Sarah Silverman To Chris Hayes I Think Vaginas Really, Really Scare People

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‘Because We Can’: How Society Justifies Anti-Transgender Discrimination

From Huffington Post:


I recently read about Alissah Brooks, a transgender woman from Atlanta, Ga., and her recent run-in with a bouncer who denied her entry to a club on the basis of her gender identity. For those who haven’t yet read this story, after attending a GLAAD event in Atlanta, Brooks and a few friends stopped at Don Pollo Bar and Grill. Brooks was denied entry to the bar after a bouncer asked to see her ID. Her friends then explained Brooks’ transgender status to an employee of the club, saying they believed Brooks was denied entry on account of her status as a trans woman. The employee’s response? “What’s wrong with that? We can do that — we have the right to be selective. We can do that. We’re a private property.”

Actually, they can’t. This would appear to violate a city ordinance put in place to protect LGBT individuals.

I wish I could say this was the first time something like this has happened to a transgender woman, but that would be a lie. In fact, it was only a few months ago that one of my friends and I were denied entry to a bar in Chicago for the same reason, apparently. On July 19, after going to a concert on Chicago’s north side, my friend and I decided to end the night by stopping at a bar for a drink. As most bars were jam-packed, we kept walking until we found one with a little more breathing room. That’s when we stumbled upon Big City Tap, a bar that lives up to its nickname of “Big Shitty Tap.”

We approached the door. The bouncer eyed us suspiciously. He held up his hand as if to say, “IDs, please,” and we went ahead, giving him our drivers licenses. He looked at mine, then up at my face, then back down at the card, then up at my face again. He handed me my license, waving me into the nearly empty bar. My friend, wearing a cute dress that went down to her knees, covered her shoulders, and showed minimal cleavage, handed her license to the bouncer. Immediately he called for me to come back out of the bar. I heard the tail end of the conversation between my friend and the bouncer.

“Wait, what?” she asked, confused by the situation.

“Dress code. That’s all I’m saying,” he replied, waving us away.

We walked away from the bar, not necessarily in the mood to get into an argument over the right to purchase an overpriced beer and sit in a bar blasting shitty music. Still, it stung. I felt like a freak; I felt subhuman. There was no way to interpret “dress code” as anything other than another way of saying, “Stay out, tr*nnies.” After all, it wasn’t until the bouncer saw that my friend’s drivers license didn’t match his own initial read of her gender that he shooed us away. Had this legitimately been about some sort of dress code, why did he look at the license in the first place? The people who were in the bar? Girls in low-cut shirts that bared their midriffs, guys in T-shirts and jeans, a man in cargo shorts with flip-flops, a girl in a short skirt who wasn’t wearing shoes at this point in the evening. Clearly there was no dress code in place.

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Ayn Rand’s vision of idiocy: Understanding the real makers and takers

From Salon:

Sorry, but making a profit off something that’s useless to society is not morally superior to helping others

Saturday, Nov 16, 2013

For those who haven’t had the great misfortune of reading “Atlas Shrugged,” the book is premised on the idea that if the world’s “creative leaders,” businessmen, innovators, artists (i.e., the “makers”) went on strike, our entire society would collapse. These strikers hide out in a utopian compound in the mountains of Colorado while the rest of us despondently wail and gnash our teeth and beg for them to once again bestow their creativity upon us.

The book mirrors in many ways the more lefty “Elysium,” where to escape the environmental degradation they have wrought, the wealthiest go off to form their own society in the sky. The rest of the human population remains mired in slum-like conditions, because the only thing standing between humanity and savagery is Bill Gates. But have no fear! Rather than collectively solving our problems, humanity needs a salvific “Jesus” in the form of (who else?) Matt Damon to make us citizens of Elysium and thereby save humanity. These two, very disparate tales of woe both have common elements (what I will call the “Randian vision”): society relies on the wealthy; collective action through government is either meaningless or detrimental; and a few individuals (“great men”) should be the center of social change and innovation. But all of these assumptions are false.

