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“Duck Dynasty And Quackery”: Intolerance That Is Disarming Is The Most Dangerous Kind

I must admit that I’m not a watcher of “Duck Dynasty,” but I’m very much aware of it. I, too, am from Louisiana, and the family on the show lives outside the town of Monroe, which is a little over 50 miles from my hometown. We’re all from the sticks.

So, when I became aware of the homophobic and racially insensitive comments that the patriarch on the show, Phil Robertson, made this week in an interview in GQ magazine, I thought: I know that mind-set.

Robertson’s interview reads as a commentary almost without malice, imbued with a matter-of-fact, this-is-just-the-way-I-see-it kind of Southern folksiness. To me, that is part of the problem. You don’t have to operate with a malicious spirit to do tremendous harm. Insensitivity and ignorance are sufficient. In fact, intolerance that is disarming is the most dangerous kind. It can masquerade as morality.

A&E, which airs “Duck Dynasty,” moved quickly to suspend Robertson, as his comments engaged the political culture wars, with liberals condemning him and conservatives — including Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a possible presidential candidate — rushing to his defense.

Let me first say that Robertson has a constitutionally protected right to voice his opinion and A&E has a corporate right to decide if his views are consistent with its corporate ethos. No one has a constitutional right to a reality show. I have no opinion on the suspension. That’s A&E’s call.

In fact, I don’t want to focus on the employment repercussions of what Robertson said, but on the content of it. In particular, I want to focus on a passage on race from the interview, in which Robertson says:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. …They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! …Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

While this is possible, it is highly improbable. Robertson is 67 years old, born into the Jim Crow South. Only a man blind and naïve to the suffering of others could have existed there and not recognized that there was a rampant culture of violence against blacks, with incidents and signs large and small, at every turn, on full display. Whether he personally saw interpersonal mistreatment of them is irrelevant.

Louisiana helped to establish the architecture for Jim Crow. First, there were the Black Codes that sought to control interactions between blacks and whites and constrain black freedom. The Jim Crow Encyclopedia even points out that in one Louisiana town, Opelousas, “freedmen needed the permission of their employers to enter town.”

Then, in 1890, the State Legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which stipulated that all railway companies in the state “shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races” in their coaches. The landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case was a Louisiana case challenging that law. The United States Supreme Court upheld the law, a ruling that provided the underpinning for state-sponsored racial segregation, and Jim Crow laws spread.

Robertson’s comments conjure the insidious mythology of historical Southern fiction, that of contented slave and benevolent master, of the oppressed and the oppressors gleefully abiding the oppression, happily accepting their wildly variant social stations. This mythology posits that there were two waves of ruination for Southern culture, the Civil War and the civil rights movement, that made blacks get upset and things go downhill.

Robertson’s comments also display a staggering ignorance about the place and meaning of song in African-American suffering. As for the singing of the blues in particular, the jazz musician Amina Claudine Myers points out in an essay that the blues was heard in the late 1800s and “came from the second generation of slaves, Black work songs, shouts and field hollers, which originated from African call-and-response singing.” Work songs, the blues and spirituals were not easily separated.

Furthermore, Robertson doesn’t seem to acknowledge the possibility that black workers he encountered possessed the most minimal social sophistication and survival skills necessary to not confess dissatisfaction to a white person on a cotton farm (no matter how “trashy” that white person might think himself).

It’s impossible to know if Robertson recognizes the historical resonance and logical improbability of his comments. But that’s not an excuse.

By: Charles. M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Extending The Hardship Exemption”: You Can Still Have Weak Health Insurance Under Obamacare, For Now

If you liked your old skimpy health plan, you may not be able to keep it. But now you can get a new, somewhat skimpy health plan instead, at least for a little while.

That’s a rough translation of an Obamacare policy change that the Administration announced on Thursday. The change, first reported by Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal, represents yet another effort to help people about to lose their existing insurance policies, usually because those policies do not comply with the Affordable Care Act’s standards for benefits and pricing. Those old policies left out major benefits, were sold only to people without pre-existing conditions, and so on.

