Rural legislators have quit on Texas values

From The Dallas Morning News:

Richard Parker
August 10, 2017

WIMBERLEY — With a little rain, the grass here perks up and turns a reassuring green. The short-horned Charolais emerge from the live oaks to graze. At the end of each hot day, the cool Blanco River beckons.

There are lots of clichés about Texas but this one is undeniably true: Its values were forged in the hot, hard places of its plains, hills, woods and plateaus. “No cowboy,” wrote J. Frank Dobie, “ever quit while his life and his duties were most exacting.” It’s likely that not a lot of Texans now know who Dobie was, underneath his floppy, trademark Stetson and gone for more than 50 years. It’s for dang sure that the governor and lieutenant governor are utterly ignorant.

Born in Live Oak County in 1888, enamored of the ranch lands of South Texas, he became the state’s bard, story-teller, armchair historian, folklorist and self-appointed thorn in the side of politicians. He captured in words the real Texas of his time: a lonesome self-reliance, born of the land, with a humble circumspection for others and obligation for civil as well as individual liberty.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are winding up this legislature as self-appointed defenders of Texas values. But sticking your nose in other people’s business is not a Texas value. Their phony war against the cities, where 9 in 10 Texans live, and where nearly all the economy operates is, in fact, a betrayal of the values that emanated from rural Texas. And if they care so much about real Texas, then rural Texas could’ve used a hand.

Net farm income has dropped 50 percent since 2013, according to the Agriculture Department’s annual farm forecast. In Washington, the Trump administration’s budget calls for cutting agricultural spending, too, nearly 20 percent. Commodity prices for corn and wheat have steadily fallen, even as animal prices have been steady albeit volatile with a backlog of supply. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue didn’t even show up to an event to listen to farmers in San Angelo last month in preparation for the 2018 farm bill.

Oil prices have not and may never rebound to the highs seen during the boom. Instead they have settled into the $40.00 per barrel range, and at least one oil giant, Shell, thinks that’s where they will stay for the foreseeable future. Now, a crime wave has followed the bust. The most violent crime rates are not found in the big, bad liberal sanctuary cities but in West Texas, according to the FBI. Odessa tops the list, far ahead of Austin, which has earned Abbott’s milquetoast wrath.

And what have the politicians in Austin done about all this during the summer? Precisely nothing but make up excuses to poke their snouts in other people’s troughs. People like Patrick confuse their narrow minds and narrower bases with real Texas. Which might make sense given that he’s not even from Texas; he’s from Maryland.

“If I had to divide the population into classes today, I should characterize a goodly number as Texians, a very large number as Texans,” Dobie wrote, almost with a sigh, in 1936. “And finally, all too many people who just live in Texas. The Texians are the old rock, the Texans are out of the old rock; the others are wearing the rock away.”

Of course there have been a lot of helping hands in the state Senate, ironically from people who have bigger problems right in their rural backyards than eyeballing their urban neighbors. So that’s meant more restrictions on abortion. Legalizing swords in public. Chopping down local tree ordinances.

Pretending to cut property taxes and give teachers bonuses — but not. Keeping transgender kids out of school bathrooms. Funny how not one politician has seized, say, on saving rural Texas, which is disappearing underneath the developer’s dozer faster than any other state in the country, according to a report by Texas A&M University.

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Justice Department Says Rights Law Doesn’t Protect Gays

From The New York Times:

By Alan Feur
July 27, 2017

The Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.

The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

The department filed its brief on Wednesday, the same day President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, raising concerns among civil rights activists that the Trump administration was trying to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights won under previous administrations.

The filing came in a discrimination case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit involving Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor. In 2010, Mr. Zarda was fired by his employer, a Long Island company called Altitude Express. Before taking a female client on a tandem dive, Mr. Zarda told the woman he was gay to assuage any awkwardness that might arise from his being tightly strapped to her during the jump. The woman’s husband complained to the company, which subsequently fired Mr. Zarda. Mr. Zarda then sued Altitude Express, claiming it had violated Title VII.

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The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Anymore

From The Nation:

The left is tearing itself apart.

By Danny Goldberg
July 19, 2017

Notwithstanding the addictive daily drama of leaks, tweets, and resistance, there are major issues that exist separate and apart from the 24-hour news cycle. These long-term problems are as salient in the digital moment as they were in the analog ’60s.

This coming October 9 will mark the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s murder. Yet the pathology underlying his famous quip that when the American left is asked to form a firing squad it gets into a circle is as relevant today as a Rachel Maddow response to Kellyanne Conway’s spin du jour.

Last year, speaking to a gathering of veterans of the Vietnam anti-war movement, Tom Hayden lamented, “We said we would not be like the old left, but we became like the old left. We fell into the same sectarian divisions.” This syndrome even cropped up at Hayden’s memorial service a few months ago in Los Angeles when speakers carped about the relative merits of the 1968 primary campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.

The DNC e-mails hacked by Russia in 2016 and curated by persons unknown focused overwhelmingly on tidbits that would make Bernie Sanders voters reluctant to vote for Clinton. If there weren’t such bitter tribal rivalries within the left (which long predate the election), the divide-and-conquer strategy could never have worked in the first place.