The appeal of the Randian vision to today’s wealthy is obvious: it puts them back at the center of economic life. They long ago realized that rather than being the beneficent “makers” they had always imagined themselves to be, they were the parasitical “takers” they so despised. Their wealth, which was once a symbol that God praised their work, became an instrument for social change (Carnegie, Rockefeller) and eventually good in itself (Gates, Jobs). Social Darwinism, the idea that the economy is a “survival of the fittest” competition where the superior end up on top, exults the businessman as superior and deserving. But as Henry George noted of Herbert Spencer (the founder of Social Darwinism): “Mr. Spencer is like one who might insist that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.” F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thorstein Veblen ridiculed the idea that the wealthy were in any way superior. Social Darwinism has resurged in conservative thought, supplementing the Randian vision to fortify a social order in which a minuscule proportion of society reaps its rewards.

Because the wealthy are no longer willing to use their wealth for good, they have decided to glorify the wealth itself as good, thus, Harry Bingswanger writes in Forbes,

Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)

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Why Transgender Inclusion Is Good for Business

From The Advocate:

Although Congress has yet to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a majority of big American companies are on the leading edge of transgender inclusion in the workplace.

BY Vanessa Sheridan
November 19 2013

While Congress continues pondering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, business leaders are brokering the reality of a fully LGBT-inclusive workplace. Supporting employees in their efforts to be authentic, it turns out, actually improves the bottom line.

As a leading consultant directing professional trainings around trans-inclusive business practices, this writer has seen firsthand the positive effect that ripples through a company when it supports an employee’s desire to transition. But the numbers also speak for themselves.

In 2000 only three Fortune 500 companies included gender identity in employment nondiscrimination policies. Today, those policies have reached nearly 60 percent of the Fortune 500. All the while, more states and municipalities are passing laws that protect the rights of transgender workers.

These changes and the relatively brief time period in which they’re occurring indicate a rapidly growing awareness of transgender identities and issues throughout society and, certainly, within Corporate America. That’s because the business case for transgender inclusion is solid.

Companies don’t usually become transgender-inclusive out of a desire to be altruistic: They do so because they realize it’s a smart business decision that can ultimately augment the bottom line in any number of ways.

For starters, transgender inclusion can help with recruiting and retention efforts. Many Gen X and Millennial employees, in particular, expect to come to work in an inclusive, diverse environment. For this reason, organizations that discriminate based on gender identity and gender expression may find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

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Healthcare for all: Give trans people access to the care they need

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Open Letter to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists

From Feminist Friends:


Dear Radical Feminists in attendance at the Shulamith Firestone Women’s Liberation Memorial Conference on What is to be Done,

I too, was gathered with you for this conference in New York City. I was excited to be involved in a consciousness raising session, and interested to hear your collective thoughts on what is to be done. I had heard the criticisms of transphobia within your movement, but naively hoped such sentiment came from a small, removed faction. As I sat among you, and your notable speakers, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Transphobia and transmisogyny are alive and well within your walls. The disdain with which you referred to trans women and your collective refusal to accept them as women was shocking and horrifying. This letter is to voice what I did not have the courage, or the words to say when I was in your presence.

Ladies, you are not feminists. Feminism, as defined by bell hooks is the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.  Your tactics and vision place you squarely as oppressors.  You are fundamentally no different than the patriarchal system you supposedly seek to dismantle. Your vitriolic exclusion of women whose bodies do not qualify as appropriately “female,” is little different than the exclusion of white women from the public sphere or blacks from white-only spaces. The logic is the same. You are an elitist class exercising and maintaining privilege by denying a systemically oppressed class access to your space. It is an age-old tool of oppression.

Maybe you’ve been so focused on your own liberation, you failed to notice that trans people suffer immensely from the discrimination and hatred that those like you dish out. In fact, 41% of trans people have attempted suicide, one in five have experienced homelessness, and nearly all have feared for their lives. Trans women are the most frequent targets of anti LGBTQ hate crimes. Is this really the group you choose to target?

