Polispeak: November 2007: Archives
I'm sorry but stupid was just brought to a new low. The tubes are abuzz over the fact that CNN allowed a question about "don't ask, don't tell" from a gay man who serves on a committee for Hillary Clinton. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but the YouTube format didn't require a disclosure of party affiliation. Granted, the incident makes CNN's vetting process appear rather careless, but are we to believe that the question is invalid because the questioner isn't a card carrying Republican?
If that's the case, then shouldn't Anderson Cooper be disqualified from moderating a GOP debate since he is gay? Maybe we should only allow Republican moderators at Republican debates and Democratic moderators at Democratic debates? I swear, we're becoming more of a banana republic each day. I suspect the debate process for electing an eighth grade class president may have more substance and credibility...and certainly less whining from the inane partisans.
Speaking of substance, I guess I'm wondering why asking the GOP candidates their position on gays in the military is off limits for a former officer simply because he will apparently vote for a Democrat. Think about it...how many gay people do we expect to vote for a party that routinely opposes most, if not all, measures that would afford gays more rights and greater equality?
Further, after hearing the answers to the question...especially Duncan Hunters diatribe on not wanting to upset the predominantly religious conservative members of the military...why on earth would gays vote for the GOP? His answer is wrong on so many levels such that I refuse to waste any more of my time and energy detailing the reasons. Those who understand the reasons get it...and those who don't, aren't unable to; they simply don't want to.
I just love the argument that we can't consider allowing gays to serve openly because we're at war. Using that same logic, gays ought to be exempt from a draft if America ever determines it needs more troops because they can't attract enough volunteers. Sounds good to me...let the straight people protect us all from harm. We gays will plan the ticker tape parade if and when we ever win one of these wars.
Moving on, if the rank and file of the GOP agree with the answers given, why be afraid to have these candidates spell out their positions? Who are they trying to fool anyway? Should we believe that if the Republican candidates can avoid expressing their positions with regards to gays, no one will be the wiser or attempt to discern where they stand? That's the funny thing about bigotry these days...people know when it exists and they get testy when someone forces them to acknowledge or demonstrate it.
Following the debate and the "exposure" of CNN's duplicity, I went and read comments on a number of right leaning blogs. While the bigotry amazes me, the belief on the part of countless straight men that every gay man is interested in ogling them is mind-boggling. We scorn the Saudi's for their absolutely antiquated treatment of women...highlighted by the recent sentencing of a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison...treatment that is premised on the fear that every women is so vulnerable to her carnal desires that her body must be completely hidden from view and she must be forever forbidden from being in the presence of any unrelated male...unless accompanied by "her man".
Now let's break this down...is it the women they're worried about or isn't it more probable that these men don't trust themselves to act appropriately...so clearly they can't leave their women alone with another man? Truth be told, I'm sure they're lack of trustworthiness is justified...but why in the hell should women be punished because these men are pigs? Last time I checked, it takes a boat load of man-sluts to make a whore. The absurdity is overwhelming!
The same mind set is at play when it comes to gays in the military...most of these men commenting on these sites apply their own sexual habits and thoughts to gay soldiers...totally failing to realize that gays have spent their entire lives demonstrating restraint and appreciating each other for more than just getting off. We have too if we want some semblance of a normal social life. We've learned that it's possible to find friendships with people who could otherwise serve as sexual partners...and therefore we don't have to approach each other and all males as nothing more than sexual objects.
Many of these straight men are unable and unwilling to grasp this concept because they see all women as objects for sexual gratification. It's the cattle mentality...as long as they erect (no pun intended) fences to keep themselves from succumbing to their desires, they (the bulls) won't breed every woman (the heifers) they see. That's why they are so intimidated by the thought of showering with a gay man or sharing the same barracks. They can only visualize what they would do in a similar situation with women. So they see gays in the military as lacking the barriers they're reliant upon to maintain their fragile notions of propriety and fidelity.
Forgive me for generalizing, as I realize the following may be an unfair assessment...but why should women and gays be forced to suffer the inability of these straight men to evolve beyond their noticeably arrested and obviously immature sexual constructs? As I think about it, that may be the best argument for electing a woman or a gay president.
Tagged as: 2008 Election, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Gays In The Military, GOP, Hillary Clinton, Homophobia, LGBT, Misogyny, Saudi Arabia, YouTube Debate
Daniel DiRito | November 28, 2007 | 10:05 PM |
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New York's semi-smarmy super hero, the drag queen wannabe who no doubt wishes he could campaign wearing Annie Oakley-esque outfits complete with a pair of precious plaid holsters sporting a set of sassy squirt guns, apparently left some rather large loose ends in his winsome wake...and I'm not talking about the backsides of his bevy of former Frauleins. It appears that Rudy made a number of trips to the Hamptons to shack up with Judy "Make Room For My Vuitton" Nathan on Gotham City's dime.
As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.
The documents, obtained by Politico under New York's Freedom of Information Law, show that the mayoral costs had nothing to do with the functions of the little-known city offices that defrayed his tabs, including agencies responsible for regulating loft apartments, aiding the disabled and providing lawyers for indigent defendants.
At the time, the mayor's office refused to explain the accounting to city auditors, citing "security."
The Hamptons visits resulted in hotel, gas and other costs for Giuliani's New York Police Department security detail.