As you know, plan cancellations have been a source of tremendous controversy—and, for the president, immense political grief. Some estimates have suggested several million people received these cancellation notices. The vast majority of those people have already found new coverage, either directly through insurers or through one of the Obamacare exchange websites, according to the Administration. While some are paying more money, others have discovered that the new policies are cheaper—or, at least, are grateful for the extra protection. Lucia Graves of National Journal wrote about some of their stories the other day.

But some people still haven’t found insurance. Administration officials think, based on conversations with state regulators and insurers, that about half a million people fall into this category. That’s half a million people who could, because of the individual mandate, face tax penalties because they have declined to get affordable coverage.

Now, however, people with cancelled policies have a new option. The individual mandate has always contained a hardship exemption: If you qualify for it, you don’t have to pay the penalty and you have access to the cheaper, slightly less comprehensive catastrophic insurance plans otherwise available only to people under 30. The only question with the hardship exemption has been who gets it. The law gives the administration flexibility over that question and, on Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that it would apply to people who just lost their policies and are unable to find replacements that cost the same or less money.

HHS made the announcement by posting a guidance and sending a letter to a half-dozen more conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus. And neither document answers all of the relevant questions, like how strictly the government will apply the new criteria or for how long this exemption will last. (Administration officials say it will be temporary.)

Conceptually, making the change is not so different from allowing more people to have grandfather protection for their existing coverage—after all, it’s basically telling people who have bare-bones coverage now that they can take out bare-bones policies next year. And imposition of the individual mandate was always supposed to be a gradual process. The financial penalty starts out relatively low, but will increase in 2015 and 2016. The administrative flexibility over the hardship exemption was designed to give the administration some leeway over enforcing the mandate, particularly early on, in order to ease the transition to a new and reformed insurance market. (The Massachusetts reforms, which were a model for the Affordable Care Act, also included a hardship exemption and called for increasing penalties over time.)

Administration officials don’t seem to think many people will take up this new option. They are probably right about that. Catastrophic policies aren’t dramatically different in coverage from the “bronze” policies, which cover 60 percent of the typical person’s medical expenses and comply with all Obamacare requirements. But if you buy a catastrophic policy, you’re not eligible for federal tax credits. If you buy a bronze policy, you are. As a result, most lower- and middle-income people would probably still find the bronze policies a better deal.

Still, some people—primarily, the ones who don’t qualify for subsidies—will opt for the catastrophic policies because they will be moderately cheaper. And some people will opt not to get insurance at all. That will mean fewer people in good health paying premiums for the exchange policies. That’s a potential problem for insurers, who count upon those premiums to offset the medical bills of people in poor health. (For health policy wonks: The catastrophic policies are an independent risk pool, separate from other policies in the exchanges. So for every person who selects one of those policies, that’s one fewer person putting premiums into the larger pot of money for the exchange policies.) There’s also a danger that, as Ezra Klein points out, the administration will come under more pressure to pull back on the mandate for other people. “This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” said Karen Ignani, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Yes, insurers say those sorts of things all the time. And this singular change probably won’t cause serious, irreparable harm, any more than any of the previous ones did. The number of people whose behavior changes is likely to be small and the new system is more resilient than most people realize. But even minor changes can become major if there are enough of them.

Note: This item has been updated. As a friend reminds me, even the catastrophic plans under Obamacare aren’t that skimpy. They still cover all essential benefits, for example, and the actuarial value really isn’t much different from bronze plans.

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, December 21, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Companies | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Champion Of The Poor?”: Paul Ryan’s Post-Epiphany Agenda Is Likely To Be Awfully Similar To His Pre-Epiphany Agenda

Just last month, the Washington Post ran a surprisingly uncritical, front-page article on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), celebrating the congressman for his efforts “fighting poverty and winning minds.” The gist of the piece was that the far-right congressman is entirely sincere about using conservative ideas – both economic and spiritual – to combat poverty.

BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins is thinking along similar lines.

Until recently, Paul Ryan would have seemed like an improbable pick to lead the restoration of compassionate conservatism with a heartfelt mission to the poor. Of all the caricatures he has inspired – from heroic budget warrior to black-hearted Scrooge – “champion of the poor” has never been among them. And yet, Ryan has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring, Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty – one he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue. […]

[T]hose closest to him say Ryan’s new mission is the result of a genuine spiritual epiphany – sparked, in part, by the prayer in Cleveland, and sustained by the emergence of a new pope who has lit the world on fire with bold indictments of the “culture of prosperity” and a challenge to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged.

