Six Degrees of Speculation: May 2006: Archives
The Guardian had an article today discussing the fact that there is dissention within the ranks of the religious right. Read the full article here.
In his consulting room in a suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, gastrologist Randy Brinson is a worried man. A staunch Republican and devout Baptist, Dr Brinson can claim substantial credit for getting George Bush re-elected in 2004. It was his Redeem the Vote initiative that may have persuaded up to 25 million people to turn out for President Bush. Yet his wife is receiving threats from anonymous conservative activists warning her husband to stay away from politics.
The reason he has fallen foul of men whose candidate he helped re-elect is that he has dared to question the partisan tactics of the religious right. "Conservatives speak in tones that they have got power and they can do what they want. Only 23% of the population embraces those positions but if someone questions their mandate or wants to articulate a different case, for the moderate right, they are totally ridiculed."
In his office in Washington DC, Rich Cizik, vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the largest such umbrella group in the US, is also feeling battered. His mistake has been to become interested in the environment, and he has been told that is not on the religious right's agenda.
"It is supposed to be counterproductive even to consider this. I guess they do not want to part company with the president. This is nothing more than political assassination. I may lose my job. Twenty-five church leaders asked me not to take a political position on this issue but I am a fighter," he said.
Another Washington lobbyist on the religious right told the Guardian: "Rich is just being stupid on this issue. There may be a debate to be had but ... people can only sustain so many moral movements in their lifetime. Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"
The inconsistency and tortured logic of those on the extreme right becomes more pronounced on a daily basis. As they have felt embolden to show more and more of their true colors, I'm convinced they have set in motion their own diminishing credibility and influence.
What becomes more and more apparent is the underlying prejudice and bias that they have previously attempted to portray as a comprehensive moral doctrine. Clearly, as they have been confronted by an array of moral choices, the glaring incongruence’s have been illuminated leaving many to conclude that their movement is merely a fraudulent attempt to dictate the selective application of the judgmental and punitive beliefs they support.
To respond to the religious right lobbyist in DC who posits, "Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"...the answers are many:
1. If God will solve global warming, then why do those on the religious right feel they need to interject their will on other issues...wouldn't the same God solve their concerns for the family and marriage...why do we need a constitutional amendment for some issues and not others?
2. Clearly, the goal of those on the right is to dictate the behaviors they value...especially relating to issues like sex, abortion, and marriage. Issues that relate to the pursuit of wealth at the expense of the climate interfere with the unfettered pursuit of power and influence...since they see the imposition of their beliefs as being dependent upon obtaining wealth which leads to the power to impose. They embrace the notion that he, who has the gold, writes the rules.
3. Does Pat Robertson wants to sell supplements that allow one to leg press 2,000 pounds because he accepts that God has a plan for each of us...or because he is afraid to die and wants to counteract Gods plan that includes the natural process of aging...or because he can make more money off the fear of death if he sells both salvation AND supplements to his followers?
4. If God will intervene to prevent the world from burning up...and at the same time he sent Katrina to punish the immorality of New Orleans (although his aim seemed a bit off since it also damaged other areas), then how will God make the subtle distinctions necessary to punish the bad and preserve the good? Is he only warming areas he dislikes? Will he provide AC to the good people?
5. If they are so convinced that the Lord is going to be returning shortly (rapture crapture) then why build bigger churches and amass wealth...why worry about what the Supreme Court may do 20 years from now...why worry about redrawing congressional districts in Texas to insure that Republicans will hold those seats?
Daniel DiRito | May 31, 2006 | 7:43 PM |
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The stock market tumbled over 180 points today as inflation fears continue to grow. The New York Times has the full article here.
"The main thing that ails the stock market is uncertainty about the Fed and inflation," said Ethan Harris, chief United States economist for Lehman Brothers. "I think the stock market is beginning to figure out that inflation is becoming a danger. Where they pretty much ignored inflation for a long time, now it's becoming an issue."
Adding to the anxiety on Wall Street today, Michael Moskow, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, expressed concerns that inflation was running high. His remarks, broadcast on CNBC during an interview, raised concerns that the central bank could raise interest rates for a 17th straight time when it meets next month.
Wall Street analysts also pointed out that market downturns are symptomatic of an economy that is cooling. "Until the stock market can feel comfortable that this is going to be a modest inflation pick up," Mr. Harris said, "investors are going to be worried. So it's understandable that there's some repricing going on."
The latest news cannot be welcome since Karl Rove and other Republican strategists are suggesting the Party feature the strong economy in the upcoming midterm elections in November. Bloomberg.com has an article detailing the possible problems with such a strategy here.
May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser, laid out a plan to win the 2002 congressional elections by stressing national security. For 2006, Rove is framing a strategy for Republicans to sell the U.S. economy.
In a recent speech, Rove argued that Bush's policies of tax cuts and trade agreements had pulled the nation out of recession, created millions of jobs, boosted productivity and increased disposable income. That record can help lead Republicans to victory in November, Rove said in the May 15 speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Political experts say it may be a tough sell: Voters don't feel optimistic, polls show, and growth rates are expected to slow as the housing market cools and gasoline prices remain near all-time highs.
Seventy percent of 1,002 respondents in a May 8-11 Gallup poll said the economy was in fair to poor condition, up from 63 percent in an April poll.
Two days after Rove spoke, the government revised upward the inflation figure he had cited to 2.3 percent, the biggest year-over-year gain since March 2005. Economists say that may be a sign the robust economy is allowing companies to pass along higher costs of labor and commodities.
The Fed is watching the real estate market, recent comments by central bank officials indicate. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, in testimony last month to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, said a slowdown in housing "could prove a drag on growth this year and next.''
While many of the economic numbers have indicated a relatively strong economy over the last 12 to 18 months, the data has not translated into consumer confidence in the economy. With that in mind, touting the economy as a winning issue may prove to be a difficult proposition. If the economy does take a marked downturn, the Republican Party may have even less to talk about as it seeks to hold control of the House and the Senate.
There is growing evidence that the economy is beginning to slow. As interest rates have risen steadily, it appears they are having an impact on house sales. Read the full article here. While the Bush administration has touted their policy of tax cuts as the leading factor in the strength of the economy, many would argue the historically low interest rates have actually been responsible for keeping the economy growing.
As interest rates move closer to traditional levels, it will be interesting to watch the economic indicators. I've long felt that low interest rates have falsely supported spending for several years and allowed many homeowners to fund added spending through refinancing to remove equity as well as to take advantage of even lower rates found in adjustable rate loan products offered in the highly competitive mortgage business.
New-home sales rose last month, but failed to keep up the robust growth pace of March. The home sales numbers, along with a second government report yesterday that showed a steep decline in orders for durable goods, were seen as pointing to a softening economy.
But the numbers did little to reassure investors hoping that the economic data would encourage the Federal Reserve not to raise interest rates when it meets next month.
With consumer prices on the rise and fears of inflation growing, many investors worry the Fed may raise rates for the 17th consecutive time in two years.
The new housing data appear to confirm what many economists have already said: as real estate speculators bow out of a peaking market and mortgage rates rise, the torrid pace of home sales is cooling. Compared with last April, sales of new homes fell 5.7 percent.
Inventories are also rising, yet another sign of weakness in the latest housing data. At the end of April, the number of homes for sale reached a record 565,000.
With mortgage rates climbing, many economists believe home sales will decline this month.
If interest rates continue to rise, many homeowners who gambled on adjustable rate loans may find their mortgage payments increasing to unexpected levels. Foreclosures are on the rise in several areas of the country and may continue to accelerate as loans are adjusted to current rates.
Many in the Bush administration have been troubled by the lack of consumer confidence in what appears to be a healthy economy based on a number of indicators. I'm inclined to believe that the tepid sentiment reflects the awareness by many consumers that should interest rates continue to rise, they will find themselves with higher mortgage payments and an inability to refinance in order to withdraw the equity that has been used to fuel much of the economic growth. The average consumer realizes that wage growth and new employee demand has not driven their ability to increase spending.
