2009 - %3, December

Jersey Shore: Yo, Is It Offensive?

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 8:26 PM EST

MTV's hit reality show Jersey Shore is becoming as well-known for its brawls as its Guido accents and big hair. In addition to the infamous Snooki bar fight, the show has sparked a tussle between the show's producers and Italian-American groups who claim it perpetuates offensive stereotypes (like the use of the word Guido).

While some advertisers have pulled their ads in retaliation, cries of bias have largely been brushed aside...and at face value, it does seem silly. The loud-mouthed, spray-haired, skin-baring Jersey stereotype has endured in everything from Marisa Tomei's Oscar-winning My Cousin Vinny performance to YouTube parodies like the 25-million-hits-and-counting "My New Haircut" (warning: it's R-rated). Why put up a fuss now? Plus, caricatures are the stuff reality TV is made of: Just ask the bimbo sexual opportunists of The Girls Next Door, spoiled rich kids of The Hills, or anyone who's ever been featured on Wife Swap.

But the "Jersey Guido" typecast is more deeply rooted in ethnicity and class than the typical reality TV circus, which makes the viewers' sense of superiority a little harder to stomach. It's telling that Italian-Americans are ticked about the portrayal, not the state of New Jersey. And the group tends to be lower-income and not highly educated. It's hard to imagine other reality TV shows based on that brand of bias—like, say, Harlem Ghetto or Mexican Immigrants of LA—getting a similar free pass from the PC Police.

Let's be real: The reason people love Jersey Shore is because it allows them to watch the brashness, cat fights, cleavage, and muscle tees, and think How ridiculous! Thank god I'm not like/better than that! Without the stereotypes, where would the fun come from?

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20 Things that Happen in 1 Minute

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 5:30 PM EST

Data nerd that I am, I can't help but pass along this interesting graphic. It's crazy to imagine that in the couple minutes it's taking me to post this, all these things are happening several times over.

every minute
H/T goes to Online Education for putting the graphic together.

Music: The Amazing Oscar Micheaux (Stace England and the Salt Kings)

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 3:51 PM EST

January/February 2010 Issue

The Salt Kings are a scruffy alt-country quartet from Illinois; Oscar Micheaux was a legendary African American film director whose career began in the silent era. An unlikely combination, perhaps, but Stace England and company draw plenty of inspiration from Micheaux, who challenged racism in more than 40 movies. England's long-standing interest in African American history (he previously made an album about a former slave house) enriches his latest effort. In some songs, including "Veiled Aristocrats" (about light-skinned blacks passing for white), he tackles the issues head on; in others, such as "The Betrayal," he does it indirectly. Either way, the high lonesome voices and scalding electric guitars are stirring.

Need to Read: December 28, 2009

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 2:17 PM EST

Hey readers and holiday revelers, welcome back! Get up to speed on the headlines with today's must-reads:

For more good reads, follow Mother Jones on Twitter! You can check out what we're tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

Sessions to Stanford: "I Love You..."

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 1:03 PM EST

Last February, the office of Rep. Pete Sessions initially claimed the congressman wasn't personally acquainted with alleged Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford, who'd donated generously to the Texas Republican's campaign over the years. Then pictures surfaced of Sessions with Stanford during a junket to Antigua in 2005. But how close were the pair really? Close enough for Sessions to use the L-word in an email he sent Stanford on February 17, 2009, hours after US Marshals raided Stanford Financial's Houston headquarters and the SEC charged the financier with bilking investors of some $8 billion. "I love you and believe in you," Sessions wrote, according to the Miami Herald. "If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail."

The disclosure of this sympathetic missive—which appears to suggest Sessions was willing to use his influential "voice" on Stanford's behalf—suggests that Sessions, along with other members of Congress, could be in for an unpleasant 2010. The Herald reports:

The message from the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee represents one of the many ties between members of Congress and the indicted banker that have caught the attention of federal agents.

The Justice Department is investigating millions of dollars Stanford and his staff contributed to lawmakers over the past decade to determine if the banker received special favors from politicians while building his spectacular offshore bank in Antigua, The Miami Herald has learned.

Agents are examining campaign dollars, as well as lavish Caribbean trips funded by Stanford for politicians and their spouses, feting them with lobster dinners and caviar.

For Sessions, this isn't the first time his ties to unsavory characters has been called into question. In 2006, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Justice Department complaint against Sessions accusing him of doing favors for the clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for donations to his political action committee, Pete PAC.

UPDATE: Sessions' office has provided TPMMuckraker with the following statement regarding his email to Stanford:

From the government that knighted him to Barack Obama and John McCain, Allen Stanford had everyone fooled, and as Mr. Stanford's scheme has become clear Congressman Sessions has worked to ensure that the investors Mr. Stanford swindled receive the justice they deserve - including signing a letter to the SEC requesting SIPC coverage for the victims.

While the referenced email cannot be authenticated, Congressman Sessions believes that its contents resemble language he would use to communicate with a person in crisis to encourage right decisions and prevent further tragedy.

