Six Degrees of Speculation: May 2007: Archives

May 31, 2007

Priest Fires Church Organist For Selling Sexual Aids genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Is It Live Or Is It Plastic?

Never let it be said that the Catholic Church isn't interested in what happens in the bedrooms...and the living rooms of its parishioners. A Wisconsin priest fired a woman who had sang in the choir and been the church organist for years...because she is a sales representative for a company that sells "spa products and sex toys" at in home sales parties. Read on, it gets better.

Linette Servais, 50, played the organ and sung with the choir for 35 years. Much of her work as choir director and organist was done without pay. When her parish priest asked to meet with her, she thought it was to say thank you.

Instead, she was told to quit her sales job with company known as Pure Romance or she would lose her position in the church.

Pure Romance in Loveland, Ohio, is a $60 million per year business that sells spa products and sex toys at homes parties attended by women. It has 15,000 consultants like Servais.

She said her decision was not hard: She began working with Pure Romance after a brain tumor and treatment left her sexually dysfunctional. The job allows her to help other women who have similar problems.

"After I got over the initial shock, I prayed over this a long time," she said. "I feel that Pure Romance is my ministry."

[Rev. Dean] Dombroski said he couldn't discuss the situation because it involves personnel. But in a letter to his rural congregation, he wrote: "Linette is a consultant for a firm which sells products of a sexual nature that are not consistent with Church teachings. Because parish leaders are expected to model the teaching of our faith ... she could stay on as the choir director/organist or she could continue to be a consultant but she could not do both."

Servais responded with her own three-page letter to church members, saying she felt compelled to help other women, especially those suffering from problems caused by cancer.

Many choir members quit in support, she said, and some have gathered at her home on occasional Thursdays to sing hymns.

"Father Dean made it sound so sinful," she said. "There is so much more to this business than toys."

Rumor has it that the only church authorized "sex toys" are altar boys and girls...perhaps experts within the church hierarchy have first hand evidence that artificial devices simply aren't as satisfying for their parish priests?

If hypocrisy were a sex toy, then the Catholic Church would be the equivalent of one big / bad "ginormous" dildo.

Image courtesy of dailyhaha.com

Daniel DiRito | May 31, 2007 | 5:26 PM | link | Comments (0)
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The State Of The Economy: Perception Or Reality? genre: Econ-Recon & Six Degrees of Speculation

Perception vs. Reality

Well the tenuous state of the economy just elbowed its way back into the spotlight amidst the ogling over record highs in the stock exchanges. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by a paltry .6 percent during the first quarter of 2007…less than half of the estimate. If this slow growth were to persist throughout the year, GDP will end the year with total growth of less than 2.5 percent.

My goal isn’t to strike the economic alarm bell, but I suspect that the state of U.S. commerce may not be as rosy as many had hoped…especially when one factors in declining home values and the associated rise in foreclosures. One must also consider the nature of the loan products that are attached to a huge number of these homes as well as the overall shift in credit strategies that can be summed up in the oft heard term "subprime lending".

Let me share some information from a few sources and you can draw your own conclusions as to the economic prospects in the coming months.

From The Associated Press – 05/31/07:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The economy nearly stalled in the first quarter with growth slowing to a pace of just 0.6 percent. That was the worst three-month showing in over four years.

The new reading on the gross domestic product, released by the Commerce Department Thursday, showed that economic growth in the January-through-March quarter was much weaker. Government statisticians slashed by more than half their first estimate of a 1.3 percent growth rate for the quarter.

The main culprits for the downgrade: the bloated trade deficit and businesses cutting investment in supplies of the goods they hold in inventories.

"We are still keeping our head above water -- barely," said economist Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics.

For nearly a year, the economy has been enduring a stretch of subpar economic growth due mostly to a sharp housing slump. That in turn has made some businesses act more cautiously in their spending and investing.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doesn't believe the economy will slide into recession this year, nor do Bush administration officials. But ex Fed chief Alan Greenspan has put the odds at one in three.

So to begin with, the former Fed Chairman estimated that there is a 33% chance of a recession…before the first quarter GDP figures were released. Perhaps his prediction has changed?

The economy, unlike many other measurable statistics, depends in some part on the confidence of the consumer; hence consumer confidence is regularly calculated and reported. At the moment, consumers remain relatively positive about the economy…though I suspect that is driven in large part by the low unemployment figures and the stock market’s recent run of record breaking closings.

I’m of the opinion that gas prices, the drop in home values, rising foreclosure rates, and a looming bear market will soon facilitate a downward shift in confidence…which will likely initiate a compounding effect with regards to the factors that figure into this first quarter dip in economic growth.

From The Elliott Wave Theorist - 05/18/07:

There is an important event for believers in perpetual inflation to explain: the trend of yields from bonds and utility stocks. In the 1970s, prices of bonds and utility stocks were falling, and yields on bonds and utility stocks were rising, because of the onslaught of inflation. But in the past 25 years bond and utility stock prices have gone up, and yields on bonds and utility stocks have gone down. Once again, this situation is contrary to claims that we are experiencing a replay of the inflationary 19-teens or 1970s. Those investing on an inflation theme cannot explain these graphs. But there is a precedent for this time. It is 1928-1929, when bond and utility yields bottomed and prices topped in an environment of expanding credit and a stock market boom. The Dow Jones Utility Average was the last of the Dow averages to peak in 1929, and today it is deeply into wave (5) and therefore near the end of its entire bull market. All these juxtaposed market behaviors make sense only in our context of a terminating credit bubble. This one is just a whole lot bigger than any other in history.

Some economic historians blame rising interest rates into 1929 for the crash that ensued. Those who do must acknowledge that the Fed’s interest rate today is at almost exactly the same level it was then, having risen steadily—and in fact way more in percentage terms—since 2003. So even on this score the setup is the same as it was 1929. Remember also that in 1926 the Florida land boom collapsed. In the current cycle, house prices nationwide topped out in 2005, two years ago. So maybe it’s 1928 now instead of 1929. But that’s a small quibble compared to the erroneous idea that we are enjoying a perpetually inflationary goldilocks economy with perpetually rising investment prices.

As to whether the Fed can induce more borrowing by lowering rates in the next recession, we will have to see, but evidence from the sub-prime and Alt-A mortgage markets suggest more strongly than ever that consumers’ and investors’ capacity for holding debt is maxing out. I see no way out of the current extreme in credit issuance aside from the classic way: a debt implosion.

When thinking about the ability of consumers to absorb more debt, there are several factors to consider. First, Americans are addicted to credit and credit card debt is a key component of that debt. In the month of March alone, consumer credit debt rose by $13.46 billion dollars…and total consumer debt stands at $2.425 trillion dollars. More importantly, consumer debt is anticipated to rise 6.7 percent this year.

At the same time, mortgage debt has evolved to include new products…many that leave homeowners vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations…and others that actually extend the amount of credit beyond the actual value of the home predicated on evidence of the borrowers prior positive credit history (occasionally called 125% loans). The bottom line, as I view the situation, is that much of the recent run of strong economic data is a result of debt spending…debt born of easing credit standards coupled with rising home values and the ability to borrow and spend this perceived paper equity.

From Contrarian Chronicles at MSN Money - 02/26/07:

Meantime, the big question remains: When will folks be forced to connect the dots? Unknowable though the answer may be, my friend in London provided a clue, via a recent e-mail:

"You and I and a select group of others have been all over subprime for months now. But today (last Wednesday) is the first day where equity managers have been in to us, asking questions about subprime. Until today, most of the equity managers knew something bad was happening in subprime, but were prepared to assume it was not going to be a problem for the wider credit market, the economy, and so on.

