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“Duck Dynasty Bigots Will Fade Into Obscurity”: The Robertsons Are Country-Clubbers Posing As Rednecks

Now that I’ve actually seen a few episodes, Duck Dynasty is relatively harmless entertainment. Whatever “reality TV” means, it’s definitely not that. It’s a semi-scripted sitcom, basically cornball self-parody. Think Hee Haw without the music. I find it utterly inane, but then I don’t watch TV with children.

The “tell” is the show’s women; cute Southern sorority girls turned mommies. In real life, no way would those women tolerate their “menfolk” running around looking like a truckload of ZZ Top impersonators. They’re also not going on TV with hay in their hair like some Hollywood director’s idea of a country girl. Every comedy needs a straight man; on Duck Dynasty it’s the women.

But realism? Please. The beards, hair and overalls are costumes every bit as theatrical as the outfits the Rolling Stones wear onstage. In the rural Arkansas county where I live, you could hang around the feed store for a month without seeing anybody like Duck Dynasty “patriarch” (and head bigot) Phil Robertson. And if you did, his wife wouldn’t have any teeth.

The Robertsons are country-clubbers posing as rednecks. Duck hunting itself — requiring, as it does, quite a bit of expensive gear and pricey leases — is mainly a rich man’s pastime in the South. Deer hunting makes economic sense; duck hunting’s a luxury. It’s what doctors, lawyers and bankers do when the weather’s too lousy for golf. Bill Clinton used to go duck hunting once a year to prove he loved guns.

(My own most recent—and final—duck hunting trip began with me tasked with lugging an outboard motor across a muddy soybean field at 5:30 AM. Never again.)

But I digress. Although many Southerners wince at yokel stereotypes, the basic Duck Dynasty joke is that every redneck is a Peter Pan at heart. The Robertson men spend their time bickering like children and making mischief with pickup trucks, ATVs, shotguns, handguns, deer rifles, chainsaws, outboard motors, dynamite, etc. Basically anything that makes loud noises and/or throws mud around.

How long, I wonder, before the Duck Dynasty boys endorse the “Bad Boy” brand of riding mowers? Currently represented by a half-clothed model urging guys to “Get a Bad Boy, Baby!” these machines have the magical capacity to convert a tax accountant mowing a suburban half-acre under his wife’s supervision to a daredevil NASCAR racer. Yee Haw!

But the laughter ended abruptly when “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson inserted himself into the nation’s vituperative culture wars. The whole thing looked like a publicity stunt gone wrong—possibly successful in the short run, but almost certain to prove destructive in the end.

Concerning which, a few thoughts:

First, Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal notwithstanding, nobody has a First Amendment right to appear on TV. Make controversial public pronouncements deeply offensive to your employers, and you’d better have a backup plan.

The creator and producer of Duck Dynasty is one Scott Gurney, who once appeared in a gay-themed film called The Fluffer. (Don’t ask.)

The guy helps make you rich and famous, and you denounce gays as evil? That’s appalling.

Second, it has nothing to do with Christianity. Robertson didn’t just say he’s against gay marriage, nor even that God is. He spoke in the coarsest possible terms about homosexuality, equating it with bestiality.

He’s elsewhere characterized gay men and women as “full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.”

Here’s my favorite moral philosopher, Fox News’ own Bill O’Reilly:

“It’s not about the Bible, or believing or not believing in the Bible. It’s singling out a group, could be any group, and saying to that group ‘Hey, you’re not worthy. You’re not worthy in the eyes of the Lord, or in the eyes of God, you’re not worthy because of who you are.’ So once you get that personal, once you get down into that kind of a realm, problems arise.”

Third, 10 years ago, many of the same people portraying Robertson as a martyr burned Dixie Chicks CDs and cheered their banishment from country radio stations for the terrible crime of saying they were embarrassed by George W. Bush before everybody was.

And those girls have genuine talent.

Fourth, as for the happy, singing darkies of Robertson’s Louisiana childhood, where are they on Duck Dynasty? Know what the African-American population of Monroe/West Monroe is? It’s roughly 60 percent. I’ve seen no black faces on the program.

Another prominent American from West Monroe is Boston Celtics great Bill Russell—a black man who’s been known to have strong opinions about race. Maybe Robertson ought to talk with him, although it wouldn’t be easy.

Duck Dynasty may be this month’s right wing cause célèbre. Longer term, however, unapologetic bigots always fade into obscurity, basically because they embarrass people.