I've long feared that we are operating in an artificial economy that cannot ultimately be sustained. Given recent signs of inflation, there may be mounting pressure to return to a more traditional and conventional monetary policy. How that may impact the economy is difficult to predict which in my view makes the recent economic policies all the more questionable. We have little historical data to predict the impact of the policies of the last several years. The next president may find that he or she will have to deal with the situation in Iraq as well as a troubled economy and a burgeoning national debt.
Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2006 | 4:31 PM |
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President Bush and fellow Republicans in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage will appear in an event in the White House Rose Garden to express strong support for its passage according to an article in the Weekly Standard.
JUNE 6, 2006, is an important date, not only because it's the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. It's also the day the Senate will vote on the so-called marriage amendment, which would amend the Constitution to restrict marriage in America to a man and a woman.
It won't pass. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House. When the Senate voted in 2004, the amendment got only 48 votes. This time, it's likely to get more--probably between 52 and 58--in part because a powerful and unusually ecumenical religious coalition is now backing the amendment. And President Bush, despite his wife Laura's admonition that the marriage issue ought to be kept out of politics, plans to host a pro-amendment event at the White House and speak out in favor of the amendment.
Thought Theater previosuly expressed the opinion that the apparent differences over the issue between Laura Bush, Bill Frist, and others was likely less about dissention and more about sending the necessary signals to various constituency groups.
The Weekly Standard article, written by Fred Barnes, goes on to point out that many Republican senators agree with Laura Bush that the issue should not be politicized and "requires a lot of sensitivity". Nonetheless, Senator Frist has moved forward with the scheduled debate and a likely vote. Again, I am convinced the Republican Party is simply playing the issue from all sides in order to appease those on the far right while also assuring moderate and liberal Republicans, the group with the biggest drop in approval numbers, that they are thoughtful and aware of the sensitive nature of the issue. Keep in mind that there is little doubt the measure will fail so the move to bring a vote is strategically motivated. Note the following excerpt:
Much of the conventional wisdom about the amendment and the marriage issue turns out to be wrong. For instance, the amendment is not being pushed by Republicans as a wedge issue aimed at dividing Democratic voters. Republican senators regard the issue as touchy and awkward.
Really? What's that little saying about a duck being a duck? Barnes conveniently goes on to connect the issue to the activist judge's rhetoric. The inference is that Republican's are being forced to confront the issue. I have no doubt this coy framing of the issue is entirely an orchestration by Karl Rove.
A second misconception is that it's sufficient for an elected official merely to declare his opposition to gay marriage. It's not anymore. The question now is whether an official will support efforts to block gay marriage from being imposed by judges at the federal or state level. And the way to do that in the Senate is to vote for the amendment.
The problem is not voters or legislators. They overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. Thirty-seven states have enacted laws in recent years--19 by referendum, the others by statute--to bar gay marriage. The problem is judges. On May 16, a Georgia judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage, which had been enacted in 2004 with 76 percent of the vote. The judge seized on a technical point, ruling the referendum covered two issues, same-sex marriage and civil unions, and not one, as Georgia law required. In truth, the referendum was drafted to deal with one issue, the protection of heterosexual marriage. At least nine states face lawsuits challenging their traditional marriage laws.
Note how Barnes clearly establishes the courts as the problem and even goes so far as to use the words "in truth" when telling the reader the judge is wrong. Whose truth is Barnes referring to with that remark? Clearly this is a continued escalation of the attempt to undermine the authority of the courts to interpret the law...which by the way is solely their constitutional purpose.
In Nebraska as well, a federal judge on May 12 nullified a referendum barring gay marriage. And in Massachusetts, the state supreme court by a 4-3 vote imposed same sex marriage, basing its decision on a state constitution adopted centuries before gay marriage became an issue.
Here we see Barnes using the strict constructionist rhetoric that is frequently put forth by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas. The suggestion is that anything not specifically mentioned in the constitution cannot now be adjudicated based upon new information or changing circumstances. That notion is ridiculous.
In response, the Religious Coalition for Marriage was formed specifically to back the amendment. [...] The coalition was created to put strong public pressure on both politicians and judges.
The coalition's initial statement said: "We take the unprecedented stand of uniting to call for a constitutional amendment to establish a uniform national definition of marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman. . . . This is the only measure that will adequately protect marriage from those who would circumvent the legislative process and force a redefinition of it on the whole of our society."
Once again, Barnes seeks to point out that these good people are simply responding to the unwarranted actions of others in order to defend the will of the majority. Clearly he is wrong. The courts are not in place to simply support the will of the majority. Were that the case numerous instances of injustice would have remained in place far longer and may have potentially still been in place today. Anyone that believes that the Republican Party is in the midst of wholesale disarray might want to take another long hard look. This is full-on campaigning.
Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2006 | 11:43 AM |
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The news out of Iraq over the weekend offered little encouragement that the establishment of a new government is directly connected to more stability or likely to lead to less violence. Two recent articles discuss the continued sectarian violence fueled by growing militia activity. Nir Rosen offers additional pessimism in a Washington Post article here and The New York Times reports that reserve troops stationed in Kuwait are being moved to western Iraq here.
From the Washington Post:
The sectarian tensions have overtaken far more than Iraq's security forces and its streets. Militias now routinely enter hospitals to hunt down or arrest those who have survived their raids. And many Iraqi government ministries are now filled with the banners and slogans of Shiite religious groups, which now exert total control over these key agencies. If you are not with them, you are gone.
From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, May 29 — The top American commander in Iraq has decided to move reserve troops now deployed in Kuwait into the volatile Anbar Province in western Iraq to help quell a rise in insurgent attacks there, two American officials said Monday.
Although some soldiers from the 3,500-member brigade in Kuwait have moved into Iraq in recent months, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has decided to send in the remainder of the unit after consultations with Iraqi officials in recent days, the officials said.
At the same time, with each instance that the Iraqi's engage in activities to further construct a government, the Bush administration touts the action as a key step in the Iraqi transition to democracy. Granted, the moves to form a government are noteworthy, but at some point these actions taken under heavily protected cover will have to translate into security and safety for the average Iraqi citizen. While the government is considering the number and type of armored vehicles to purchase for each elected official, the latter continues to move in the opposite direction.
From the Washington Post:
Sunnis and Shiites alike were pushed into the arms of their respective militias, often joining out of self-defense. Shiites obtained lists of the Baath party cadres that were the foundation of Hussein's regime and began systematically assassinating Sunnis who had belonged. Sunni militias that had fought the American occupier became Sunni militias protecting Sunni territory from Shiite incursions and retaliating in Shiite areas. The insurgency became secondary as resistance moved to self-defense. In the Shiite-dominated south, meanwhile, Shiite militias battled each other and the British forces.
Sectarian and ethnic cleansing has since continued apace, as mixed neighborhoods are "purified." In Amriya, dead bodies are being found on the main street at a rate of three or five or seven a day. People are afraid to approach the bodies, or call for an ambulance or the police, for fear that they, too, will be found dead the following day. In Abu Ghraib, Dora, Amriya and other once-diverse neighborhoods, Shiites are being forced to leave. In Maalif and Shaab, Sunnis are being targeted.
The world wonders if Iraq is on the brink of civil war, while Iraqis fear calling it one, knowing the fate such a description would portend. In truth, the civil war started long before Samarra and long before the first uprisings. It started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come.
From the New York Times:
The movement of the brigade comes as several senior American officials in Iraq have begun to raise doubts about whether security conditions there will permit significant troop reductions in coming months.
"General Casey has been working with the government of Iraq, and he has asked permission to draw forward more forces that will be operating in Anbar," a senior military official said. The officials were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk officially about continuing troop movements.
One senior American commander said recently that military officials still remain hopeful that they can reduce the troop presence in Iraq by 25 percent by the end of the year, but he admitted that there was no timetable and much of that hope rests on the performance of the fledgling Iraqi government in coming months.
It seems apparent that the Iraqi forces are not prepared to assume the responsibility for security. Further, the Iraqi forces that are functional may have become so sectarian in nature that they may simply add to the violence as groups seek to assume power and purge areas of opposition populations. The fact that the training of the Iraqi forces was late in its execution and fully inadequate likely gave local militias the necessary opportunity to infiltrate and assert influence over newly forming government forces. See prior Thought Theater postings here and here.