Well, if those closest to Paul Ryan think we should see his concern for the poor as heartfelt, who am I to argue?

All kidding aside, I don’t know the congressman personally, and can’t speak to his sincerity. But ultimately, whether or not Ryan had a “genuine spiritual epiphany” doesn’t much matter – either the Wisconsinite has a policy agenda that will make a difference in the lives of those in poverty or he doesn’t.

And at least for now, he doesn’t. Though we have not yet seen the agenda Ryan intends to unveil in the spring, we’ve seen reports that his vision “relies heavily on promoting volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” He’s also reportedly focused on “giving poor parents vouchers or tax credits” for private education.

In other words, Ryan’s post-epiphany agenda is likely to be awfully similar to his pre-epiphany agenda.

What’s more, we’ve also seen plenty of other policy measures from the congressman. As we talked about in November, this is the same congressman whose original budget plan was simply brutal towards families in poverty, the same congressman who supports deep cuts to food stamps, the same congressman who wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare; and the same congressman who’s balked at raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits.

If Paul Ryan is the new model for the Republican Party’s anti-poverty crusader, struggling families should be terrified.

Jared Bernstein recently said of Ryan, “the emperor in the empty suit has no clothes,” adding:

Ryan Poverty Plan

1. Cut spending on the poor, cut taxes on the wealthy

2. Shred safety net through block granting federal programs

3. Encourage entrepreneurism, sprinkle around some vouchers and tax credits

4. ???

5. Poverty falls

If Ryan is in the midst of a personal transition from Ayn Rand to Scripture, more power to him. But I hope the political establishment, which has always taken the congressman a bit too seriously and accepted his radical vision with far too much credulity, will be duly skeptical as he slaps a fresh coat of paint on his old ideas.

Postscript: Peter Flaherty, a devout Catholic and former Romney adviser, told BuzzFeed, “What Pope Francis is doing is, instead of changing Catholicism, he’s changing the way the world views Catholicism… And I think Paul has the opportunity to do something similar for conservatism.”

Oh my.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meet The GOP’s New Black Friend”: What Exactly Does Mia Love Represent For The Republican Party?

When Allen West was defeated in the 2012 election and Tim Scott was appointed to serve out the term of retiring South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, that left Republicans back where they had usually been in the past, with not a single black Republican in the House of Representatives. This is something they aren’t particularly pleased about, which is why in the coming year you’re going to be hearing a lot about Mia Love, a candidate from Utah’s 4th district. Barring some shocking scandal, come November she’ll be bringing that number from zero up to one, and she’s going to become a right-wing celebrity. Mia Love is the Republicans’ New Black Friend.

You may remember Love from the 2012 Republican convention, where she gave a not-particularly-memorable speech. She couldn’t beat Jim Matheson, the conservative Democrat who represented the district, despite the fact that Mitt Romney won there by a 37-point margin. But now Matheson has just announced that he’s retiring, which makes Love’s election in what was supposed to be a rematch all but certain. So get ready: Mia Love is going to be the most famous Republican House candidate in the country. She’ll be on Fox News more often than Sean Hannity. She’ll be touted by all the conservative radio hosts. I’m betting they’ll put her on the cover of National Review. Because that’ll show those liberals.

I guess the question conservatives might ask is, “What’s wrong with that?” Lots of politicians are elevated by their party because of something that their personal story is supposed to represent. But the question is, what exactly does Mia Love represent for the Republican party? It’s not like she’s the first of a coming wave of black Republican leaders, and certainly not female black Republican leaders. That isn’t going to happen. It’s not like she is a harbinger of a change in the Republican approach toward African-Americans and other minority groups. Maybe she’ll turn out to be some spectacular talent who will rise to untold heights, but she hasn’t yet shown that she’s that, either.