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fear Economy”: The Economy May Be Lousy For Workers, But Corporate America Is Doing Just Fine

More than a million unemployed Americans are about to get the cruelest of Christmas “gifts.” They’re about to have their unemployment benefits cut off. You see, Republicans in Congress insist that if you haven’t found a job after months of searching, it must be because you aren’t trying hard enough. So you need an extra incentive in the form of sheer desperation.

As a result, the plight of the unemployed, already terrible, is about to get even worse. Obviously those who have jobs are much better off. Yet the continuing weakness of the labor market takes a toll on them, too. So let’s talk a bit about the plight of the employed.

Some people would have you believe that employment relations are just like any other market transaction; workers have something to sell, employers want to buy what they offer, and they simply make a deal. But anyone who has ever held a job in the real world — or, for that matter, seen a Dilbert cartoon — knows that it’s not like that.

The fact is that employment generally involves a power relationship: you have a boss, who tells you what to do, and if you refuse, you may be fired. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If employers value their workers, they won’t make unreasonable demands. But it’s not a simple transaction. There’s a country music classic titled “Take This Job and Shove It.” There isn’t and won’t be a song titled “Take This Consumer Durable and Shove It.”

So employment is a power relationship, and high unemployment has greatly weakened workers’ already weak position in that relationship.

We can actually quantify that weakness by looking at the quits rate — the percentage of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs (as opposed to being fired) each month. Obviously, there are many reasons a worker might want to leave his or her job. Quitting is, however, a risk; unless a worker already has a new job lined up, he or she doesn’t know how long will it take to find a new job, and how that job will compare with the old one.

And the risk of quitting is much greater when unemployment is high, and there are many more people seeking jobs than there are job openings. As a result, you would expect to see the quits rate rise during booms, fall during slumps — and, indeed, it does. Quits plunged during the 2007-9 recession, and they have only partially rebounded, reflecting the weakness and inadequacy of our economic recovery.

Now think about what this means for workers’ bargaining power. When the economy is strong, workers are empowered. They can leave if they’re unhappy with the way they’re being treated and know that they can quickly find a new job if they are let go. When the economy is weak, however, workers have a very weak hand, and employers are in a position to work them harder, pay them less, or both.

Is there any evidence that this is happening? And how. The economic recovery has, as I said, been weak and inadequate, but all the burden of that weakness is being borne by workers. Corporate profits plunged during the financial crisis, but quickly bounced back, and they continued to soar. Indeed, at this point, after-tax profits are more than 60 percent higher than they were in 2007, before the recession began. We don’t know how much of this profit surge can be explained by the fear factor — the ability to squeeze workers who know that they have no place to go. But it must be at least part of the explanation. In fact, it’s possible (although by no means certain) that corporate interests are actually doing better in a somewhat depressed economy than they would if we had full employment.

What’s more, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that this reality helps explain why our political system has turned its backs on the unemployed. No, I don’t believe that there’s a secret cabal of C.E.O.’s plotting to keep the economy weak. But I do think that a major reason why reducing unemployment isn’t a political priority is that the economy may be lousy for workers, but corporate America is doing just fine.

And once you understand this, you also understand why it’s so important to change those priorities.

There’s been a somewhat strange debate among progressives lately, with some arguing that populism and condemnations of inequality are a diversion, that full employment should instead be the top priority. As some leading progressive economists have pointed out, however, full employment is itself a populist issue: weak labor markets are a main reason workers are losing ground, and the excessive power of corporations and the wealthy is a main reason we aren’t doing anything about jobs.

Too many Americans currently live in a climate of economic fear. There are many steps that we can take to end that state of affairs, but the most important is to put jobs back on the agenda.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Economy, Jobs | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Yes, A Birthright To Health Care”: America Joins The Developed World, Thanks To Obamacare

I’m sitting here very early Christmas Eve morning staring at a chart from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. You know the OECD—they’re the people who keep all those annoying stats about how the United States is 17th in this and 32nd in that, the kind that alas aren’t very surprising anymore except that they do make us shake our heads and wonder how we managed to come in behind even Belarus.