The question that I keep coming back to is what will it take to have an Iraqi government and security force to control the violence and settle the sectarian conflict when it cannot currently be contained with the presence of the full U.S. deployment combined with the reportedly growing and functional Iraqi military? If one were to assume that the Iraqi forces are nearing an equal level of ability as the U.S. forces, then by any mathematical calculation we are still only half way towards the goal of concluding that the Iraqi forces are able to assume full responsibility for the security of the country. Further, it has taken in excess of three years to reach this point. Again, mathematically that would indicate we may be as far as three more years away from the reality of full U.S. troop withdrawal. Lastly, all of these assumptions are reliant on the hope and belief that sectarian issues do not grow, that terrorist insurgency remains relatively stable, and that neighboring countries refrain from attempting to exert additional influences. I'm going to need a little more time to adjust my optimism.
Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2006 | 8:12 AM |
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I just don't get it. Has this administration put something into the water of those they employ that makes them prone to bad judgments and unexplained acts of arrogance and incompetence? As I read that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his second in command, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and others within the Justice Department, had threatened to resign if they were forced to return documents seized from embattled Congressman William Jefferson's office, I scratched my head in wonder. Just to be clear, while Jefferson is innocent until proven guilty, I am inclined to believe he has broken the law and is fully deserving of all appropriate punishment. My remarks are not intended to defend him.
At a time when the President is experiencing the lowest polling numbers of his presidency, what would possess any appointee to make such a statement? What could possibly be gained from such a precipitous action? As I began to think about the possibilities, it struck me that those answers may provide the best insight into the tone and tenor of this presidency and how this circle of selected warriors view all those who are outside their privileged and proprietary perimeter. Is this apparent war mentality that pervasive? If so, where did it come from?
I've written before about some of the possible explanations. Unfortunately, I keep coming back to the President and his state of mind. Earlier this morning I was listening to Jonathan Turley, nationally recognized legal scholar and professor at George Washington University. He went on at length about the constitutional ramifications of the actions of the Justice Department in executing the search and seizure of documents from Congressman Jefferson's office. However, what caught my attention was his comment that this President began to push for the broad expansion of executive powers well before 9/11.
I suddenly remembered a paper I had written many years ago about Richard Nixon...a couple of years after his resignation. Recently, I ran across the paper in a box of old documents although I didn't read it at that time. After listening to Turley, I pulled the paper out of the storage box and read it for the first time in decades. The comparisons to George Bush were astonishing. I won't reproduce the paper here as it was nearly twenty typed pages, but I offer the following points in order to draw the necessary comparisons.
Both men seemed to have closer relationships with their mothers than their fathers and both mothers doted over and frequently defended their sons. Much of what I read about Nixon in sourcing the paper seemed to indicate that his mother had a significant influence in his life. As I compare this to George Bush, it seems to be the same. When President Bush speaks about toughness, he has often referenced his mother. When asked about consulting his father for advice, few can forget his remark that he instead consulted the heavenly father. Similarly, Nixon's mother is often the parental influence cited when reading about the former president.
While little can be concluded from these observations, one can put forth the argument that George Bush has a tepid relationship with his father...one that was characterized by a son who followed in his fathers footsteps but rarely achieved the same successes. In many ways, I view their relationship as competitive and I suspect that Barbara Bush has often been the arbiter. One is left to wonder what part this dynamic may have played in the motivation and justification to invade Iraq. As with much of psychology, little can be proven. Nonetheless, sometimes when one strings together enough information it can remain inconclusive but it can also be powerfully convincing.
Both Nixon and Bush were driven to achieve success and both struggled in their early efforts although Nixon had a rather charmed childhood as an excellent student…he was an accomplished debater, and he had a much clearer set of goals. Both demonstrated erratic behavior that seemed to be characterized by periods of highs and lows.
Nixon's first political opponent, Jerry Voorhis, stated after being defeated in a campaign filled with attacks, "Mr. Nixon had to win. Nothing else would do at all. I had not yet grasped the idea that what was good for Richard Nixon must be good for the U.S." In contrast to George Bush, I don't recall reading that Nixon asserted his decisions were made with guidance from God. Nonetheless, both men demonstrated a stubborn certainty in the decisions they made despite evidence to the contrary.
Winning was important to both men and their early political careers were similarly checkered with hardball campaigns that often focused on attacking the other candidates. Nixon often accused his opponents of being sympathetic to communism and routinely cited the voting records of his opponent to make the assertion...despite often having cast many similar votes. I've previously written about the alliance of George Bush and Karl Rove that spans the bulk of Bush's political career. I'm convinced they are both driven to win and have the same attack instinct that does not hesitate to discredit the opponent. There are numerous examples that support this observation.
In one particular speech during the Eisenhower - Nixon candidacy, Nixon stated, "Ninety-six percent of the 6,926 communists, fellow travelers, sex perverts, people with criminal records, dope addicts, drunks, and other security risks removed under the Eisenhower security program were hired by the Truman administration." I was immediately drawn to the comparison to the swift boating of John Kerry. Granted, elections are dogfights...but the tactic of dismantling the opponent’s cornerstone of credibility seems to be a clear objective.
When Nixon ran for president in 1960, he sought to appeal to all Americans...not unlike the strategy used by George Bush to appear as a compassionate conservative who would be a uniter, not a divider. Both men made measured calculations to win election and sought to connect with common folk...eager to be likable and magnanimous...all the while fostering campaigns to discredit the opposition. Crafting a majority coalition remained the driving force and principles were not allowed to impede the effort.
During Nixon's successful run for the presidency in 1968, he and his staff used television to their advantage. The campaign scheduled some ten events before Republican clubs and organizations. The groups were handpicked and coached. They were instructed when to applaud and even to rush to surround Nixon at the conclusion of his remarks. Reporters were not allowed to attend these events. The campaign was quite regimented and concise and repetitive answers were given to each topical question. The similarity to the Bush campaign strategy, including the many scripted and staged events, is remarkable.
Once elected, it was clear that Nixon lacked knowledge of the mechanics of governance. As an expert political strategist and partisan operative, he surrounded himself with a select group of trusted advisors. Most of these advisors had little experience in government. Rather than transitioning to running the country, he seemingly continued to function as if still engaged in a campaign. Again, the comparisons are obvious.
Once in office, Nixon began to concentrate executive power and authority. He was isolated from contrary opinions and held fewer press conferences than any of his predecessors. At the same time, he sought more structured television time than those who previously occupied the White House. He demanded conformity from his staff and sought to bypass congress when considering policy decisions. Quoting from my paper, "It was within his trusted staff, if not within his own mind, that decisions were made." Again, the similarities are abundantly apparent.
Returning to the present situation with regards to the office of Congressman Jefferson, while the entry to this office was likely not illegal (although some contend it wasn't consistent with the constitution), it is fraught with the same questionable judgment that went into the Watergate break-in. Was the motivation to enter the office driven by a grave concern as to the significance of what might be found (keep in mind there are existing methods to obtain the desired access...although it would have taken longer) or were these the actions of men who have lived in an environment rife with secrecy, suspicion and an unmitigated fear of all that is contrary to the prescribed order?
If Jonathan Turley is correct, then it appears that this administration is intent on consolidating power within the executive office in order to establish and maintain a new and dominant political order. Is it possible that six years in this administration has taken such a toll on the foot soldiers (otherwise thoughtful people) that they can no longer make rational judgments and decisions? Has the din of war drowned out the prudent restraint of dialogue and debate? Are there any limits that will overcome the execution of unprecedented actions that seek to exert power? Do the other branches of our government have the will and the integrity to challenge what may well be the greatest threat to our democracy since the actions of Richard Nixon led to a virtual revolt that forced his resignation?
George Bush has frequently sought to cast his legacy in with the likes of Ronald Reagan...and in the end history may well equate him with the notoriety of Richard Nixon. We can only hope that the miscalculations that allow for such divergent perceptions can be successfully overcome in the near future. The stakes are enormous.
Daniel DiRito | May 27, 2006 | 12:25 PM |
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I found this video the other day while looking for a music video. It is kind of weird but I thought it was an interesting combination of the woman who went nuts on the television show Trading Spouses and criticism of the Bush administration and many of their policies. I thought it was creative to use the words of a "christian" fanatic to voice that criticism.