At the conference one of you spoke out about the fundamental right of lesbian women to bodily autonomy, emphasizing the importance of being free to choose who to love. Others of you made it clear that women should not be defined by their reproductive capacity. The hypocrisy in these sentiments were mind-blowing. In one breath you championed your own freedom from biology, yet scoffed at the idea that trans women are not defined by theirs. Your suggestion that SOME women deserve bodily autonomy, while others do not is horrible, self-aggrandizing and reprehensible.

I’d like to know how you determine which women are worthy of bodily autonomy and of occupying your space. You see, sex and gender aren’t quite as simple as you seem to think. Human beings are complex creatures, and sex, gender and sexuality can be expressed in an infinite number of ways at different points in time. It wouldn’t even suffice if one were required to show their genitalia before entering your space, since human sex/gender is not clear-cut. Yet, your obsession with the idea of “real” women makes this horrific scenario all too plausible.

By erroneously defining women as those with female physical characteristics you have elevated your own status as cis-women and willfully exercised your privilege to oppress others. You do so, seemingly with the belief that you must climb over the backs of others to achieve liberation. The exclusion of trans women is, as one of your invited speakers explained, the linchpin, the one issue that would be the most effective in gaining “women’s” liberation. Making an argument for women’s liberation by denying access to some women is simply nonsensical.

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The Gospel of Selfishness in American Christianity

From Alternet:

How the philosophers of selfishness came to use Christianity as their cover story.

By Amanda Marcotte

November 14, 2013

Anyone who has worked in the restaurant business will be happy to tell you that waiters always fight each other to avoid working Sunday lunch shift. Not because they want to sleep in, but because it’s a widespread belief that the post-church crowd is loud, demanding and unwilling to tip appropriately. In the food service industry, “Christian” is synonymous with “selfish.”

Unfair stereotype? Probably. Big groups, regardless of affiliation, tend to tip poorly. More to the point, waiters probably remember the bad Christian tippers more because the hypocrisy is so stunning. The image of a man piously preening about what a good Christian he is in church only to turn around and refuse the basic act of decency that is paying someone what you owe them perfectly symbolizes a lurking suspicion in American culture that the harder someone thumps the Bible, the more selfish and downright sadistic a person he is. And that perception—that showy piety generally goes hand in hand with very un-Christ-like behavior—is not an urban myth at all. On the contrary, it’s the daily reality of American culture and politics.

Bill Maher recently had a rant on his show that went viral addressing this very issue, bad tippers who leave sermons or notes scolding waiters instead of paying them what they’re owed. His larger point is a much more important one: It’s absolutely disgusting how the politicians who make the biggest show of how much they love Jesus would be the first in line to bash him if he returned with a message of clothing the naked and feeding the poor. The Jesus of the Bible multiplied the loaves and fishes. His loudest followers these day gripe about feeding people, claiming it creates a “culture of dependency.” They may even comb through the Bible to take quotes out of context to justify their selfishness toward the poor, as Rep. Steven Fincher did when he claimed the Bible says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” The fact that those jobs are unavailable didn’t give him a moment’s pause when suggesting this very un-Christ-like plan to his fellow Americans.

There are plenty of progressive Christians who  genuinely try to live out Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself, described in the Bible as the root of Jesus’ entire philosophy. That said, statistics bear out the sense that people who are more invested in being perceived as pious also embrace the most selfish policies.  Self-identified conservatives and Republicans claim go to church regularly at twice the rate of self-identified liberals.  People who go to church more than once a week are far more conservative than the rest of the population. Indeed, the research suggests how often you report being in the pews is the most reliable indicator of how you’re going to vote. (Though it may not be a reliable indicator of how often you actually go to church. In the grand tradition of showy piety, people who claim to be avid church- goers often lie about it to pollsters.)

