Six Degrees of Speculation: June 2007: Archives
Murder rates are on the rise in a number of urban areas in the Northeast and one possible explanation being offered is that those metropolitan areas with the lowest immigrant population are more unstable. Murder rates in cities with higher immigrant populations seem to have remained relatively stable in recent years. While immigrant population is offered as one explanation, officials point to other factors in a growing problem with murder rates in the Northeast.
PHILADELPHIA - Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities in a bloodstained corridor along the East Coast are seeing a surge in killings, and one of the most provocative explanations offered by criminal-justice experts is this: not enough new immigrants.
The theory holds that waves of hardworking, ambitious immigrants reinvigorate desperately poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods and help keep crime down.
It is a theory that runs counter to the widely held notion that immigrants are a source of crime and disorder.
“New York, Los Angeles, they’re seeing massive immigration — the transformation, really, of their cities from populations around the world," said Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson. “These are people selecting to go into a country to get ahead, so they’re likely to be working hard and stay out of trouble."
I think the argument has merit though it is always risky to generalize. Regardless, it isn't difficult to imagine that the fear of deportation or being apprehended by a justice system that one doesn't understand would offer some level of deterrence. Additionally, my own anecdotal experience suggests that many immigrants spend long hours working and they frequently have more than one job. That alone limits the time one might have to get into trouble. Lastly, it may also be safe to assume that immigrants view living in the U.S. as an opportunity and the means to a better life...and happy people are generally peaceful people.
In interviews with The Associated Press, homicide detectives, criminal justice experts and community activists point to a confluence of other possible factors.
Among them: a failure to adopt some of the innovative practices that have reduced violence in bigger cities; the availability of powerful guns; and a shift in emphasis toward preventing terrorism instead of ordinary street crime.
Others blame a resigned acceptance of “quality-of-life" crimes, such as running red lights and vandalism. Some law enforcement authorities argue that ignoring such crimes breeds disrespect and cynicism and leads to more serious offenses.
The last paragraph makes a lot of sense to me. When people are desensitized such that they view others as little more than annoyances or obstacles...rather than as fellow human beings with feelings, emotions, and families...it becomes easier to disregard human life. Anyone who has driven in traffic should understand the phenomenon whereby we think the worst of anyone who happens to cut us off or drive erratically...until we witness someone we know doing so and then realize that real people are in those vehicles and they don't always have bad intentions.
University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman is a prime exponent of the theory that immigration exerts a moderating effect on crime among poor black men.
“Cities that have heavily concentrated and segregated African-American poverty are the places that have increases in homicide," Sherman said. “The places that have lots of immigration tend not to have nearly as much segregation and isolation" of poor blacks.
Sherman acknowledges the theory is evolving and unproven.
He said immigrants “change the spirit" of a community and affect the way young black men in poor areas relate to each other.
The percentage of foreign-born residents is 11 percent in Philadelphia, compared with 22 percent in Chicago, 37 percent in New York and 40 percent in Los Angeles, according to 2005 census figures.
Alison Sprague, executive director of Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, suggested there is some merit to the theory. Immigrants in Philadelphia tend to be crime victims rather than perpetrators, she said.
“I really do think the vast majority of people are trying to earn a living and support their families and stay under the radar," Sprague said. Illegal immigrants, especially, “have every motivation not to get involved in something."
“The second-tier cities have fewer economic possibilities for people," said Arlene Bell, a former prosecutor who now runs youth centers in Philadelphia. “When there are no opportunities for kids growing up, no possibility of entering the work force — particularly with their level of education — they’re left to their own devices."
No doubt economic opportunity is a factor...and it may also explain why immigrants choose the locales they do. Cities with better economic conditions are apt to have more immigrants and cities suffering high unemployment are apt to have higher crime.
The fact that immigrants choose cities with more jobs and better economic conditions does suggest that their intentions and ambitions make them less inclined to criminal activities. In other words, they enter the U.S. believing they will have an opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams.
Cities with high crime rates and blighted areas are likely inhabited by people who feel trapped by their economic status...people who are living generational poverty and have come to view their opportunities with little hope...making them more susceptible and inclined to crime. They simply have a much more negative perspective of their situation than their immigrant counterparts. Despite the fact that immigrants may also come from generational poverty and have experienced similar economic struggles, they have, by virtue of their efforts to enter the United States, demonstrated a more hopeful perspective and a compelling desire to improve their station in life.
I think that perspective may have a significant impact on how one behaves. No doubt hopeful people are more mindful of the pitfalls of crime and therefore make choices to avoid such behavior. People who feel hopeless simply begin to believe they have nothing to lose and are unable to see beyond the moment which makes them prone to bad behaviors.
Daniel DiRito | June 30, 2007 | 10:07 AM |
Even if one assumes that the latest troop surge in Iraq has some merit (which I doubt), the prevailing issue remains that the various sectarian groups are no closer to crafting a workable government or ending their years of animosity. The latest example of this elephant in the room...one that the Bush administration can't or won't acknowledge...is the Sunni withdrawal from participation in the Iraqi cabinet.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc said on Friday it was suspending its participation in cabinet because of legal steps being taken against one of its ministers, deepening the sectarian gulf between the country's politicians.
The Sunni Accordance Front has six cabinet posts and the move is a blow to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at a time when he is under U.S. pressure to push through laws aimed at reconciling majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
The bloc also suspended its participation in parliament a week ago over the ousting of speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, one of its members. The latest move effectively removes Sunni Arabs from the cabinet and parliament, leaving Shi'ites and Kurds.
"We have suspended our membership in the cabinet until the government puts an end to procedures being taken against Culture Minister Asaad Kamal Hashemi," the head of the bloc, Adnan al-Dulaimi, told Reuters by telephone from Amman.
While I have no way to judge whether the Sunni's were justified in their actions, if one thinks about our own government (one that American's often view as dysfunctional) and tries to imagine what similar event would elicit the withdrawal of a large block of high ranking politicians, I would speculate that it would be a far more egregious event. I draw the comparison to highlight the distance the Iraqi's must travel before they can be expected to have a functional government.
Until Iraq's sectarian groups place more value on establishing a consensus government than on settling scores or defending their cronies from legitimate scrutiny or sanction, there is little chance that they will succeed in implementing a security force. At the moment, one would be hard pressed to presume that the current security structure is anything more than an assemblage of soldiers and police officers that first and foremost honor their sectarian allegiances.
With an Iraqi security force well over 300,000 strong...in addition to the 160,000 U.S. troops...one would expect far more law and order and far less violence. Unfortunately, there are indications that the Iraqi security forces may simply be using their positions to further sectarian objectives. Whatever the case may be, security remains elusive.
Washington has been urging Iraq for months to pass major laws aimed at drawing Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process. None of the drafts have reached parliament.
The laws deal with sharing revenues from Iraq's huge oil reserves more equitably, holding provincial elections and amending a ban on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party serving in the government and military.
U.S. President George W. Bush pleaded for patience for his Iraq strategy on Thursday as he scrambled to prevent further defections by fellow Republicans skeptical of his war strategy.
Perhaps I'm just a pessimist but if the various groups in the Iraqi government are bickering over how to conduct investigations into possible wrongdoing by fellow members of the government, what are the chances they can reach agreement on the distribution of oil revenues or any other critical issues.
While the Bush administration attempts to focus the American public on the need for the latest surge in U.S. troops, I'm of the opinion that the surge's success or failure is irrelevant so long as Iraq doesn't have a functional government. In the last four years we have heard a litany of explanations and excuses for the lack of progress.