"Slowly but surely, people are starting to get it, and slowly but surely, I am starting to think that the tipping point in credit -- via a subprime-generated shambles in CDO (collateralized debt obligation) land -- is closer than anybody imagines."

Behind the scenes in the land of financial black boxes, the time bomb is ticking.

Lastly, I would like to share a quote from Easy Al, taken from a speech dated April 8, 2005 (not so very far from the zenith of the real-estate market). I don't talk much about Al Greenspan anymore, mostly because he's gone from the scene, and I spilled so much ink on him before he left. But if you had to pick one man responsible for the imbalances in America and the financial hangover coming our way, it would be Al, who said:

"Innovation has brought about a multitude of new products, such as subprime loans and niche credit programs for immigrants...With these advances in technology, lenders have taken advantage of credit-scoring models and other techniques for efficiently extending credit to a broader spectrum of consumers...Where once more-marginal applicants would simply have been denied credit, lenders are now able to quite efficiently judge the risk posed by individual applicants and to price that risk appropriately. These improvements have led to rapid growth in subprime mortgage lending...fostering constructive innovation that is both responsive to market demand and beneficial to consumers."

Note that Greenspan was singing the praises of subprime lending while working to keep the economy moving forward…calling it "innovation" and defining it as "advances in technology". Excuse me, but when a lending institution alters its credit standards based upon the need to compete with other lenders in a tightening market that has been in an extended period of acquisition and consolidation…whereby smaller banks and lenders are acquired based upon total assets and growth projections…is there any doubt that "innovation" and "technology" are simply code words for the mechanisms that have been instituted to serve the players that stand to benefit most from merger mania?

If one accepts the rhetoric, one would have to conclude that lenders have been able to magically extract reasonable risk borrowers from the trash heap of bad credit scores. Don’t get me wrong, the extension of credit ought to cut both ways…meaning that there are clearly borrowers who deserve a second chance and there ought to be a means to allow as much…but the historical take on bankers has been that they like to lend money to those who don’t need it. If I understand the new dynamic, the prevailing momentum is to create the rationale to lend more because size and sales have supplanted stability as the gold standard.

From Bloomberg.com - 05/29/07:

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Home prices in the U.S. dropped last quarter for the first time in almost 16 years, as 13 out of 20 cities reported declines in March.

The value of a house dropped 1.4 percent in the first three months of the year from the same period in 2006, according to a report today by S&P/Case-Shiller. Prices last fell during the third quarter of 1991.

The retreat may deter owners from tapping into home equity for extra cash, economists said. Combined with record gasoline prices, lower home prices raise concern consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, will slow.

The decline in prices may not be large enough to concern the majority of home owners, economists said. The drop in prices in the 12 months ended March pales in comparison to the 157 percent gain over the previous 15 years.

A recovery in housing is being held back by a wave of subprime mortgage defaults, which is throwing homes back onto the market and prompting banks to tighten lending standards for borrowers with poor or limited credit histories.

"These data are probably only just beginning to reflect the impact of problems in the subprime mortgage market,'' said James O'Sullivan, a senior economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, in a report to clients. "Further declines seem likely.''

Again, I’m convinced that economic insiders are hesitant to acknowledge the full breadth and depth of the growing list of negative factors. Keep in mind how consumer confidence works when reading that declining home prices "may not be large enough to concern the majority of home owners […] in comparison to the 157 percent gain over the previous 15 years." I view the prior fifteen years of growth as the dam that is holding back a rising tide of reality…a reality that once released from its state of anesthetization will rapidly catapult consumer confidence in the opposite direction.

Human nature is such that we prefer to ignore the obvious if the obvious has the potential to disrupt the status quo. At the same time, our human nature tends to lead us to panic once reality escapes its domicile of denial. Word of mouth about the family down the block that is in foreclosure along with the neighbor that has dropped the price of their home for the fifth time as well as the number of for sale signs mom sees while carpooling the kids to school have a way of breaching our built in barriers to bad news. Once that happens, it’s a new world…one that seemingly emerges overnight. I used to have a saying that went, "Everything’s shit…until it isn’t"…and in this instance, the reverse may well hold true.

There may not be a comparable match for the relationship between perception and reality that exists within the construct of consumer confidence. These two forces have a tremendous impact on the actual direction of our economy…which is a direct byproduct of the economic decisions we make. As it now sits, if today’s perceptions cannot withstand the growing body of evidence that foreshadows economic tumult, we may be fast approaching an all too dreadful day of awakening.

Image courtesy of thecrespo.cracked.com

Daniel DiRito | May 31, 2007 | 12:29 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 30, 2007

Dr. X - Illegal Immigration And Unemployment genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Illegal immigration is a more complicated, multi-layered issue than the heated words in this political debate often suggest. I really don't have a side — just some observations, some concerns and a few opinions. So, don't take this as a "pro-illegal" immigration position on my part, but among the 18 states that have set new records with historically low rates of joblessness, one finds California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

This data runs against the grain of resentment that can be found among many of those who are extremely troubled by illegal immigration. Of course, these record low rates of joblessness don't prove that illegal immigration doesn't take ANY jobs from Americans. If, however, one's contention is that illegal immigration takes jobs from legals and from American citizens in the aggregate, you've either got to collect some data and start testing that hypothesis or you will be arguing entirely on the basis of fanciful theory — something that is particularly suspect when the argument is associated with resentment. At the very least, it is difficult to look at data like this and declare that illegal immigration has had a significant negative effect on the employment prospects of legals and Americans.

Many economic and cultural issues like the immigration issue involve dynamic subtleties that don't lend themselves to simple bifurcation into all good versus all bad positions. The primitive side of the human mind wants to simplify things in just this way because, for a variety of reasons, a world in which our wants, desires and opinions are unassailably pure is more manageable and bearable. In service of achieving such simplicity, however, the truth has a tendency to get back-written to fit assumptions that either aren't supported by data or are supported by fudged and cherry-picked data.

Previously, for example, I wrote about a fictionalized history of immigration in response to LaShawn Barber's ill-informed moralizing on the issue. Barber's version of history represents an instance of how someone operating with nothing but a data set simplified by a puerile imagination tends to avoid the effort of investigation if those fantasy "facts" support an opinion they hold dear.

H/T: The News Junkie

Cross-posted at Dr. X's Free Associations

Dr. X | May 30, 2007 | 1:58 PM | link | Comments (0)
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The Iraq War: A Suspect Plot & A Disingenuous Script genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

To Laugh Or To Cry?

When it became apparent that the war effort in Iraq was going to take far longer than anticipated, a debate ensued as to whether or not the strategy employed from the outset was sufficient. Early on in that debate, several observers as well as one high ranking active duty officer, General Shinseki, suggested that we lacked the necessary troop levels to win the peace. Shinseki and others argued that we would need at least 300,000 troops to achieve some progressive level of order in Iraq.

Time and again, the President, Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, and other members of the administration routinely dismissed criticism and the calls for more troops. At the time, they argued that we were building an Iraqi military that would soon “stand up so we could stand down". Time and again, the number of fully trained Iraqi forces has been modified. One most recent assessment suggests that just over 6,000 Iraqi soldiers are capable of functioning fully independent of U.S. oversight…which then led to arguments about the definition of independent.

I recall that before the 2004 presidential election, the administration touted that the Iraqi security forces numbered nearly 200,000…though it was never clear if they were fully trained to assume the primary role in policing the country…and the number seemed to change from day to day. John Kerry suggested that we focus on training these forces as soon as possible in order to facilitate the reduction of American troops…and the president countered that those efforts were already underway and progressing as expected.

The most recent assessment states that the Iraqi security forces now number 337,000…of which 143,000 comprise the Iraqi military and 194,000 are members of the Iraqi police force. Discussions are also underway to increase the total security force to 365,000 by the end of the year.

