Six Degrees of Speculation: August 2007: Archives

August 30, 2007

Deciphering What Is Written On The Bathroom Stall genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Writing On The Stall

As the blogosphere has sought to digest the meaning of the Larry Craig incident, it has begun to spur a worthwhile debate...one which has been ignored and has lurked in the background in ways eerily similar to the behavior that led to the arrest of the Senator.

Generally speaking, the public is opposed to encountering unexpected or offensive behaviors in public environments...and that is a reasonable concern for those within government to address. Clearly, the opinions regarding which behaviors constitute a nuisance or create the conditions under which to charge an individual with a crime will vary from individual to individual...often dependent upon one's values, one's religious beliefs, ands one's propensity for tolerance. The fact that there are discordant beliefs simply complicates the task for those charged with monitoring such activities.

By and large, citizens believe that law enforcement departments are committed to treating each individual fairly and with the same level of respect for their civil liberties. At the same time, history tells us that this isn't always the case. Regardless, most citizens afford our law enforcement departments the benefit of the doubt...which is as it should be...but only to a point.

In writing about the Larry Craig situation, I broached the question of whether the targeting of men who have sex with men (I avoid using the term gay because studies indicate that many of the men who participate in these clandestine encounters are married and consider themselves to be heterosexual) receives a level of attention that is commensurate with that given to those who engage in opposite sex liaisons in public locations.

I have asked readers and colleagues to ponder the question and to cite any examples whereby tactics similar to those employed in the Senator's case are being utilized to charge those engaged in opposite sex public encounters. At the moment, I have not been provided with any such examples...though a few individuals have cited prostitution stings as examples. I have discounted such examples because they constitute a specific crime that is not at play in circumstances like that of Senator Craig...meaning that the individuals charged in men's restrooms are engaging in consensual sex without the exchange of money (by definition the exchange of money is an act of solicitation), which generally leads to charges of lewd behavior, indecent exposure, or disorderly conduct.

I don't want to devolve into a legalistic discussion though some basic understandings are required for this debate. Firstly, laws can and do vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so one size doesn't fit all. Secondly, courts have offered a number of rulings on the subject though no definitive across the board position can actually be derived.

Relevant to this topic, the Senator's actions constituted disorderly conduct...despite what he may have intended to do. In essence, intention doesn't necessarily equate with the ability to convict on the lewd behavior charge. The fact that he plead to the lesser charge (disorderly conduct) is evidence of this reality. Further, in some of these cases, the accused have successfully argued that their actions in a closed door stall in a restroom facility cannot equate with disorderly conduct because their actions didn't actually take place in public. The argument is open to interpretation and it can progress into questions of a fundamental granting of constitutional privacy privileges.

With that said, one can see that the issue is more complex than one might expect. Notwithstanding, it is important to note that the issue isn't solely one of legality as it is reasonable to consider other factors...such as what the public can legitimately expect upon entering a public restroom. While I am personally opposed to using these restrooms for sexual liaisons, the issue requires a much more comprehensive analysis.

To introduce the other considerations, let me begin with a simple example that will hopefully illuminate my concerns. Suppose one conducted a survey whereby the objective was to gauge the public's reaction and response to witnessing an apparent sexual encounter in a public restroom. In the study, the respondents witness 50% of the situations involving same sex participants and the other 50% involving opposite sex participants. In both cases, the sex of the participants is obvious, as is the sexual nature of the activity.

The respondents are then confronted as they exit the restroom in order to gauge their reaction as well as what they believe to be the appropriate response from law enforcement. Each respondent is asked to explain what they believe they witnessed to insure that they properly identified the sex of the participants. Once that is determined, they are asked to respond to a multiple choice question outlining the action they believe should be taken.

The first answer is, "While I don't think they should be doing this in a public restroom, I'm not in favor of it being a crime." The second answer is, "I think that they should be charged with a crime in the event that a law enforcement officer were to be summoned". The final answer is, "I think that law enforcement needs to establish a sting operation to target those who might intend to engage in such activity in order to catch and charge them".

My own belief is that the responses would be skewed towards answer number one with regards to opposite sex participants and towards answer number three with regards to same sex participants. I say as much because it would likely reflect the beliefs held by most Americans...meaning that heterosexual sex is viewed to be more acceptable than homosexual sex. In fact, I would contend that many of the respondents would laugh off the heterosexual activity while many of those witnessing homosexual activity would be outraged.

Therefore, one must ask whether the existing law enforcement actions being conducted in situations similar to that in Minneapolis...which led to the arrest of the Senator...reflect a societal bias with regards to homosexuals. In the absence of similar operations aimed at heterosexual activity, it seems safe to conclude that the treatment is not equal...and is likely reflective of prejudice.

Let me offer an even simpler example to reinforce my argument. All things being equal, a kiss between same sex couples in public will elicit a negative reaction (a moral judgment)...while a heterosexual kiss may elicit no reaction or at worst a negative reaction that such behavior doesn't belong in public...but rarely a negative moral judgment.