With excruciating predictability, mainstreamers blame young people for low turnout and for being seduced by the Libertarian or Green parties, as if finger-wagging at youth has ever been effective. Such lectures are like a rock band blaming the audience for not giving them an encore instead of improving the show. A certain number of low-information young voters struggling with college debt, stressed out by diminished job opportunities, and terrified of global warming were not motivated by charts showing statistical economic growth during the Obama years or by Tim Kaine’s harmonica playing.

It is equally absurd when some on the left refuse to admit that the United States and the world would be in a lot better shape today if imperfect Hillary Clinton had won.

Lefty infighting has been the norm for so long that some progressives have come to view it as a permanent, vaguely endearing fact of life. In the Trump era, such an attitude is not worldly—it is nihilistic. Non-Republicans—ranging from veterans of Occupy Wall Street to the centrist Democrats in the Clinton and Obama mold—have to decide if asserting their differences with robotic intensity is worth living under Republican control.

In order to have any chance of reversing the right-wing trends that began in the Reagan years, mainstream Democrats and progressives have to find ways to disagree without destroying the ability to accomplish their shared goals. Theories and tribalism must be subordinate to knowable or probable policy effects on the most vulnerable, on the 99 percent, and on the planet.

Democratic Party mainstreamers should stop claiming that they and they alone are pragmatic. (Or as a smug New York Times headline put it, “The Base Wants It All. The Party Wants to Win.”) That argument has long been highly debatable, but after 2016 it is delusional. They have controlled most of the candidate selection and most of the campaigns that have resulted in the weakest presence of Democrats in elective office since the age of silent movies.

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I Am a Transgender Female Captain in the U.S. Army

From The New York Times:

By Jennifer Sims
July 27, 2017

HOHENFELS, Germany — My eyes welled with tears of happiness, and I cried as I had never cried before. For 20 years, I fought against who I am. But that day was the closest I ever felt to freedom. It was June 30, 2016, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had just announced an end to the United States military’s ban on transgender service.

My name is Jennifer Sims. I am a United States Army captain and a transgender woman who has served my country with distinction for more than six years. I am speaking for myself here, not on behalf of the Army or the government, but I suspect my feelings resonate with other transgender service members.

Every transgender person has a different story. For me, growing up in Florida and Minnesota, I never felt right as a boy, struggling to conform to what that meant. It was before the internet and smartphones were everywhere, so I never heard the word “transgender” or had any way to look up confidentially what I was feeling. I thought it was simply a phase I was going through.

Like many transgender women before they come out, I tried to act as masculine as I could. I played every sport possible, and always tried to be the strongest, fastest boy on the playground. My family has a history of military service, so I told people my dream was to be in the Army. What could be manlier than joining the military? In my sophomore year at Florida Atlantic University, I joined Army R.O.T.C. I also finally began to accept myself, but I didn’t come to the conclusion that I am transgender until 2010, almost a year after I had committed to an Army R.O.T.C. scholarship.

My choices were simple, yet complex: serve the nation or serve myself. On the one hand, I no longer felt the need to act supermasculine in my life, and I saw a path forward. On the other, I saw a nation at war and I wanted to help. In the end, I couldn’t resist the call to serve. In 2011, I graduated and accepted my commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. Eight months later, I was in Afghanistan managing communications for an aviation task force in Zabul Province.

For more than four years, I suppressed my secret. Living a lie left me utterly exhausted, but the worst part was never being able to talk to anyone about what I was feeling. I had served in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Germany, and my mental health was deteriorating. I was depressed and found little enjoyment in life.

That all changed in July 2015 when the Department of Defense announced that it would begin studying open transgender service. I came out to my family, and when I could, I started living more of my life as myself. It wasn’t perfect, though, as I had to continue keeping this hidden at work. A military unit is like a living being, and a senior leader coming out as transgender in the wrong way could become a self-destructive virus. I felt it was my duty to keep anything about being transgender from making its way into the workplace until the time was right.

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The troubling truth about vitamins and herbal supplements

From Popular Science:

There’s shockingly little oversight of the companies who sell herbs and vitamins.

By Sara Chodosh
July 25, 2017

Alice arrived in Wonderland and promptly downed a vial that said “drink me,” and we can probably all agree she was being a bit of an idiot. Magical land or not, she’s a child, she has no idea where that conveniently placed tube came from, and come on—“drink me”? That’s in the textbook definition of “gullible.”

But if we’re being honest, is taking a supplement you bought at the drug store any smarter?

The bottles don’t say “swallow me,” but they might as well. Instead they’re emblazoned with promises. The yellow ones will make you stronger. Red will increase your energy levels. Purple will heal your scars. It’s a veritable rainbow of cures. They offer quick and easy solutions in a way that medicine can’t—because medicine is bound by evidence. Supplements aren’t.