While I’m no mathematician, when one takes a look at the chronology of the increasing numbers of Iraqi security forces along with the recent surge of American forces in comparison to the level of insurgent and sectarian violence, something just doesn’t add up.

If General Shinseki was wrong, then the Iraqi security force alone exceeds the number of troops the administration ever believed would be needed to prosecute our efforts in Iraq. The combined security forces in Iraq now number right at 500,000…far greater than the number the administration ever stated would be needed and well beyond the number that led to Shinseki’s forced resignation. At the same time, there is speculation that the U.S. troop surge could soon approach 200,000 American soldiers.

The only conclusions one can draw from this recent information…along with the four plus years of ever changing rationales…is that we are still being fed inaccurate assessments by an administration that places more weight on reconstructing its rhetoric than restoring security and rebuilding a functional Iraq.

If our efforts in Iraq were a theatrical production, it would no doubt have been billed as an epic tale of good versus evil…but the reviews would be more apt to characterize it as a poorly crafted and executed dramatic offering turned farcical comedy…one that left the audience scratching its collective head while wondering if it should succumb to satirically inspired laughter or simply acquiesce to the tears that are born of the Bush administration’s propensity and pattern of offering the far more familiar and formulaic tragedy.

Image courtesy of mycousinjoey.com

Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2007 | 11:25 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 26, 2007

Perfect Storm: Rising Tide But The Boats Won't Float genre: Econ-Recon & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Perfect Storm

I’ve always been fascinated with society, psychology, and the human condition…especially from the perspective of what the future may hold. Don’t misinterpret that to mean that I think I can predict the future; rather I try to predict how the state of thought…what people believe, what they are saying, and how they are saying it today…will impact their experiences some time in the not so distant future.

Additionally, I love it when my musings can connect several disparate dots into a snapshot of what might unfold in that regard. Lastly, I adore words…how they are used, what they can and should mean, how they shape our hopes and beliefs, and how they can often be used to say one thing while intending or imparting another. Some say that we are what we eat…I say we are what we hear…which becomes what we say.

A couple of articles caught my attention this morning and allowed me to get lost in one of my moments of ADD induced speculation. First, let me offer the backdrop. Of late, I’ve spent a lot of time focused on the state of parenting and the messages today’s parents are giving their children which will influence how they will function in the world as adults. Add in the influence of religion and its tendency to support absolutist thinking, the preoccupation with being famous and being number one and you have a snapshot of the launching point for my contemplation.

The first article deals with the issue of climate change and the impact of global warming. According to a Washington Post article, the United States appears prepared to reject the proposal to be offered at the upcoming G8 Summit that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions in order to cap the rise in global temperature.

Representatives from the world's leading industrial nations met the past two days in Heiligendamm, Germany, to negotiate over German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposed statement, which calls for limiting the worldwide temperature rise this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and cutting global greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Bush administration officials, who raised similar objections in April, rejected the idea of setting mandatory emissions targets as well as language calling for G-8 nations to raise overall energy efficiencies by 20 percent by 2020. With less than two weeks remaining, said sources familiar with the talks, the climate document is the only unresolved issue in the statements the world leaders are expected to sign at the June 6-8 summit.

"The U.S. still has serious, fundamental concerns about this draft statement," a paper dated May 14 states. "The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple 'red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to…We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position."

As I’ve followed the global warming debate, a couple things stand out to me. One, the projections suggest that if the trends were to in fact proceed unabated, rising ocean levels would threaten some of this country’s major population centers. Two, those rising waters are apparently being taxed to absorb the rising levels of carbon dioxide and should they reach saturation, the problems will only accelerate. At some point the entire system goes awry and all hell breaks loose…think high waters and boats…perhaps Noah’s arc meets Poseidon Adventure.

I read the second article at MSNBC. That article, in its broadest terms, is a discussion of the state of the American Dream…the promise of advancing prosperity from generation to generation. Toss in the oft heard GOP theory that the rising tide lifts all boats and you’ll begin to see some rhyme to my reason.

The American dream has always held that each generation will enjoy a higher standard of living than the previous one, and that is still true, as measured by household income.

But the generational gains are slowing, and the increased participation of women in the work force is the only thing keeping the dream alive, according to an analysis of Census data released Friday.

A generation ago, American men in their thirties had median annual incomes of about $40,000 compared with men of the same age who now make about $35,000 a year, adjusted for inflation. That’s a 12.5 percent drop between 1974 and 2004, according to the report from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project.

To be sure, household incomes rose during the same period, but only because there are more full-time working women, the report said.

"Today’s data suggest that during a 30-year period of economic expansion, a rising tide did not lift all boats," Morton said in a release accompanying the report, "Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?"

Of course, the men who run American companies don’t have too much to complain about. CEO pay increased to 262 times the average worker’s pay in 2005 from 35 times in 1978, according to the report’s analysis of Congressional Budget Office statistics.

Going back to 1820, per capita gross domestic product in the United States has grown an average of 52 percent for each 30-year generation, according to the report. But since 1973, median family income has grown only 0.6 percent per year, a rate that produces just a 17 percent increase over a generation.

"Thus, unless the rate of economic growth increases, the next generation will experience an improvement in its standard of living that is only one-third as large as the historical average for earlier generations," the report said.

Stay with me, I promise a big finish (wink, wink).

So when you take the words found in these two articles and factor in the issues from the backdrop, one can begin to see the images that will form a preliminary snapshot of our future human condition premised upon the existing and established social and psychological influences.

I’ll attempt to explain. Generally speaking, it seems to me that many of today’s parents are raising the expectations found in their children. Call it the American Idol mentality morphs with the Tiger Woods phenomenon…meaning mom and dad say to themselves, “My kid has star potential so I simply need to cultivate it from the outset". My bottom line assumption suggests that a growing number of parents believe every child can, should, and will be coached such that they are eventually discovered and catapulted to their rightful position in the spotlight. Call it the American Dream juiced up on steroids (h/t to David Letterman for the steroids slang).

At the same time, we see the data from the study referenced above suggesting that the economic prospects are moving in a diametrically opposite direction…and we have yet to consider the unknown though increasingly predictable ramifications of climate change that could render all prior historical equations virtually useless. Oh, and did I mention the case of the missing honey bees?

I’ve previously argued that humanity has continued to move towards a construct of diverging identities…in other words there is a greater divide between the outward lives we live and the more obscure, though ever lurking in the background, state of hyper reality…those moments when the facade of the outer world identity is stripped of its accoutrements to reveal the starkness of our real identity.

A couple examples might be helpful. It’s the eighteen year old young woman that dad has convinced is destined to be the next Serena Williams who finds herself entering college without a tennis scholarship and void of other measures of self worth…though still convinced her exaggerated “manifest destiny" is just around the corner.

It’s the thirty five year old son who was handed success in the form of family instituted social security when he joined his maternal grandfather’s business as a vice president the day he graduated from college…now left to realize the day after grandfather has entered a nursing home with Alzheimer’s that sales have evaporated in direct relation to grandpa’s advancing disconnect and that what little is left of a fortune will now be needed to pay for round the clock care.

The reality is that this aquarium we call America isn’t big enough to hold the advancing expectations we have sought to institutionalize and that we have exponentially instilled in the next generation. Worse yet, we haven’t yet equipped that generation with the boat to survive the rising tide…no, not the rising tide of success that will raise all boats…but the rising tide of a global economy that will subject the United States to ever increasing global economic realities. In truth, boats be damned…people are going to need to know how to swim…and no, there won’t be any gold medals awarded.

