Enough is Ducking Enough

Okay – I’m tired of the damned Duck Dynasty Crap.  I could not care less which side you support or what your beliefs in Jesus are or are not.  But in the hopes that I can get a few people to stop talking about a redneck duck hunter from Louisiana and his views on Gay and Black people, I’m going to give my two cents.
1)While you were all in a state of apoplexy that an old, white, southerner from the middle of nowhere found gay sex gross and didn’t understand the plight of Black people a few important things were going on.

  • As a way to settle a lawsuit amongst VISA, MasterCard, and American Express and various merchants, a district court judge approved an agreement that allows merchants to charge more to credit card users with the approval of the credit card companies (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/business/an-easing-of-rules-on-charges-by-amex.html?hp&_r=0).  So whatever crap you plan to buy for Christmas that you’re already going to pay more for via interest charges, you can now pay a surcharge for using your plastic – because the merchants and the credit card companies agreed that you should.   You should be pissed off about this, but by all means, be upset that A&E said we are suspending the guy who said nasty stuff about Gays and Blacks.
  • A group of activists protesting fracking invaded the Devon Tower in Oklahoma City to spread their message (http://www.koco.com/news/oklahomanews/okc/okc-protestors-slapped-with-terrorism-charges/-/11777584/23477498/-/hsyc0r/-/index.html).  While two chained themselves to the door, several made it to the second floor and unfurled banners in support of the Great Plains Tar Sand Resistance and their opposition to fracking.  The banners contained glitter (yes, that’s right, glitter) but the police, claiming ignorance of a substance a kindergartner could identify, arrested as many as twelve protesters and charged them with terrorism.  That’s right, terrorism.   But yes, please tell me how the duck guy has had his rights infringed upon.
  • The Pew Research Center released data (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/19/global-inequality-how-the-u-s-compares/) that demonstrated that the United States distribution of income ranks ahead of only Chile, that we are behind virtually every other nation.  Perhaps even more startling was that the data led them to conclude that, unlike the continuous claim of the right that social welfare leads to the poor being takers, the use of social welfare puts even more money in the hands of the wealthy – the income gap widens after taxes and payouts of social program moneys.

This is just some of the bigger stuff – there were myriad smaller stories, like a 5-year old being hogtied by police for assaulting them, or the strip search of an Indian diplomat ordered by US authorities.

I am not saying that it was okay what this man said.  I am not saying that A&E is wrong in this case (see below).  My point is that we are getting caught up in cultural nonsense when truly important stuff is happening all around us, things that will affect us in a far greater and more meaningful way than this duck guy’s opinions on gay sex and the Jim Crow south and slavery.

Image2) I’m going to lay some things out for those of you who still care, who cannot be convinced that this crap doesn’t matter.

  • There is no constitutional issue here.  I am sick to death of hearing “what about his rights to free speech” from Robertson, Robertson’s family (http://duckcommander.com/news/robertson-family-offical-statement#.UrXQIK7aK3l.facebook) and his myriad of supporters from Fox News and Facebook.
    Only A&E is taking a stand here.  As a corporation, they are entitled to say “we no longer want to do business with Phil Robertson” because his comments harm them as a corporate entity.  Period.  The constitution has nothing to do with the relationship between A&E and Robertson.Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States
  • I have spent a lifetime hearing that Christianity is a religion of love, and I will say that when I have read the words of Jesus Christ, I read love, not hate.  And yet for that same lifetime, I have heard Christians say some pretty awful things and couch them in “hey, it’s just what my religion tells me.No…it…doesn’t.  Sorry.  Nowhere in the Bible does your god call on you to hate others.  Christ hung around with some pretty sketchy characters.  And while you all like to pretend that just because Paul said in Corinthians that certain people cannot inherit the kingdom of God, elsewhere in that same book, Christ said that salvation comes through God and God alone.  Let me break it down.  You can read your Bible and use it as the guide to your life.  But if doesn’t give you any insight into who is going to heaven.  You don’t decide – and neither did Paul, or any of Christ’s other followers if that’s the sort of thing you believe in.Let me also quote my good friend Chris P. from Houston  – “I do not need a supernatural being to give me an instruction manual on how to treat people who are different from me.”  Yeah, it really is that simple.
  • Lastly, this is not an attack on religious freedom.  Those who are in opposition to what Phil Robertson said are opposed to the bigotry and lack of understanding in which he wrapped his comments.    Phil Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality, he went beyond Biblical belief.  He gave his commentary on the condition of the Jim Crow south, statements borne of ignorance.  His statement that he never personally saw violence against African Americans is plausible.  He also said that being from the same class (“poor white trash” in his words) there was some sense of togetherness  he felt while working side by side (“I was with the blacks”), and this is also believable.   What Phil clearly did not get was African Americans’ unhappiness with the status quo of 1950s and 1960s Louisiana,or what singing represented in plantation work.  And again, this is simply plain unfamiliarity.And here is the problem.  Issues of ignorance and unfamiliarity are teaching moments.  Most of my friends are engaged in the process of teaching, and this is a teaching moment if I have ever seen one.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying “let’s line up and all give Phil a history lesson.”  What I am saying is that instead of de-friending each other, and yelling, and screaming, and posting angry messages on each other’s Facebook walls, let’s all take a second and do what we love…teach.

