Polispeak: February 2006: Archives

February 8, 2006

The Message is 'King' genre: Polispeak

Before Coretta Scott King was able to reach her final resting place, comments made at her funeral upholding the underlying principles of non-violence, that were the hallmark of the King legacy, were being characterized as rude by those who, in contrast, routinely acquiesce to politicking and force when confronted with opposition. In true form, it took only moments for these privileged polibots to attempt to diminish the message and the messengers. Those who sought to pay homage to the King’s, spoke words that captured the essence and the purpose of their lives. Apparently, many Bush supporters felt those remarks were inappropriate and an affront towards the President. To criticize and call for the silencing of such remarks, made at a funeral for a woman who had lived a life of socio-political commentary and engagement, is tantamount to calling for surrender. Excuse me, but it is the invited guests and speakers that determine the decorum of a funeral. This was a funeral of choice, not an accident. The message intended was the message delivered.

Those who spoke this truth could have paid Coretta Scott King no better tribute.

The King’s and other icons of civil rights and social justice had no armies. Their weapons were their words…truth spoken to hypocrisy…truth spoken to indifference…truth spoken to bigotry…pure…simple…spoken truth. Hence, despite the feigned protestations and assertions of bad manners, those who spoke this truth could have paid Coretta Scott King no better tribute. Her death, rather than the natural silencing of a cause, was a call for a recommitment to the cause. It was a call to arms…a war with words as weapons spoken to restate the message of non-violent, yet unwavering objection to a status quo that divides, diminishes, and disenfranchises.

Day in and day out, Americans, who disagree with the policies of President Bush, see him make speeches to partisan crowds that are screened for dissenters and armed with softball questions meant to magnify the intended message of this President. Protestors have been removed from such events. In fact, at the State of the Union address, a message on a shirt led to the removal of Cindy Sheehan and the wife of a Republican congressman. Network apologists routinely excuse such practices stating that this President isn’t comfortable in an informal setting and isn’t an adept conversationalist. Is his Karl Rove strategy more acceptable because it’s deliberate but unspoken? Is a sincere message spoken in full view more insidious than a crafted one designed to diminish accountability and discussion?

Yesterday, there was also criticism of former President Jimmy Carter when he left the dais and walked past President Bush without an acknowledgment. Not one analyst brought forward any plausible explanations. It was simply viewed as a snubbing. It could have been a simple oversight or it could have been a response to the snubbing administered by President Bush when he bumped President Carter from the contingent attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Instead Kate O’Beirne is allowed to screech her hyperbolic assertion that President Carter is perhaps a worse former President than he was a sitting President. Apparently, decorum should be dictated by detractors but only when applied to Democrats. Nonetheless, despite this display of bad manners and poor judgment, the King family saw fit to invite President Bush to attend and to speak.

President Carter’s invoking the face of Katrina and domestic surveillance was also roundly criticized as inappropriate. Perhaps I’m biased but the contrast between the lack of response to a dead black woman in a wheelchair left seated outside the New Orleans convention center for days and attending Coretta Scott King’s funeral cannot go unmentioned. Are we to believe this President makes no political calculations? He may have found himself surprised and uncomfortable at the funeral but the stark comparison to the indignity of being left dead for days is all the perspective I need. Please, tell me which President represents the causes of African Americans? Isn’t it time white America stop offering condolences and apologies and begin to offer something tangible?

Pardon the indignation but George Bush cannot cater to wealthy white America for five years and expect Democrats to stand by and accept the outrage when he is criticized for the inherent hypocrisy found in his attending the funeral of one African American icon. I’ll even grant him the sincerity he seemed to exhibit at the funeral but that doesn’t change the fact that his deeds do a disservice to those who the King’s sought to support. Pointing out this disconnect is not only reasonable, it’s necessary. To the critics, the Bush apologists, and Karl Rove I say, “We accepted the politicization of Ronald Regan’s death with dignity and respect. Please withhold your privileged objections and keep your lily white pedicured paws off of our icons. Many of our messengers may have passed away but their message lives on loudly and clearly and we won’t apologize for repeating it. If you don’t want to hear it anymore, do something…or until then, please…spare me, save it, and SHUT UP!"