Now one can speculate what America's mayor meant by "security" when deflecting questions about these rather suspect expenditures...perhaps his psyche was subconsciously pondering the problems he might encounter if the woman holed up in Gracie Mansion had the goods on her cousin kissin' diddly dallying husband?
I could include additional excerpts but I'm having way more fun sharing my silly and snide snark. When I read about Rudy's amorphous accounting, I couldn't help but harken to the head-scratching that followed his loquacious telephone interludes with wifey number three while standing at the podium to deliver a speech. Perhaps the current Mrs. Giuliani wants to keep account of her hubby...after all, she knows all too well about her hubby's clandestine capabilities.
Truth be told, I doubt Rudy could afford the crown wife number four might require should he elect to discard his current tiara topped trysterina. Besides, can the leader of the free world be found out to be kitty kaptured? I think not. Anyway, I suspect he will have to keep his untrustworthy tallywhacker in toe for the time being.
In the meantime, it looks like Rudy Rudolpho, the ever morphing mayor, has got some splainin' to do...and I'm not sure he's all that capable of selling his version of "vitameatavegamin".
Tagged as: 2008 Presidential Election, Gotham City, Hamptons, I Love Lucy, Judith Nathan, New York City, Rudy Giuliani
Daniel DiRito | November 28, 2007 | 4:41 PM |
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It's one thing to talk abstractly about a house of cards; its another thing to be living with an economy built upon that very premise. Throughout the Bush administration, we have been sold on the benefits of tax cuts for the wealthy; with the promise of insuring a healthy economy. All the while, I believe this paper tiger economy was actually built and sustained by the implementation of artificially low interest rates and shoddy mortgage lending practices.
This shortsighted effort was designed to limit the depth of an economic downturn and to spur equity spending on the part of middle income Americans in the absence of the fundamentals necessary to create real economic mojo. At the same time, the tax cut strategy served to bolster the GOP's alliance with wealthy benefactors. Unfortunately, the winds of a weak financial environment have returned to find an economy which is all the more vulnerable and far more suspect.
At the moment, we are witnessing a conflation of events that at best signals a tumultuous period of tepid GDP growth. A candid reality check likely suggests we are on the leading edge of a recession that may persist well into 2009. Let's look at the indicators.
Home prices in the U.S. fell in the third quarter by the most in at least two decades as the subprime lending crisis caused sales to slump.
Home values retreated 4.5 percent in the three months through September from the same period a year before, the most since records began in 1988, according to a report today by S&P/Case-Shiller. It followed a 3.3 percent drop in the second quarter.
Prices will probably keep sliding as foreclosures force more properties on to the market and sales weaken as mortgages become harder to get. The slump threatens to slow consumer spending as fewer homeowners will be able to afford vacations, new autos or home improvement projects.
Lehman Brothers said the decline in home prices is the start of an extended decline in the market.
"We look for home prices to fall well into 2009 as excess inventory is slowly cleared and foreclosed homes return to the market at a discounted price," the company said in commentary published Tuesday.
This will translate to a 15 percent decline in national home prices from peak to trough, Lehman Brothers said.
From The Wall Street Journal:
The property value of U.S. homes will fall by $1.2 trillion, and "at least" 1.4 million homeowners will lose their properties to foreclosure in 2008, according to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Council for the New American City.
Global Insight predicted that the economy would grow at a 1.9% rate in 2008, "a full percentage point lower than would have been the case without the mortgage crisis." It also said U.S. gross domestic product growth would be $166 billion lower next year because of mortgage market problems, and that consumer spending would fall to 2% growth.
If you've followed the reports on housing and the subprime lending crisis, the news has gotten progressively worse each time new data is released. Frankly, I see no reason to conclude we won't see more of the same. Given the fact that so much of our current economic growth has been the result of consumers spending the equity they've accumulated from the recent housing bubble, the impact of lower housing prices, foreclosures facilitated by adjustable rate mortgages, generally higher interest rates, and stricter mortgage terms has not yet been fully calculated or understood.
Add in the projections that housing prices will fall at least fifteen percent before the downturn has reached bottom and one begins to see the magnitude of the pending economic slide. While difficult to calculate the amount of spending which results from homeowner's borrowing against expanding home values, it isn't difficult to imagine the significance of declining home values...and that ignores the impact of existing inflationary pressures which will no doubt cut into any discretionary spending that remains feasible.
Let's look more closely at the reports which measure consumer confidence.
From The Associated Press:
With Christmas only a month away, American consumers became more pessimistic about the economy in November, sending a widely watched barometer of confidence to the lowest level in two years amid worries about rising fuel costs and a housing market slump.
The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 87.3, marking a four-month slide and continuing down almost 8 points from the revised 95.2 in October.
It was the lowest reading since 85.2 in October 2005 when gas and oil prices soared after hurricanes flooded New Orleans and shut down a large chunk of the nation's oil refineries. It also marked the sharpest drop since September 2005 when the index plummeted 18 points from the previous month.
The big worry is that shoppers will take their time returning to the stores this holiday season amid worries that higher gas, an escalating credit crisis and a slumping housing market could push the economy into a recession.
With consumer spending accounting for two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, any further dropoff of consumer spending increases the risks of a recession.