At the same time, we have a government that is intent on borrowing money in order to spend its way out of each new economic setback. Simultaneously, they ignore the warnings of an ever advancing science that suggests an entirely new and ominous cash eating calamity in the form of global climate change is just beyond the rising liquid horizon.

The bright future that has become the staple of our private and political rhetoric (the words we speak) may be nothing more than the glow of an approaching apocalypse…no, not the one associated with the rapture that runs rampant in religious imagery and that promises an idyllic after life…the one that was there in full view for all to see and fully of our own human making…the one we chose to ignore because our best human attributes and identities had atrophied such that we lacked the will to right the ship before it succumbed to the weight of an endless burden of belligerence and betrayal…particularly that betrayal which suggested that god would save us…because we chose to conclude that that would be easier than saving ourselves.

The curtain falls.

Daniel DiRito | May 26, 2007 | 12:11 PM | link | Comments (2)
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May 25, 2007

Brewing The Iraq War: The Slow Drip Continues genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Slow Drip

Looks like the White House may once again need to modify its explanation of the decisions and determinations made prior to invading Iraq. Time and again the American voter has been told that the President simply responded to the intelligence that was available at the time…seemingly suggesting that he and his neoconservative cohorts had no particular axe to grind.

Today we find further evidence that the administration ignored warnings from the CIA that an invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Hussein regime might “lead to a dangerous period of internal violence and provide a boost to terrorists". If obtaining the full truth about the Iraq invasion were akin to the making of a good cup of coffee, then complete disclosure must be viewed as the ultimate in slow drip “brewing". Sadly, the bitter taste of the few sips we’ve been given suggest that the final product will be most foul and, more than likely, completely unpalatable.

In a move sure to raise even more questions about the decision to go to war with Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will on Friday release selected portions of pre-war intelligence in which the CIA warned the administration of the risk and consequences of a conflict in the Middle East.

Among other things, the 40-page Senate report reveals that two intelligence assessments before the war accurately predicted that toppling Saddam could lead to a dangerous period of internal violence and provide a boost to terrorists. But those warnings were seemingly ignored.

In January 2003, two months before the invasion, the intelligence community's think tank — the National Intelligence Council — issued an assessment warning that after Saddam was toppled, there was “a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other and that rogue Saddam loyalists would wage guerilla warfare either by themselves or in alliance with terrorists."

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I interpret this to mean that, despite repeated assertions by the administration to the contrary, there were clear indications of what could be expected in the aftermath of an invasion. One is left to wonder just how overwhelming the zeal to topple Hussein must have been at the time. Even if one were inclined to conclude that the stated reasoning for the war wasn’t contrived or manipulated, wouldn’t it still have been prudent for the administration to heed the warnings about the obstacles that would likely be encountered upon Hussein’s removal? If for no other reason, shouldn’t concerns about committing loyal and dedicated servicemen have led those in charge to consider the ramifications of an ill-conceived and hastily executed endeavor?

The report goes on to point out that the invasion may well fuel further radicalization and enhance the recruitment efforts of anti-American terrorist organizations…almost the exact opposite of one of the many justifications for the invasion that have been offered by the administration.

It also warned that “many angry young recruits" would fuel the rank of Islamic extremists and "Iraqi political culture is so embued with mores (opposed) to the democratic experience … that it may resist the most rigorous and prolonged democratic tutorials."

None of those warnings were reflected in the administration's predictions about the war.
In fact, Vice President Cheney stated the day before the war, “Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

A second assessment weeks before the invasion warned that the war also could be “exploited by terrorists and extremists outside Iraq."

“These should have been very sobering reports," says Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the Brookings Institution. “The administration should have taken them very serious in preparing plans for a difficult post-Saddam period. And yet the administration did not do so."

William Harlow, part of Tenet’s senior intelligence staff and co-author with Tenet on his book, added: “Although the intelligence got the WMD case in Iraq wrong, it got the dangers of a post-invasion Iraq quite right. They raised serious questions about what would face U.S. troops in a post invasion Iraq. The intelligence laid out a number of issues of concern. It’s unclear if administration officials paid any attention to those concerns."

On this Memorial Day Weekend, I can only imagine how this kind of information impacts the families of soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq. A soldier’s love of country and the desire he or she exhibits to serve and protect this nation ought to be held sacred by those entrusted to risk the lives of these fine young Americans. A mother and father ought to be able to expect that our nation’s leaders will view their child as if he or she were their own…not as the vehicle by which small men satisfy large ambitions and egos.

Image courtesy of www.travelblog.org

Daniel DiRito | May 25, 2007 | 10:28 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 24, 2007

Who Is Baking The Immigration Cake? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Immigration Cake

I’ve yet to comment on the recent immigration debate, though I have previously shared my thoughts on the topic at Thought Theater. Having recently spent some time ruminating on the relevnt issues, along with today’s reading of George Will’s latest commentary, I’m ready to take another swipe at the subject.

There seems to be a movement to characterize the tepid across the board voter polling as an indication that the new legislation is generally unacceptable...or in the extreme, as Minority Leader John Boehner described it after meeting with the president, it is “a piece of shit". While I can comprehend Will's rationale, I’m inclined to disagree with his subsequent conclusions.

In fact, I view the poll numbers and the lukewarm reactions to this pending legislation as an egg that won’t hatch because it’s been sat on for far too long by an impotent brood of “banty" roosters who have repeatedly placed partisan objectives ahead of pragmatic and prudent policy. What we are witnessing is simply the acknowledgment that reality has come home to roost…and it has been forever altered by the proverbial practice of “head in the sand" hegemony and hypocrisy.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean. First, let’s look at some of the arguments being advanced in George Will’s op-ed piece.

Compromise is incessantly praised, and it has produced the proposed immigration legislation. But compromise is the mother of complexity, which, regarding immigration, virtually guarantees -- as the public understands -- weak enforcement and noncompliance.

In 1986, when there probably were 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants, Americans accepted an amnesty because they were promised that border control would promptly follow. Today the 12 million illegal immigrants, 60 percent of whom have been here five or more years, are as numerous as Pennsylvanians; 44 states have populations smaller than 12 million. Deporting the 12 million would require police resources and methods from which the nation would rightly flinch. So, why not leave bad enough alone?

Concentrate on border control and on workplace enforcement facilitated by a biometric identification card issued to immigrants who are or will arrive here legally. Treat the problem of the 12 million with benign neglect. Their children born here are American citizens; the parents of these children will pass away.

Were I living in the civil war era, I might conclude that The Reconstruction had commenced…though this time in the form of rewriting history to mask the motives that allowed the 1986 policy to morph into an illegal immigrant incubator. Ask the owner of any small business in operation during this period and they will gladly confirm that the process of worker verification had been given a virtual vasectomy…rendering it harmless, helpless, and hopeless.

Here’s how the Center for Immigration Studies describes the enforcement of the 1986 law:

Enforcement of this measure, intended to turn off the magnet attracting illegals in the first place, was spotty at first and is now virtually nonexistent. Even when the law was passed, Congress pulled its punch by not requiring the development of a mechanism for employers to verify the legal status of new hires, forcing the system to fall back on a blizzard of easily forged paper documents.

And even under this flawed system, the INS was publicly slapped down when it did try to enforce the law. When the agency conducted raids during Georgia's Vidalia onion harvest in 1998, thousands of illegal aliens — knowingly hired by the farmers — abandoned the fields to avoid arrest. By the end of the week, both of the state's senators and three congressmen — Republicans and Democrats — had sent an outraged letter to Washington complaining that the INS "does not understand the needs of America's farmers," and that was the end of that.

