Creating Change 2014 in Houston

It’s sufficient to say that Houston is full of surprises. In recent past, it shocked the rest of the United States by becoming the largest American city to elect an openly gay mayor, and of course we’ve gone on to reelect her twice now. This event put the Texas city on the “national radar” of the LGBT movement. It’s pretty clear that with Annise Parker’s election, the city of Houston created change in the country’s political landscape.

That’s a singular event, but so much has happened and continues to happen for equality throughout Texas everyday. But this week, Houston becomes the national epicenter of the LGBT political and social justice movement. Creating Change— The 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality has landed in the Bayou City, happening now through February 2nd.

The Conference, produced by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is itself a tour-de-force of networking, strategy and development opportunities. Here’s more information directly from the Creating Change Website…

Creating Change (as it’s affectionately known) is the nation’s pre-eminent political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBT social justice movement. Since 1988, Creating Change has been the opportunity for thousands of committed people to develop and hone their skills, celebrate victories, build community, and to be inspired by visionaries of our LGBT movement and allied movements for justice and equality.

At the 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, we’ll celebrate 26 years of building the grassroots power of our people and families. Over 40,000 people have attended Creating Change to learn, grow and expand their skills and confidence to create change in their communities, their states, this country and the world. For each Creating Change attendee, our annual skills-building and training event is a life-changing experience.

The five day program will feature over 350 workshops led by activists, politicians, public figures from all over the country. Tonight’s keynote speaker for the conference is critically acclaimed actress Laverne Cox.

If you can’t get to Houston this week, be sure to check the Creating Change livestream to watch some of the main events, and on Twitter the #CC14 hashtag is the central hub for social media action.

Texoblogosphere: week of January 20th

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks that if same sex marriage is OK for Utah and Oklahoma it’s OK for our state too as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff interviews Kim Ogg, candidate for Harris County District Attorney, and Steve Brown, candidate for Texas Railroad Commission.

Eye On Williamson on priorities. Keeping immigrants in the shadows, because it’s not good politics for the GOP in an election year, shows exactly what the GOP’s priorities are. John Carter & The GOP’s Misplaced Priorities.

Horwitz at Texpatriate reports on the controversy that has recently erupted in the US Senate Democratic primary between David Alameel and Maxey Scherr.

The civil war in the Harris County Republican Party threatens to disrupt the candidacy of Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor, and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has a snapshot of the battlefield.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants you to know that those Charter Schools are using your money to push the propaganda to your children..

Harold Cook patiently debunks Republican claims about Wendy Davis’ fundraising totals.

After reading a story about how China is paying for new shipping ports for Sri Lanka, Neil at All People Have Value wrote that when somebody else builds your port you lose control of what ships arrive and what goods are received. It is better that we construct our own ports of friendship and imagination. All People Have Value is part of NeilAquino.com.

Texas Leftist welcomes it’s first ever guest contributor… A remarkable man who has truly lived all sides of the marriage debate. In the span of a few short years, this father of three went from being married to his wife to marrying his husband. Fred-Allen Self has an interesting story to tell.

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Better Texas Blog celebrates the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty and reminds us that there is still much to be done about it.

Scott Braddock reports on a targeted worker misclassification crackdown going on in Texas.

The Texas Green Report wonders if the earthquakes in Azle will lead to a change in thinking, and in regulation, on fracking.

Juanita notes that Texas is now exporting campaign finance law violators to other states.

The Republic of Austin shares an Austin-based ad campaign that is trying to convince people not to move to Austin.

The Heights Life has some good news about one school that’s bucking the trend on library downsizing.

Texas Vox wants you to write a letter about Keystone XL.

Finally, the TPA warmly congratulates Eileen Smith of In The Pink Texas for the beautiful new addition to her family.