Pretty simple stuff...if you have less money to spend and lack the equity to borrow it, then the only answer is to spend less money. Once that reality sets in, consumer confidence is apt to fall even further in what becomes nothing short of a cause and effect downward spiral. Once this happens, job losses can't be far behind as retailers and manufacturers are forced to lay off employees in the absence of stable or expanding sales.
From China View:
The Fed also forecast that the unemployment rate would rise to between 4.8 percent and 4.9 percent next year, compared to the previously estimated 4.75 percent for 2008.
In the past two months, U.S. unemployment rate stood at 4.7 percent, a level still considered low by historical standards. Before September, the jobless rate had remained in a range of 4.4 percent to 4.6 percent since the same month of 2006.
With economic growth slowing, the unemployment rate would increase "modestly" next year, stabilize in 2009 and then decline slightly in 2010, the Fed said.
Yes, this anticipated increase in unemployment is minimal...if only that were the end of the story. Projecting unemployment is not only difficult; it is dependent on all of the factors mentioned above. Should the economy follow a worse case scenario, then one would expect unemployment rates to exceed these preliminary projections. Again, all of these measurements feed off of the others and once recessionary momentum is unleashed, predicting the bottom becomes a crap shoot. In an economic downturn, bad news relating to each individual item exerts a downward ratchet effect upon all of the others.
Further, the one item that must improve in order to help halt the effects of a recession...consumer confidence...is often the most difficult to impact and the slowest to respond to signs of improvement. As such, the fix may well be in place long before one begins to see a shift in momentum.
I would equate the economic process to what one might experience if one were in a line of individuals holding hands and spinning in a circle...those anchored in place at the front of the line start moving first and by the time the person at the end of the line starts moving, the momentum is in full swing and apt to send that person flying at a pace they cannot control or maintain. The process (momentum) continues until the links that keep the line functional and turning begin to break (holding hands in this example). The same is true of the economy.
A view of the economy isn't complete without looking at the stock market...and the news isn't any better.
From The Chicago Tribune:
Stocks took it on the chin again late in Monday's session, as investors dumped shares across a broad range of companies.
The Dow Jones industrial average plummeted 237.44 points, or 1.8 percent, to 12,743.44.
Based on daily closing prices, the Dow and the Standard & Poor's 500 index reached 10 percent declines from their Oct. 9 highs, a move known on Wall Street as a "correction." It was the first such correction since the late winter of 2003.
The repetition of headline-grabbing market declines so far this month appears to be having self-fulfilling impact on investor sentiment.
Would-be stock market investors these days are like people prone to panic attacks, said Jack Tilton, technical analyst at Channel Trend. "When in the middle of the night with the wind howling do you decide to open that closet door?" he said.
Of all the economic indicators, the stock market is likely the least predictive of recessions. While corrections happen far more often than recessions, the recent weakness doesn't help consumer confidence. In essence, if the economy is teetering on the edge, a stock market correction may simply provide the final psychological nudge.
I want to close by returning to the politics of economics. The GOP, under the guidance of George Bush, has argued that the tax cuts enacted shortly after the President took office served to move the economy out of recession. If one accepts that premise, then a new recession would seem to suggest two things. One, the tax cuts may not have been responsible for bringing us out of the prior recession...especially since they don't appear to be capable of keeping us out of a new recession. Two, if we are entering another recession, then perhaps the tax cuts were little more than a political calculation.
If, as I've argued, the economy was actually propped up through other means (low interest rates and lenient mortgage terms), then one would hope the GOP would now focus on measures that would actually benefit and buttress the economy. Unfortunately, just today we find Larry Kudlow arguing that the GOP should not only embrace the past tax cuts; they should put forth the argument that they are once again essential to jump start our sluggish economy.
The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib has an excellent column this morning on the threat of an economic downturn and the relevance of tax cuts to reignite the economy. He notes that Republicans have an important opportunity to push tax cuts as a spur to the slumping economy, whereas Democrats are still stuck with a tired tax-hike message and an obsessive desire to undo the Bush tax cuts.
Seib does not go into the incentive effects of lower marginal tax rates versus the one-shot demand-side effects of temporary tax cuts.
Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is now predicting a 2008 recession. But he’s calling for temporary tax cuts for low and middle-class families. Unfortunately, history clearly shows this approach will not work.
Democrats also will try and make the case that taxes should be cut for the so-called middle class, and raised on upper-income earners. This is futile. It’s also bad politics. Taxing successful earners is a tax on capital and investment, which has recently become scarce during the housing crisis.
Republicans should take care to propose lower tax rates on middle-income earners, as well as successful investors. The real supply-side “bang for the buck" comes at the top-end, but across-the-board rate reductions do have positive economic and political benefits. Collapsing the middle-income brackets — 15 percent, 25 percent, and 28 percent — would make a lot of sense.
Given the economic and credit-market concerns sweeping down Wall Street and Main Street these days, it’s time to talk tax cuts. But the right kind of tax-rate reduction must be part of the new-tax-cut riff.
Now you have to admire Kudlow's moxie...but little else. Try as I might, his argument seems to be akin to suggesting we embrace more of the same despite lacking the evidence needed to substantiate doing so. Truth be told, when the average American looks back on the Bush years...and compares where he or she now stands financially...there should be little doubt that the bubble has burst and the bank account is bleak.