So, the INS tried out a "kinder, gentler" means of enforcing the law, which fared no better. Rather than conduct raids on individual employers, Operation Vanguard in 1998-99 sought to identify illegal workers at all meatpacking plants in Nebraska through audits of personnel records. The INS then asked to interview those employees who appeared to be unauthorized — and the illegals ran off. The procedure was remarkably successful, and was meant to be repeated every two or three months until the plants were weaned from their dependence on illegal labor.

Local law-enforcement officials were very pleased with the results, but employers and politicians vociferously criticized the very idea of enforcing the immigration law. Gov. Mike Johanns organized a task force to oppose the operation; the meat packers and the ranchers hired former Gov. Ben Nelson to lobby on their behalf; and, in Washington, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) (coauthor, with Tom Daschle, of the newest amnesty bill, S.2010) made it his mission in life to pressure the Justice Department to stop. They succeeded, the operation was ended, and the INS veteran who thought it up in the first place is now enjoying early retirement.

The INS got the message and developed a new interior-enforcement policy that gave up on trying to actually reassert control over immigration and focused almost entirely on the important, but narrow, issues of criminal aliens and smugglers. As INS policy director Robert Bach told the New York Times in a 2000 story appropriately entitled "I.N.S. Is Looking the Other Way as Illegal Immigrants Fill Jobs": "It is just the market at work, drawing people to jobs, and the INS has chosen to concentrate its actions on aliens who are a danger to the community." The result is clear — the San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this month that from 1992 to 2002, the number of companies fined for hiring illegal workers fell from 1,063 to 13. That's thirteen. In the whole country.

So when Will states that the problem was “weak enforcement and noncompliance", he is only offering a superficial view of the problem. The law was sufficient…but the will of the government (executed by elected officials)…tempered by the economic concerns of important constituent groups and the politicians who needed their votes…didn’t exist for long, if at all.

What resulted was a confluence of competing interests that enabled the unbridled and unchecked flow of immigrants into the country. Republicans satisfied their corporate supporters and Democrats tallied the numbers of a rapidly expanding voting block. Keep in mind the relevant dates…from 1986 to 1992 we had a Republican in the White House and from 1992 through 2000, we had a Democratic president…all followed by the seven years of festering and fractional concerns that have plagued the Bush administration’s tenure. So if it wasn’t solely Republican or Democratic malfeasance that defined these years, what was it? Perhaps politicians of all flavors were savoring the perceived spoils?

The beauty of history is found in the limited degree to which it can be altered…though I realize efforts to flummox are attempted with rampant regularity. With that said, it is necessary to acknowledge that George Bush and his minions, cognizant of his years as the governor of Texas and the data from the elections in 2000 and 2004, thought that they could have their cake and eat it too. By all indications, they concluded that they could facilitate an already substantiated shift of Hispanics voters to the GOP. Given the Bush teams preoccupation with establishing generations of GOP dominance, should anyone be hesitant to conclude that they were salivating at the prospects that immigration reform might afford?

Step forward to 2006 and the obvious Democratic shift…especially in middle class Middle America and one can easily explain the divergent positions found primarily in the GOP, and to a lesser degree amongst Democrats…especially in labor laden districts and regions. Add in the unique considerations and perspectives found in Border States as well as an indeterminate amount of garden variety bigotry and one might well agree with Will that the immigration conundrum fits the premise that “compromise is the mother of complexity"…but when he concludes that complexity leads voters to expect “weak enforcement and noncompliance", that simply provides politicians a ready made excuse for what they have already failed to do along with a rationale for the continuation of failure.

To be fair to Will, we agree that the public is coming “to the conclusion that the government cannot be trusted to mean what it says about immigration". Beyond that we diverge as he goes on to suggest that the government should focus on “border control and on workplace enforcement" while treating “the problem of the [existing undocumented immigrants] 12 million with benign neglect". I’m not sure if Will wants us to focus on the “benign" or the “neglect"…but it’s certainly a doozy of a double entendre.

I do understand Will’s rationale. He believes that any path to citizenship for the existing illegal immigrants would eventually afford them the benefits that come with citizenship and therefore tax entitlement programs at a time when we are approaching the retirement bubble of the baby boomer generation. By ignoring them, we avoid the potential cost considerations while still benefiting from the cheap labor they will continue to provide. With the borders sealed, we halt the continuing influx and, by law, the children of the existing illegal immigrants become citizens…time passes and the 12 million illegal immigrants die off without becoming a worsening financial burden.

Now I’ve heard of sweeping ones problems under a rug…but what Will is suggesting is that we sweep an entire generation under the rug…but not before we let them nanny our children, harvest our crops, clean our toilets, and contribute to our entitlement programs…without the prospect of ever participating in any of those benefits.

Hey, I haven’t trusted politicians for a number of years…but if George Will is suggesting that we entrust him and his ilk with resolving the complexities of this and other issues, then he, like the politicians he chastises (wink, wink), not only wants his cake and eat it too…he already has his eye upon the lowly cooks that will bake it. The one ingredient he lacks, and the one he clearly seeks through his tortured treatise, is for the rest of us Americans to turn our heads and close our eyes while he puts the proverbial squeeze upon what’s left of our commitment to dignity and decency.

If that’s the best America has to offer, I’m gonna have to pass on dessert. That’s one convoluted cake I can’t swallow. I keep thinking that our politicians and their emissaries will someday realize that the voting public, almost without fail, eventually sees through the charades that have become the staple of the political pabulum they ask us to ingest. Perhaps its time we serve them a heapin’ helpin’ of some good old fashioned humble pie?

Daniel DiRito | May 24, 2007 | 12:58 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 23, 2007

Keith Olbermann Special Comment On Iraq Betrayal genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Well it was bound to happen. Just over six months after the American voter sent politicians what appeared to be a clear message about the direction of the country...and particularly their displeasure with the war in Iraq...the criticism of the Democrats (in addition to the Republicans) has made its formal debut in the form of a signature “Special Comment" by the always ebullient and opinionated Keith Olbermann.

Whether the emerging criticism and anger spells trouble for the Democrats in 2008 is yet to be seen...but thinking ahead to the next election, voters may find themselves sending the same message…though wholly uncertain whether they can expect either party to demonstrate enough leadership to bite the bullet and resolve the Iraq situation once and for all.

The growing anticipation of change that characterized the post election period may transform into an extended and continuing period of agonizing indecision and hesitation on the part of politicians in both parties as they jockey for advantage. 2008 may be a watershed election...but that may mean nothing more than an “in your face" realization that the need for power has poisoned the well of public service to such an extent that the lives of honorable Americans and vulnerable Iraqis have become expendable pawns in a never ending game of pedantic power plays.

I'm not prone to predictions...but in this instance...if the above comes to pass, rest assured that the deafening drone that will emerge will be the sound of the collective awareness and awakening of an American voter tsunami hell bent on tearing up the template of our two party system and starting over. I could be wrong...but I doubt it.

Daniel DiRito | May 23, 2007 | 9:00 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are genre: Gaylingual & Six Degrees of Speculation

National Coming Out Day

If today’s Pew Research Poll says one thing loud and clear, it tells gays in the closet to come out and get to know the people around you. With almost every demographic, those who become acquainted with gays have much more favorable opinions about gay rights and gay marriage.

In the past four decades, growing numbers of gays have come out of the closet and into the mainstream of American life. As a consequence, 4-in-10 Americans now report that some of their close friends or family members are gays or lesbians, according to a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

An analysis of survey results suggests that familiarity is closely linked to tolerance. People who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage and they are also significantly less likely to favor allowing schools to fire gay teachers than are those with little or no personal contact with gays, the poll found.

Percentages vary greatly by political orientation: Conservative Republicans are the least likely to say they have a close gay friend or family member (33%), while liberal Democrats are most likely to say so (59%). Race seems to have virtually no effect on whether a person knows gay people well.