2014: New Year, Old Challenges for ACA

Though the tormented roll-out of the Affordable Care Act is still fresh on the minds of most Americans, it’s important to note that the dark days of Obamacare are most likely over. The website is now working fairly smoothly, and people are finding that they are able to access healthcare coverage easier than ever before. And despite copious attempts at disruption, deceit and misinformation, even Texans are finding their way through the process to obtain health insurance. As the Texas Tribune notes, enrollments in the Lone Star State are actually moving as fast as areas that were more amiable to the law…

Texas enrollments in the online insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act rose nearly eightfold in December, according to 2013 figures that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Monday.

Texas ranks third in the number of 2013 enrollments following the troubled launch of healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. As of Dec. 28, nearly 120,000 Texans had purchased coverage in the federal marketplace, up from 14,000 one month before.

The number represents a tiny fraction of the uninsured in Texas, which has a higher percentage of people without health coverage than any other state. In 2012, more than 6 million Texans, about 24 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, according to U.S. census data…

Three-quarters of Texans who purchased health plans in the exchange in 2013 received financial assistance, according to the HHS data. That percentage, which is less than the median rate of 80 percent for the 36 states operating under the federal exchange, might have been larger had Texas expanded Medicaid to cover poor adults. Texans living below the poverty line do not qualify for subsidies.

Granted 120,000 enrollees is still far-short of the 6 million Texans that are in need of coverage, but it’s significant progress nonetheless. Try as they did, Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott did not destroy Obamacare. It’s in Texas, and it is here to stay.

But who suffers from the Governor and AG’s ACA malice? Texas’ poorest citizens and our hospital system by refusing the state’s Medicaid Expansion. There’s nothing the GOP can do to destroy Obamacre, so they’ve decided to turn their wrath onto their most vulnerable constituents. Directly from the Texas Hospital Association, here’s some insight into the bind that Perry and Abbott have created for the state’s already cash-strapped hospitals…

Unfortunately, the positive impact for Texas hospitals is diminished. The state’s failure to extend Medicaid coverage to the working poor or devise its own solution to reduce the number of uninsured leaves more than one million Texans with no access to affordable coverage options.

In addition, ongoing and new federal funding cuts result in significantly fewer resources for Texas hospitals to provide care for the uninsured.

–Hospitals already provide more than $5 billion annually in uncompensated care because of Texas’ high rate of uninsured.

–Reductions in Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital payments began in FY 2012 and for FY 2014 alone are between $16 million and $19 million.

–The recent congressional budget deal will extend federal cuts to the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital program that were intended as “pay-fors” for Medicaid expansion for an additional year through 2023.

–The budget deal also extends the two percent sequester reduction in reimbursement rates for Medicare providers (including hospitals) for two additional years from 2021 to 2023.

–The three-month SGR or “doc fix” will avert deep cuts to physician reimbursement but contains substantially lower payments for long-term care hospitals that serve patients with clinically complex conditions.

“Increased private insurance enrollment through the Marketplace is certainly good news, but with a million Texans remaining uninsured and reduced federal resources, Texas hospitals will shoulder a heavy financial burden,” said John Hawkins, THA senior vice president for government relations. “The state’s inaction on coverage for the working poor and new and continued funding cuts at the federal level are a real threat to Texas hospitals’ continued ability to provide the highest quality care to all who need it.”

That $5 billion of uncompensated care?? That’s what I refer to as Crisiscaid… basically the only option for people who have no health insurance. They go along, hoping and praying that everything is ok, but the moment they get sick or have an accident, their only option for treatment is to go to the Emergency Room. And if they don’t have thousands of dollars to pay the hospital for that treatment, the hospital loses money. This a problem statewide, but it puts a particular strain on our state’s rural hospitals… many of which are facing closure if Medicaid is not expanded.

