to the world, in which science was going to make life better and better. Life made sense. If you worked hard you could get good grades, get into a good college, go to grad school or follow some other professional path, and you would be happy. With a few unfortunate exceptions, you would be successful if you obeyed the rules of our society: if you followed the latest medical advice, kept informed by reading the New York Times, and stayed away from Bad Things like drugs. Sure there were problems, but the scientists and experts were working hard to fix them. Soon a new medical advance, a new law, a new educational technique, would propel the onward improvement of life. My childhood perceptions were part of this Story of the People, in which humanity was destined to create a perfect world through science, reason, and technology, to conquer nature, transcend our animal origins, and engineer a rational society.

From my vantage point, the basic premises of this story seemed unquestionable. After all, it seemed to be working in my world. Looking back, I realize that this was a bubble world built atop massive human suffering and environmental degradation, but at the time one could live within that bubble without need of much self-deception. The story that surrounded us was robust. It easily kept anomalous data points on the margins.

Since my childhood in the 1970s, that story has eroded at an accelerating rate. More and more people in the West no longer believe that civilization is fundamentally on the right track. Even those who don’t yet question its basic premises in any explicit way seem to have grown weary of it. A layer of cynicism, a hipster self-awareness has muted our earnestness. What was once so real, say a plank in a party platform, today is seen through several levels of “meta” filters to parse it in terms of image and message. We are like children who have grown out of a story that once enthralled us, aware now that it is only a story.

At the same time, a series of new data points has disrupted the story from the outside. The harnessing of fossil fuels, the miracle of chemicals to transform agriculture, the methods of social engineering and political science to create a more rational and just society – each has fallen far short of its promise, and brought unanticipated consequences that threaten civilization. We just cannot believe anymore that the scientists have everything well in hand. Nor can we believe that the onward march of reason will bring on social utopia.

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Lisa Jackson’s legacy at the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Guardian UK:

The lauded EPA chief departs an agency that has reasserted its regulatory authority. But her successor faces major challenges, Tuesday 1 January 2013

As Lisa Jackson gets ready to step down as head of the EPA shortly after the president’s inauguration later this month, she is being hailed by environmentalists for pushing through the toughest new air and water pollution rules in over two decades, and speaking out on climate change in an administration that has largely avoided confronting the issue head-on.

Jackson is admired even by some of her critics. Republican James M Inhofe of Oklahoma, a leading Senate opponent of environmental legislation, referred to the charming Jackson as “my favorite bureaucrat”.

But not everybody is sad to see the EPA administrator go. During the recent election campaign, Mitt Romney called for Jackson’s resignation, and some Republicans in Congress have accused her of waging a “war on coal“. Jackson’s EPA drafted regulations that limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. She also initiated a sweeping agency review of the impact of mountaintop removal in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, a practice that dumps raw mining waste into wetlands and streams.

Jackson, the nation’s first black EPA chief, grew up as the child of a postal worker in New Orleans. As a Louisiana native, she was the public face of the administration’s responses to the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010, hosting town meetings throughout the region to reassure residents of the government’s support.

Jackson often spoke about the fact that the nation’s poor frequently live in industrial zones where they suffer disproportionally from pollution of the air and water. The health impacts of pollution hit close to home for Jackson. She spoke publicly of the anguish she felt watching her infant son suffer from asthma, an illness associated with high levels of particulates in the air.

In a phone interview, Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Texas director of Public Citizen, told me that Jackson was the first EPA administrator in three decades to seek out the views of local environmentalists during her trips to Texas, and not just politicians and representatives of the oil industry. As a result of these meetings, Jackson closed loopholes in the permitting process which had allowed refineries on what Smith calls “the cancer coast” between Port Arthur and Corpus Christi to employ inferior pollution control technologies.

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Protest Tactics in a Warming World

From In These Times:

What will it take to push back climate change?

BY Eric Moll
December 31, 2012

On Nov. 16, 2012, an estimated 2,200 New Yorkers gathered at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan to hear’s plan to prevent catastrophic climate change. It was the 10th stop of a tour, called Do The Math, that traveled to 21 cities and featured founder Bill McKibben, author Naomi Klein and video testimonies from Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The main thrust? We must stop the fossil fuel industry from extracting and burning most of earth’s below-ground reserves.

“There’s a certain amount of carbon that [fossil fuel] companies have in their reserves underground, and that figure is five times more than the allowable limit of what we can put in the atmosphere before we hit extreme runaway climate change,” says Joshua Kahn Russell, national coordinator at
 Judging by several prolonged standing ovations, the audience at Hammerstein, still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, endorsed the presenters’ message. Though inured to unabashed optimism by too many years of false starts, bad compromises and slow progress, longtime activists are guardedly hopeful about the future of the movement.

This hope is in part thanks to the reverberations of Occupy Wall Street. When OWS emerged in the fall of 2011, it revitalized every sphere of American activism at the same time it was blurring the lines between different movements. “There’s a growing understanding that there’s a significant nexus between those industries that are creating—or manufacturing—climate change, your child’s asthma, poor working conditions through out the ‘developing world,’ and the financial collapse,” says Robert Gardner, who worked on Greenpeace’s anti-coal campaign. “Bank of America is foreclosing on people wholesale, but they’re also funding mountaintop removal mining.”

But while this broadening of the movement—through which environmental issues are also viewed as social justice and economic issues—has given environmentalists new reason to hope, it also presents established environmental organizations with new challenges. How to engage as many people as possible? Which strategies have a real chance to stop the fossil fuel industry, and which ones do not? And in a large and diverse movement, how do you ensure that people act strategically and efficiently?

What kinds of actions?

Potential tactics for climate activists fall along a wide spectrum. On one end are safe and legal options: petitions, electoral campaigning, legal obstruction, boycotts, strikes. Then there are peaceful tactics that fall into legal gray areas or unabashedly break the law: sit-ins, blockades, physical obstruction. At the far end is property destruction, sabotage and violence.

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Coveting Horns, Ruthless Smugglers’ Rings Put Rhinos in the Cross Hairs

Capital punishment for anyone involved it the trade in body parts from any endangered species.

From The New York Times:

Published: December 31, 2012

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa — They definitely did not look like ordinary big-game hunters, the stream of slender young Thai women who showed up on the veld wearing tight bluejeans and sneakers.

But the rhinoceros carcasses kept piling up around them, and it was only after dozens of these hulking, relatively rare animals were dead and their precious horns sawed off that an extravagant scheme came to light.

The Thai women, it ends up, were not hunters at all. Many never even squeezed off a shot. Instead, they were prostitutes hired by a criminal syndicate based 6,000 miles away in Laos to exploit loopholes in big-game hunting rules and get its hands on as many rhino horns as possible — horns that are now worth more than gold.

“These girls had no idea what they were doing,” said Paul O’Sullivan, a private investigator in Johannesburg who helped crack the case. “They thought they were going on safari.”

The rhino horn rush has gotten so out of control that it has exploded into a worldwide criminal enterprise, drawing in a surreal cast of characters — not just Thai prostitutes, but also Irish gangsters, Vietnamese diplomats, Chinese scientists, veterinarians, copter pilots, antiques dealers and recently an American rodeo star looking for a quick buck who used Facebook to find some horns.

Driven by a common belief in Asia that ground-up rhino horns can cure cancer and other ills, the trade has also been embraced by criminal syndicates that normally traffic drugs and guns, but have branched into the underground animal parts business because it is seen as “low risk, high profit,” American officials say.

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