I fear that this latest surge and the associated campaign to persuade American's to stay the course will only be followed by an admission that Iraq simply lacks the wherewithal and the will to step in and assume responsibility for the country's security.
I hope I'm wrong but in the end I'm awfully thankful that I'm not George Bush or a supporter of his Iraq strategy. If my instincts are right, and the situation goes from bad to worse, the president and his apologists are in for an even rougher period of voter unrest. When that happens, look for many of the remaining Republican members of congress to jump ship.
Daniel DiRito | June 29, 2007 | 1:46 PM |
| Comments (0)
In the past week, Ann Coulter has once again made her way to the center stage…the place from which she likes to spin her tasteless diatribes against everyone and everything she elects to associate with the Democratic Party and Liberalism.
In Coulter’s most recent appearances, she succeeded in wishing that John Edwards be killed by a terrorist assassin…an attack she offered to substitute for her prior controversial statement that John Edwards was a faggot…one that drew harsh criticism from both the left and the right. She also suggested that Edward's work as an attorney had bankrupted good doctors and prevented them from delivering babies.
Coulter has drawn ample criticism for her latest screeds, but I believe the issue is much larger than a brazen blond in a dress far too short for a boney legged woman who is in her fifth decade of life (OK, I apologize for the ad hominem rant but if Coulter isn't deserving, then who is?).
In all seriousness, while she has earned all of the criticism directed her way, she is simply a symptom of a far wider disorder. The core problem is that her brand of tabloid trash talk has broad appeal. It speaks to hatreds that were suppressed by the civil rights movement in the 60’s and early 70’s…a movement that virtually shamed bigots into silence though it likely failed to change as many hearts as we may have hoped.
Her willingness to say what others are thinking has made her the cause celeb for a group of hatemonger’s who have decided its safe to come out of the closet. It’s an interesting dynamic for a group that is primarily misogynistic. Ironically, Coulter's supporters and apologists haven't tagged her with either the “b" word or the “c" word monikers that they frequently attach to prominent and powerful women…a feat accomplished because she routinely attacks the same women these individuals dislike.
When she attacks these powerful women (and the men who don’t embrace the perpetuation of a gender driven status of privilege) she not only appeals to a distinctly defined male demographic, but also to the women that are trapped in a generational pattern of male dominance.
Pejoratively speaking, she serves as their female Uncle Tom…a co-opted woman who is willing to do their bidding (for a handsome fee). The dynamic is such that her attacks meet with the approval of men who would otherwise frown upon an assertive and acerbic woman. In many ways, they realize that she is the ideal candidate to champion their agenda…the ideal bait and switch if you will.
A blond white Anglo male of Coulter’s same age and ethnicity simply couldn’t get the coverage she receives as well as the free pass she coerces with her sensual shtick…an act aimed at mainstream media pundits like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly…men who are also predominantly white males that view sitting shoulder to shoulder with the vituperate vixen as an ego enhancing pseudo-sexual encounter…something to talk about over beers with other good old boys who languish in their own loofah lathered fantasies while objectifying women.
In some bizarre way, Coulter is a blessing in that she has been the catalyst which has served to illuminate a dormant, though festering fraternity of ebullient bigots who seek to normalize bias and demonize diversity. She is their mouthpiece and their megaphone.
Coulter hits all the hot buttons…she assails terrorism by calling Islam a “car-burning cult"…she talks about immigration with derogatory stories of illegal drug smuggling Mexicans…she has asserted that Bill Clinton is gay and that John Edwards is a faggot…she argued that there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote…she suggested that women should be armed but not able to vote.
When speaking about the 9/11 women who opposed the war in Iraq, she contended that they were enjoying their husbands deaths…she accuses liberals of hating America, flag-wavers, abortion opponents, and all religions except Islam after the 9/11 attacks…and she said her only regret with Timothy McVeigh was that he didn’t choose to bomb the New York Times Building.
Reality tells us that nothing is more attractive than words of hatred to a bigot…and if one were to think of Coulter as a magnet, she puts out a polarity that instantly unites her with virtually all things bigoted. That occurrence simply demonstrates that Coulter and her vitriol flourish because of the symbiosis that exists between her and her fanatical followers.
In that regard, Coulter is simply the ugly oozing wound through which the poison of a larger disease escapes its incubation chamber...a chamber filled with hatred and fomented by the flagrant face that she is able to attach to the insidious ailment of animosity and anger at all things anathema.
Silencing Coulter may make a number of her detractors happy but it will not expunge the disease from the body that it inhabits...a collective of citizens that would likely prefer a return to the times that preceded the civil rights era...a time when vigilante justice and the power of the posse mentality meted out justice on the branch of the nearest tree or through the barrel of a gun.
I have the utmost respect for Elizabeth Edwards and she, in my opinion, represents all things antithetical to Ann Coulter. I don't begrudge her efforts to confront Coulter during her hostile appearance with Chris Matthews...but I suspect that doing so only emboldens Coulter’s supporters and enables them to make Edwards the object of their toxic tirades.
In so noting, I would suggest that it should inform and guide us to reconnect with the only strategy that can serve to muzzle Coulter and her ilk...a strategy that refuses to give recognition to their untenable ideations and uses the power of group rejection and shaming to force them into silent retreat.
Its simple things like voicing disgust when her name is mentioned or when she appears on television...in order to make sure that one's disdain is heard by those nearby. It’s being heard making a comment in the bookstore when passing a Coulter book display...asking why anybody would buy such trumped up trash.
The strategy should be to make her and her followers pariahs...people to avoid...people to ignore...people that become identified as out of touch and out of the mainstream...people clinging to antiquated hatreds that are born of ignorance. The goal should be to shift her status from celebrity to notoriety...to label her...not in the same way she sets out to label all that she dislikes...but to label her as unacceptable, embarrassing, and ridiculous.
When identifying with Coulter is seen as an asinine alliance and an indication of ignorance, she will become inconsequential and her power will evaporate. The objective should be to establish a distinction between celebrity and notoriety whereby notoriety is a scourge; not a badge of honor.
Accolades and acclamation ought to be reserved for celebrity…celebrity that has at its core the betterment of society or at the very least a contribution that isn’t a detriment. Notoriety should have consequences…a far different outcome and one that shouldn’t reward inappropriate behavior but should instead relegate the notorious to a place of obscurity and insignificance.
In our instant gratification society, we thrive on the latest and greatest breaking story…and the more outrageous; the more we tend to indulge our appetites. We have accepted the notion that all publicity is good publicity…meaning that we have enabled the construct that fame and fortune will likely flow from every tragedy and every misdeed. Celebrity is no longer just the domain of those doing good deeds…in fact; it’s now as likely to be associated with horrific acts and horrible behavior.
Until we break this cycle, people like Ann Coulter will garner the spotlight and have a platform to connect with other ill-intentioned and ill-mannered agitators. As long as she and others like her are given celebrity status, the hatred they espouse will reinforce the mechanisms by which it has been, and will continue to be, perpetuated.
The power of a civil society lies in its ability to will those inclined to bad behavior into at least a reconsideration of that behavior…and at best a recognition that such actions would facilitate their being ostracized…thereby hopefully serving to extinguish the motivations and their bad behavior.
It’s by no means a perfect equation as there will always be miscreants that cannot or will not be rehabilitated. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that the equation we’ve recently adopted is an unmitigated failure that has the potential to unravel what remains of the fabric that has held us together in spite of our many differences.