Which is why every 24 minutes the U.S. Poison Control Centers get a call about bad reactions to supplements. That’s 274,998 exposures from 2000-2012. Those numbers come from a recent study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, but the idea isn’t new: Supplements aren’t likely to kill you, but they’ve never been particularly safe either. And the companies producing them have shockingly little oversight.

From 2005 to 2012, the rate of reported dietary supplement exposures increased 49.3 percent. Homeopathic cures and ma huang-containing pills were responsible for most of that uptick. Homeopathy is the line of thinking that says if you take a solution of water and an active ingredient, then dilute it many times over until the active ingredient is no longer detectable, the water somehow retains the memory of the active ingredient and will have some medicinal effect on your body. There is absolutely no evidence to support it. Ma huang is a plant extract that contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which stimulate your nervous system and can be deadly.

Between the two of them, homeopathy and ma huang account for a large chunk of the total adverse outcomes related to dietary supplements. The problem is that we’re only finding this out years after they’ve happened.

The FDA is literally not authorized to evaluate a supplement’s efficacy or safety. It’s up to the manufacturer to make sure their product is safe and as effective as they claim. They’re also tasked with policing themselves to ensure the supplements aren’t contaminanted. This near total lack of oversight means that a huge fraction of botanical supplements either contain an entirely different active ingredient from what they claim or contain a filler like rice powder.

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The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death

From The New Yorker:

Jia Tolentino
March 22, 2017

Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.

Mary, who was driving in Chicago, picked up a few riders, and then started having contractions. “Since she was still a week away from her due date,” Lyft wrote, “she assumed they were simply a false alarm and continued driving.” As the contractions continued, Mary decided to drive to the hospital. “Since she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet,” Lyft went on, “she stayed in driver mode, and sure enough—ping!— she received a ride request en route to the hospital.”

“Luckily,” as Lyft put it, the passenger requested a short trip. After completing it, Mary went to the hospital, where she was informed that she was in labor. She gave birth to a daughter, whose picture appears in the post. (She’s wearing a “Little Miss Lyft” onesie.) The post concludes with a call for similar stories: “Do you have an exciting Lyft story you’d love to share? Tweet us your story at @lyft_CHI!”

Mary’s story looks different to different people. Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, Mary is an exemplar of hard work and dedication—the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees. Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit—taking ride requests while she was in labor!—is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.

Lyft does not provide its drivers paid maternity leave or health insurance. (It offers to connect drivers with an insurance broker, and helpfully notes that “the Affordable Care Act offers many choices to make sure you’re covered.”) A third-party platform called SherpaShare, which some drivers use to track their earnings, found, in 2015, that Lyft drivers in Chicago net about eleven dollars per trip. Perhaps, as Lyft suggests, Mary kept accepting riders while experiencing contractions because “she was still a week away from her due date,” or “she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet.” Or maybe Mary kept accepting riders because the gig economy has further normalized the circumstances in which earning an extra eleven dollars can feel more important than seeking out the urgent medical care that these quasi-employers do not sponsor. In the other version of Mary’s story, she’s an unprotected worker in precarious circumstances. “I can’t pretend to know Mary’s economic situation,” Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo wrote, when the story first appeared. “Maybe she’s an heiress who happens to love the freedom of chauffeuring strangers from place to place on her own schedule. But that Lyft, for some reason, thought that this would reflect kindly on them is perhaps the most horrifying part.”

It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news.

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The “Human” in “Humanist” Includes Trans

From The Humanist:

by Meghan Hamilton
31 July 2017

Last week the Trump administration launched one of the most aggressive attacks on the LGBTQ community to date. On Wednesday, Donald Trump announced via Twitter that “After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

This sudden and hostile move came as a shock to many, including most of the armed forces themselves. Also shocking was the reaction in some secular circles in favor of the ban.

Most discouraging is the support for such hate within the humanist community. If you don’t support the universal equality of everyone in the LGBTQ community, including transgender individuals (that’s what the “T” stands for), you are not a humanist; and this is not up for debate. As the social media coordinator for AHA, I see continual evidence that many people on social media are confused about what humanism is.

You see, there are reasons humanists call themselves humanists in addition to calling themselves atheists, agnostics, nontheists, and so on. It’s implied and understood that humanists don’t simply lack a belief in a god, but hold a strong belief in the greater good of humanity and therefore strive to contribute to the progress of humanity, the planet, and science through activism. The humanist position undeniably includes a deep dedication to social justice and equality for every individual on this planet, no matter their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity.

As a secular organization who works with, is comprised of, and fights for the rights of secular, atheist, humanist, nonreligious Americans, we often get lumped in with those who believe that nonbelief is enough; that attacking Christianity and Christians will create or at least fill us with some sort of satisfaction. But if that’s all we did as humanists, we wouldn’t be humanists. We would have to tell ourselves that the religious right doesn’t influence every attack inflicted upon the LGBTQ community, women, people of color, and the poor. We’d have to pretend that the GOP isn’t passing legislation that is clearly encouraged by religious conservatives, who want to construct the shining “City Upon a Hill” where wealthy, white men are securely in control.

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Common Sense

“Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interest, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

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