Daniel DiRito | May 27, 2006 | 10:02 AM |
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The issue of immigration has captured the attention of the American public. Those on both sides of the issue are passionate and vocal in expressing their preferred solutions. Having traveled throughout Europe in 2004, I learned that many of these countries have been dealing with their own growing influx of immigrant groups. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and other regional conflicts, many Eastern Europeans and North Africans have sought better security, jobs, and an improved standard of living in other well established countries. By comparison, the cultural and religious diversities they have encountered far exceed the American experience with the burgeoning influx of Mexicans. I found an interesting article on the difficulties associated with immigration and assimilation in The Hill. Some excerpts follow.
The six largest countries in the European Union are considering adopting an integration contract, proposed by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy at a G-6 meeting March 23, that would require immigrants to learn the language of their adopted country and accept relevant social norms or risk expulsion.
Integration processes often reflect one-way integration, in which the immigrant is expected to take the initiative to accomplish the level of integration that the state prescribes. However, in practice integration occurs as a two-way process: the state changes along with the immigrants it accepts.
For example, the United States has no formal immigrant-integration policy, other than a citizenship test requiring the demonstration of basic English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.
Evidence suggests that integration is more successful when governments make education programs accessible and provide individualized integration plans.
The recent rise in perceptions of insecurity and deep social divides between immigrant and existing populations are prompting immigrant integration reform in most European states.
Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and parts of Belgium now all mandate integration. While tailored to the individual state, these programs generally require the immigrant to be able to speak a basic level of the host-country language and to learn the country’s culture and customs.
Not only are European states becoming more proactive about integration but, as these examples demonstrate, nearly all the changes being debated are moving these states’ models toward being more restrictive. The Dutch government is seeking to revolutionize the integration process by requiring pre-immigration “integration screening" in the country of origin.
Much of the immigration debate throughout the West focuses on security concerns given events like 9/11, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, the riots in France, and the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by a Muslim fanatic. Complicating the debate is the potential for fomenting hidden, though palpable, racist sentiments. Racism has been a topic of debate in Europe and many believe it has surfaced in the United States as the government has made a push to address the immigration issue.
Beyond security fears are public concerns about national identity. As globalization facilitates legal and illegal migration flows, a concurrent rise in public fears about changing national identity is occurring.
While such fears are often rooted in submersed racism, active integration policies are believed by the voting public to ‘protect’ the national culture, language, and identity.
Immigration also is perceived as a threat to the welfare state — even though the growth rate in most European countries probably would drop to near-stagnation if zero immigration were imposed.
The key risks in such immigration reform are the limitations of the models that states adopt. Indeed, at the same time as countries such as the Netherlands are shifting from multicultural to more assimilationist integration models, the failures of immigrant assimilation are becoming increasingly apparent.
Islamic immigrants in particular perceive policies such as the French rule requiring removal of conspicuous religious symbols in schools as a threat to their religious identity. Political rhetoric also contributes to these perceptions: Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk turned the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh into an integration issue, stating on the evening of the murder that “[failed integration] has gone this far, and it goes no further". Host country citizens may also blame failed assimilation on racial or religious differences, further exacerbating intercommunity tensions.
Indeed, integration is not achieved merely by labor-market and community participation; it also requires that the immigrant identify with and have loyalty to his new country. Mandating integration compels a speed of assimilation which may impede the developments of loyalty.
This observation is particularly interesting given the recent debate and passage of two bills that seek to identify the need to speak English as a key piece of assimilating into the American culture. During the debate, one of the arguments made was that successful integration was necessarily dependent upon the acquisition of a sufficient proficiency in English. Essentially, the point being made is that learning the language is in the self-interest of the immigrant. The article points out that mandating detailed programs intent on integration and assimilation runs the risk of actually creating resistance.
The article goes on to point out that security fears may be misplaced and misguided when countries attempt to mandate more stringent programs of assimilation and integration in the hopes of preventing terrorist activity.
Evidence suggests that most terrorists either are temporary visitors to the country or second-generation ethnic minorities — not aspiring immigrants. The Nixon Center reports that only 3 percent of known terrorists who have crossed Western borders since 1993 had permanent-resident status. Portraying long-term immigrants as a security threat may isolate them from broader society, inhibiting their integration.
If states were instead to focus on political assimilation — encouraging immigrants to accept the values of liberal democracies — while accepting cultural diversity, they would be better fitted both to reduce security concerns and to encourage immigrant identification with their new home. Managing integration programs effectively with this new goal in mind requires several key elements:
• Ideally, flexible and individualized plans for integration should be established for each immigrant as soon as possible after arrival, taking into account the main reasons the immigrant has moved, his/her cultural background, and the location to which s/he has moved.
• Integration fundamentally is a local process, and communities would benefit from funding to establish their own tailored integration programs.
• Political participation, such as the right to vote in local elections, can empower new immigrant groups.
• The strengths of tight-knit immigrant communities can also be leveraged to facilitate the integration process. Mentorship programs linking new immigrants with more experienced counterparts — such as exist for Somali youth in some U.K. communities — can strengthen community relationships.
• Perhaps most important, immigrants themselves are the best gauge of their integration needs. Encouraging immigrants to participate and contribute in planning for their own integration may be the best way to jump-start the process.
While an extreme analogy, all too often the integration and assimilation of immigrant populations is more akin to the zoo animal model than to a comprehensive program that humanizes immigrants beyond economic and political calculations. Evidence seems to suggest that such approaches run the risk of creating an outcome that is antithetical to the stated objective.
With regard to immigration, looking at the conflict and unrest that has surfaced in Europe may provide valuable insight and guidance as the United States begins this difficult debate. By comparison to many of the immigrant populations in Europe, Mexican immigrants have been peaceful and cooperative and are remarkably well integrated into the American culture. The decisions we are about to make may well determine if that will continue or if we will allow emotions, fear, and bias to hijack the process.
Daniel DiRito | May 26, 2006 | 11:37 AM |
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United Press International has a good article on how the West needs to rethink its approach to the growing wave of Islamist extremism. Read the full article here.
Bassam Tibi, a professor-at-large at Cornell University and faculty member of Germany's University of Goettingen, maintained the West cannot properly cope with jihadism, or faith-driven struggle, through an "old state-centered approach," and use of regular armed forces.
"In such cases (where religion is involved) then there can be no room left for rational conflict resolution," Tibi said Wednesday at an international conference held in Israel on radical Islam. He thus shared the analysis of some Israeli experts following Hamas' victory in the last elections.
Tibi, who proudly presented himself as a descendent of an old Damascus noble family, said Islamists perceive themselves as "true believers" and seek a new world order based on the Sharia religious laws. Islamism is a political ideology that seeks to replace the Western secular system.
"Political Islam is inspired by an Islamic nostalgia aimed at reviving Islam's glory... in a new Islamic shape," he maintained.
The Islamists seek to "topple existing regimes at home" and replace them with "the rule of God... (It) is not the restoration of the Caliphate, but rather an establishing of a nizam Islami (Islamic order) that ranks as a top priority on the agenda of Islamism."
"One cannot fight fundamentalists with armies," Tibi continued. "Jihadism is not only an ideology of religious extremism, but also a new concept of warfare."
Its most important element is to undermine the Islamists' "appeal and their call for an Islamic order.
Tibi advocated "a war of ideas... against the ideology of Islamism." It must involve Muslims, "to avert the perception of a war on Islam."
The article is particularly interesting because of the comparisons one can make to religious fundamentalists in the United States. Clearly, there are differences but the underlying thinking is quite similar. Both groups seek to establish a new order based upon ideological beliefs that emanate from religious doctrine. The concept of the nation/state becomes secondary to establishing the preferred religious hierarchy. Islamists have resorted to acts of violence to propel their movement. While this is a significant differentiation from U.S. religious fundamentalists, the question is whether the distinction is a function of philosophy or if it may simply indicate one movement has traveled further down the natural evolutionary path associated with such ideological thought processes. I'm hopeful the conclusion of the American experience will be the former.