Pew Research Center Reveals Startling Data

ImageIt has been a long time since I’ve seen or heard a story or report on the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I have not read about a protest, seen a report on an action, or a street closure.  It is easy to pretend that as the ruling class promised, the movement burned bright and then petered out because of the assumed nature of the protesters.  Or, perhaps, as another line of  ruling class narrative went, the problems were over-stated to begin with, and the US is actually the greatest nation with the greatest amount of economic opportunity.

Well, clearly Occupy has not gone away (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/12/01/world/occupy-wall-street-activists-buy-up-americans-personal-debt/#.UrSYf7T-1iM), one just needs to know where to go to find the news.  However, was the ruling class correct, were the problems overstated?  Were people really manipulating numbers when  they said the top 1% received 95% of the income growth in the recovery, or that the income earned by the 1% now exceeded that of the era right before the Great Depression?

While the meaning of various 1% measurements can be debated and parsed by economists from all sides of the political spectrum, what cannot be denied is that the US is no longer THE land of economic opportunity.  According to data released this week by the Pew Research Center.  In terms of economic equality, the United States ranks behind nations such as Ireland, Chile, and Portugal.

The Pew Center’s data comes from a study done by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which analyzed information “after taxes and transfers.”  Or put in simpler terms, after taxes and redistributive “entitlements” such as social security, welfare benefits, unemployment benefits and other ameliorative measures are deducted.   The hallmark of the OECD analysis is the use of the Gini coefficient that measures inequality based on the frequency of distribution, thus purporting to be a more accurate measure of inequality when compared to simple income or wealth levels.   The headline in the Pew Center’s release of the report, and indeed their accompanying graph suggested (if one only gave a cursory read)  that the US ranks tenth in income distribution.  However the story revealed something far more damning (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/19/global-inequality-how-the-u-s-compares/).

The OECD measures distribution before and after the tax and social welfare disbursements, and the US does indeed rank tenth pre-tax and transfer.  However, after the transfers, the US ranks ahead of only Chile.  Let that sink in for a moment:  the US has the second highest level of income inequality in the worldSo what does this mean for the US economy, for those who tell us we have the greatest everything, and perhaps worst of all, that the poor already have too much?     Image

First and foremost it means that they are dreadfully, stunningly, startlingly wrong.  The argument that many on the right make, such as the Cato Institute , and politicians from Paul Ryan to Jack Kingston, is that the poor have It too easy, that they are getting more than their share, and perhaps most disgustingly, they are “takers.”  However the OECD report suggests that after transfers, the takers are not actually the poor, but rather the ruling class (go ahead, tell me you could not see it coming).  The income “gap” actually widens after taxes and transfers.    This should not actually come as a shock – we live in a nation that condones Walmart and McDonalds paying their employees so little that they have no choice (and in fact are encouraged) but to apply for food stamps and other welfare benefits, making the real beneficiary the corporation, not the individual.

But the data points to a more  fundamental issue of this economy.  There was much handwringing and shouting from the rooftops that the US was headed down the dire road of socialism should we support things like the Obama stimulus packages.  Those on the right behaved as if they were latter day Paul Reveres, awakening us to the arrival of the communists; the so-called left in this country claimed the stimulus was necessary but then cravenly allowed nearly 2/3 of it to fall into private hands in the form of tax cuts and rebates.  But there was a third option, that this Pew Center data can only hint at, but it IS in fact in the numbers.

Most of the money ended up in private hands anyway, that is the takeaway.  But imagine if in 2009 instead of a milquetoast stimulus, the president, on the heels of a historic victory that was in fact a mandate, had proposed a strong stimulus that focused on increasing consumption.  A package of incentives that truly DID redistribute money, that gave incentives for hiring, one that created new consumers – not by the thousands but by the hundreds of thousands.  The economy would have rolled, the rich would have still become richer, and there would be a more equitable distribution of income