I suspect most Americans will be hard pressed to get on board with a "new-tax-cut riff" when they come to the realization that its being brazenly advanced by those individuals who were fortunate enough to actually benefit measurably from the last round of the Bush administration's "conning-me-economy".
As I recall, the average family received approximately $650 in tax savings. The relevant question is whether one believes the resulting economy continued to enrich the average American or merely those wealthy individuals who received the lion's share of the savings.
Think about it...don't those individuals promoting another round of "trickle-down" tax cuts have to be better off now than they were seven years ago? If they are, then why should the average American (who isn't better off) be in favor of rewarding the very people who told us the last tax cuts were an insurance policy against recession as well as a guarantee of a robust economy? How many tax cuts followed by recession do we have to have before we say never again?
Tagged as: Consumer Confidence, Economics, GDP, George W. Bush, Housing Bubble, Inflation, Interest Rates, Larry Kudlow, Recession, Stock Market, Subprime Lending, Tax Cuts, Trickle-Down, Unemployment
Daniel DiRito | November 27, 2007 | 12:45 PM |
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Elections have a way of bringing out the beast in Bob Novak...and his latest skewering of Mike Huckabee, "The Angelic Arkansan", is a classic example of his efforts to annihilate the man he views as a threat to his current iteration of "real conservatism".
They don't call Bob Novak "The Prince of Darkness" because he's mister sunshine and rainbows. In fact, "Novakula" is often the bearer of bitter bits of bloviating aimed at anyone and anything he deems to be detrimental to his "demonic" vision of democracy.
Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans. Until now, they did not bother to expose the former governor of Arkansas as a false conservative because he seemed an underfunded, unknown nuisance candidate.
The rise of evangelical Christians as the force that blasted the GOP out of minority status during the past generation always contained an inherent danger: What if these new Republican acolytes supported not merely a conventional conservative but one of their own? That has happened with Huckabee, a former Baptist minister educated at Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The danger is a serious contender for the nomination who passes the litmus test of social conservatives on abortion, gay marriage and gun control but is far removed from the conservative-libertarian model of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
Huh? Has Bob been banished to his den of darkness for the last seven years such that he failed to witness the very same thing under the Bush presidency? While George W may lack Huckabee's holy credentials; it hasn't prevented him from administering his own version of virtuous values. In fact, our sitting president (the one who imagines himself seated next to the almighty) has a penchant for political pontificating that clearly crosses the line of live and let live conservatism and likely set the bar for those who now embrace the likes of Governor Huckabee.
If George Bush's promises to act as a uniter and not a divider are the template for compassionate conservatism, then Mike Huckabee is simply taking the next step to insure the inevitable biblical bliss that comes with lockstep legislation, a cash cow for faith based initiatives, loving the sinner by acting to outlaw the lifestyle, the imperial imposition of a Christian capitalist ideology coined as the exportation of freedom and democracy, and the busting of the bank in order to buttress one's beliefs.
Who would respond to criticism from the Club for Growth by calling the conservative, free-market campaign organization the "Club for Greed"? That sounds like Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards, all Democrats preaching the class struggle. In fact, the rejoinder comes from Mike Huckabee, who has broken out of the pack of second-tier Republican presidential candidates to become a serious contender -- definitely in Iowa and perhaps nationally.
Huckabee clearly departs from the mainstream of the conservative movement in his confusion of "growth" with "greed." Such ad hominem attacks are part of his intuitive response to criticism from the Club for Growth and the libertarian Cato Institute about his record as governor.
Quin Hillyer, a former Arkansas journalist writing in the conservative American Spectator, called Huckabee "a guy with a thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak." Huckabee's retort was to attack Hillyer's journalistic procedures, fitting a mean-spirited image when he responds to conservative criticism.
OK, I'll admit that I love it when the leaders of the once seemingly invincible klatch of conservatives and christians resort to mudslinging in order for both groups to preserve their perceived political power...and the cash they both know it can generate. Poor Bob must be beside himself now that the evangelical segment of the GOP coalition is finally clamoring for the results they've been bamboozled into believing would be delivered by their divinely driven demagogues.
Truth be told, Novak and the many other Republican revisionists who have run roughshod over these religious rabble-rousers for years are simply confounded by the fact that the chickens may have finally come home to roost. It's no surprise that the purveyors of these ideologically intransigent identities have finally reached what may be an insurmountable impasse.
Nothing shines a brighter light on hypocrisy that those moments when the compassionate christians set out to crucify their conservative conspirators...as well as when the libertarian vitriol of the consummate conservative finally calls for the cutting of the cord that has linked their aspirations for power to the politics of inviolable virtue.
Looks like a garden variety divorce to me...although I'd bet the farm that one side will scurry to slap together a new "relationship" (hint: time to invoke the evils of "icky" immigrants) and the other side will ask the almighty for an annulment in order to preserve its "papered" piety.
The following graphic summarizes the duality which is all too often inherent in these oh so dubious "deals with the devil".
Tagged as: 2008 Election, Bob Novak, Club For Growth, Compassionate Conservatism, Conservatism, Democrat, Evangelicals, George W. Bush, GOP, Mike Huckabee, Religious Right, The Prince Of Darkness
Daniel DiRito | November 26, 2007 | 10:53 AM |
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While seeking a fitting tribute to Norman Mailer given his recent death, I stumbled upon the following video clips from his appearance on Charlie Rose in early 2003. On the show, Mailer provides a reasoned analysis of the merits and pitfalls of invading Iraq. Mailer's comments harken to the concerns raised by Niall Ferguson in this prior Thought Theater posting.