Daniel DiRito | May 26, 2006 | 10:40 AM |
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Michael Hirsh of Newsweek offers some interesting observations on what he believes will be the new Bush administration policy of "containment" with regard to a number of persistent issues. Read the full article here.
May 22, 2006 - An old word is gaining new currency in Washington: containment. You may be hearing a lot more of it as the Bush administration hunkers down for its final two years. Containment of Iraq’s low-level civil war, which shows every sign of persisting for years despite the new government inaugurated this week. Containment of Iran’s nuclear power, which may lead to a missile defense system in Europe. Containment of the Islamism revived by Hamas and Hizbullah, by the Sunni suicide bombers in Iraq, as well as by the “Shiite Crescent"—as Jordan’s King Abdullah once called it—running from Iran through Southern Iraq and into the Gulf.
While Hirsh has identified the major issues in the middle east, one must also consider North Korea, the growing trensions with leftist regimes in South America, and much of the world's increasingly negatve perceptions of America and Americans (see this prior posting).
So today’s containment is a furtive policy being developed willy-nilly behind the scenes, as Bush’s pragmatic second-term officials seek to clean up the vast Mideast mess left by the ideologues who dominated in the first term. A series of cautious concepts similar to those that came to dominate the cold war are emerging as the least worst way of holding off powerful forces that are also going to be around for along time: disintegration in Iraq, expansion in Iran, Islamism all over.
According to U.S. officials, Maliki failed to fill the critical defense and interior ministry posts over the weekend because every well-known candidate was deemed too sectarian or too associated with militias. As a result, whoever is chosen, it is becoming clear that Maliki’s government will likely become a government of nobodies—in other words, inoffensive but weak individuals.
So the very best that can be hoped for in Iraq, probably for many years to come, will be a non-bloodbath, a low-level civil war that doesn’t get worse than the current cycle of insurgent killings and Shiite death-squad reprisals. This is bad, but it could be much worse. Containment, says one Army officer involved in training in Iraq, is at least "doable." He adds: "The only real question is: How do we keep Iraq from becoming a permissive environment for terrorists."
The New York Times reported Monday that the Bush administration hopes to establish an antimissile site in Europe design to forestall Iranian attacks. (Shades of the cold war). “I think you could describe our approach as containment," says a senior U.S. official.
Whoever becomes the next president will inherit most of these problems—and, it is likely, the policy of containment as well.
The biggest problem with the new embrace of containment in this era, of course, is that it is largely unconscious—and it has gone unacknowledged in public. It may be time to call it by its name.
As I finished reading the article, one thought immediately entered my mind. In 2008, as the country will be in the midst of electing a new president, could the campaign language of the Democrats be as simple as asking the question, "Are you living in a safer world today than you were before 9/11?"
If that's the case, then the outline of the Bush legacy will be clearly in place. What will have begun as a worldwide sanctioned war on terror...then morphed into a manifesto to export democracy to the oppressed nations of the world after the invasion of Iraq...then became a failed effort to create a functional democracy in a country plagued by sectarian conflict...then became a containment policy reminiscent of the cold war where more rogue regimes possessed nuclear capability, the middle east became more unstable, Islamic extremists grew exponentially and gained influence in more countries, and South America turned sharply left. Unfortunately, that merely covers the foreign policy legacy. The domestic legacy may be equally unsettling.
If I were asked in 2009 to provide a short summation of what went wrong, I believe I already have the answer I would offer. George Bush was a man focused on legacy...unfortunately his focus came from a preoccupation with looking backward instead of looking forward. Obsessed with not repeating the mistakes that led his father to serve but one term, he was unable to separate the decisions he encountered from the fears he embraced.
He wagered his legacy on political strategies that were singularly guided by the goal of retaining a majority constituency. He partnered with the similarly motivated and equally obsessed Karl Rove to establish, exert, and retain power. They approached their goal with a fervor not seen since the presidency of Richard Nixon. In the end, George Bush will likely serve the remainder of his second term. Nonetheless, he will be seen to have won a number of battles but when all is said and done he will have ultimately lost the war.
Daniel DiRito | May 23, 2006 | 3:24 PM |
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Evidence continues to mount that the world holds an increasingly negative view of America and Americans. In the past, polling seemed to indicate that many abroad held a dislike of American policies but remained favorable towards the American citizenry. Unfortunately, that distinction seems to be evaporating. According to an article from the Newhouse News Service, "America's image problem is pervasive, deep, and perhaps permanent, analysts say - an inevitable outcome of being the world's only superpower." Read the full article here.
WASHINGTON -- The United States has often irritated the rest of the world, but lately it's gotten worse -- and more dangerous.
In increasing numbers, people around the globe resent American power and wealth and reject specific actions like the occupation of Iraq and the campaign against democratically elected Palestinian leaders, in-depth international polling shows.
Polls now show an ominous turn. Majorities around the world think Americans are greedy, violent and rude, and fewer than half in countries like Poland, Spain, Canada, China and Russia think Americans are honest.
"We found a rising antipathy toward Americans," said Bruce Stokes of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which interviewed 93,000 people in 50 countries over a four-year time span.
This new trend towards a diminished distinction between American policies and the sentiment of the American voter is one I witnessed while traveling abroad. I began my trip in November of 2004 just after the election. Numerous individuals asked me what the American public was thinking in reelecting President Bush. The not so subtle insinuation was that the results raised doubts as to the thinking and judgment of the American public. Time and again I pointed out the closeness of the vote and the deep divisions that characterized the election...but I saw skepticism each time I attempted to outline the nuances.
In talking with numerous individuals throughout Europe, I was repeatedly asked what was happening in America. The general line of reasoning seemed to be an assertion that in reelecting George Bush, it was increasingly difficult to give Americans the benefit of the doubt. The growing resentment was palpable despite my explanations. As I've said in other postings, I don't condone the across the board generalizations that I did encounter...but I do accept the growing cynicism. On the bright side, I found that most people were willing to engage in a rational give and take dialogue.
Almost half of those polled in Britain, France and Germany dispute the whole concept of a global war on terrorism, and a majority of Europeans believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. More than two-thirds of Germans, French and Turks believe American leaders lied about the reasons for war and believe the United States is less trustworthy than it once was.
Asked where to find the "good life," no more than one in 10 people recommended the United States in a poll conducted in 13 countries, Kohut said. More popular: Canada, Australia, Britain and Germany. Only in India did the United States still represent the land of opportunity, he found.
The United States spends about $1 billion a year on international broadcasting and the public relations campaign it calls "public diplomacy," run out of the State Department by former top Bush campaign operative Karen Hughes.
As I've tried to digest the long term implications of this data, it seems clear to me that the outcome in Iraq and the region will have a huge impact on the future perceptions of America and Americans. Despite the growing opposition to the war by a majority of Americans I fear that, absent a favorable outcome, all Americans will be held accountable in the eyes of many around the world. Whatever supply of goodwill we may have previously held is now perilously limited. That's unfortunate.
Daniel DiRito | May 22, 2006 | 9:43 AM |
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We hear abundantly about the netroots and the progressive nature of the blogosphere and yet I find myself asking what denotes a progressive movement? The dictionary defines progressive as, “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities…and...one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action." As I’ve thought about the definition, I began to wonder at which point that which is different or original about or within any progressive movement becomes or seeks to establish nothing more than convention. Further, at the point that it does become convention, does it or can it still remain progressive?
My initial conclusion was that anything defined as progressive must necessarily be in a constant state of evolution in order to remain progressive. That immediately led me to ponder whether today’s progressive movement has remained true to the definitional concept or if it has become an ingrained ideology that simply seeks to unseat and replace the one which currently prevails. I was immediately reminded of the psychological concept that asserts that the healing process cannot succeed through the application of power but only through the power inherent in persuasion. Fundamental to this construct is the value of dialogue and debate such that consensus is achieved by choice; not by force. Unfortunately, there are times when the blogosphere acts in opposition to this construct.