Ann Coulter is the equivalent of a caustic solvent…a sharpened seam ripper…and she has as her goal to disassemble in order to denigrate. Hers’ is an equation of destruction premised upon the principle that division properly manipulated in fact serves to multiply. However, unlike the biblical story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes in order to serve more humanity to more humans, Coulter seeks to multiply the hatred necessary for one group to seek dominion over all others.
Her book, Godless: The Church Of Liberalism is nothing more than the recipe by which she seeks to bring her plan to fruition. She is akin to the rogue angels that sought status over stability despite god’s original promise of bounty for all. In the many biblical fables, the clear instruction was that when humanity is torn asunder against itself, it will never achieve its potential. Coulter’s fable offers no such instruction and its title is nothing more than a projection of her misguided motivations.
In this human existence that we all share, our capacity for good is matched by our free will to choose evil. The challenge of humanity is to recognize that so long as one human is pitted against another; there will only be turmoil and torment…making it incumbent upon a majority of humans to choose to align with goodness and to elect to shun those who seek to divide. Our destiny is ours to determine. Our determination must be to let no human keep us from our destiny.
Image courtesy of www.salon.com
Daniel DiRito | June 28, 2007 | 10:27 PM |
| Comments (2)
If one sought to characterize the implementation of U.S. policy on immigration, it might be safe to conclude that the old economic adage of laissez-faire is the most appropriate moniker. That is not to say that the law books are void of any legislation...plenty of laws exist. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with only one outstanding question, "Why do we have an immigration problem and what do we want to do about it?"
Finding the answer to that question may be a task we're not prepared to tackle...and if the latest vote in the Senate is any indication, it seems clear that our elected officials have chosen silence over solutions. Recall that the last time our elected officials confronted immigration in a comprehensive manner was in 1986. Twenty plus years and an estimated 12 to 20 million illegal's later, and we haven't yet found the wherewithal to try again.
From The Washington Post:
The most dramatic overhaul of the nation's immigration laws in a generation was trounced this morning by a bipartisan filibuster, with the political right and left overwhelming a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who had been seeking compromise on one of the most difficult social and economic issues facing the country.
Opponents of the bill painted the fight as a battle between the people of the United States against a government that has grown insensitive to an illegal immigrant invasion that threatens the fabric of the nation. Proponents said the Senate had succumbed to the angry voices of hate, venom and racism.
Conservatives saw the measure as amnesty for law breakers who had sneaked into the country. The ACLU objected to provisions that denied immigrants many legal rights. And labor unions saw its guest worker program as a license for big business to import cheap labor and drive down wages.
Even Latino organizations were split, with the League of United Latin American Citizens saying the guest worker program and new green card system were too punitive to support, while the National Council of La Raza pleaded with lawmakers to keep the legislation alive while its lobbyists sought changes.
My fascination with psychology and the human condition...what makes us tick...leads me to the following observations...observations that paint a woeful picture of a nation in turmoil and unable...no, make that unwilling...to find a middle ground.
Disassemble the debate anyway you want but there are only a handful of plausible explanations for what exists...a stalemate of competing goals and outcomes. Allow me to suggest that what we have witnessed is nothing more than a culmination of our self-interest, self-serving, self-centered society...a blatant demonstration of the “me first" obsession coming home to roost.
Let me explain by way of an example that is not associated with immigration...yet one that is fully related in its ability to provide an understanding of the problem. First, let me be clear that I am not offering this example to endorse Michael Bloomberg as a presidential candidate. I simply agree with his observation and I contend it speaks to the immigration issue and many others.
From USA Today:
NEW YORK — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who became an independent last week, showed his non-partisan colors Wednesday by criticizing both political parties.
Bloomberg, who left the GOP and is asked almost daily about running for president, said Wednesday that neither the Republican nor Democratic Party "stands for anything."
"There isn't any philosophy" for either party, he said after a speech on improving public schools.
Bloomberg has repeatedly expressed frustration with Congress, saying lawmakers favor partisanship over progress and have failed to deal with immigration, health care or education.
"Party discipline requires you to make decisions based on what's good for the party rather than what the merits are of the piece of legislation before you," he said.
"I don't think I disagree with what any national party stands for, because I don't think that either national party stands for anything," he said.
Party platforms exist only "to give (the media) something to write about in the middle of a boring convention," he said.
There's an Old Italian saying that posits, "When a fish goes bad, it starts with the head." Let me attempt to draw the connections. What Bloomberg is alluding to is a lack of leadership...the end result of an evolutionary process whereby self-interest makes its way to the highest levels of society such that public service is no longer part of the equation. Every decision and every determination ends up being filtered through the prism of individually driven aspirations and objectives.
History tells us that the essence of government is the social contract...an agreement whereby the individual subrogates self-interest in order to establish cohesion through the establishment of a system of governance...one that can accommodate differing beliefs while still remaining impartial and equitable. Those who agree to the social contract do so knowing full well that decisions won't always serve one's self-interest but they believe that the elected caretakers will act fairly and in the best interest of the state or nation as a whole (the greater good)...avoiding preferential treatment and bias.
Coming back to immigration, I'm simply arguing that our leadership (the two parties) is so entrenched in the politics of self-interest that the welfare of the society (the greater good) is no longer the primary consideration. At the same time, the leadership has simply come to mirror the society...a society that has devolved into the machinations and minutiae of "what's in it for me?"
Politicians want to stay in power and to do so they need to appeal to their constituents as well as raise cash from corporations and interest groups. The problem is there isn't any real voter consensus for politicians to cater to. Some Americans see illegal immigrants taking their jobs...some see them as cheap labor...some see them racially as Mexicans that they don't like...some see them as more votes for the Democrats...some see them as a burden on social programs...some see them as contributors to social programs that they won't be able to benefit from due to their illegal status.
Strange as it may seem the existing immigration problem is the ironic result of all of this focus on self-interest. While everyone is jockeying to have there way, more and more immigrants have and will cross the border. In each group’s intransigent demand that they get what they want, all that is facilitated are more illegal immigrants and a compounding of the problem...making it far more complicated to resolve.
Even more disconcerting is the realization that altering the existing dynamic requires wholesale change...change that once again must originate with the individual being willing to subrogate self-interest for the benefit of the society as a whole...and that then has to percolate upward into individuals who want to lead because they accept and honor the benefits of the social contract and the cohesion it can bring to a society.
That will take time...time we may not have. That may mean we need a sea change event...a group awakening that includes a willingness to step back from self-interest in order to preserve the state...one that accepts less for the individual in order to reaffirm our commitment to preserving the social contract...the mechanism whereby equity and impartiality are given more value than individual interests.
Time moves forward...more immigrants cross the border...tick tock, tick tock...
Daniel DiRito | June 28, 2007 | 11:14 AM |
| Comments (0)
A new CNN poll suggests that a majority of Americans believe that gays cannot change their sexual preference. I applaud the shifting perspective, though I'm not sure that I can accept that being homosexual requires such an acknowledgment; any more than it would make sense to poll gays to see if they acknowledge that heterosexuals cannot change their sexual preference.
Fifty-six percent of about 515 poll respondents said they do not believe sexual orientation can be changed. In 2001, 45 percent of those responding to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll held that belief. In 1998, according to a CNN/Time poll, the number was 36 percent.
In addition, 42 percent of respondents to the current poll said they believe homosexuality results from upbringing and environment, while 39 percent said they believe it is something a person is born with -- a close division that reflects the national debate over the issue.
However, those numbers are greatly changed from the 1970s and '80s, in which fewer than 20 percent of Americans said a person is born homosexual. In a 1977 poll, the number was 13 percent.