Among religious groups, mainline Protestants and seculars (those who don't claim any particular religion) are the most likely to say they had a gay family member or close friend, with 47% saying so. White evangelicals (31%) and Hispanic Catholics (33%) are the least likely to say they have gay family members or close friends.

People living in the south (37%) are less likely to know gay people well than are people living in the Northeast or West, and people living in rural areas (34%) are less likely to say so than those in urban or suburban areas.

The results provide some overarching strategy directives. Not to diminish the efforts of any existing LGBT advocacy group, but nothing could better state the power of the individual than these polling numbers. Further, can there be any doubt that the best means to break through existing barriers, stereotypes, and prejudices is to befriend the perceived enemy.

Let me be clear…I am not suggesting that revealing one’s sexuality to a devout evangelical will elicit tacit acceptance of homosexuality…but it may well reduce the evangelicals perception that they must rally to oppose any measure than grants LGBT individuals some degree of equality…or at the very least the assurance that those opposed to homosexuality will not seek to take away the basic rights of their fellow LGBT citizens.

The reality for gays, proven time and again in the historical chronologies of previous minority groups, is that human contact serves to dispel negative conceptions and to diminish hostility much more effectively than legislative initiatives. In fact, if one listens to the rhetoric of those opposed to LGBT rights, they frequently characterize our legal and political efforts as a militant agenda intent on imposing acceptance and legitimization of the LGBT lifestyle.

Having a background in psychology, I recall being instructed that persuasion was far and away the most successful means to achieve therapeutic change. Efforts to direct or guilt or use fear to get one’s client to alter negative or destructive behaviors often failed…and even worse, frequently served to reinforce the propensity of the client to push back, resist, and act out at escalated levels. The premise holds true with regard to changing the mind of those who oppose LGBT rights.

Speaking from personal experience, my coming out, though difficult, eventually led those who knew me, and continued to have contact with me, to see that I remained the person that they always knew…though with the addition of my homosexuality…and they came to discard the judgments they held that they had never fully sought to understand or challenge. By coming out, I facilitated that process. It also made LGBT advocates of those who would have remained adversaries.

Come out, come out, wherever you are…the title of this posting…is the best hope we have for greater LGBT acceptance. It is also an effort that, once completed, pays rewards for generations. What better legacy could one leave?

Daniel DiRito | May 23, 2007 | 3:03 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 22, 2007

A Meditation On What A God Might Intend For Us genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Meditation On God

It seems to me that so many people suffer the need to be right...absolutely right...and they then proceed to seek, find, and identify the documentation or doctrine to support that rightness.

If I understand the notion of creation...god gave Adam and Eve free will...and then allowed them to execute that free will...seemingly knowing that by his own design they (human beings) would fall short (after all we were the creation of an all knowing entity so he would have to have known that we were limited in what we would be able and apt do with our free will). As such, the question to ask and answer is what was the intent of his actions?

Let's assume god made us and let's assume he knew the inherent limitations of his creation. In fact, as god, one would have to assume he intended those limitations. Let's assume that in doing so, his goal was to see if we could find the wherewithal to acknowledge our shortcomings and respect each others imperfections in the same way he accepted them when he knowingly still chose to create us.

Let's assume that god subsequently viewed the Bible to be an imperfect and incomplete interpretation of his beliefs (maybe not even remotely his own words...especially since, at the outset, he intentionally gave us free will and free choice…not a set of rules). If this original premise is true, then it wouldn’t make sense that he would subsequently tell us his expectations through selected earthly beings that he already knew to be imperfect and prone to judgment and blame.

So let's assume that may explain why he chose to send his son to be a living example of what god hoped we could become despite our imperfections…yet through the thoughtful application of our god given free will. That makes far more sense than assuming that he chose to impart his beliefs (in the form of the Bible) to imperfect beings that he would be sure to know would make mistakes, miscalculations, and misattributions.

So let's assume god sent his son to bear witness to him and to be a living example of the goals that god hoped we could achieve...goals that we would have to achieve by using our free will for good and the betterment of all of gods creations...all the while knowing the imperfections that he intentionally instilled within each of us.

So in Jesus…we see a man that routinely discredited the judgments and determinations that humanity had elected to use in defining the meaning of our human condition and determining who amongst us was worthy. He pointed to our propensity to blame and judge...determinations applied by imperfect beings upon other imperfect beings.

Therefore, in sending Jesus, god sought to tell us that the human goal of seeking to elevate one's worth ahead of others in the eyes of ones god was an inappropriate goal. In fact, his goal was to see if imperfect beings could choose to accept their imperfections and still preserve the heaven on earth that he made available to them.

To do so would require our acceptance of imperfection and our acknowledgment that only he could determine the worthiness of the individual...thereby establishing the basis for us to live side by side without blame and judgment (a heavenly existence)...defined as the act of being like god in relation to all that he created (loving and understanding of all that exists…since all that exists he found worthy to create)…which must mean the flaws we perceive and believe that he created cannot ultimately be flaws since god isn’t flawed. Thus he sent Jesus to demonstrate how we could achieve his goal of heaven on earth…despite all of the “obstacles" that he placed in front of us and instilled within us.

In this construct, since all that exists is encompassed in that which god created, then humanity by design was and is part of his heavenly domain. By that very design, the elevation of one of his created earthly beings over another wasn't intended to be and that leads one to conclude that it would therefore not even be possible.

What would be possible is for humanity to accept and acknowledge that very reality and learn to live and love as god did when he exercised his will…a will that chose to see beauty in all that is because all that is…is encompassed within the all knowing awareness that is god…and that is beyond our full perception and capacity.

An example might be helpful. We often see people accept tragedy by stating that it was gods will and we also accept that that will is often unknown to us. Nonetheless, that seems to suggest that we accept the fact that god intended the earth to have floods and hurricanes and earthquakes...and for children to die from fatal diseases, and for cancer and HIV to exist.

If so, shouldn’t it also mean that god intended for there to be white people, black people, straight people, gay people, and all of the other versions of people…complete with the countless traits that we know are possible here in this existence? Wouldn’t it also mean that it wasn’t god’s intention for us to weight the merits or detriments of these human variances? If we humans believe we can discern what is within the heart and soul of our fellow inhabitants, then what purpose does god serve and what did it mean when Jesus said such things were for god to measure?

If one believes that Jesus was the son of god and that god directed him to come here to be a living example of what god wants us to be, then much of what exists in the bible and established religious doctrine must be rejected.

Unfortunately, I began by stating that many people suffer the need to be right…and I end by reiterating that fact and I point to all that exists to suggest that our human efforts to quantify and qualify god's plan more likely serve to demonstrate the degree and the distance by which we stand removed from god’s intention.

Daniel DiRito | May 22, 2007 | 4:39 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Abortion: Is A Middle Ground Achievable? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

No Middle Ground

Those opposed to abortion were heartened by the recent Supreme Court decision supporting limitations on partial birth abortions. In particular, pro-life groups were encouraged by Justice Kennedy’s reference to the work of an anti-abortion group, The Justice Foundation. The foundation’s work suggests that having an abortion may be detrimental to women and cites a number of testimonials by those who have had abortions. Their documentation argues that "abortion hurts women and endangers their physical, emotional and psychological health."

Personally, I think the choice to have an abortion ought to be a decision left to a woman and those she seeks to include in making that determination. Nonetheless, I have argued that imposing some time limitation on when that decision needs to be made is an acceptable compromise. In other words, some restrictions on late term abortions seem reasonable…so long as it preserves the commonly discussed exceptions. It gives a woman an opportunity to terminate a pregnancy but it compels her to do so in a reasonable amount of time...prior to the advancing viability of the fetus.