Both men have a keen understanding of the objectives of the Bush Doctrine...though they approach it from different perspectives. Ferguson offers the views of a studied historian and Mailer provides the perspective of a prescient thinker capable of drawing insightful and informative connections frequently missed by those in the mainstream. Notwithstanding, both men appear to reach the same conclusion...a conclusion which suggests that the active exportation of democracy is likely a futile effort. Both men also touch upon the flawed logic behind the initiation of preemptive military actions in response to perceived fears.
Mailer's words in 2003 ought to instruct us well into the future and offer an important warning about the risks of losing the nobility of democracy and acceding to the lure of fascism. His comment that an invasion of Iraq is apt to be the start of something that we cannot finish without changing the nature of American democracy may someday be hailed as one of the most omniscient and prevailing perceptions offered in modern American history.
His anticipatory thoughts on Iraq with regard to it's position in the world political equation are astounding and when they are compared with the logic of the neoconservatives, his amazing visionary capabilities are illuminated. His conclusion about the nature of democracy is nothing short of brilliant and a rational review of the status of our efforts to export it to Iraq highlight the very concerns Mailer raised when he suggested that the Bush administration ultimately sought to change the nature of American life. Nearly five years after Mailer offered these thoughts, one would be hard pressed to refute his hypothesis or the ample evidence of an eroding democracy at home which exists to support it.
Flawed as he was, the magnitude of Mailer's life...and what was lost with his death...will undoubtedly become more evident with the passage of time.
Tagged as: Charlie Rose, Democracy, George W. Bush, Iraq, Neoconservatism, Niall Ferguson, Norman Mailer
Daniel DiRito | November 13, 2007 | 10:27 AM |
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While many Americans are of the belief that the upcoming 2008 election will signal a new direction in U.S. foreign policy, there is little reason to conclude that the actions and implications of the Bush Doctrine can be reversed in short order. In order to understand the future, one must frequently consult the past.
In the following video, Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, historian, and author of Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, offers an informed conceptual analysis of U.S. foreign policy focused upon the meaning and implications of what has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine. Ferguson points that this doctrine is premised upon three basic principles. They are as follows:
1. Preemption: The need to act against emerging threats before they are fully formed.
2. Unilateralism: The right to act alone against perceived threats.
3. Bringing the hope of democracy and free trade to all corners of the world...and standing for the rule of law, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and respect for public and private property.
Ferguson proceeds to explain the good and bad news associated with these goals and the various resources and costs which would be necessary to implement them...paying particular attention to the third goal. Ferguson believes this final objective is most constrained by financial considerations that would most likely exceed the capability of the behemoth U.S. economy.
Ferguson also points to three other deficit areas that would likely constrain the U.S. from achieving the goals of the Bush Doctrine. They include a manpower deficit, an attention deficit, and a legitimacy deficit. In listening to Ferguson, it becomes apparent that he views the legitimacy deficit as the prevailing obstacle to the ongoing pursuit of the Bush Doctrine.
Ferguson talks about manpower with relation to the war in Iraq and the latest surge...noting that the U.S. troop reduction in 2005 led to increasing violence and conflict. He notes that the current surge has improved the conditions in Iraq...which clearly points to the manpower requirements necessary to achieve the goals of the Bush Doctrine.
Ferguson continues with a comprehensive analysis well worth viewing by anyone looking to gain a full understanding of the United States foreign policy considerations, our status with other nations, and the factors which must be considered as we move forward in an ever more complex world.
He pays particular attention to dissecting the false notions that make the Bush Doctrine (especially the Cheney driven belief that we must view future 9/11's as 100% probable and act accordingly) a suspect policy objective premised upon a number of faulty assumptions. From there, Ferguson takes a look at the future considerations and the issues which may soon face the United States and the world.
Tagged as: Bush Doctrine, China, Foreign Policy, George W. Bush, History, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Niall Ferguson, Preemption
Daniel DiRito | November 10, 2007 | 11:25 AM |
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I've long felt that many of those who freely and flamboyantly espouse religion do so to compensate for their lack of scruples with regard to the acquisition of money and power. Nothing can better assuage transgression than a marriage of convenience between sin and scripture. While we're all familiar with the seven deadly sins, I wonder if we're in the process of identifying an eighth...a super sin that has it's origin in the union of prosperity theology and prosperity politics...let's call it the sin of "prosti-peri-tution"...the willingness to sell one's soul in the pursuit of wealth and power.
Three events triggered my thoughts on the subject. First, the recent reports that Richard Roberts, the son of Oral Roberts (the man who founded Oral Roberts University) may have used his position at the university to enrich himself and his family. Second, the report that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has launched an investigation to determine whether six prominent televangelists have inappropriately used their ministries to fund lives of luxury. The third and final item is the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid by one of the founding fathers of televangelism, Pat Robertson.