As Greg Abbott stumps around the state for his Gubernatorial bid, he has yet to address the question of how he plans to save Texas’ rural hospitals without taking the Medicaid expansion. For all of these people that no access to health insurance, what does he want them to do? One simple vote by the legislature is all that stands in the way of affordable healthcare for millions of Texans. Hard-working doctors and hospitals would be empowered to care for more patients without worrying so much about their bottom line. erhaps someone should ask him these questions. Hopefully Democrats will find the courage to demand answers soon. 

Music Musings: DJ Cassidy’s Paradise Royale

Is 2014 the year that Disco makes a huge comeback??

If DJ Cassidy has anything to do with it, the answer is a resounding yes.

Cassidy’s upcoming album, titled Paradise Royale and expected to be released this spring, is something seldom attempted in contemporary “pop” music… a full-on exploration of the Disco genre, using the talents and expertise of the original musicians. But it’s not a cover album. Greats like Nile Rodgers, Phillip Bailey, Verdine White and Patrice Rushen join forces with some of today’s biggest stars to create all new, original tunes. Here’s more from DJ Cassidy in a recent interview with Billboard.com

Cassidy began the process by assembling a playlist of 25 of his favorite dance hits from that era and making notes about which musicians played on them. “What I saw was the same names repeating over and over again,” Cassidy recalls. “It became apparent that the recording artists and producers of these songs were recruiting the same session musicians. Those were the men behind the music, the architects of the sound. At that point I realized that in order to fulfill my mission I needed to go back to the source.” He ultimately recruited 22 musicians for the recording, while making a deliberate decision to use modern hit makers for the vocals.

Those ‘modern hit makers’ are the likes of Jessie J, Robin Thicke, Kelly Rowland, John Legend and a host of others.

The lead single for the album is Calling All Hearts… due to be released in February. And if this track is any good predictor, expect big things from this album. The beat is driving, infectious, and proves to be a real relief from the reigning trends in dance music. The use of real instruments and real production is a real gem in a world where we’ve grown accustomed to manufactured sounds. As a result, doing things “the old way” sounds as new and as fresh as ever. It’s quickly become my favorite song of 2014. Check it out, and decide for yourself.

Updated March 4th to include the Music Video for Calling All Hearts!!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZy5E6ILvEA&w=560&h=315]

Guest Post: “The debate”

By Fred-Allen Self.

You know, I keep reading things on the “debate” over same-sex marriage and the more I read, the more I feel like people are simply missing the point… on both sides sometimes. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m glad you asked. What I mean is that the debate focuses so much on what the Bible does and does not say, what the merits of legalizing it versus not are, whether being gay is a choice or not, and the list goes on. Honestly, to all of those things I would like to say, once and for all, who the hell cares?

Civil marriages in the United States of America have absolutely nothing to do with what the Bible, or any other holy book of any other religion, says. We are a country that is “not in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” according to the Treaty of Tripoli, so any arguments that appeal to theology of any kind are irrelevant from the start. Regardless of that fact, and it is a fact, there are many people who insist on continuing to bring religion into the civil discussion. People have this habit of saying, “The word of God makes it clear…” and then proceed to say something that the Bible doesn’t now, nor has it ever said, in many cases. Honestly, my biggest issue with this argument is that, as a person who has spent a large amount of time reading the Bible, studying the Bible, studying the history, and reading multiple commentaries I can pretty comfortably say that there is not much that the Bible actually makes clear at all… It is rife with contradictions and inaccuracies. Any claims to the contrary are simply academically dishonest. No, I am not anti-Christian, I am very much a Christian myself, but I have no qualms with saying that the Bible is challenging in many ways. I mean, if the Bible really made things so clear, then there wouldn’t be literally THOUSANDS of Christian sects all claiming to have it right.

My second qualm with this argument is one that arises as a Christian: you see, to me the Word of God is Jesus. The Bible is a library of 66 books from different writers, different cultures, and different times. Using it as a “rule book” for life in the post-2K world is a little crazy. There are things written there that apply to cultures over 3000 years old. Things that, by any measure, are barbaric now. There are also wonderful things there. There is great wisdom to be had from the Bible, but if you really tried to use it as a rule book, without picking and choosing, you would go crazy quickly. I mean, if you bought a table from Ikea with instructions as “clear” as the Bible you would be taking it back and asking for your money back very quickly.