I came to my conclusion more as a matter of fleshing out the real positions of those on both sides of the abortion issue rather than as a result of my own particular beliefs. Abortion isn't a good thing...but it is an inevitable reality of our human frailty. Frankly, I think we ought to pay more attention to the well being of birthed children and the uninsured…but I accept the fact that the unborn entity has become the moral focal point.

I’ve concluded that both sides are locked in an all or nothing mentality…something that doesn’t fit well with the realities of the human condition and that simply leads to anger, intransigence, and the vilification of the opposition. I'm an advocate of finding some middle ground...but that isn't likely to be achieved in the current environment.

As such, the shifting strategies with regard to abortion are discussed in an article in today’s New York Times.

But last month’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act marked a milestone for a different argument advanced by anti-abortion leaders, one they are increasingly making in state legislatures around the country. They say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same.

“We think of ourselves as very pro-woman," said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee. "We believe that when you help the woman, you help the baby."

It is embodied in much of the imagery and advertising of the anti-abortion movement in recent years, especially the "Women Deserve Better Than Abortion" campaign by Feminists for Life, the group that counts Jane Sullivan Roberts, the wife of the chief justice, among its most prominent supporters.

It is also at the heart of an effort — expected to escalate in next year’s state legislative sessions — to enact new “informed consent" and mandatory counseling laws that critics assert often amount to a not-so-subtle pitch against abortion. Abortion-rights advocates, still reeling from last month’s decision, argue that this effort is motivated by ideology, not women’s health.

"Informed consent is really a misleading way to characterize it," said Roger Evans, senior director of public policy litigation and law for Planned Parenthood. "To me, what we’ll see is an increasing attempt to push a state’s ideology into a doctor-patient relationship, to force doctors to communicate more and more of the state’s viewpoint."

Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said, "It’s motivated by politics, not by science, not by medical care, and not for the purposes of compassion."

In an attempt to cut to the chase, I accept the fact that true pro-life advocates actually oppose virtually any and all abortions. On the other side, true pro-choice advocates support something approximating abortion on demand. Both positions are blinded by absolutist rhetoric intent on winning the perceived war…often completely removed from the real life considerations confronting a pregnant woman. Such disconnects have, in my opinion, the same significance as the topic in question and have only served to limit reasoned debate.

Let’s take the argument that abortions are detrimental to the physical, emotional, and psychological well being of women. That possibility exists with virtually every choice we make. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, driving a car, and being overweight are choices that can have all of these detrimental effects…yet we still, for the most part, leave these decisions to the individual. These choices are made despite abundant information documenting the risks…risks that I would argue are far better delineated than those advanced as being associated with abortion.

Regardless, I don’t oppose providing women unbiased information about the risks associated with having an abortion…though the anecdotal regrets expressed by some proportion of women having had an abortion is not, in my opinion, scientific data and should not be the basis of government intervention and education. Let me be clear…for every choice we humans make, some of us will regret our choices…but that isn’t a compelling argument to ban certain choices or require government mandated counseling suggesting we should not make that choice. Adding pressure and guilt in the form of required "propaganda" to an already difficult decision to consider having an abortion seems unfair and unnecessary.

More importantly, if the goal is to prevent abortions then wouldn’t the government be compelled to take the same proactive approach with regard to reducing unwanted pregnancies? We have statistical data that verifies that contraception can prevent pregnancy…yet those opposed to abortion routinely seek to preclude the government from "promoting" such measures. The inconsistency illuminates the influence of ideology…and points out that many seek to selectively inject their own particular bias into the role of government.

Government shouldn’t promote ideology or the religious beliefs of any one group. They do have an obligation to distribute factual information that serves the well being of its citizenry…and each citizen can then filter that information through their own belief system. We need to reaffirm that premise and cease efforts by those on both extremes to impose their will upon their fellow citizens. Public service is by definition intended to serve all of the public with as much neutrality as possible…without allowing individual bias to intervene and overwhelm.

All sides agree that the debate reached a new level of significance when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case last month, approvingly cited a friend-of-the court brief filed by the Justice Foundation.

The foundation, a nonprofit public interest litigation firm that has handled an array of conservative causes, has increasingly focused on abortion through its project called Operation Outcry. Mr. Parker said the group began hearing from women in the late 1990s who considered themselves victims of legalized abortion — physically and emotionally — and wanted to tell their stories. Operation Outcry, which grew to include a Web site, a national hot line and chapters around the country, eventually collected statements from more than 2,000 women, officials said.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the group submitted statements from 180 of those women who said that abortion had left them depressed, distraught, in emotional turmoil. "Thirty-three years of real life experiences," the foundation said, "attests that abortion hurts women and endangers their physical, emotional and psychological health."

"While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained," Justice Kennedy wrote, alluding to the brief. "Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow."

Given those stakes, the justice argued, "The state has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed."

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed. "The court invokes an anti-abortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence," she wrote.

Perhaps I’m completely naïve but it seems to me that the founding principle of our constitution and bill of rights was based upon the belief that government should neither punish nor promote the religious beliefs of the individual. What seems to me to have been the prudent application of tolerance is increasingly being attacked by those who are seemingly not content to allow each citizen to hold and practice their own particular beliefs.

Fueling this deterioration are politicians who seek to take advantage of the convictions of particular groups in order to attain political power. When winning office becomes a means to power as opposed to a belief in the merits of public service in order to preserve our system of government, we have begun the unraveling of all that was held dear by those who made great sacrifices to establish this nation.

Those in positions of leadership ought to be the voice of reason…not the reason the voice of the few is enabled and emboldened to dictate the choices that can be made by the many. Just as a referee administers the established rules of a game…our elected officials should champion and preserve those precepts that led to the formation of this great country. At the same time, voters have a responsibility to honor that construct and refrain from efforts to undermine its integrity. Isn’t it time for us to reaffirm that concept?

Image courtesy of iacmusic.com

Daniel DiRito | May 22, 2007 | 12:04 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 21, 2007

Today Show On Limbaugh's Barack The Magic Negro genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Don Imus firing has drawn attention to the comments made by the hosts of other similar programs. The following clip is from a piece on The Today Show that discusses a segment from Rush Limbaugh's radio show. During the program, Limbaugh has a song called Barack The Magic Negro that pokes fun at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. My goal isn't to promote Limbaugh being fired (though it wouldn't bother me if he were); rather I think we should treat everyone with the same standards.

Does Limbaugh cross the same line that led to the firing of Imus? I don't really know how to make that determination...which is why I find myself leery of efforts to monitor and censor what people say and what they write.

Feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings. I'm anxious to hear how others suggest we determine what is appropriate and what is unacceptable.

Daniel DiRito | May 21, 2007 | 6:51 PM | link | Comments (1)
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May 19, 2007

Trench Warfare: Can The Democrats Stand The Slog? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Trench Warfare

In the most recent Gallup polling, the President's approval numbers were slightly better than those of Congress...33% to 29%. Perhaps the numbers aren't sufficient reason for alarm on the part of Democrats, but they do give one reason to ponder their meaning.

The first thought that comes to mind is the perceived success or failure of the Democrat's 100 hour pledge...subsequently replaced by ample media analysis of their first hundred days. While I've heard Speaker Pelosi explain the successes, it is my impression that the majority of voters would be hard pressed to recount any particular legislative measure that actually shifted the nation's direction on the issues that they intended to signal with their vote in the 2006 midterm election (the minimum wage increase may be the one clear exception).

An article in the Washington Post helped me better understand what may be behind these tepid Congressional numbers and the apparent perception that little has happened under Democratic leadership.

House Republicans, fighting to remain relevant in a chamber ruled by Democrats, have increasingly seized on a parliamentary technique to alter or delay nearly a dozen pieces of legislation pushed by the majority this year.