Daniel DiRito | February 8, 2006 | 1:36 PM | link | Comments (0)
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February 7, 2006

Halliburton, HIV, & Hypocrisy genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak

In the run up to the election of George W. Bush, he was touted by his handlers as a compassionate conservative. He vowed to be a uniter, not a divider, to oppose nation building, and to restore integrity to the White House. As he enters his sixth year in office, many see this President as a study in contradictions. There are numerous examples to demonstrate this assertion. Two are particularly well suited. One is the result of a war of choice in Iraq and the other is a war of necessity in the battle to combat HIV/AIDS. Both have far reaching consequences for the people they impact. Exploring the political calculations is essential to understanding the contradictions that surround this President.   

Since the fall of Baghdad and the initiation of the rebuilding of Iraq, the company with close ties to Vice President Cheney, Halliburton, through subsidiary Kellog, Brown, & Root (KBR), has been awarded contracts worth in the range of $10 to $12 billion. Approximately twenty-five percent (25%) of this amount was awarded as a no-bid contract. The bulk of the remaining contracts were negotiated as cost-plus contracts which guarantees a profit margin regardless of strict and effective cost management and oversight. Halliburton has been under intense scrutiny and criticism for accounting errors and other questionable appropriation procedures. The government in 2004, under intense pressure from Halliburton critics, also withheld the payment of $186 million in payments for food services in 2004 after accusations that the company had billed more meals than actually provided. The company was also fined $7.5 million in 2004 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to disclose a change in accounting practices. It was reported in January 2006 that Halliburton intends to sell a minority share in KBR through a stock IPO. News of the reported offering sent share prices up nearly 5 percent to slightly less than $80 dollars per share.

The program to rebuild Iraq has garnered extensive criticism from political opponents of the President and Vice President, but also from lesser sized contractors who felt shut out of the process. Iraqi contractors also voiced concerns. Local companies, with Iraqi employees in need of work after the fall of the Hussein regime, were often excluded from the contracting process, thereby limiting the amount of reconstruction funding available to actually impact and improve the devastated Iraqi economy. The administration has maintained that very few contractors were equipped to take on the significant tasks needed to rebuild Iraq. Further, they argued that KBR, by taking on the projects, was working under extreme conditions at great risk to their employees which warranted monetary consideration under the contracts. Consequently, the vast majority of contracts were awarded to KBR while most of the remaining awards went to a handful of large American companies.

During this same time frame the President announced a $15 billion dollar initiative over five years to combat HIV. The program has been slow to mobilize and received international criticism when far short of the expected first $3 billion was allocated during the first year. The administration defended the slow funding, contending that a network to provide services and distribute medications needed to be implemented before the money could be used effectively. Many in the HIV funding and services community disagreed with this assessment but, aside from criticism, little could be done to accelerate the administrations position. Funding has since accelerated in the subsequent years, albeit not to the levels anticipated when the program was announced, however the criticism has shifted to a new front. Critics now contend that the administration's focus on funding abstinence programs rather that condom usage, coupled with the preferential awarding of contracts to religious groups, has the potential to limit the effectiveness of the much needed resources.