Inherent in such polling is institutionalized prejudice and judgment...a preconceived notion that being gay is somehow open to a vote of acceptance. Such polling begins with the premise that being a homosexual is relevant to heterosexuals. In reality, the reverse is far more accurate since society is predominantly heterosexual and judgment is directed from the heterosexual majority towards the homosexual minority. Therefore, the negative impact of sexual preference is born disproportionately by homosexuals...a construct I find detestable.
When I look at the data, one item stands out in its significance...and while its meaning is the result of my own speculation, I think its worth noting and discussing. Note that 56 percent believe that homosexuals cannot change their orientation and that 39 percent believe that it is something an individual is born with. That discordance (as well as the discordance between those who believe homosexuality results from environment) is meaningful and I contend that it is a measurement of judgment and blame...although it is likely the result of religious doctrine.
Let me explain. If one believes sexual preference cannot be changed, then how would a respondent explain answering these two questions differently? The seventeen percent difference (fourteen percent in the case of those who believe it results from environment) requires an explanation and the obvious one is that the conflict is explained in a belief that homosexuality is chosen rather than a trait one possesses at birth. That leads us back to judgment...a belief that gays aren't willing to change...a state of being that would allow one to conclude that the homosexual is electing to sin and ignoring religious doctrine...making them subject to the condemnation of their heterosexual detractors.
The number may also be a measurement of the conflict some heterosexuals are experiencing between what they believe through experience and/or science, and what their religious beliefs tell them they should think about homosexuality. The good news is that it appears that experience and/or science may be winning the battle...even though the reporting still demonstrates the impact and influence of the religious indoctrination.
One might also conclude that the conscience (a mechanism of fairness) is at work and compelling the disparity...meaning that deep down...despite religious beliefs...these respondents know it is wrong to apply judgment though they can't yet compel themselves to fully discard their learned bias.
I'm hopeful that the perceptions will continue to change. At the same time, I cannot help but find it offensive that the sexuality of some Americans is open to the judgments of the remaining Americans. There's something very creepy about that focus.
Daniel DiRito | June 27, 2007 | 6:33 PM |
| Comments (0)
To say that the foreign policy of the Bush administration defies logic is to presume that it had its origin in a rational, reasonable, and logical dialogue...a premise that may not be sustainable. Looking at the current status of our foreign policy efforts and the impression of its effectiveness held by other nations, one might well conclude that regardless of whatever the initial due diligence, it is time for a wholesale reevaluation.
In the latest Pew Research Center survey, distrust of the United States continues to grow...primarily as a result of a foreign policy that is viewed to be arrogant and arbitrary.
In one measure of Bush's unpopularity, the poll showed he is less trusted on foreign policy than Russian President Vladimir Putin by allies Britain, Germany and Canada, even as faith in Putin has plummeted. About half in the U.S. say they have little or no trust in either leader's conduct of foreign affairs.
Bush's sagging numbers partly reflect widespread opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. Of the countries surveyed - which included the U.S. - more people favored the removal of American forces from Iraq in all but Israel, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.
"Even though there is a mixed view of the United States around the world, there is increasing disapproval of the principal cornerstones of our foreign policy," said Pew President Andrew Kohut.
Yet wide-ranging majorities think the U.S. does not consider their interests when formulating foreign policy; worry that U.S. customs are hurting their countries; and think the U.S. contributes to the gap between rich and poor nations.
As the U.S. has waged its war on terrorism over the past five years, its overall image has worsened. It has dropped from 75 percent favorable in Britain in 2002 to 51 percent now; from 60 percent to 30 percent in Germany; and from 64 percent to 56 percent in Mexico.
The report also found:
-While views of American people have gotten worse in many countries, they are generally better liked than the U.S. itself.
From the Pew Research Center:
The most glaring piece of data is the fact that since 2002, twenty-six countries have a less favorable view of the United States. The key fact to recall is that following September 11, 2001, the United States was seen as an aggrieved nation with wide support and sympathy for the losses sustained in the terrorist attacks. In less than six years, the image of the U.S. has undergone a wholesale reversal. The nation with the moral high ground has followed a foreign policy agenda that has done little more than to tarnish its image.
While the data doesn't directly speak to the reasons, I would suggest that a large number of respondents simply don't view our efforts to have been effective in reducing the threat of terrorism and they likely view our invasion of Iraq coupled with our inability to bring security and stability to the nation as an accelerant for extremist ideology and animosity.
Instead of maintaining our image as a force for good and an honest broker in the international arena, our actions have planted the seeds of doubt that we can be impartial. No doubt there are concerns that we have taken advantage of our status as the singular superpower...becoming a bully that is inclined to actions that focus on augmenting our authority and demanding that other less formidable nations comply.
The fact that the Bush administration chose to ignore the Palestinian leadership rather than continuing to seek a lasting resolution simply heightened concerns that the United States was no longer focused on acting equitably and with the best interest of all the parties in any given conflict around the world. While those perceptions may not be fully accurate, the rhetoric used by the Bush administration has failed to assuage the concerns; serving to add fuel to an already smoldering suspicion.
Despite the generally negative data, Americans can be encouraged that those surveyed were able to distinguish the actions of the U.S. government apart from their impressions of our citizenry...a sign that with new leadership our image should be able to rebound as quickly as it deteriorated. I know I'm not alone in hoping that will soon be the case.
Image courtesy of anti-corporation.blogspot.com
Daniel DiRito | June 27, 2007 | 12:34 PM |
| Comments (0)
American's have heard ample analysis on the role of Alberto Gonzales and how his actions have impacted civil liberties and the established rules of law in the United States, but the op-ed piece by Joel Connelly in the Seattle Post Intelligencer may be one of the most thoughtful. Connelly takes the time to look beyond the momentary ramifications and towards the long term considerations of the Attorney General's disregard for the concept of justice.
In a 1994 alumni banquet speech at the UW Law School, the late U.S. District Judge William Dwyer quoted a famous gloomy line from Yeats -- "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."
He then suggested that America has a "center" that holds the country together. "That center is the rule of law," Dwyer said. "By the rule of law, I do not just mean law and order, although that is important, but much more.
"I mean equality before the law, access to the law and freedom under the law. I mean the jury system, the Bill of Rights, constitutional liberty and justice provided through a fair, honest and open court system."
I wrote yesterday about a new poll that surveyed American's view of major institutions in the United States...a survey that indicated people did not view the justice system with much confidence...even though they did rate the police and the military highly. Looking at this data in conjunction with Dwyer's observations, one begins to see the damage done by an Attorney General that has diminished the core components of our view of justice.
American citizens have been held without access to counsel, let alone the jury system.
The federal government has, without warrants, intercepted telephone communications to and from the United States -- in direct violation of a law passed by Congress setting down procedures for obtaining warrants.
What has been the role of Gonzales, nicknamed "Fredo" by the president? As White House counsel, and now attorney general, he has played the roles of both knave and fool, serving as an enabler for Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and then claiming he can't remember the details.
"Fredo" signed a famous 2002 memo to Bush on the treatment of so-called enemy combatants. It described provisions of the Geneva Convention as "quaint," and dismissed then-Secretary of State Colin Powell as a defender of "obsolete" rules on the treatment of prisoners.
The real author apparently was David Addington, legal adviser to the vice president. Along with others in a tight-knit group of White House lawyers, "Fredo" undermined and went over the heads of Cabinet secretaries. Powell was cut out of the memo's circulation, and would read about it in the press.
The legal gang did some famous redefining, such as casting "torture" as actions of "equivalent intensity" to "the pain of organ failure or even death."