Before I jump any further into the topic, let me acknowledge the slippery nature of this issue...making special note of the well-meaning actions of countless religious individuals and organizations. With that said, it seems that the sins of the few often rise to the surface while the sacrifices of the many go without recognition or reward...a fitting reminder of the biblical parable of the widow's mite...the story in which Jesus acknowledges that the donation of two mites by a widow was far more meaningful than the large donations made by men of great wealth due to the fact that her gift was all the money she possessed.
For the last three decades, the religious right has made the vilification of gays and opposition to abortion the crown jewels of their crusade for the implementation of biblical law as the preeminent voice for American morality. If one tracks the progression of this movement, two outcomes have prevailed. One, a number of very powerful and influential leaders have emerged...leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson...men who wield tremendous financial and political clout under the guise of creating a new moral order. Two, the Republican Party has hitched it's political fortunes (monetary support as well as electability) to the voters who comprise this powerful demographic...arguably achieving a period of significant political dominance as well as the creation of iconic evangelical political champions.
Simultaneously, the rights afforded to gays have been advanced and the right to have an abortion has been upheld despite efforts to the contrary. All the while, the Democratic Party has been portrayed as wholly unacceptable due to its permissiveness with regards to these two issues and those politicians who have affiliated with the Democratic Party have been the target of the religious right. For many years, the distinguishing battle cry of evangelicals and the GOP has been to nullify the candidacy of Democrats as allies of the immoral...leaving little, if any, room for their followers to support a Democrat.
This lockstep alliance has been characterized as the politics of principle and an unwavering commitment to long-standing Christian values. Those Democrats who have sought to breech this barrier based upon other voter considerations...including, but not limited to, economic self-interest, health care, the safety net for the elderly and the ill...have been vociferously rebuffed if they indicated or insinuated any remote support for gays or the right to have an abortion.
The equation has been an all or none calculation since the movement emerged...and for years the interests of evangelicals and the GOP were fully aligned to create a seemingly insurmountable mathematical majority. Unfortunately, as with all mirages, eventually the light shifts to illuminate an alternate reality and the house of holiness is exposed as a domicile of deceit to those whose treasure built it but were never actually invited to inhabit it. Such is the nature of manipulation and the power of those who preach purity to the proletariat while partaking of the bounty born of the blood of the beleaguered believers.
Yes, there will be those evangelical leaders who condemn the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani by Pat Robertson...at least for the moment. They will do so for obvious reasons; it undermines the decades of rigid doctrine and runs the risk of alienating the faithful. What will remain to be seen is how many other evangelical emperors will coalesce around morally "inferior" candidates in order to still suckle on the breast of bounty.
I've previously argued that men like James Dobson are in the throes of careful calculation...an effort to weigh the benefits of political power against the continuation of their cash cow coalitions. They face a vexing conundrum. If they are unable to position themselves as king makers, they run the risk of waning donations as the minions grow weary with their inability to deliver the promised land. The problem is amplified by the flawed values of the existing candidates they perceive can win next November as well as the risks of backing a sufficiently sinless second tier candidate and proving they cannot deliver the crown.
Should they abandon the party by either endorsing a second tier candidate (which obviously equates with a rejection of the perceived front runners) or by breaking from the party to endorse a third party candidate, they run the risk that the powers that be in the GOP will expose them as opportunists who have been granted deference in exchange for delivering cash and votes; only to suddenly abandon the party when all of their demands weren't met...regardless of whether that may have insured that the Democrats would gain the upper hand.
In the end, if they cannot deliver victory to the party without compromising the values they demand their followers to blindly embrace nor can they deliver victory to their followers by forcing the party to nominate a purist, their sphere of influence is greatly diminished. What remains to be seen is which potential poison they will choose. If they follow Robertson and back a flawed "winning" candidate, they preserve their influence in the party while damaging their credibility with their followers. If they reject the party's "flawed" candidate and back a third party candidate they preserve their reputations with the faithful while damaging their ability to influence the party.
Both options run the risk of working against these evangelical and political leaders and either path seems apt to eventually lessen their coffers and their power. Perhaps the question asked in the title of this posting needs to be amended. It may well be that prosperity theology and prosperity politics are far closer to a divorce than to a celebration of their long marriage. That can't be a pleasant thought for either party in this marriage of convenience.
Given the nature of the divorce equation...one which is based upon division...not multiplication...I suspect both sides are busy consulting their advisors and hoping to come away with as much of the proverbial pie as possible. I have to admit I'm looking forward to the battle and the bickering. What with gays being such a threat to marriage, they'll surely want to resolve their differences quickly...won't they?
Tagged as: Chuck Grassley, Democratic Party, Evangelicals, GOP, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Religious Right, Richard Roberts, Rudy Giuliani, Televangelism
Daniel DiRito | November 7, 2007 | 11:49 AM |
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It's easy to get lost in the rhetoric that seeks to explain the status of the war in Iraq. Opponents and apologists alike work tirelessly to find the ammunition necessary to support their positions...yet only two thing remains a constant...the war continues and the deaths it creates are tallied.
Our latest preoccupation is defining the merits of, and deciphering the benefits from, the surge. Is it a success? Has it facilitated a turning point? What happens if we reduce or remove our troops? Unfortunately, the combatants...the ones waging the war about the war...endeavor to spin the data to their benefit...often ignoring context and relevance. A new article in The New York Times documents the annual troop fatalities and provides a glimpse into this back and forth battle...yet points out the prevailing dilemma that never seems to be answered...how and when will we be able to leave Iraq?