As for the merits of legalizing same-sex marriage versus not… well, as a married gay man I can’t see any harm in it at all. You know, Matthew and I are legally married and the world hasn’t ended yet, as far as I’m aware NONE of our neighbors even know, and our marriage has, so far, had zero direct effect on anyone but ourselves. What has it done for us? Well, it’s saved us a ridiculous amount of money on health insurance as he no longer has to pay taxes on my portion of it. If something were to happen to him, our home would be my home, because I am the next of kin. It gives us every single federal right any other married couple has. The down sides…well, I fail to see any.

The last point up there, whether it’s a choice or not, this one comes up a lot, and it really irks me more than any other argument. I’m sorry, but why is that even up for discussion. I can tell you with 100% certainty that I never chose who I found attractive or who I could form that deep, to the soul, earth changing bond with. I can say that until I’m blue in the face, though, and there are people who will argue with me that it really is a choice because apparently somehow they know better. That’s neither here nor there, though. The reason this gets to me is simple: whether it’s a choice who you are attracted to or not, everyone has a choice in who they marry and who they spend their life with. The end. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight, you choose, in this country, who you marry. So, even if it was a choice, so what? This is MY choice, and not yours. I don’t understand how this logic works: ‘who you marry is a choice, therefore you should choose what I’m comfortable with and not what you are comfortable with.’ I mean, really? Do you realize how selfish and ridiculous that sounds? Of course, my marriage is a choice, who I engage with sexually is a choice, etc… who I fall in love with is not, but that’s a totally different question all together.

At this point in my life I am with a man who makes me happier than anyone in the world ever has. I am with someone who connects with me on a far deeper level than simply friendship and our relationship certainly does not revolve around sex, like many seem to think homosexual relationships do. We have three children running around all the time, we both work, we have chores that sometimes get done and sometimes don’t…. when is there time for anything else? The reason I bring all of this up is simple: Matthew and I are married. Legally. You can say all day long that that is impossible, but we really do have the piece of paper to prove it is very much possible. With all of that said, I honestly do not care if another person doesn’t approve. I don’t care what their religious convictions are. I don’t care what their opinions are. What I DO care about is that they allow ME to have my freedom of religion and morality, that they don’t force their harmful theology on my children, teaching them that their father is a sinful monster, and that they allow other people the same rights. The reason I speak out is NOT to silence other opinions. The reason I speak out is because libel and hate, whether intended as such or not, must be called out for what it is.

This “debate” is not abstract. This “debate” is not theoretical or theological. There are lives and families on the line, literally. Fighting against this is fighting against the health and wellness of thousands of very real people and very real families. Please don’t call yourself “pro-family” if your crusade is going to destroy families. Call yourself pro-straight-family if you must, but don’t pretend my family is not real.

The reason I stated above that “both sides” are sometimes missing the point is because over and over I see this side allowing the debate to go to these irrelevant points. The point is simple, to me: My family is not a political statement. We are not a religious statement. We are a family. We are NOT up for debate. We are human,we are family, and we deserve the same dignity and respect as all others.

A re-post from Fred-Allen’s blog My Bit of (In)Sanity

Houston Police Profile, Detain Innocent Man (Again)

How many times is this going to happen before there are some changes at HPD??

From RawStory.com

Police in Houston, Texas handcuffed, detained and searched the vehicle of an innocent man for over an hour this week, all because he gave change to a homeless person. According to Houston’s Channel 2 News, police wrongfully accused Greg Snider of giving drugs to the man who approached him and asked for change.

Snider said that he was pulling out of a parking deck and talking on his cell phone when a homeless man asked if he could spare any change. Snider rolled down his window, gave the man 75 cents and drove away.