Conservatives might also say, “Didn’t liberals love Barack Obama because he was black?” It’s true that Obama’s race was part of his appeal to the left. The difference is, first, that it was only part of it, while you could probably ask a hundred Republicans what they know about Mia Love and 99 of them would only be able to tell you one thing. But more importantly, in 2008 the elevation of an African-American presidential candidate was a genuine reflection of liberal values and history. Liberals are the ones who have always advocated for civil rights and continue to do so. Their party is the multicultural, multi-ethnic, multiracial one. They did want Obama’s nomination to say something about themselves, but it was something true. What do conservatives want Love’s election to say about them?

I suppose it’s possible that blacks (and members of other minority groups, too) will see all the attention Love will get and say, “Hmm, maybe those Republicans are changing.” Or they might think just the opposite, that they’re trying way too hard with her, and its a kind of tokenism that only reinforces their basic problem. That being said, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the GOP making Mia Love a star. There are black female conservatives out there—not many, but some. It’s only questionable if they try to use her election as evidence for an assertion that is otherwise without support, like “We’re not just the party of white people.” When nearly nine in ten of your voters are white, you are. Even if you elect one black Republican from Utah.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Welfare Queens? Welfare Kings Rule The Land”: For Corporations, Giving Is Giving And Taking Is Pure And Simply Taking It All

Since “welfare queens” and the idea of “givers versus takers” are the topic is “du jour” again, let’s look at the forgotten takers: the “welfare kings” on the corporate side.

Section 5010 of the U.S. tax code is a very interesting piece of federal law. Not to pick on my friends in the liquor industry, but we the taxpayers subsidize “flavored” liquors to the tune of $1.1 billion every 10 years. Think about it: when I turned 18 (yes I’m that old), I’d walk into a bar and there would be plain vodka, plain rum, plain gin, etc. Today, walk into a bar and there are thousands of flavors to be had. Why? Well because Section 5010 of the Internal Revenue Code gives distillers a “discount” for adding flavor. Makes sense right? Don’t get me wrong. I love my citrus flavored vodka with club soda. It’s refreshing but I’m not sure if it’s $1.1 billion worth of refreshment in these tight times.

Or take the domestic sugar industry. Case in point: I hate Valentine’s day but not for reasons you may think. It’s a made-up holiday so people tell each other they love each other. That’s ridiculous. So I’m forced to tell you I love you on this day or I’m in the doghouse? Um, not so much. If you have to be reminded to tell your loved one on that day you love them, then you pretty much suck anyway. This past V-Day, I was waiting in the green room for an appearance on MSNBC and I struck up a conversation with a representative from the candy industry. We were talking about this very issue of corporate subsidies and he told me this year, the U.S. government will buy back $80 million worth of sugar from the domestic sugar producers and store it in warehouses because prices didn’t meet government targets. I really kind of like being single, independent, carefree but I’ll be damned if I want my federal government propping up the domestic sugar industry so husbands across America can go buy crappy chocolate for their less-than-pleased spouses.

Or take the domestic oil and gas industries. They make the liquor industry look destitute. We the taxpayers subsidize companies like Chevron, Exxon and Shell to the tune of $7 billion a year. This confuses me. This confuses most Americans.

If you want to dive into the weeds on corporate subsidies, read this. It’ll blow your mind.

While we’re at it, let’s look at America’s small businesses. Every small business is allowed certain deductions, from business meals to gas or mileage to depreciation of computers. What is a deduction, really? It’s taxpayer-subsidized welfare. Greedy small business owners!

According to the Cato Institute, we the American people subsidize corporate America to the tune of more than $90 billion annually, while individual people on welfare only pull down around $59 billion. I like simple math. It’s easy for me to understand. Corporations are getting the better end of that bargain but I don’t hear Sen. Mitch McConnell and Reps. Jack Kingston and Bill Cassidy – the latest decriers of welfare – declaring a war on the corporate CEOs (who are actually driving real Cadillacs). The hypocrisy is staggering.

Let me be clear: These provisions may be good policy. You’re welcome to make that decision. My point is, if we are going to keep having a conversation about “welfare queens” then I’m going to wholeheartedly keep talking about the “welfare kings of industry.” After all, giving is giving and taking is pure and simple taking.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Here’s a great interactive map where you can pinpoint current data on “welfare queens” by state and congressional district. And Congressman Kingston, you best be thankful that a majority of the kids in your district can’t vote or you’d lose reelection.

 

By: Jimmy Williams, U. S. News and World Report, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Welfare | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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