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Vaginas Are Like “Little Hoover Vacuums,” and Other Things Abstinence Lecturers Get Paid to Tell Teens

From Mother Jones:

By Mon Nov. 18, 2013

I went to public high school in Montana, where at least once a year we were shuffled into the gymnasium for lectures from abstinence-only educational speakers on how to make “good choices.” Young, sprightly twentysomethings, who often resembled Ken and Barbie, would dance around the auditorium playing Christian rock and trying to convince us that having sex wasn’t cool. In between all the jokes and music, I learned that condoms cause cancer and that sex is a bad deal for women. Turns out, I wasn’t alone. Across the the United States, public schools—even ones that teach comprehensive sex education—invite religious abstinence speakers to come in to talk to students about sex, and sometimes spread information that is factually inaccurate in the process. Here are five such speakers, many of whom have generated local headlines for their controversial presentations. And they might be coming to a school near you—they’re all still active on the sex-is-bad circuit.

Justin Lookadoo: “God made guys as leaders.” 

Lookadoo is a spiky-haired Christian lecturer who bills himself as a “professional Speaker who CONNECTS with the audience.” He is on the road 200 days a year and on his website, he lists his age as “legal in every state.” Lookadoo’s presentations can be paid for  “under many federal programs, including Safe and Drug Free Schools, Campus Improvement, Title I [and] Title IV.” Last week, he caused controversy at Richardson High School in Texas when he gave a presentation for teenagers in which he said: “Girls, the reason it’s so hard for you to succeed these days is not because of guys…You’re doing it to yourselves,” according to the Dallas Morning News. His online dating recommendations have also drawn ire from students and parents: “Men of God are wild…They keep women covered up” and “dateable girls know how to shut up.” The Richardson High School principal apologized to students and parents, promising that “we will not invite this speaker back to RHS.” Responding to the widespread media criticism, Lookadoo wrote on his Facebook page that “the complaints are based on relationship stuff [posted] on a website that I don’t even talk about in schools.”

Jason Evert: “Girls…only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy.”

Evert has two theology degrees and tours the country promoting abstinence with his wife, Crystalina Evert, with whom he runs the Chastity Project. According to Evert’s bio, he speaks to over 100,000 teens each year. Evert tells Mother Jones he speaks to “lots of public schools” and his upcoming schedule shows that he’s speaking next month at several in Texas. He says, however, that he removes all religious content from his public school presentations and is not paid personally for these events. Half of his honorarium for each event is spent on giving the students free copies of his pro-abstinence books and CDs.

Evert is passionate about women dressing modestly (or as he puts it, “Girls…only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery.”) In this 2008 YouTube video, he says: “A culture of immodest women will necessarily be a culture of uncommitted men.” He elaborated on those remarks for Mother Jones, saying that “true feminine liberation isn’t about having the ‘freedom’ to dress like Miley Cyrus”​ and that that his views “could be judged as misogynist, but I think this would be an unfair assessment.” He adds, “It’s a joke to think the girl needs to be the chastity cop…but to reach [a] level of mutual respect in society, I don’t think Daisy Duke shorts are going to expedite the process.” Evert also maintains that birth control pills cause abortions. (In reality, they prevent conception, and if an egg is fertilized, they make the uterine lining inhospitable for implantation. The Code of Federal Regulations and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.)

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Walmart Holding Canned Food Drive For Its Own Underpaid Employees

From Think Progress:

By Scott Keyes
November 18, 2013

A Walmart in northeast Ohio is holding a holiday canned food drive — for its own underpaid employees. “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” a sign reads in the employee lounge of a Canton-area Walmart.

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, says the drive is a positive thing. “This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said. Indeed, Lundberg is correct that it’s commendable to make an effort to help out those who are in need, especially during the holidays.

But the need for a food drive illustrates how difficult it is for Walmart workers to get by on its notoriously low pay. The company has long been plagued by charges that it doesn’t pay its employees a real living wage. In fact, Walmart’s President and CEO, Bill Simon, recently estimated that the majority of its one million associates make less than $25,000 per year, just above the federal poverty line of $23,550 for a family of four. When the Washington DC city council passed a living wage bill requiring Walmart to pay workers a minimum of $12.50 per hour, the chain threatened to shut down its new stores if Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t veto the bill. Gray vetoed the bill.

Walmart’s low wages come at a public cost. Because low-income workers still need housing and health care, taxpayers end up doling out millions in benefits to bridge the gap faced by many of the store’s retail workers. They have also led to strikes at Walmart stores from Seattle to Chicago to Los Angeles in recent weeks.