And an election-year promise by Democrats to pay for any new programs they created has made it easier for Republicans to trip them up.

Since January, GOP leaders have relied on a maneuver known as the "motion to recommit" to stymie Democrats and score political points for Republicans still adjusting to life in the minority.

The motion to recommit allows the minority a chance to amend a bill on the floor or send it back to committee, effectively killing it. In a legislative body in which the party in power controls nearly everything, it is one of the few tools the minority has to effect change.

In the 12 years of Republican control that ended in January, Democrats passed 11 motions to recommit. Republicans have racked up the same number in just five months of this Congress.

I have to repeat the numbers...the Republicans, in five months, have racked up the same number of motions to recommit as the Democrats used in twelve years of GOP congressional control. I try to avoid overreacting or rushing to draw conclusions...but these numbers seem noteworthy...if not significant.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that the Democrats have failed in their first 100 days or that their performance warrants these dismal polling numbers. On the other hand, I am questioning if the Democratic leadership has the dexterity and foresight to understand this thing we call politics...and the reality that it has become a high stakes game of strategy and perception.

Democrats say any comparison is unfair because when Republicans controlled Congress, they directed their members to vote against all Democratic motions to recommit.

Now in the majority and mindful of staying there, Democrats have given no such instruction to their members, allowing them to break with the party if they choose. Many freshmen Democrats from GOP-leaning districts find themselves voting with Republicans as a matter of survival -- a reality Republicans have seized upon.

Democrats dismiss the Republican maneuvers as largely symbolic and so arcane as to be irrelevant to the public.

"From a public policy standpoint, it's not very significant," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), regarded as an expert in parliamentary combat. "It's almost a Capture the Flag game. The number of people in America who say, 'Oh my gosh, the Republicans won another motion to recommit' is very small."

The Democrats' own rules have made it easier for Republicans to offer motions to recommit. In January, the party promised to observe "pay-go" -- finding a way to pay for any new spending rather than adding to the federal deficit. The unintended consequence is that tax proposals open legislation to modifications by the minority that would not otherwise be allowed.

This week, Democratic staffers privately discussed a rule change to limit the Republicans' ability to make motions to recommit. GOP leaders were incensed and threatened to use all available procedural techniques to block every bill except war spending legislation. But Democrats are hampered by their promise to run the chamber in a more open fashion than Republicans did when in the majority.

I like Barney Frank but his remarks suggest a tin ear and at least one eye patch...and I'm not drawing a pirate analogy...that might be too generous a comparison since statistics may well suggest that pirates were more mindful of tactical considerations.

I'll offer a more fitting analogy. If navigating politics were akin to walking the streets of an unknown city, the Democrats seem to invariably find themselves in bad neighborhoods...at the end of dark and dead end alleys...being stalked by a group of savvy street thugs intent on teaching them an old fashioned turf lesson...all the while armed with little more than the ability to ask their adversaries what it's going to take to let them off the hook without a pair of black eyes and a bloody nose.

Perhaps my assessment is too harsh but the reality of politics is that the voting public has about as much sympathy for the party in power as a crowd at a boxing match has when watching the home town underdog pin and pummel the brass belted champion against the ropes. Voters assume that both party's know the stakes and are prepared for the battles that will ensue...they simply lack patience for excuses or cries of foul play. When they vote, they vote with expectations that their candidates are prepared to do what it takes to promote and pass the legislation they seek. As much as I dislike the existing construct, is there any doubt that politics isn't for wimps and whiners?

Lastly, I think it is important to look at the comparative numbers of the President and Congress. It would be difficult to imagine that George Bush is more popular with voters than Congress...but I would bet that most voters see the President as a fighter...and when that is compared to the perception of Democrats as soft and spine deficient, it seems plausible that this leads voters to give this Congress lower approval rankings.

Don't get me wrong...I don't agree with the perceptions nor do I like what I view to be the boys will be boys bully mentality that seems to be ingrained into the voting public's political psyche. Unfortunately, it appears that the American voter has accepted that these are the rules of the game.

If the Democrats want to win in 2008, they will either need to become adept at executing their agenda accordingly or they may find themselves in the same place they were when John Kerry suffered what one might call an unexpected and unfortunate TKO. Riding the political fence reminds me of riding a bicycle…if your feet slip, it’s really gonna hurt.

Daniel DiRito | May 19, 2007 | 9:01 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 16, 2007

Christopher Hitchens On Jerry Falwell genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

In this video clip, Christopher Hitchens, atheist and author of the new book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, offers a scathing indictment of Jerry Falwell. While many find Hitchens extremely acerbic, his intellect is formidable. Note Hitchens’ analysis of Falwell's utter hypocrisy with regards to Israel.

I especially enjoyed his characterization of Falwell and other men of his ilk as Chaucerian charlatans.

Daniel DiRito | May 16, 2007 | 1:42 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell: A Fitting Epitaph? genre: Happy Remembrances & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

JERRY FALWELL - 08/11/1933 - 05/15/2007

At Heaven's Gate

Daniel DiRito | May 15, 2007 | 8:39 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 14, 2007

Fears, Peers, Smoke And Mirrors genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

In our never ending quest to have the government or some other entity fix all that ails our society, we continue to look under every rock except the one that really counts…our own. On Thursday the Motion Picture Association...

Daniel DiRito | May 14, 2007 | 10:22 PM | link | Comments (2)
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May 10, 2007

George W. Bush: When Did Justice Become Just Me? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The United States Attorney scandal continues to offer insight into the machinations of unbridled partisan politics and the flaws of the human psyche. It now appears that efforts to remove those who were viewed to have failed to be...

Daniel DiRito | May 10, 2007 | 8:24 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 9, 2007

White Woman, Black Man: How Big Is Ballot Box Bias? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Pew Research Center has a new poll that seeks to determine if the American public would be willing to elect a woman president. On its surface, one might argue that the results are encouraging...especially when compared to similar...

Daniel DiRito | May 9, 2007 | 12:45 PM | link | Comments (5)
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May 8, 2007

Hard Pill To Swallow: Senate Rejects Imported Drugs genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

On Monday, the U.S. pharmaceutical lobby demonstrated the influence it wields on Capital Hill. The Senate voted to oppose the importing of cheaper drugs from other countries, a move that clearly signals that party affiliation and public opinion can...

Daniel DiRito | May 8, 2007 | 2:21 PM | link | Comments (2)
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The Dark Ages: What's Old Is New Again? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Less than ten years ago, the world awaited the promise of the millenium with hope and optimism. Less than ten years into the new millenium, one might argue that hope and optimism have been forced to yield to the...

Daniel DiRito | May 8, 2007 | 9:29 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 4, 2007

McCain: Gays To The Back Of The Tank genre: Gaylingual & Six Degrees of Speculation

Senator John McCain, in a letter to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), offered his support of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military's current position with regards to gays in the military. McCain suggested that while he understands the...

Daniel DiRito | May 4, 2007 | 2:11 PM | link | Comments (3)
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May 3, 2007

Adoption & Foster Care: Evangelicals Walk The Talk? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

I've been a vocal critic of the religious right and more specifically the evangelical movement. I've often criticized their stance on abortion, gay marriage and adoption, and a number of other issues. My focus has frequently been upon the...

Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2007 | 10:26 AM | link | Comments (3)
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May 1, 2007

A Treatise On Personal Responsibility genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

We live in a world that is all too often based upon deniability and a disregard for accountability. We’ve become adept at and accustomed to doublespeak in our spiral towards the mediocrity that accompanies the perception that obfuscation trumps...

Daniel DiRito | May 1, 2007 | 5:27 PM | link | Comments (5)
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