It seems to me that what Connelly is describing is the pride one has in one's system of governance or justice...pride that emanates from one's sense of the equity it affords to all it touches. People that are proud of their affiliations generally believe in the decency and civility of the organization or institution with which they are associated.
The actions of the Attorney General have, in my opinion, led a number of Americans to shy away from embracing or touting our justice system. Many Americans now equate it with those governments we have criticized for years as arbitrary and dictatorial...systems reserved for cloistered and clandestine societies that first and foremost serve the goals of those who hold power...regardless of any true measures of fair and equitable treatment.
A curious reversal of roles has taken place in America, notably over the past seven years.
"Conservatism" once stood for checks and balances, restraint on what Lyndon Johnson's critics called "the imperial presidency," and the principle that government works best when closest to the people.
Bush-era conservatism means unchecked presidential power. Authorities have the right to run roughshod over the individual in the interest of "security" or, in an opinion this week by Chief Justice John Roberts, to "protect those entrusted in their care."
As the Aesopian justifications pile up, one turns to Dwyer for the antidote, only in this case a warning.
"George Orwell showed us brilliantly how freedom depends on the integrity of language: If words are debased, the liberties that are sustained by words are in peril," he told the Washington Library Association.
"In the late 20th century, there is a disturbing trend toward the debasement of language, as well as toward a reliance on symbols and catch phrases."
The "other" Washington is, increasingly, an Orwellian place of twisted language and wars by proxy. As in Iraq, the casualties are those of lower ranks.
Cheney gets angry about Ambassador Joseph Wilson's editorial, and retaliates by "outing" Wilson's CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame. What happens? Scooter Libby is convicted, Cheney carries on. "Fredo" fires a bunch of U.S. attorneys for improper reasons. The consequences? Virtually all of his top deputies resign under pressure. Gonzales goes free.
The imagery is that of a banana republic that crafts its rules on the fly...dependent upon the amount of information that may seep into the purview of the masses either by accident or by dissent of those who still maintain higher ideals. Its the wizard who thinks he remains behind the curtain while pulling the levers to suit his fancy...all the while rationalizing his actions primarily because he has set out to create a system in which he and his cohorts cannot be challenged.
What remains to be seen is the degree to which the American electorate will reject this intentionally amorphous approach to justice. If the data reported yesterday is accurate, one thing is certain...Americans are increasingly disenchanted with the apparent malleability and manipulation that they perceive exists in many of their established institutions.
The most recent example is that of the Vice President's assertion that he isn't part of the executive branch and therefore sits alone and autonomous outside of the presidential order that dictates and details the handling of classified documents. Not surprisingly, the White House quickly launched a litany of labored language to defend the Vice President...leaving many Americans further questioning whether this administration has any limits upon its efforts to obfuscate.
The warnings offered by Dwyer and Orwell are noteworthy. I am remiss to recall a prior time when language was so intentionally crafted and corrupted to serve the goals and objectives of those in power. 2008 will provide the voting public with an opportunity to issue a clear and concise rebuttal...one that can be spoken, measured, and delivered as an unmitigated rejection of the status quo...one that can begin to restore the confidence necessary to "hold the country together".
Daniel DiRito | June 27, 2007 | 8:34 AM |
| Comments (2)
When talking about the weather in a number of locales, one often hears the expression, "If you don't like the weather, give it a few minutes and it will change." Politics seems to be a much slower process that is even less predictable...but one thing is certain...the principle of the pendulum will always remain a significant factor. The latest New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll tells us that an inevitable shift may be emerging.
Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.
More than half of Americans between 17 and 29 years old — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group, and of the Republican Party. They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats than they do of Republicans.
At a time when Democrats have made gains after years in which Republicans have dominated Washington, young Americans appear to lean slightly more to the left than the general population: 28 percent described themselves as liberal, compared with 20 percent of the nation at large. And 27 percent called themselves conservative, compared with 32 percent of the general public.
Forty-four percent said they believed that same-sex couples should be permitted to get married, compared with 28 percent of the public at large. They are more likely than their elders to support the legalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
By a 52 to 36 margin, young Americans say that Democrats, rather than Republicans, come closer to sharing their moral values, while 58 percent said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while 38 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans.
By any measure, the poll suggests that young Americans are anything but apathetic about the presidential election. Fifty-eight percent said they are paying attention to the campaign. By contrast, at this point in the 2004 presidential campaign, 35 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds said they were paying a lot or some attention to the campaign.
It remains to be seen if one of the candidates can capitalize on the traditionally idealistic tenets that this age group is likely to embrace. The poll suggested that there is enthusiasm for universal health care and a liberal immigration policy as well as the legalization of gay marriage. Responders also indicated they would support a woman or a black candidate for president...signs that clearly provide an opportunity for Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.
These voters are also paying far more attention to the upcoming 2008 presidential election than the same age group did in 2004...a very favorable trend for the Democratic nominee. Of potential concern to Democrats is this group’s belief that the war in Iraq will have a favorable outcome.
I'm of the opinion that this should signal Democrats to do more than oppose the war; they need to offer constructive alternatives that may bring a positive end to an otherwise negative situation. While that may be difficult to achieve, it would behoove the Democrats to explore a proposal being offered by Senator Biden whereby Iraq is partitioned into three autonomous political entities with some loosely established national structure.
Such a plan might allow the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops and shifting responsibility for success to the people of Iraq...a plan that might at least provide a more palatable conclusion to the U.S. effort. If implemented, it may solidify independent voter support for the Democratic nominee as well...a key factor to the success of the Democrats in 2006.
Image courtesy of www.thechiefsource.com
Daniel DiRito | June 26, 2007 | 8:36 PM |
| Comments (0)
Organized religion trails the military, the police, and small business in a new Gallup survey of the confidence Americans have in their major institutions. Religion leads banking by a small margin and it exceeds the presidency, congress, the criminal justice system, and television news by wide margins.
In the last year, those who expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in organized religion dropped a full six percentage points from 52 percent to 46 percent. With almost every institution, confidence was lower in 2007 than in 2006.
Only 46 percent of respondents said they had either a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the church, compared with 69 percent who said they trusted the military and 54 percent who trust police officers.
The figures are among the lowest for institutionalized religion in the three and a half decades that Gallup has conducted the poll. Peaking at 68 percent in May 1975, the numbers bottomed out at 45 percent in June of 2003.
But while confidence is waning for organized religion, the numbers are even bleaker for other American institutions. Just 25 percent expressed confidence in the presidency, while a mere 14 percent say they trust Congress.
Other findings suggest the nation is focused more on political issues than morality issues.
I find the data interesting because it reminds me of something my dad has talked about for a number of years. He points to the popularity of the NFL to make his argument that people generally approve of those institutions that have a clear set of rules that are straightforward and that are enforced with impartiality...or as he explains it, "People are looking for a level playing field" that is easily understood, consistent, and transparent.
If one looks at the military or the police, it has many of the same attributes as the NFL...people know what the rules are, they know that certain people are assigned to carry out those rules, and they have a degree of certainty as to what they can anticipate.
I would suggest that religion is frequently viewed as arbitrary and subject to changing rules offered by those in positions of authority...often handed down with little explanation beyond some assertion that it results from a revised interpretation of doctrine. One might call it the do as I say principle.
Looking at the institutions that scored the lowest...including congress, HMO's, big business, and the criminal justice system, it isn't difficult to understand the lack of confidence. By and large, people believe these institutions lack clarity and a set of defined rules. They believe that these institutions are vulnerable to being manipulated by money and/or power and that they also lack the transparency necessary to fully understand, trust, or appreciate them.