With that being said, the Congressman maintains the position that Mr. Stanford should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Bravo. This heroic attempt at spin should really win some kind of award.

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Iran's Economy

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 12:18 PM EST

Conventional wisdom says that the Democratic Party's chances in next year's midterm election will mostly depend not on terrorism, not on healthcare, but on simple economics. If the economy is improving, they'll do OK.  If it's not, they'll get hammered.

Juan Cole suggests this dynamic may be playing out in Iran as well, where this weekend's demonstrations have grown ever bigger and more violent. Ideology may seem to be at the forefront, but the economy is probably playing a big role in the background:

Richard Spencer of the Independent reports from Dubai on the darker side of Sunday's events, as crowds went on rampages, setting fire to banks, government buildings and even a local police station....

The report of attacks on banks makes me think that there is an economic dimension to this uprising. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's profligate spending had provoked very high inflation last year, up to nearly 30%. Although the government maintains that inflation is now running 15%, that is still a hit that average families are taking, on top of the high prices of last year.

....Moreover, as as Robert Worth recently reported, the government has been threatening to remove subsidies from staples. I was in Egypt in January of 1977 when President Anwar El Sadat stopped subsidies under pressure from the IMF, and it threw the country into 3 days of turmoil from Aswan to Alexandria. Iranians have been upset by this talk of no more subsidies and it may have fed economic anxieties already inflamed by the high inflation (in fact, removal of subsidies is essentially a form of price inflation for consumers).

More at the link.

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Modern Conservativism

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 11:57 AM EST

Here's the last two weeks in a nutshell:

Conservative response to a guy setting his underwear on fire on an airplane: It's Obama's fault! We should declare war on Yemen! We should stop allowing Muslims on our airplanes! We need to connect the dots! We're all going to die!

Conservative response to providing healthcare to 30 million Americans: It's socialism! It's going to bankrupt America! It's Chicago thug politics! It's going to kill grandma! It's going to turn our healthcare system into an abattoir!

Conservative response to regulating the financial industry that almost destroyed America's banking system: It's Marxism! It's going to cause hyperinflation! It's Uncle Sam's jackboot on the commerce of the country! It's the end of innovation! Buy gold!

Conservative response to catastrophic climate change: It's a hoax from the liberal media. Pay no attention to it.

Feel free to add your own observations in comments.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 28, 2009

Mon Dec. 28, 2009 11:44 AM EST

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. displays some holiday spirit Dec. 21, as he speaks to the Soldiers of 1st Armored Division in Germany, about their role in their upcoming deployment to Iraq and how the Afghanistan troop surge will affect it. (US Army photo.)

Quote of the Day: Fiscal Conservatism

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 11:18 AM EST

From Sen Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), on his dedication to fiscal prudence:

Six years ago, "it was standard practice not to pay for things," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question."

Note to Hatch: It has never been "standard practice" not to pay for things. It was a short-lived innovation of the Bush/Rove White House not to pay for things. And no, you showed no serious concern about it at the time. Other than that, you're right.

No Drama Obama

| Sat Dec. 26, 2009 3:51 PM EST

Adam Nagourney yesterday:

As much as Mr. Obama presented himself as an outsider during his campaign, a lesson of this battle is that this is a president who would rather work within the system than seek to upend it. He is not the ideologue ready to stage a symbolic fight that could end in defeat; he is a former senator comfortable in dealing with the arcane rules of the Senate and prepared to accept compromise in search of a larger goal. For the most part, Democrats on Capitol Hill have stuck with him.

And Ross Douthat:

Obama baffles observers, I suspect, because he’s an ideologue and a pragmatist all at once. He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf. He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

....In hindsight, the most prescient sentence penned during the presidential campaign belongs to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. “Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama,” he wrote in July 2008, “is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.”

I think the thing that surprises me is that anyone ever thought otherwise. Among low-information voters I understand the disconnect: they heard hopey-changiness, haven't really gotten it, and are disappointed. But even some very high-information voters seem to be disappointed the same way, and it's baffling. Obama's entire career has been one of low-key, pragmatic leadership. He's clearly a mainstream liberal, but during the Democratic primaries he was famously the least progressive (by a small margin) of the three major candidates on domestic issues. He did everything he could to avoid taking dangerously inflammatory stands on hot-button social issues. His advisors during the campaign were nearly all members in good standing of the center left. His nickname was "No Drama Obama," and his temperament was plainly cautious, sober, and businesslike.

This was all pretty obvious during the campaign, and everybody understood it perfectly well when Republicans went crazy and started tarring him a radical socialist and a bomb-throwing revolutionary. Remember how we mocked all that stuff? But I guess that deep down, an awful lot of people were hoping that he was just play acting during the campaign, pretending to be a solid citizen while the real Obama was plotting to turn us into Sweden.

Personally, I wish Obama would articulate the liberal agenda more full-throatedly, and I wish he'd take a few more risks and push his own caucus a little harder. I've thought that ever since the 2008 campaign. But the fact that he hasn't hardly comes as a surprise. He's as liberal a president as we've had in 40 years, but he's no starry-eyed idealist. Why would anyone ever have thought differently?