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Swedish cinemas take aim at gender bias with Bechdel test rating

From The Guardian UK:

Movies need to pass test that gauges the active presence of women on screen in bid to promote gender equality

Associated Press in Stockholm, Wednesday 6 November 2013

You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. “For some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle.

Beliefs about women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”, Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens,” he added.

The state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports the initiative, which is starting to catch on. Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film says it will start using the ratings in its film reviews and has scheduled an A-rated “Super Sunday” on 17 November, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady and Savages.

The Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced the concept in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. It has been discussed among feminists and film critics since then, but Tejle hopes the A rating system will help spread awareness among moviegoers about how women are portrayed in films.

In Bio Rio’s wood-panelled lobby, students Nikolaj Gula and Vincent Fremont acknowledged that most of their favourite films probably would not get an A rating.

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Progressive women will get their revenge on Karl Rove

From Salon:

Conservatives mock Wendy Davis and other Texas women for ties to national feminists, but we’ll have the last laugh!

Monday, Nov 18, 2013

I’m proud to be part of an innovative Internet telethon Monday night to support abortion access for Texas women, organized by Lizz Winstead and Sarah Silverman. It’s already a big success – the physical event is sold out and the “telethon” (which you can watch tonight here) is inspiring house parties across Texas and the country. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

But I saw a couple of folks on Twitter mock the notion that Silverman or Winstead (or me, for that matter) have any connection or affinity with Texans – or Texans with us. It reminded me of the otherwise reasonably smart George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd admonishing Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis for “allying with Hollywood actresses” in her race for governor, implying such ties would turn off regular Texas voters.

But I think national progressives owe Texans some support. They were the first victims of Karl Rove’s anti-women divide-and-conquer politics that put Bush in the White House. Not only did he knock off Ann Richards as Texas governor in 1994, but the redistricting plans overseen by Rove and Tom DeLay to take back the Texas Legislature targeted women in particular. In 2002, five Democratic women lost their seats when their districts were redrawn as Republican strongholds.

Rove transformed the Texas of Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, of Sissy Farenthold and Sarah Weddington, into a state now best known for George W. Bush and Rick Perry (not a Bush ally but his inheritor nonetheless), Blake Farenthold and Steve Stockman. And under Republican control, Texas has passed some of the most restrictive antiabortion laws in the country.

The truth is, some progressives like to act as though Texas is a red-state hellhole, uniquely receptive to Tea Party insanity and we’d be better off letting it secede. But demographically, the state is a microcosm of the country, with a fast-growing Latino population, an aging and declining white population, and women playing a swing-vote role. Texas Democrats have been fighting what Rove did to their state for the last 10 years, but they’ve had a lift lately from national Democrats, who’ve put money into groups like Battleground Texas and We Are One Texas (headed by former Annie’s List director Robert Jones) to boost participation by women, Latinos, African-Americans and younger women, and turn Texas blue.

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Fossil Fuels Receive $500 Billion A Year In Government Subsidies Worldwide

From Think Progress:

By Emily Atkin
November 7, 2013

Producers of oil, gas and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies around the world in 2011, with the richest nations collectively spending more than $70 billion every year to support fossil fuels.

Those are the findings of a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank based in the United Kingdom.

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet,” the report, headed by ODI research fellow Shelagh Whitley, said. “They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.”

While the report acknowledges there is currently no globally agreed definition of what constitutes a subsidy, it cites the World Trade Organization’s approach: “a subsidy is any financial contribution by a government, or agent of a government, that confers a benefit on its recipient.”

Germany, for example, provided €1.9 billion in financial assistance to its hard coal sector in 2011, according to the report. That same year, the U.S. created a $1 billion fuel tax exemption for farmers and invested $500 million for fossil energy research and development. The top 11 “rich-country emitters” — the biggest being Russia, the United States, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom — are estimated to have spent $74 billion on subsidies in 2011.

That total amount outweighs the support provided to developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by seven to one, the report found.