In many ways, the numbers are encouraging because they point out that people are generally law abiding citizens that simply seek a level of equal treatment and equal opportunity. The more American's view an institution to contain these traits, the greater confidence they are willing to demonstrate.
In the end, it may be safe to conclude that people like clarity and detest manipulation...they want to know what they can expect and in return for being afforded that consideration, they won't hesitate to show their loyalty.
In the near term, I would suggest that those politicians hoping to win the favor of a majority of voters in 2008 heed this very simple message and give American's a much needed reason to reevaluate their cynical view of our all too tarnished political system. In the longer term, I anticipate that religious institutions are going to face the very same challenge.
Daniel DiRito | June 26, 2007 | 12:31 PM |
| Comments (0)
Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church followers have taken to singing...doing a knock off of the well known ensemble song We Are The World...one they call God Hates The World. Everyone that's anyone in WBC apparently participated in this musical masterpiece...including a child that can't be more than three or four years old.
Anyone that doesn't understand how hate and prejudice exist and how it is perpetuated need only view this little child singing at the end of the video clip. I can't imagine raising one's child in such an environment but the Phelps clan seems perfectly content to indoctrinate the entire Phelps family and all of their offspring.
I've never fully understood the goals of people like Phelps. If they believe that they are in god's good graces, why not take solace in knowing as much? The fact that their actions are vocal and controversial suggests that it isn't enough for them to believe they are right. Perhaps just being right wouldn't pay the bills and give the entire family the ability to travel around the country staging protests at the funerals of gays and soldiers. Apparently being saved isn't enough...they need to raise cash in order to conduct their vile attacks on innocent people.
If their actions are the work of the lord, then I'm afraid I will have to pass on the promise of an eternal afterlife...their god is far too hateful for my taste. On the other hand, the end of life might have a few of its own surprises in store for Phelps and his fanatical flock. I'm happy to let the cards fall where they may...I'm certain I won't be sharing any future accommodations with Fred Phelps.
Daniel DiRito | June 26, 2007 | 10:16 AM |
| Comments (1)
The number of Black recruits has dropped significantly since the onset of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. No doubt family and friends are encouraging young blacks to find alternative jobs that don't carry the risks of military service. One might also conclude that the drop off reflects the growing opposition to the war and the belief that an end is not in sight.
WASHINGTON - The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began, as other job prospects soar and relatives of potential recruits increasingly discourage them from signing up.
According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits, and the drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.
According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 new black recruits for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than 32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline.
When only active duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost one-quarter fewer. The decline is particularly stark for the Army.
The percentage of minorities in the military has typically been larger than their percentages in the population at large and many critics contend that the absence of a draft leads to a higher percent of economically disadvantaged individuals.
Representative Charles Rangel of New York has been an outspoken opponent of the all volunteer military; suggesting that a draft might make politicians think twice about supporting military interventions. Rangel's bill to reinstate the draft has had little support in either party.
Daniel DiRito | June 25, 2007 | 11:48 AM |
| Comments (0)
Is it any wonder that George W. Bush has the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon? This President has pursued his vision of Iraq for over four years despite numerous signs and signals that it was an exercise in futility. His most recent stab at salvaging Iraq has been his highly touted surge...the addition of some 30,000 U.S. soldiers...and it too, is beginning to look like a miscalculation.
With the surge fully implemented, once again we are hearing that the troop level may not be sufficient to bring stability to the war torn country and that it is likely that the sectarian and insurgent violence will simply shift to regions of the country that are not secure...a la the notorious game of whack-a-mole we've been playing since the outset.
As the U.S. offensive, code-named Phantom Thunder, has been greeted with a week of intensified fighting in areas outside the capital -- areas that the U.S. military has largely left untouched for as long as three years -- the push raised fears from security experts and officers in the field that the new attacks might simply propel the enemy from one area to another where there are not as many U.S. troops.
Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who in 2003 was among the first to call public attention to the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force, said that the new operation shows how outnumbered U.S. troops remain. "Why would we think that a temporary presence of 30,000 additional combat troops in a giant city would change the dynamics of a bitter civil war?" he said in an interview yesterday. "It's a fool's errand."
An officer working in Arrowhead Ripper, the subsidiary offensive in Diyala province, said wearily, "We just do not have the forces in country right now to have the appropriate level of presence across the country."
Many counterinsurgency experts agree. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., the director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national security think tank, said flatly that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, does not have enough troops. "I suspect General Petraeus is taking a risk here, but that's what commanders do," he said.
I keep coming back to the original assessment by General Shinseki, the general who was forced into early retirement after arguing that it would take 300,000 U.S. troops to bring security and keep the peace after the toppling of the Hussein government. At what point are we going to admit that it would still take something closely approaching that number to achieve our goal of securing the country?
Senator McCain, one of the last staunch supporters of the president's Iraq war, has time and again admitted that we made a number of mistakes in the early stages of the war...yet he seems to be suggesting that we've ceased making those same mistakes. I believe Senator McCain was the first person to use the term whack-a-mole when describing our undermanned effort...yet he now contends that the surge is the right thing...despite evidence that there will not be enough troops to secure and hold the peace. Is it any wonder that McCain's campaign is struggling?
There is a tendency to presume that voters don't take the time to understand the nuances of any particular problem and that Iraq is simply one of those problems. I would argue that the voting public has understood the issues in Iraq for far longer than they have been given credit...and their waning support for Senator McCain simply represents their recognition of his inconsistent and insufficient analysis of the Iraq war...and his sellout to win the President's favor.
The issue of the number of troops has dogged the Bush administration and its generals since before the war began. Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, told Gen. Tommy R. Franks in September 2002 -- seven months before the U.S. invasion -- there were not enough troops in the war plan. Most famously, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army's chief of staff, told a congressional hearing a month before the assault that the plan did not call for a sufficiently large occupation force.
"I believe we have enough U.S. troops for this specific operation," said a U.S. military strategist there, referring to Phantom Thunder. "I do not believe we've ever had enough troops to do all of the tasks we should be doing in Iraq."
One of Petraeus's nerviest gambles is that enemy fighters will not be able to move and disrupt other areas. The biggest concern for U.S. commanders is the big northern city of Mosul, where insurgents counterattacked the last time the U.S. military conducted an operation this size, in November 2004. That is especially worrisome because the United States now has only one battalion of about 1,000 troops stationed there, far fewer than were there then.
"For the control and retain phases, we will need reliable Iraqi security forces in sufficient numbers," said Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, a senior Army planner in Baghdad. "There are clearly not yet enough reliable forces."
Iraqi security forces are "the weak link," said counterinsurgency expert Krepinevich. The Iraqi government is so factionalized that Iraqi forces remain largely ineffective, he explained: "This is the principal weak spot in our strategy -- and I'm afraid it may be fatal."
A senior commander in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that U.S. plans do not call for holding cleared areas.
Perhaps I'm dense, but the only thought that comes to mind when reading an analysis of this latest strategy is, "Been there, done that". How many times are we going to go into an area, kill and capture some low level insurgents, hand the ongoing security effort over to the woeful Iraqi security forces, then watch the insurgency return again?
George Bush may be a man of conviction but he wouldn't be the first man whose convictions made him nothing more than a stubborn fool. I'm not sure how far George Bush would go to avoid an admission of failure or a concession that others were right and that he and his neocon cronies were wrong...but it appears he's nowhere near his limit...and he's racking up the casualties to prove it.