Minutes later, a Houston police cruiser appeared in his rear-view mirror, blue lights blazing. He pulled over and was astonished to find himself face-to-face with a violently agitated officer.

“He’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s telling me to get out of the car. He’s telling me to put my hands on the hood,” Snider recounted. “They’re like, ‘We saw you downtown. We saw what you did.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I gave a homeless man 75 cents.’”

Officers dragged Snider from his car and cuffed him on the side of the road. At least 10 other police cruisers arrived at the scene and the officers spent an hour with drug-sniffing dogs, ripping apart the interior of Snider’s car and looking for drugs that weren’t there.

Finally, the police were forced to admit their mistake and let Snider go. He is considering legal action and was particularly put off that the cops seemed to find the whole thing funny.

This is precisely the problem with our current drug laws and enforcement culture. Instead of our police spending their time on solving serious crimes, they have been trained to devote most of it to an endless pursuit of minor offenders… so much so that they are willing to make mistakes like the arrest and detention of innocent citizens in the hopes of uncovering a major drug deal. And for the cop to witness the interaction in downtown Houston, and follow him onto the interstate instead of confronting him at the scene? Well, let’s just say it’s not only a waste of Mr. Snider’s time, but it’s also a complete waste of our tax money.

I too have been detained unfairly because an HPD cop thought I had drugs in my vehicle. Though unlike Mr. Snider, I was too scared to file a complaint, fearing possible retribution. Kudos to him for standing up against this atrocity.

Thankfully for Mr. Snider, the police owned up to their mistake on site. But what would’ve happened had they decided to formally arrest him and throw him in jail? For many people, an arrest record means that they are immediately at risk for losing their job. Once detained, that puts them at risk for eviction or foreclosure because they are unable to pay any of their bills on time. Just one unlucky encounter with a cop’s poor judgment can change the course of someone’s life for a long time.

Back before the election, I asked the Mayor about situations involving police mistreatment and brutality. She answered sincerely that steps have been taken to make filing a complaint against the department easier. But beyond changes outside of HPD, Mr. Snider’s incident reveals that much more work is still needed within to stop these abuses of power. I hope this becomes a priority in Parker’s third and final term.

Annise Parker, Partner Wed in California!!

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has already had a big start to 2014. She was newly inaugurated to her third and final term on January 2nd, and has hit the ground running with a new City Council in place. The local economy is in full swing, and everyone around the nation now has Houston on their list of “best cities” for one reason or another. And the Parker Administration has surprised quite a few with it’s quick “progressive shift”… passing a landmark ordinance to combat wage theft, tackling predatory lending practices, and announcing that city benefits will now be offered to same-sex spouses. Despite several attempts by the Harris County Republican Party to block the action, the new benefits coverage remains in effect.

But there’s at least one person that is still not eligible for those benefits… Houston’s First Lady Kathy Hubbard. Though she and Mayor Parker have been together 23 years, the state of Texas does not allow them to marry simply because they are gay. At one point, the Mayor stated that she wanted to be married in her home state of Texas, and was willing to wait around for the state-level ban to be struck down. But now, those plans have changed. Clifford Pugh of Culturemap Houston reported in late December that the Mayor was making plans to wed in Mid-January. This would be the assumed time as well because January 16th is the couple’s 23rd anniversary.  Sources confirmed to Texas Leftist that close friends of the couple were in route to Palm Springs, California. The Mayor and Hubbard were wed in a private ceremony.  

Now to be clear, the Mayor has said that the couple’s decision to get married is personal (as it should be), and has nothing to do with the city’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses. That was made because of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But even if the Mayor and First Lady stay out of the legal toggle, their marriage is sure to be news in the LGBT community.

This week Houston’s First Couple made it official. Stay tuned for updates. Congratulations to our Mayor and First Lady!!! 

(Please note: This post from Wednesday January 15th was updated to reflect confirmation on January 16th.)