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Eight more U.S. coal generators bite the dust

From Grist:

By 18 Nov 2013

he Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down eight of its coal-burning generating stations in Alabama and Kentucky. Board members of the federally owned utility agreed to the plan last week, reacting to changing market conditions and federal environmental rules. The move will reduce coal generation by 3,300 megawatts in the two states.

The decision is being seen as a blow to the local coal industry, but a boon for the region’s air quality. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) met with TVA’s CEO in a bid to dissuade the utility from shuttering coal plants, but to no avail. Enviros, meanwhile, cheered the development.

Absent from the seemingly positive news, however, is any mention of renewables. Wind and solar farms are being built across the country, but TVA said it’s hoping to turn to natural gas and nuclear power to help it plug the gaps created by its abandonment of coal.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Forty years ago, the TVA got more than 80% of its power from coal. Today coal accounts for 38%, a number that is dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation.

When the TVA is done with its announced coal-plant retirements, only 33 of its 59 coal units will remain in service. Some of those are still under review, said TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield. …

The company said that continuing to run the plants would risk noncompliance with new mercury rules coming into effect.

TVA leaders weren’t happy about the decision, but they can see the writing on the wall: Coal power is dying in the U.S. “This is a personal nightmare for me,” one board member told the Associated Press. “But I must support what I believe to be in the best interest of TVA’s customers.”

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The Insanity of Our Food Policy

From The New York Times:

November 16, 2013

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.

So it’s almost too absurd to believe that House Republicans are asking for a farm bill that would make all of these problems worse. For the putative purpose of balancing the country’s books, the measures that the House Republican caucus is pushing for in negotiations with the Senate, as Congress attempts to pass a long-stalled extension of the farm bill, would cut back the meager aid to our country’s most vulnerable and use the proceeds to continue fattening up a small number of wealthy American farmers.

The House has proposed cutting food stamp benefits by $40 billion over 10 years — that’s on top of $5 billion in cuts that already came into effect this month with the expiration of increases to the food stamp program that were included in the 2009 stimulus law. Meanwhile, House Republicans appear satisfied to allow farm subsidies, which totaled some $14.9 billion last year, to continue apace. Republican proposals would shift government assistance from direct payments — paid at a set rate to farmers every year to encourage them to keep growing particular crops, regardless of market fluctuations — to crop insurance premium subsidies. But this is unlikely to be any cheaper. Worse, unlike direct payments, the insurance premium subsidies carry no income limit for the farmers who would receive this form of largess.

The proposal is a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size. Small, powerful interests — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality.

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Women Lead the Way in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture

From Truth Out:

By Eleanor J Bader
Sunday, 17 November 2013

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the number of women-operated farms more than doubled in the 25 years between 1982 and 2007. In fact, female farmers now make up the fastest-growing sector of the country’s changing agricultural landscape and nearly 1 million women – approximately one-third of total domestic farmers – list farming as their primary occupation. The National Women in Agriculture Association calls it “breaking the grass ceiling.” It’s that and more.

Some are choosing to farm as a way of maintaining continuity, tending land that has been in their families for decades. Others, however, are choosing farming for many different reasons, among them the desire to do something concrete, constructive and quickly gratifying; to tweak gender norms; or simply to have better control over their work lives. Many see their efforts as overtly political.

“Women are leading the way in sustainable and organic agriculture,” Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition told Truthout. Although she works for the Coalition full time, as co-owner of the Healthy Roots Community Farm in Tivoli, New York – 100 miles north of the city – she is involved intimately in all aspects of growing fruits and vegetables in a sustainable manner.

A Midwesterner whose grandfather farmed, Lusher Shute’s career was launched in Brooklyn, New York, where she helped create the East Williamsburg Community Garden in 2002. “We grew vegetables, ornamental plants and flowers,” she begins. “I loved the interface between gardening and the community. The community started out divided between residents who’d been there for a long time and newcomers, but the opportunity to work together on something to beautify the neighborhood led to friendships that might not have happened otherwise. We held weekly barbecues, and the garden became a place to work out community tensions and problems.”

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