John McCain used to present himself as a man of conviction (and I occasionally thought he was) until he decided he needed George Bush to anoint him to be his successor. Since that moment, John McCain has not only lost his standing as a man of conviction, he has proven that George Bush has no monopoly on foolishness...though Senator McCain appears to be the type of fool reserved for someone who sells out in hopes of a bigger prize. Regardless, I have to hand it to Senator McCain...he may have demonstrated that it’s possible to be a fool's fool.
Daniel DiRito | June 23, 2007 | 10:39 AM |
| Comments (7)
Keith Olbermann takes a look at White House spokesperson Dana Perino's explanation that Dick Cheney's role is unique. Perino and the White House have sought to downplay the refusal of the Vice President to honor an executive order with regards to the National Archives oversight of classified material.
In typical fashion, the White House has offered piecemeal commentary while avoiding any real defining statement on the intent of the executive order and how it might relate to the Vice President. No surprises here...when you write the rules as you go, this is what it looks like.
Daniel DiRito | June 23, 2007 | 9:39 AM |
| Comments (0)
My initiation into the world of politics took place at the age of five while riding in a car with my dad to Safeway and hearing that the President, John Kennedy, had been shot. From that day forward, I became enthralled with the governance of this great nation.
When Robert Kennedy was campaigning, I watched every speech and every report on the various primaries. My parents made me go to bed before the winner of the California primary was announced and when I awoke the next morning, I raced to turn on the television to see if RFK had prevailed. Instead, I learned that an assassin had prevailed. Just months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, once again, I felt crushed and I spent the next few days watching and witnessing the sadness of a nation.
Perhaps JFK, RFK, and MLK were nothing more than the heroes an adolescent boy often identifies with...but they each made me love my country more. For me, they represented all that I held dear about my country and they epitomized my understanding of public service and patriotism. Trite as it may sound, they made me want to be a better American.
I was a teenager during the Watergate years and I followed the investigation and the hearings religiously. I did so because Richard Nixon's actions dealt a crushing blow to the idealism that I thought was the backbone and the mainstay of our political system. For me, he defiled our system of government and he made me question whether politicians actually served the public or whether the public was simply manipulated to serve the politician.
Today's assertion by Dick Cheney that his office is exempt from a presidential order reconnected me with the disappointment I felt all those years ago...disappointment that a leader of our great country could demonstrate such disregard for the integrity of the highest office in the land. From this day forward, Dick Cheney can be nothing more that the modern day version of "Tricky Dicky"...and his fate should be no less punitive than that of his namesake.
Observers of the Vice President's actions need ask themselves but one question, "What is Dick Cheney hiding and why is he hiding it?" All other attempts to explain the Vice President's refusal are synonymous with what became known as the Watergate cover-up...the very same obfuscation that brought the demise of Richard Nixon and so many of his associates...the same actions that are sending the Vice President's right hand man, Scooter Libby, to jail.
All that remains to be seen is whether those entrusted with upholding the integrity of our system of government and assuring that no one is above the law will perform their duty and diligently proceed to bring the Vice President into compliance. Anything less is an unmitigated affront to all that we hold sacred. This blatant breech must not be allowed to stand.
Daniel DiRito | June 21, 2007 | 8:57 PM |
| Comments (1)
The notion of a litmus test has long been associated with politics. Strangely, when asked if they employ such a methodology, the vast majority of politicians vehemently deny that they would bring any such bias to their position as a public servant.
On the other hand, voters tend to display their litmus standards as a badge of honor and a measure of conviction. We've all heard the proclamations..."I won't vote for a pro-choice candidate"..."I can't endorse a candidate that supports gay marriage"...and so on. Rationally speaking, the fact that politicians and voters approach the notion of litmus tests so differently defies logic and makes little sense.
Other contradictions abound...but I would like to focus on the litmus test that I believe has done more to paralyze our objectivity and to polarize our political process than any in recent memory. It’s the litmus test of religion...which includes the requirement by many voters that elected officials embrace religion or faith and act in accordance with a specific set of beliefs...as well as the acceptance that politicians need to be coy about their litmus standards to maintain a broader appeal in order to be elected.
Over time, the litmus test mentality continues to evolve to include ever more specific measurements. It isn't enough for a candidate to espouse a religious affiliation...one's particular affiliation and one’s adherence to the prescribed values is now a matter of review and it may serve to nullify one's consideration as a viable candidate for some portion of the electorate. Case in point...Mitt Romney's Mormonism.
Gathering for their April meeting at the county courthouse, Republican activists from Warren County, Iowa, planned for this summer's county fair and vented about illegal immigration.
And then the county chairman for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, Chad Workman, made an unexpected digression: He took direct aim at Mitt Romney's religion, according to four people at the meeting.
Workman questioned whether Mormons were Christians, discussed an article alleging that the Mormon Church helps fund Hamas, and likened the Mormons' treatment of women to the Taliban's, said participants, who requested anonymity to discuss the meeting freely.
One participant summed up Workman's argument this way: "The fundamental flaw of Mitt Romney…was that he was Mormon, not because he thinks this way or that way on one issue."
The most recent example came to light earlier this week when the Washington Post reported that Emma Nemecek, an Iowa field operative for Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, had recently forwarded an e-mail to Iowa Republicans containing a number of criticisms of Mormonism, including a charge that it is not a Christian faith. The e-mail closed with a quote from a Founding Father, John Jay: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
The campaign of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was forced to make a similar apology this month after The New York Sun reported that Katie Harbath, Giuliani's deputy e-campaign director, had forwarded to a blogger a story in The Salt Lake Tribune linking Romney to an unofficial Mormon prophecy that a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would one day save the Constitution. "Thought you'd find this interesting," Harbath wrote to the blogger, the Sun reported.
Romney has faced repeated slights against his religion from other quarters as well. A Florida televangelist, Bill Keller, told followers recently that a vote for Romney is a vote for Satan. And a small group of worshipers from the Faith Christian Outreach Church in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, has been going door-to-door distributing a DVD that takes a critical look at the Mormon Church.
"Our concern was simply that Mormonism has continued to try and pass itself off as a Christian religion, which it is not," said Monte Knudsen, senior pastor at the church, who insisted the effort was not aimed at hurting Romney's candidacy.
"In some ways, [Romney's candidacy] is the best test of whether Americans have really put some of the old religious differences aside," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "And my guess is that they haven't."
Its worth noting that each time a campaign operative has called a candidates religion into question, the candidate who employs that operative has issued an apology as well as a statement that the personal faith of their opponent should not be an issue. The obvious question is whether these attacks...which are frequently described as lapses in judgment...are actually part of a strategy to manipulate the well known bias that exists within the electorate? While we've all heard the expression "accidents happen", my suspicious nature doubts that, when it comes to politics, they happen all that often.
Look, the bottom line is that Romney served as Governor of the state of Massachusetts...and he seems to have conducted himself in an acceptable manner (my personal political preferences aside). I'm just not sure what threat he poses to his fellow Americans...and if he does in fact pose a threat as a direct result of his faith, what is that threat? If he isn’t a threat, what does the belief that a threat exists tell us about this country?
Let me attempt to answer my own questions. I don’t believe Romney’s faith presents anymore of a threat than Rudy Giuliani’s failure to adhere to the precepts of his faith (his divorces are presumably breeches of Catholicism). The threat comes from those who believe that one faith ought to trump all others, that seek to impose their particular faith upon others, and that believe they are imbued with the god given mandate to pursue both.
I would argue that it is incumbent upon politicians to be neutral with regards to the application of any one particular faith. A glance at the sectarian violence in Iraq ought to suffice to demonstrate what happens when religious groups are determined to make their particular beliefs the law of the land. There are numerous other examples.