This chart is on an Excel spreadsheet, so I can’t provide a link, but it shows access to “health insurance coverage for a core set of services, 2009.” It then lists the 34 OECD member states, showing percentages of citizens with “total public coverage” and with “primary private health coverage.”

tomasky-insurance-chart

In 19 countries, 100 percent of the population is covered via public insurance. In 11 more, more than 95 percent are covered the same way. So all but four countries basically provide universal or near-universal public coverage. In Turkey, Mexico, and Chile, between 70 and 80 percent are covered—also publicly. In the United States, that number is 26.4 percent. That’s the seniors, the veterans, and the very poor who get direct public health care. We then add 54.9 percent who get private coverage. No other country even bothers with private coverage at all, except Germany a little bit (10.8 percent). Our two numbers add up to 81.3 percent, ranking us 31st out of the 34. The rest of the advanced world, in other words, with not all that much fuss and contention, has come around to the idea that health coverage is a right.

As I think back over 2013, in my sunnier moments, I try to think of it as the year that future historians will point to as the time when the United States finally and grudgingly started joining this world consensus. Sometime in the 2030s, after Medicare for all has passed and we’re finally and sensibly paying taxes for preventive cradle-to-grave care, people will note—with pride!—that the long process started with Obamacare (yes, conservatives: I’m admitting gleefully that the elephant’s nose is under the door, so spare yourselves the trouble of thinking you’re clever by tweeting it!).

There were of course other important stories in the year now ending. For my number two, I’d choose Iran and Syria; that’s certainly one to watch heading into next year. Barack Obama mishandled Syria with all that talk of red lines that ended up being unenforced, badly letting down the small-d democrats in the region who count on the United States to countervail Iran. On the other hand, those chemical weapons actually are being destroyed, evidently. On the other other hand, the slaughter continues, and we will do nothing. Even a deal with Iran on nuclear technology, certainly a thing to be celebrated in one respect, will also allow Iran to show the region (that is, Saudi Arabia, its main competitor for regional domination) that it’s in the big leagues now too. As is typical in that part of the world, no diplomatic development is all good or all bad.

But this has been the year of Obamacare first and foremost. And next year pretty much will be, too. I’m glad the website was fixed, and glad for the apparent surge in the enrollment numbers. But it’s still the case for the change to take root and really succeed, Democrats from Obama on down have to defend this policy on principled terms, not just practical ones.

That is—right now, Democrats and progressive groups are mostly trying to get people to sign up for coverage by scaring them into thinking they might break their leg. But there are two problems with this approach. One, most people don’t break their leg. I’ve been on this planet 53 years and I’ve never broken a bone.

Two, it’s not completely honest as a selling point. Yes, liberals are concerned that people who face injury have coverage. But that’s not the main reason liberals support health care reform. We support it because we think health care coverage should be a right, and this is a big step down that road, or the best step we could make under current reality. Like any right, it comes with responsibility, so that’s why you have to buy it. But it’s a right. It’s not an extravagance or something you earn by having a better-than-Walmart-level job. You “earn” it by doing something a lot simpler than that—you earn it by being born.

This is one of those occasions where I wish desperately that Democratic politicians would just say what they believe without worrying how it’s going to be played in Politico or what those fat-mouth propagandists on the right are going to say about it. Obamacare isn’t just about getting people to fear illness or injury. It’s about changing people’s minds about what health coverage fundamentally is. And they’re not going to change any minds unless they’re willing to say that.

Hey, I’ve kept flipping through those OECD spread sheets and I’ve found some things we’re number one in. Male obesity—70.3 percent in 2011! Female obesity, too—56.1 percent! Infant mortality rate of 6.1 per 1,000 live births! Okay, we trail Mexico and Turkey there, but still. Income inequality—well, thank God for Turkey, Mexico, and Chile. Whoever let them in was really thinking ahead, so at least we’d look OK compared to someplace.

Something like reducing obesity can be best done through preventive care that kicks in well before a person has a BMI in the 40s. Obamacare already has started the process of changing this. More than 5 million Medicare recipients are getting free preventive treatments across a range of categories (PDF). That’s health care as a right. Democrats need to be unapologetic in talking like that.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rove’s Republican Rivals Step Up”: With The Bloom Off The Rose, Struggle Over Money And Influence Is Roiling The Republican Party

About a year ago at this time, Karl Rove found himself in a fairly awkward position. While maintaining a prominent media role as a campaign analyst, the Republican strategist was also raising truckloads full of cash for his Crossroads operation, which was trying to buy victories for the candidates Rove was covering.

The result was a rather striking fiasco. Rove burned through several hundred million dollars, but lost nearly every race he targeted, culminating in an unfortunate on-air tantrum. Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said at the time that “in any logical universe,” Rove “would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again.”

Indeed, a Republican operative told the Huffington Post, “The billionaire donors I hear are livid…. There is some holy hell to pay.”