Before reaching any conclusions, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of any movement…whether cultural, political, or religious. While each movement possesses some uniquely defining characteristics, they all share some prevailing similarities. There is a commonality of purpose, a predominantly shared set of values, and a desire to effect the changes that legitimize both. Even so, if a movement doesn’t also possess an unyielding commitment to ascertaining more of the “truth", it is destined to fail. The fine line of distinction seems to be the degree to which those who lead a movement seek compliance with what is known and generally accepted as opposed to tolerance for what is still uncertain yet worthy of further investigation. If the goal becomes primarily compliance, progressivism has been hijacked.
An example to demonstrate the distinctions might be helpful. I personally grew up as the gay movement was evolving. I began the journey when being gay was equated with pathology. Nonetheless, we knew the premise lacked “truth" and we refused to accept the status quo. In so doing, the movement embraced the full spectrum of our constituency and we valued and celebrated our differences. Many of us sought tolerance and acceptance without recognizing the dangers of succumbing to assimilation. Some in the movement sought assimilation knowing full well the cost would be foregoing much of the difference and diversity that we represented, shared, and celebrated. The former were progressives and the latter sought to hijack the movement. Essentially, the progressives sought acceptance while the others sought assimilation in order to participate in the established power system and structure. I contend the cost of assimilation was too expensive.
It then becomes increasingly necessary to determine the true nature of those who participate in movements. It does not necessarily follow that those who are a party to a cause, which can be defined as progressive, actually possess the true traits of progressivism. For many, they simply seek the power that they perceive to be held by the opposition. Therefore, their goal, despite being consistent with progressivism, may simply be to assume power for the sake of implementing and imposing the beliefs they hold. Sometimes it can be nothing more than being granted the opportunity to fit in. Far from being about debate and dialogue, those who pretend to be progressives only embrace both until such time as they can dictate their own doctrines and dogma or, even worse, simply be relieved of their designation as part of the minority view.
To say it another way, gray can only be achieved by combining black and white. Gray cannot be chosen as an act of capitulation. To do so simply removes all the pigment leaving the absence of color…and we become invisible. It is also impossible to dictate or legislate gray…an action too often sought by those who oppose progressivism. Those who attempt to do so run the risk of destroying those on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Therefore, gray is an act of awareness…a deliberate action premised on the broadest view of humanity in order to understand all the “truths" that are inherent to humanity. It embraces black and white and in so doing becomes authentically gray.
As I sorted through these thoughts, I found myself both hopeful and doubtful. Hopeful because the signs of progressivism are alive and well within the blogosphere; Doubtful because there also exists ample evidence that a number of imposters have infiltrated the debate and the dialogue fully intent on co-opting the movement for their own pursuit of power or, sadly, for even the lesser reasons outlined above.
The task at hand is how to inoculate progressivism against the dangers of succumbing to the very disease it seeks to supplant…fear of the unknown and unexplored. I can only offer my own thoughts and feelings. My own conclusion is that progressivism succeeds when individual fears are managed such that they are not allowed to stifle debate and dialogue. Conquering our individual fears allow each of us to risk being exposed to difference and diversity. If fear is allowed to succeed, we each remain isolated in our own narrow interpretations of “truth" and the society remains poised for and rife with the conflict that comes with the unknown and the unexplored.
In the end, I’m afraid of what I don’t know…but I am far more afraid of not being willing to find out exactly what that might be. If that’s progressivism…and I think it is…then in the words of our president, “Bring it on!"
Daniel DiRito | May 21, 2006 | 5:19 PM |
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The New York Times has an excellent article on the failure of the Bush administration to anticipate the security needs in Iraq and to plan for rebuilding a police force to maintain order in the wake of toppling Hussein. Read the full article here.
As chaos swept Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Pentagon began its effort to rebuild the Iraqi police with a mere dozen advisers. Overmatched from the start, one was sent to train a 4,000-officer unit to guard power plants and other utilities. A second to advise 500 commanders in Baghdad. Another to organize a border patrol for the entire country.
Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers.
After Baghdad fell, when a majority of Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts, a second proposal by a Justice Department team calling for 6,600 police trainers was reduced to 1,500, and then never carried out. During the first eight months of the occupation — as crime soared and the insurgency took hold — the United States deployed 50 police advisers in Iraq.
What becomes increasingly apparent in reading this and many other reports on the planning and decision making for this war is the disregard for the cautions and concerns expressed by those who were not part of the administration's inner circle of advisors. Those who continue to defend Defense Secretary Rumsfeld do so despite the growing evidence that he is a man with a penchant for intransigence who routinely dismissed the suggestions and cautions issued by subordinates. The calls for his resignation by numerous generals simply serve to support the negative data that continues to surface.
Field training of the Iraqi police, the most critical element of the effort, was left to DynCorp International, a company based in Irving, Tex., that received $750 million in contracts. The advisers, many of them retired officers from small towns, said they arrived in Iraq and quickly found themselves caught between poorly staffed American government agencies, company officials focused on the bottom line and thousands of Iraqi officers clamoring for help.
This spring, three years after administration officials rejected the large American-led field training effort, American military commanders are adopting that very approach. Declaring 2006 the year of the police, the Pentagon is dispatching a total of 3,000 American soldiers and DynCorp contractors to train and mentor police recruits and officers across Iraq.
Once again, we see that only long after the evidence on the ground clearly demonstrates the miscalculation, does this administration adapt the approach. In the meantime, the lives of American soldiers and numerous Iraqi civilians are lost unnecessarily as a result of these countless strategy mistakes. Not only did the administration ignore the advice of numerous experts, they ignored recent historical information that clearly did not support their approach.
In Kosovo, one-tenth the size of Iraq, the United Nations fielded about 4,800 police officers. In Bosnia, 2,000 international police officers trained and monitored local forces.
Two lessons had emerged from the Balkans, Mr. Mayer said. "Law and order first," a warning that failing to create an effective police force and judicial system could stall postwar reconstruction efforts. Second, blanketing local police stations with foreign trainers also helped ensure that cadets applied their academy training in the field and helped deter brutality, corruption and infiltration by militias, he said.
General Garner raised an ambitious plan by Richard Mayer, a Justice Department police-training expert on his staff, to send 5,000 American and foreign advisers to Iraq. Mr. Mayer said his detailed, inch-and-a-half-thick plan included organizational tables, budgets and schedules.
Even before General Garner presented his case, Pentagon officials were criticizing reconstruction efforts known as nation building. In a speech on Feb. 14, 2003, Mr. Rumsfeld warned that international peacekeeping operations could create "a culture of dependence" and that a long-term foreign presence in a country "can be unnatural."
I was struck by the observation that the administration continued to criticize nation building in the build-up to the invasion and seemingly made decisions with that principle in mind...despite the evidence that an invasion of Iraq would likely place the United States in that very position. Keep in mind that President Bush campaigned against nation building in 2000 and that john Kerry campaigned in 2004 for the need to drastically increase the training of an Iraqi security force. Astonishingly, we have become nation builders and we have failed to train a security force that might have minimized the appearance, if not the need, to become nation builders. The contradictions are striking and difficult to explain.
Mr. Bremer said he repeatedly pushed for more trainers during the summer of 2003 but was told that no foreign countries were willing to send large numbers of police officers, and that DynCorp was unable to find Americans.
Across Baghdad, 2,600 military policemen carried out joint patrols with Iraqis and tried to secure a city twice the size of Chicago.
By comparison, Chicago's police force is over 13,000 and New York's is over 40,000 (find data source here). The numbers speak for themselves. Any notion that the city of Baghdad, in the midst of a war, could be secured on the paltry basis noted above is unconscionable.
By August, the field training plan had shrunk. Mr. Bremer said his staff, frustrated by the inability to get enough manpower, dropped the target number to 3,500 trainers from 6,600. By September, it fell to 1,500.
Mr. Bremer said he repeatedly complained in National Security Council meetings chaired by Ms. Rice and attended by cabinet secretaries that the quality of police training was poor and focused on producing high numbers.
"They were just pulling kids off the streets and handing them badges and AK-47's," Mr. Bremer said.
Mr. Bremer and his staff backed a plan to reduce the number of field trainers to 500 from 1,500, and use the remaining funds to intensively train senior Iraqi police officials.
Mr. Powell and Richard L. Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, said in e-mail and phone interviews that they both fought the reduction. They argued that the police trainers could still operate in safer areas outside the Sunni Triangle.