To a lesser degree, our current president is an example of the dangers and risks associated with a narrow ideology and a belief that a particular belief set ought to be institutionalized. At some point, adamant proponents of differing ideologies determine that the state is illegitimate and that subverting or overthrowing the state is consistent with one’s religious tenets…and in the extreme…that doing so is the justifiable will of god.
What remains to be seen is whether we can step back from this dangerous trend and revisit the guidance of our founding fathers…guidance that sought to prevent the victimization of different faiths while establishing a government that would be tolerant of diverse beliefs but guided by a bill of rights that remained ideologically impartial…though institutionally equitable.
Far too many Americans endorse the misconception that the United States is a nation guided by a specific vision of Biblical law…and that our constitution and our legal system must adhere to one interpretation of that law. On the contrary, America was founded to avoid the pitfalls of that very notion. In fact, our existence emanates from a rejection of that very construct.
We are a nation that sought to judge its inhabitants by their commitment to fair and equitable treatment…by their willingness to allow alternate beliefs so long as they would adhere to the notion that each of us is entitled to humane treatment.
Goodness is not measured by affiliation…goodness is an individual action; not an act of admonition by one individual or one group towards another. Goodness is a choice that is mindful of the sanctity of humanity…even when that humanity may hold beliefs that do not comport with our own. Goodness is not the domain of one faith…it is not unique to one set of beliefs.
A religious litmus test is not a test of goodness…it is a demand for compliance…it is a rejection of difference…but once applied it is also an egregious application of bias…it is a judgment we are not entitled to make…and when we do make that judgment, we ridicule those who sought to rid us of such bias; wise men that century's prior had the foresight to understand the risks that come with demands for ideological compliance.
Isn't it time that voters and politicians recommit themselves to an honest dialogue, an acceptance of differences, and an awareness and willingness to see beyond them in order to move forward? If not, where and when will the inevitable and torturous machinations cease?
Image courtesy of www.thelitmustest.org
Daniel DiRito | June 21, 2007 | 10:24 AM |
| Comments (0)
Amidst the debate as to whether humans are the result of a lengthy process of evolution or if they were part of a six day creation spree by the almighty, new evidence has emerged to suggest that we didn't...
Daniel DiRito | June 20, 2007 | 1:51 PM |
| Comments (1)
The view of the economy by the voting public seems to be moving from bad to worse. In the latest Gallup poll, only 23 percent of Americans think the economy is getting better...a full 5 percent drop in the...
Daniel DiRito | June 20, 2007 | 8:43 AM |
| Comments (0)
Every now and then the efforts of political parties to contort themselves in order to appeal to more and more constituent groups in the hopes of establishing a winning majority comes back to haunt them. I would argue that...
Daniel DiRito | June 19, 2007 | 9:33 PM |
| Comments (0)
Conventional thought suggests that third party candidates are spoilers who do little more than cost one of the two major party nominees the eventual victory. That belief tends to preclude many voters from even considering an unaffiliated candidate. In...
Daniel DiRito | June 19, 2007 | 6:50 PM |
| Comments (0)
Unless the Democrats have a rapid change of heart, their opponents in the upcoming 2008 elections will be running ads with Nancy Pelosi repeating her eloquent pledge to "Make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history."...
Daniel DiRito | June 19, 2007 | 3:06 PM |
| Comments (0)
Mission accomplished...the lights are out. Sometimes one simple fact can provide more perspective than a thousand page report. I think this obscure report by United Press International speaks volumes about our efforts in Iraq as well as the potential...
Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2007 | 6:44 PM |
| Comments (1)
When one thinks of the expression, "The tail wags the dog", the vision one gets from a literal interpretation can seem comical. When one thinks of the expression in relation to real events...events like the war in Iraq, not...
Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2007 | 9:11 AM |
| Comments (1)
Jonah Goldberg has an interesting article posted in “the corner" on the National Review Online. His article is actually a discussion of points raised in other articles. The first is called Religion And The Threat Effect by Paul Waldman...
Daniel DiRito | June 15, 2007 | 9:24 PM |
| Comments (1)
We often hear the expression, "That's just the tip of the iceberg". The good news is that our familiarity with that terminology has probably prevented a few maritime collisions. The bad news is that the principal holds true for...
Daniel DiRito | June 15, 2007 | 9:52 AM |
| Comments (2)
In the aftermath of Watergate, executive authority was diminished as it was determined that unbridled access to the ability to monitor and engage in unwarranted surveillance of U.S. citizens was far too tempting. Under the Bush administration, the threat...
Daniel DiRito | June 14, 2007 | 8:16 AM |
| Comments (0)
I was gay when being a homo was a mental illness…when queer sex was illegal…when you didn’t discuss being a faggot with your doctor…when sodomites were chased down and thrown out of the military…when AIDS was god’s punishment for...
Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 10:41 PM |
| Comments (0)
It's been said by former presidents and high ranking public servants, by numerous scholars, and by leaders of other nations...and yet George Bush and his neocon klatch have chosen to virtually ignore it for the bulk of his presidency....
Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 3:06 PM |
| Comments (0)
I'm not sure how one ought to measure the level of incompetence with regard to managing the war in Iraq and our efforts to bring stability and democracy to its citizenry, but I've been pondering my own formula for...
Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 8:53 AM |
| Comments (0)
Gifts are fascinating things to psychoanalysts. An analyst does not accept a gift from an analysand without giving careful consideration to the possible meanings of a gift to the gift-giver. Like the dreams and stories recounted by the analysand during...
Dr. X | June 11, 2007 | 11:39 AM |
| Comments (2)
Kansas Senator and GOP presidential candidate, Sam Brownback not only opposes a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy, he believes that if a man rapes a woman, she should still not be permitted to have an...
Daniel DiRito | June 11, 2007 | 9:29 AM |
| Comments (4)
One of the lead figures in the Watergate scandal during the presidency of Richard Nixon...Chuck Colson...told a conference of Southern Baptists that Islam is evil and atheism is intent on destroying religious beliefs. Watergate figure Chuck Colson warned a gathering...
Daniel DiRito | June 10, 2007 | 10:23 PM |
| Comments (1)
I've got to hand it to the President...he is consistent. Unfortunately, it is that same consistency that has apparently led him to nominate James Holsinger to be the next Surgeon General. The only thing missing from Holsinger's resume is...
Daniel DiRito | June 7, 2007 | 9:37 AM |
| Comments (0)
Well that didn't take long. The attempt by President Bush to frame the situation in Iraq as an equivalent to our long standing presence in Korea is being roundly dismissed by a number of former high ranking military officials....
Daniel DiRito | June 5, 2007 | 5:57 PM |
| Comments (0)
Over my many years of contact with the Catholic Church, one of its more detestable and defining traits has prevailed…deniability. Despite a history checkered with inconsistency and intolerance, the Church has maintained its air of institutional intransigence couched in...
Daniel DiRito | June 5, 2007 | 9:13 AM |
| Comments (0)
Nope, it’s not what you think. In actuality, it’s a follow up to my prior Thought Theater posting, Getting The Giggles When The Right Eats Its Own. In that posting, I talked about the need to do more than...
Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2007 | 6:07 PM |
| Comments (0)
While I readily admit that my parents taught me not to laugh at the misfortune of others, I have to admit that I get the giggles when I read about schisms in the religious right. In truth, it should...
Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2007 | 11:48 AM |
| Comments (0)
We hear a lot of discussion about the safety of our borders and the efforts of the Homeland Security Department to prevent the entrance of terrorists. Given the fact that we haven’t had any further attacks on U.S. soil...
Daniel DiRito | June 2, 2007 | 9:39 AM |
| Comments (0)