BAGHDAD, Nov. 6 — Six American soldiers were killed in three separate attacks Monday, the military said today, taking the number of deaths this year to 851 and making 2007 the deadliest year of the war for American troops.
The deaths come only a few days after the military announced a steep drop in the rate of American deaths this year. In October, 38 American service members died in Iraq, the third lowest monthly tally since 2003, according to Iraq Casualty Count, a web site that tracks military deaths. November’s total, if the current pace continues, would be higher but still far below the war’s average of 69 American military deaths per month.
Despite the decline, American commanders acknowledged that 2007 will be far deadlier than the second worst year, 2004, when 849 Americans died, many of them in major battles for control of insurgent strongholds like Falluja.
Military officials attribute the rise this year to an expanded troop presence during the so-called surge, which brought more than 165,000 troops to Iraq, and sent units out of large bases and into more dangerous communities.
Commanders maintain that despite the high cost in terms of lives lost, the strategy has brought improved security to the country and “tactical momentum" that could stabilize Iraq permanently.
Now I'm not trying to ignore the latest casualty numbers...they are encouraging and hopefully they will be sustained...but one mustn't ignore what history can tell us to expect. The latest surge has unfolded in much the same way as prior surges. It has brought greater security to Baghdad (the region of focus), reduced the number of IED attacks, and lessened the sectarian violence.
Those are tangible results...but they must be measured against the stated objective of the surge when it was initiated; that being to enable the necessary time and space for political progress to be achieved. Further, one must provide the reasons and the rationale by which we can conclude that this surge will result in sustained progress as opposed to the regression which has typified each of those previously attempted.
In looking strictly at the number of American casualties, there is little reason to believe that the surge has achieved lasting results. The fact that 2007 will be the deadliest year suggests that the problems we have confronted since the fall of the Hussein regime remain formidable and its even possible they have continued unabated. Empirical evidence suggests prior increased troop levels in other unsettled regions brought temporary reductions in the above measurables...only to be followed by rising violence once the troop levels were reduced or focused upon another hot spot (the whack-a-mole phenomenon). That certainly raises doubts as to the permanence of the latest achievements.
At the same time, one has to consider what the enemy has learned from the prior troop surges and how that may have impacted their current strategy. Keep in mind that it would be foolish to presume that their calculations have remained static. If history has taught us anything, it is that these extremists are immensely patient and sufficiently cunning.
Suppose they've concluded it is futile to engage in direct confrontation given the greater number of troops and the focused attention they bring? Suppose they believe that the U.S. cannot or will not maintain the current troop levels and the interests of the insurgency is best served by waiting for the Bush administration to begin troop reductions or to wait for the will of the American people to demand an end to the current level of occupation? Suppose they're convinced...as are many other observers...that the hoped for political progress has not materialized and the dynamics necessary for them to do so is not present and may not emerge any time soon?
To suppose otherwise on each of these points seems at best naive, and at worst fully illogical. That brings us back to speculating on a plausible exit strategy. Two thoughts quickly come to mind. One, there is a possibility that the powers that be are truly committed to a democratic Iraq and are therefore seeking an exit that insures as much. Two, there is a possibility that the powers that be have concluded that a democratic Iraq is unattainable and are therefore looking for a window of opportunity to claim success and hastily head for home.
If one buys into the former, then one ought to expect a prolonged presence, an abundance of good luck, and a healthy dose of transformational magic. If one favors the latter, then one ought to expect a politically expedient timeframe for announcing an exit, an abundance of contrivance, and a sickening amount of obfuscatory manipulation.
As I review the choices, this seems to be one of those moments when being between a rock and a hard place actually sounds like a better place to be than where we're at. Its hard to imagine that an idiomatic location is more appealing than reality...but then doesn't that simply illuminate the degree to which our perpetual presence in Iraq baffles the mind?
Tagged as: Exporting Democracy, George W. Bush, Insurgency, Iraq, Neoconservatism, Sectarian Violence, Troop Fatalities, Troop Levels, Troop Surge
Daniel DiRito | November 6, 2007 | 11:36 AM |
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The problem with supporting military regimes is evidenced by the arbitrary declaration of martial law just imposed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. What hangs in the balance is Pakistan's ability to move towards democracy and our ability to insure a government which will be supportive of American efforts in the region.
Should Pakistan follow the unfortunate course of unelected regimes previously backed by the U.S., we may well have reached a point of no return and we may soon witness the chaos that accompanies efforts to overthrow an unpopular and self-appointed leader.
From The New York Times:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 3 — The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, suspending the country’s Constitution, blacking out all independent television news reports and filling the streets of the capital with police officers and soldiers.
The move appeared to be an effort by General Musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s Supreme Court, civilian political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president, which opposition groups have said was improper.
The emergency declaration was in direct defiance of repeated calls this week from senior American officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not to do so. A day earlier, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. Fallon, told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive American financial support for the Pakistani military.
Even if Musharraf can maintain his hold on power, the move further harms the image of the United States with the Pakistani people. Our support for Musharraf has clearly begun to alienate the citizenry from all things associated with the United States and it seems to be fueling a shift towards support for the radical Islamists...extremists who are increasingly seen by Pakistanis as an acceptable alternative to the continuation of a U.S. backed regime.