They lost the fight in Washington in March 2004. The field training of a new Iraqi police force — at this point some 90,000 officers — was now left to 500 American contractors from DynCorp.
Is there any doubt as to why Colin Powell ultimately left this administration? Time and again, the expertise of those in key positions was ignored in favor of the preferences of a select group of insiders that clearly included Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. Condoleezza Rice, Powell's replacement, has simply become a mouthpiece to defend the decisions made by this administration. The motivation behind the replacement of an experienced military operative with a trusted Bush apologist is akin to the appointment of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court. Sadly, those cultural conservatives who savaged Meyers quietly accepted the replacement of Powell with Rice without objection. From my perspective, the latter is far more representative of moral bankruptcy. It simply points out the fully misguided values of these cultural conservatives.
Jon Villanova, a North Carolina deputy sheriff hired by DynCorp, said he was promoted to manage other trainers in southern Iraq four months into his yearlong stint. Under the plan drawn up by the Justice Department team, he would have commanded a battalion of at least 500 trainers.
What he got instead was a squad of 40 men to train 20,000 Iraqi policemen spread through four provinces. He said he could not even dream of giving them the kind of one-on-one mentoring that American police cadets received. His team struggled merely to visit their stations once a month.
From September 2004 through April this year, 2,842 police officers were killed and 5,812 were injured, according to American records, which are not available for the first 17 months of the war.
By December 2004, there were also signs that the police were being drawn into the evolving sectarian battles. Senior officers in the police department in the southern city of Basra were implicated in the killings of 10 members of the Baath Party, and of a mother and daughter accused of prostitution, according to a State Department report.
By then there was a growing sense among American officials that the civilian training program was not working, and the United States military came up with its own plan. It was the Americans' third strategy for training the Iraqi police, and it would run into the worst problems of all. Basra was just the beginning.
Can there be any doubt that the security planning for Iraq has been a failure? It is no wonder that the American public grows increasingly skeptical of the efforts in Iraq. Each miscalculation costs lives, money, and American credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. Each day that passes without a workable plan serves to lessen the ability to overcome the increasing objections to the war. At the same time, the reality is that even if we withdraw from Iraq, we will have left the region far less stable, heightened the distrust and dislike of the United States, and given Islamic extremists ample fodder to foment further terrorism. That's a very steep price to pay for refusing to admit mistakes when they still have the potential to be rectified.
Daniel DiRito | May 21, 2006 | 7:52 AM |
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The current debate on immigration reform has brought focus to the conflicting and confusing politics of George Bush. In the current issue of Newsweek, Eleanor Clift explores Bush's position on immigration reform and his lost opportunity to be a centrist leader. Read the full article here.
May 19, 2006 - President Bush’s call for a “rational middle ground" on immigration injects a welcome note of sanity into the debate. But that’s not what Bush’s conservative base is looking for.
After five and a half years of governing from the irrational exuberant right, Bush’s ability to lead the country on a middle path has been lost. He may have stumbled onto the right message, but he’s the wrong messenger. It’s like his call to break our addiction to oil, which was a line in his State of the Union Message. From a former oilman who as president championed tax breaks for more drilling, it was a brazen left-hand turn, and it went mostly unheeded.
What is most confounding about Bush is the inconsistency with which he has approached numerous issues. Some contend he's simply a man of principle who is following his beliefs despite voter opinion. In a previous posting, I argued that his conflicting positions originated from a constantly shifting Karl Rove strategy that is ever focused on crafting and keeping a 51% majority constituency. Reaching any final conclusion as to the administration's actual motivations is increasingly difficult as each day seems to bring a new turn or an added twist. Clift contends that these fluctuations have alienated the Republican base. She points to Pat Buchanan to prove her point.
To Buchanan’s way of thinking, the richness of America’s diversity and the growing political clout of Hispanics is a cause for alarm, not for celebration. And it’s not just illegal immigration that worries him; he would like to shut the door to the world and curb legal immigration, as well. If Buchanan were 10 years younger, he’d be running for president. He’s doing the next best thing, rallying the Buchanan Brigades of campaigns past to ramp up the rhetoric and inflame the conservative base to burn the House down, if need be.
Bush is flailing around trying to find the wedge issue that will win back his base, which makes him vulnerable to Buchanan’s nativist ranting. The irony is that Bush’s approach on immigration is a glimpse into what could have been, centrist politics with broad appeal, but it’s too late for that. He spent his entire presidency courting his conservative base, and they won’t put up with this betrayal. “This is the most deeply divisive issue in the party since his father raised taxes," says Marshall Wittmann, who advised John McCain before joining the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.
I previously wrote that Karl Rove's approach to maintaining a majority constituency involves "calculating the tolerance thresholds of each constituency to determine the amount of disappointment each group can withstand and still remain a part of the patchwork coalition." There is growing evidence that he may have miscalculated these thresholds. It appears more likely that he may have underestimated the tipping point phenomenon...the point at which all tolerance for disappointment evaporates and the previously malleable voting blocks suddenly become intransigent. If one looks at recent remarks by longstanding Bush supporters, there is ample evidence that the tipping point has arrived. Clift goes on to explain how fiscal issues have amplified the discontent.
Bush has built up more foreign-held debt in five years than all previous presidents together accumulated over 224 years. The rebellion over immigration has become the touchstone for conservative anger at Bush over a range of disappointments. “This is where they’re venting," says Wittmann.
The likely outcome in Congress is that any bill the Senate passes that tilts toward moderation will almost certainly die when it cannot be reconciled with a House bill that says illegal immigrants are felons. The Republicans will then go into the November elections having failed to act on an issue consuming the country at a time when they control the White House and the Congress, a dereliction of duty in the minds of many if not most voters. Neo-Buchananism is on the ascendancy in the Republican Party, and the nativist sentiments unleashed in the immigration debate will end for good Karl Rove’s dream of building a permanent GOP majority, along with Bush’s failed promise to bring the country together.
While I don't necessarily disagree with Clift's conclusions, I think that George Bush has a far different notion of how one brings the country together. I agree with Clift's contention that Rove had a dream of building a permanent GOP majority. I believe George Bush held that same dream. The problem is that he never sought to bring the country together by persuasion. Not unlike the justifications for the invasion of Iraq, this president seems blinded by the belief that the positions he promotes hold more "Truth" than the views of those who oppose him. Therefore, in so far as he seeks to unite the country, it is solely based upon the belief that those who hold dissimilar views must eventually realize that they were wrong. History may well conclude that this misguided approach brought George Bush far closer to being the epitome of a divider.
Daniel DiRito | May 20, 2006 | 8:03 AM |
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English only...what did you say? It is completely shameful that some politicians are willing to exploit existing prejudices towards Mexican speaking immigrants in order to appeal to certain voting blocks. Can someone explain to me why we have time to craft, debate, and vote on two bills to define English as our "official" language when the current immigration problem is the culmination of having ignored the problem for over 20 years. The action on these two bills simply points out the misguided priorities of those who hold the power to decide the legislative agenda.
So if we're going to make English our official language in order to insure that people assimilate into the American culture, why not take it a step further? Why not ban St. Patrick's Day, Columbus Day, Kwanzaa, and all other events that celebrate other cultures or any other foreign heritage? It appears that a number of politicians and Americans believe that Mexicans should not to be allowed to openly celebrate their heritage. To my thinking, it simply demonstrates that bias and prejudice are hijacking the immigration dialogue.
Anyone who has walked the streets of any major U.S. city has heard countless foreign languages being spoken and yet no one has suggested that all foreign languages are an issue that warrant the passage of legislation. The issue only arose when the topic was Mexican immigrants. Those who think that race has nothing to do with this particular immigration isue might want to take another look. You can link to prior Thought Theater immigration postings here.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said that President Bush does not support designating English as the "official" language of the United States. Read the full article here.
"The president has never supported making English the national language," Gonzales said after meeting with state and local officials in Texas to discuss cooperation on enforcement of immigration laws.
"English represents freedom in our country and anybody who wants to be successful in our country has a much better chance of doing so if they speak English," Gonzales said. "It is of course a common language."
But, Gonzales said, "I don't see the need to have laws or legislation that says English is the national language."