A year later, on a superficial level, much of the landscape appears similar – Rove still enjoys his media perches, still leads the Crossroads attack operation, and still hopes wealthy far-right donors will finance his election plans. But Nick Confessore reports that there’s one important difference: Rove has more intra-party rivals, hoping to take advantage of his record of failure.

A quiet but intense struggle over money and influence is roiling the Republican Party just as the 2014 election season is getting underway.

At least a dozen “super PACs” are setting up to back individual Republican candidates for the United States Senate, challenging the strategic and financial dominance that Karl Rove and the group he co-founded, American Crossroads, have enjoyed ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 cleared the way for unlimited independent spending.

In wooing donors, the new groups – in states like Texas, Iowa, West Virginia and Louisiana – are exploiting Crossroads’ poor showing in 2012, when $300 million spent by the super PAC and a sister nonprofit group yielded few victories. Some are suggesting that Crossroads’ deep ties to the Republican establishment and recent clashes with conservative activists are a potential liability for Republican incumbents facing Tea Party challengers.

It wasn’t too long ago that Rove’s name carried almost mythical weight in Republican circles, which no doubt made a difference when Crossroads approached donors for checks. But after 2012, the bloom is off the rose. Rove’s reputation took a hit and it hasn’t recovered.

In some respects, this is overdue. In 2000, it was Rove’s idea to keep George W. Bush in California in the campaign’s waning days, instead of stumping in key battleground states. Bush lost California by a wide margin, and Rove’s strategy practically cost his candidate the election.

In 2006, after nearly getting indicted, Rove’s sole responsibility was overseeing the Republican Party’s 2006 election strategy. At the time, he told NPR in late October that he’d found a secret math that gave him insights that mere mortals can’t comprehend, and soon after, Democrats won back both the House and Senate in a historic victory.

And then in 2012, Rove managed to strike out in ignominious fashion with other people’s money, raising questions anew about whether his reputation was ever fully deserved.

The result is skeptical GOP donors who not only see Rove as someone who can’t deliver victories, but also part of a tired Republican Beltway establishment that’s lost perspective. With the proliferation of groups similar to Crossroads, Rove has to worry about competition within his own party in ways he’s not accustomed to.

 

By: Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Say The American People, And History”: Confirmed, This Is The Worst Congress Ever

Though millions of Americans received Christmas gifts Wednesday, none got the one thing just about everybody wanted. No, not a new iPhone: A new Congress.

Two-thirds of Americans in a CNN poll released Thursday said the current Congress was the worst one in their lifetimes. And it wasn’t just one party or demographic who felt that way.

“That sentiment exists among all demographic and political subgroups. Men, women, rich, poor, young, old — all think this year’s Congress has been the worst they can remember,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

Three cheers for bipartisanship!

Meanwhile, three-fourths of respondents said lawmakers had “done nothing to address the country’s problems” through the first year of the 113th Congress. That gets at what’s primarily to blame for Congress’ horrible image: Lawmakers didn’t do much of anything this year, and the few things they did do were spectacularly infuriating. Heck, one of Congress’ most notable actions was failing to pass a bill to fund the government and, as a result, shuttering Washington for two weeks.

It’s not just a skewed, subjective view of congressional inaction either. The 113th Congress is statistically on track to be one of the least productive in history.

The 113th Congress passed only 66 laws in its first year, according to GovTrack. That was the lowest tally in four decades, or as far back as GovTrack has reliable data. Worse, only 58 of those bills became law, and many of them did nothing more than name post offices.

Meanwhile, many enormously popular bills fizzled. Nine in ten Americans supported tougher background checks for gun purchases, though Congress spiked gun control legislation. Two-thirds of Americans supported the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill, but the House refused to take it up this year.

So yes, people aren’t too thrilled with how Congress has been functioning, a sentiment that’s been made clear throughout the year. Polls have found Congress less popular than dog turds and cockroaches, and in November, Congress’ approval rating fell to an all-time low of nine percent, according to Gallup.

Don’t count on that trend turning around any time soon either. Sure, Congress just passed a bipartisan budget agreement before fleeing Washington for the holidays, but that compromise was relatively tiny, and there are other major showdowns looming, including yet another one over the debt ceiling. Oh, and 2014 is a midterm election year, which should make lawmakers even more tepid toward major action.

In other words, the 113th Congress is already one of the most unpopular and least-productive in history, and it’s probably only going to get worse.

 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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