I suspect the U.S. threat to withhold monetary and military support rings hollow with Musharraf since he may well have calculated his only means to hold power is found in a suspension of the constitution and the cancellation of future democratic elections. If that supposition is accurate, the U.S. seems to have diminishing leverage...at least for the foreseeable future.
The fact that we've wagered the bulk of our relationship with Pakistan on Musharraf may prove to have been a grave mistake and may well preclude the U.S. from exerting any substantial influence on the political future of this strategically significant nation. It may even lead to an outright rejection of any resolution put forth by the United States.
If Musharraf continues to push the envelope, the hopes for maintaining a regime friendly to the interests of the United States may rest upon the shoulders of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Should the suspension of the constitution persist, our prior efforts to forge a shared power arrangement between Musharraf and Bhutto may no longer be viable for two reasons. One, Musharraf may believe the arrangement is too threatening to his hold on power and simple refuse such a strategy. Two, such an arrangement may soon be viewed as another leadership arrangement contrived and supported by the United States...one which the Pakistani people flatly reject.
Should the latter happen and the moderates, who make up the membership of Bhutto's political party, conclude that she has become a pawn of the Bush administration, the last organized force for democracy may suddenly be weakened or, even worse, evaporate. Were the party to collapse; sending those moderates into the camp of extremists with the belief that they offer the only means to cut the strings that have kept a U.S. backed puppet regime in place, the worst case scenario...a regime hostile to the U.S. and sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda...may come to fruition.
Tagged as: al Qaeda, Benazir Bhutto, Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice, Islamists, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, Taliban
Daniel DiRito | November 3, 2007 | 11:53 AM |
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We've all heard the expression "justice is served"...and while most of us leave the table feeling satisfied with what we've been fed; others are forced to swallow a less than palatable plate...one that contains an inordinate amount of one particularly foul ingredient. For approximately two decades, those individuals who have made the unfortunate mistake of choosing to partake of crack cocaine over powdered nose candy have been left to endure the lingering aftertaste that accompanies a recipe rife with ill-conceived and inequitable punishment guidelines.
In a move that begins to correct this long-standing injustice, the U.S. Sentencing Commission changed the guidelines to allow jail time to be reduced by up to fifteen months. The change is an attempt to reduce the 100 to 1 equation that was instituted in 1988 as an attempt to combat the sudden increase in the use of crack cocaine. Basically, the law stated that an individual had to possess 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to receive the same prison sentence. As it turned out, the law imprisoned far more blacks for far longer periods of time for possessing far less cocaine than their white counterparts.
From The Christian Science Monitor:
Since 1988, possession of five grams of crack cocaine – an amount equal to five packets of sugar substitute – landed a person in jail for five years. But people caught with cocaine powder would have to possess 100 times that amount, or 500 grams, to get the same five-year stint behind bars.
It's known as the 100-to-1 ratio. And because most people convicted of crack offenses are black and most convicted of powder cocaine offenses are white, critics have long argued that the disparity represents an egregious racial inequity in America's criminal-justice system.
This week the US Sentencing Commission, with little fanfare, officially reduced its recommended sentences for crack-related offenses. [...]
As a result, up to 4 in 5 people found guilty of crack-cocaine offenses will get sentences that are, on average, 16 months shorter than they would have been under the former guidelines. Opponents of the 100-to-1 ratio applaud the commission's move, but they say it's just a first step because the so-called mandatory minimum sentences set by Congress remain on the books.
Many lawmakers expected that long, mandatory sentences for possessing or selling crack would discourage drug use. And because many perceived crack to be much more destructive than powder cocaine, Congress established the 100-to-1 ratio. In 1988, it passed another law that established a mandatory minimum penalty for simple possession of crack cocaine.
Since then, studies have shown that the crack-versus-powder sentencing disparity disproportionately affects minorities. Last year, 82 percent of crack defendants were black, according to the sentencing commission, compared with 9 percent who were white. For powder cocaine, it was almost the opposite: About 80 percent of powder-cocaine defendants were white and less than 14 percent were black.
It remains uncertain if the new guidelines will be applied retroactively. A follow up meeting is planned in November to consider that issue. If the changes were retroactive, the article indicates that as many as 19,500 individuals incarcerated for crack cocaine possession could have their sentences reduced by an average of 27 months.
The situation is a good example of the flaws that have plagued the war on drugs. While I don't believe the use of cocaine is advisable, I do believe there is no legitimate reason to impose punishments that impartially penalize blacks. Some have suggested the best solution would be to make the sentences for powdered cocaine as severe as those for crack cocaine.
Personally, I don't believe drug use can be extinguished through criminalization so stiffening the punishment seems like the wrong approach. I suspect those unfortunate enough to become addicted would be better served with improved treatment options and I wouldn't be surprised if doing so would, in the long run, cost less to implement than the ongoing expenses associated with the existing criminal model.
At the very least, this current revision is a long overdue correction. Hopefully it will be the first step in reassessing our current drug enforcement strategy.
Tagged as: Cocaine, Crack, Drug Enforcement Agency, Drugs, Mandatory Sentencing, Prison, Racial Inequality, U.S. Sentencing Commission
Daniel DiRito | November 1, 2007 | 5:54 PM |
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