The United States currently has no official language and the amendment was showing signs of further inflaming an already incendiary issue, with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada calling it "racist."
Daniel DiRito | May 19, 2006 | 2:04 PM |
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Since failing to find WMD's in Iraq, the Bush administration has made the exporting of democracy to oppressed countries a key talking point when explaining the invasion. We routinely hear about the 25 million people who were freed and given the ability to elect a government of their choosing. There is merit in these ideals but the process involved in bringing such lofty goals to fruition is proving to be extremely complicated. An article in the New York Times points out a troubling issue that has received little attention. Read the full article here.
In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.
The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million.
Sometimes the simplest statements contain the most truth. The sign mentioned in the following paragraph is a full scale indictment of the progress being made as well as a blistering commentary on the intransigent nature of the conflict. When an average resident of Iraq has a better grip on the basic realities than those attempting to bring democracy and those intent on honoring sectarian allegiances, it is hard to imagine that resolution is imminent. It also points out the well established practicality of the middle class...those people who work hard each day and have little time to engage in ideological rhetoric. If Iraq's middle class is lost, I see little hope for progress.
Residents have been known to protest, at least on paper. In an act of helpless fury this winter, a large banner hung across a house in Dawra that read, "Do God and Islam agree that I should leave my house to live in a camp with my five children and wife?"
In Dawra, one of the worst areas in all of Baghdad, public life has ground to a halt. Four teachers have been killed in the past 10 days in Mr. Bahjat's area alone, and the Ahmed al-Waily primary school where the Bahjat boys, ages 12 and 8, studied, may not be able to hold final exams because of the killings. And three teachers from the Batoul secondary school were shot in late April.
Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.
But it was the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence, deeply painful to Iraqis who are proud of their intermarried heritage, that tipped the scales as Falah Kubba and his wife, Samira, considered leaving with Fehed, Roula, 13, and Heya, 12.
"The past few months convinced us," said Mr. Kubba, a businessman whose wife is Sunni. "Now they are killing by ID's. The killing around Americans was something different, but the ID's, you can't move around on the streets."
Daniel DiRito | May 19, 2006 | 8:38 AM |
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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia continued his criticism of the consideration of foreign legal decisions when reviewing U.S. constitutional issues. Generally speaking, Scalia has a point if it were true that such considerations were overruling the U.S. Constitution. In fact,...
Daniel DiRito | May 18, 2006 | 10:14 PM |
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President Bush and many Republicans have hailed the bill extending the reduction in capital gains and dividends as an important measure to keep the economy growing. Missing from the analysis is the impact that such tax reductions actually have on...
Daniel DiRito | May 18, 2006 | 8:02 AM |
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The Southern Poverty Law Center has an interesting article on their site about the impact of the increasingly heated immigration debate. You can find the full article here. Prior Thought Theater postings on the immigration issue can be found...
Daniel DiRito | May 17, 2006 | 4:20 PM |
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Hello! I saw you on the street today. I don’t actually know you well but we’ve crossed paths many times before. You looked the same as I had remembered. I don’t think you had the kids with you today. I...
Daniel DiRito | May 17, 2006 | 1:02 PM |
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I’ve noticed a strange confluence of events that has piqued my inherently cynical curiosity. Given my fascination with Karl Rove as a political strategist, some of what I’m seeing makes me increasingly suspicious. I have come to believe that Rove’s...
Daniel DiRito | May 16, 2006 | 8:02 AM |
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True to form, Senator Arlen Specter has agreed to remove the teeth from his bill that is intended to clarify the legality of the NSA surveillance program. The key provision would have forced the administration to bring the program before...
Daniel DiRito | May 16, 2006 | 7:56 AM |
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UPDATE: Despite some progress towards establishing a new government, the situation on the ground in Iraq continues to be troubling. The problem is that the establishment of a new government may have little relationship to the violence that is taking...
Daniel DiRito | May 15, 2006 | 8:39 AM |
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Al Gore appeared on Saturday Night Live last night. Crooks & Liars has video here. I enjoyed the skit but I wanted to share an observation that struck me as I watched his performance. Of late, Al Gore has made...
Daniel DiRito | May 14, 2006 | 10:01 AM |
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Since the revelation that the NSA surveillance program includes the widespread collection and review of domestic telephone activity there has been a great deal of debate. Today’s release of the Washington Post – ABC News poll seems to demonstrate that...
Daniel DiRito | May 14, 2006 | 7:30 AM |
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Managing alliances is a complicated proposition. Since 9/11, many believe the U.S. has done a less than stellar job in that regard. Today in an article by the Associated Press, it appears that even countries we currently count as "friendly"...
Daniel DiRito | May 12, 2006 | 1:00 PM |
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Paul Begala just made an excellent comment on CNN. He pointed out that the large telephone companies that have agreed to cooperate with the administration on domestic surveillance may have an ulterior motive. Begala reminded viewers that the phone companies...
Daniel DiRito | May 11, 2006 | 2:50 PM |
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The New York Times reports that the FBI currently has some 2,000 investigations into public corruption. This includes the Abramoff and Cunningham cases. Read the full article here. From the New York Times: As one of the Bush administration's least...
Daniel DiRito | May 11, 2006 | 12:24 PM |
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UPDATE: Senator Arlen Specter indicates he wants the telephone company executives named by USA Today to testify regarding their participation in the NSA surveillance program. Specter is known for blustering on the front end of issues...we will see if he...
Daniel DiRito | May 11, 2006 | 7:04 AM |
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There is a good article by Howard Fineman on the strategy plans of Karl Rove for the upcoming midterm elections. You can read the entire article here. The big question that remains is whether Rove will have the opportunity to...
Daniel DiRito | May 10, 2006 | 3:01 PM |
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Hispanics remain the fastest growing segment of the American population. Despite what many may assume, the bulk of that growth is fueled more by births than by illegal immigration. The information comes from newly released census bureau information. The full...
Daniel DiRito | May 10, 2006 | 12:15 PM |
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This is a straight version of a French AIDS awareness campaign ad similar to the one seen in this other posting here at Thought Theater. Unfortunately, this would never be approved for television in the United States....
Daniel DiRito | May 9, 2006 | 5:07 PM |
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I recently did a comment posting on Pharyngula, at scienceblogs.com. The topic was about whether or not "science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good...
Daniel DiRito | May 7, 2006 | 8:09 AM |
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Hal Varian of The New York Times reports on a recent paper by two Harvard economists about the significance of the red state, blue state divide. The full article can be found here. The following excerpts are highlights of the...
Daniel DiRito | May 5, 2006 | 7:35 AM |
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The category “Rhyme-N-Reason" is intended to be a place to share poetry that stimulates thoughtful reflection. For me, writing poetry is cathartic. It’s a way to encapsulate a group of feelings or thoughts that might be on my mind...
Daniel DiRito | May 4, 2006 | 7:01 AM |
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The following is a posting by John at AMERICAblog. The basic issue is that a gay friend of John's was fired by Howard Dean shortly after the partner of the fired man wrote a letter objecting to the lack of...
Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2006 | 2:28 PM |
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When I was in high school, I used to occasionally write for the school paper. At the time, I never wanted to write a regular column on a scheduled basis. I wanted to write when I was moved by an...
Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2006 | 12:14 PM |
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A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that virginity pledges are not that effective and the ability to monitor the participants is fraught with difficulties. Todd Zeranski of the Bloomberg News Service reports the following. Boston...
Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2006 | 7:53 AM |
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I had lunch with a friend Tuesday. I've only known her for a few months as we recently met while I was in the process of purchasing insurance. She went to public schools and I attended Catholic schools. She is...
Daniel DiRito | May 2, 2006 | 10:36 PM |
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I've grown increasingly convinced that the current administration has one defining problem. They know how to run a campaign; not a country. Secondly, I have my suspicions as to why. The answer may be nothing more than two words...Karl Rove....
Daniel DiRito | May 1, 2006 | 11:14 AM |
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We hear a lot from the Bush administration about Democracy. President Bush has often said that “Democracy is on the march". When talking about the spread of democracy, he often goes on to say that freedom is sought by all...
Daniel DiRito | May 1, 2006 | 5:16 AM |
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