The Associated Press reports some interesting data that provides a glimpse into the administrations efforts to target awards to lesser known and established, as well as nontraditional aid providers. An aggressive effort is underway to find new religious and church based partners that share the administrations message of abstinence. Awarding money to new groups with little AIDS experience has been met with skepticism by a number of the larger, secular, and more established providers. Awarding money to new groups with little AIDS experience has been met with skepticism by a number of the larger, secular, and more established providers. Currently, nearly a quarter of the funding is going to these smaller fledgling organizations and experts warn that their lack of AIDS experience and expertise may diminish the impact of long sought and much needed funding dollars. There are indications that the administration, rather than considering these concerns, intends to expand their directive. The New Partners Initiative has earmarked $200 million for church and community groups. Some of these groups have experience in Africa but not necessarily with HIV and others have no governmental grant history. While the results of this AIDS initiative remain inconclusive, it's undeniably an important and significant effort in the fight against AIDS. Progress has been made and few would assert that the program is failing or will eventually fail. However, there are many AIDS experts who contend that the abstinence emphasis doesn't address the social and cultural realities of many of the regions receiving such assistance. This criticism is muted by the fact that any funding is seen as an improvement.

The rebuilding of Iraq and the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative offer two examples of the Bush administration that demonstrate the frustration many feel when trying to distinguish fact from fabrication. The discordance in the approach to these two issues leaves one questioning the motivations, intentions, and sincerity of an administration that likes to portray itself as steadfast in its principles. One program rewards experience and proven abilities; the other program discounts experience and ability. One program consolidates services in a few large corporations; the other program seeks numerous small service providers. Both programs appear to show favoritism...one to well connected business associates...the other to ideological partners. This President likes to say that he doesn't concern himself with polling data. He asserts he's going to do what he believes regardless of its popularity. That strategy has been a Republican mainstay since it began directing this brand of criticism towards his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Republicans found that accusing the President or other Democratic opponents of shifting their positions dependent on polling data made Republicans appear principled while painting Democrats as vote chasers and panderers. This administrations calculation has long been to determine a salable set of principles, then stay on message regardless of the degree to which they adhere or deviate from that message in actual policymaking.

Karl Rove, the 'architect' and a brilliant strategist has been successfully championing one simple hypothesis...the voting public is lazy. Here's the equation...people are busy...both parents work in most households...they get their news in thirty second sound bites...they attempt to distinguish integrity and principles from the consistency of a politician's message...if you craft a message that appeals to a majority constituency and then repeat that message religiously...you will keep those voters even if you don't deliver so long as you keep saying that you want to and you will. This works because simultaneously they begin to point out the opposition's complex message. Democrats, albeit with good intentions, believe that if they can just get the public to listen to the details, they can demonstrate that the opponent isn't sharing all the facts...that issues have nuances and if the public will take the time to educate themselves, they will see the merits of their nuanced positions. This fails miserably despite being rational and reasonable...and it fails because they don't understand the voters.The 2004 presidential election is a perfect example. Rove instinctively found John Kerry's vulnerability..."I actually voted for it before I voted against it"...an indictment of only ten words. If that isn't enough convincing proof, look at the debates. One could quibble over whether Kerry won two or three debates but one can't argue that Kerry didn't win. The problem is that he won on detail and depth which takes time, attention, and can't be sold in a thirty second sound bite. The best analogy may be 'you don't sell ice to an eskimo.' The Republicans then 'swiftboated' Kerry's primary appeal in well timed spots and the race was over. Democrats will continue to struggle so long as they refuse to acknowledge this counterintuitive, yet fully real, construct.

The contradictions in the management of the rebuilding of Iraq and the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative are apparent and legitimate indictments of this administrations incongruent and inconsistent actions. However effective the data, it is an impotent weapon in the political battle to defeat this administration. Granted, the data tells a story and, at a minimum, points out the discrepancies in the oft spoken sound bites that have become the hallmark of this Presidency. From these examples, one can make the case for a number of conclusions...this President demonstrates blatant cronyism, there is a predisposition to work with connected insiders and manipulate contracted arrangements, they are burgeoning theocrats who have blurred the lines between church and state, their actions are incompetent, bias is being institutionalized, their actions are corrupt. At the very least, something is wrong...and yet in the absense of the ability to tailor the message to the political terrain, Democrats will continue to win the battles but lose the war. It's the message, stupid!

Daniel DiRito | February 7, 2006 | 9:58 PM | link | Comments (0)
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