If that same bias is being applied to the actions of law enforcement (and it seems difficult to assume otherwise), we have a problem with selective and unfair discrimination.

Let me share part of a discussion I've been involved with on this very topic. The information is from an individual who works with this issue and the men who are being charged with these types of offenses. I am not including his name or the organization as a matter of privacy. While I don't agree with every point made, I think it provides some important insight into a perspective that is often omitted from discussions of this issue.

Ok. The agency I work for has worked on hundreds of these cases. We have won lawsuits on the matter so I am going to respond to this last post with a few items.

1. Undercover operations have 0 deterrent effect. There is no evidence that sting operations against gay men have a deterrent effect. In fact the opposite is true. When members of the public see uniformed police – THAT is a deterrent. It makes many people feel more safe and if you combine it with signs saying that illegal behavior will be prosecuted or that surveillance is occurring (it doesn't have to be occurring) then you could argue there is a deterrent goal by the facility. But hiding a police officer does not prevent crime all it does is A. catch criminals or B. invites entrapment by overzealous cops who are frustrated with cautious perpetrators that refuse to take the bait. This is the reality.

2. Charging people is the goal. Police are very politically motivated. Their jobs and their bosses jobs are very much designed around getting rid of undesirables including queers. These operations usually carry a higher charge like in the Craig case where he claimed he had to negotiate it down to a misdemeanor. Charging felonies is about getting queers on the sex offender registry, shaming them in public, or costing them so much money they won't dare fight the charge in court. We had a case of 770 arrests in 4 months. Almost all were innocent. 50 of the guys got in touch with (agency name omitted) and all were acquitted because the officer refused to show up for court, meaning that he would commit perjury about what he put in the police reports. There is a fine for the charge, a fine for the court fees, attorney fees and sometimes there is a “nuisance abatement" charge so they can take your car which costs hundred to get it back. This is thousands more if you go to court. I repeat. These charges do not deter men or else every cruisy area where there were arrests would see reductions. This is not the case.

3. Police mostly are not responding to public complaints. Police know about cruisy restrooms because of websites and a few public complaints. We have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after FOIA after FOIA and never once have we received a public complaint of public sex. If this is such a big problem, which justifies an undercover operation, there should be some documentation. Nada. In (state omitted), the State Police even called their operations “Bag a Fag" operations and printed T-Shirts saying so. This is the sign of bias not serving and protecting. If there are really people observing public sex (which is rare because most of this activity is committed by guys that do not want to be seen or caught) then a uniformed cop walking in should be able to see the same thing right. Right. But they don't want to deter it or stumble across it, they want to invite it. They want it to happen. 9 times out of ten these men never get a warning and sent away. They invest so much money and time that they love charging on the first offense, charging high and publicizing the hell out of it.

4. I have trained over 1000 police, some as a condition of our lawsuit and nearly all of them believe that gay sex is so sick they would do anything to root it out. I have had cops say out loud in a training that they would watch two women go at it, send a str8 couple home and bust a gay couple. I have also had cops admit in these trainings that these operations are scams designed to make money and shame people. Some chiefs and some prosecutors won't honor them at all. In (state omitted) we have shut down many of these when high level chiefs have admitted that uniformed cops are an effective way of dealing with the “problem."

I think this is invaluable information...information that gives the reader a first hand view of the realities confronted by those who have engaged in such activity and the obstacles they face...but it also provides insight into which methods may be effective in limiting or deterring these activities as well as exposing the possibility that the motivations of those who establish programs like the one found in Minneapolis may be biased and misguided.

It's difficult to argue in favor of a program that isn't effective...unless, of course, one is particularly prejudiced against those who are participating in the behavior. If the goal is to extinguish this activity, it appears that these sting operations are less than effective.

Rather than rely upon one source, I consulted a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice titled, "Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places". The following excerpts are from this lengthy document and they reiterate and reinforce some of the concerns shared in the prior quotation.

There are widely different perspectives on public sexual activity. Some do not believe the behavior constitutes a public safety threat; some view the behavior as a "victimless crime" involving two consenting partners; and some see the behavior as a threat to the community's "moral decency." "Impersonal," "casual," and "anonymous" sexual behaviors have negative connotations to many people, as they stand in contrast to ideals of romantic love, monogamous relationships, and long-term commitments. Moral overtones pervade discussions of nudity and sexuality, particularly when they address same sex interactions. These judgments often underlie the public's concern. Community morals and beliefs about how the law should regulate morality will affect how each community addresses the problem. This guide does not adopt any particular moral perspective; it is intended to inform you about the effectiveness and consequences of various approaches to controlling public sexual activity.

Primarily, such activity constitutes nuisance behavior and does not pose a serious threat to community safety.

The responses to public sexual activity can be fraught with difficulty. Charges of harassment, entrapment, bias and discrimination against homosexuals have historically surrounded efforts to address public sexual activity between men. Therefore, it is vital that you objectively analyze the problem so that you develop fair and effective responses.

Certain patterns (e.g., opposite-sex coupling at a "lovers' lane") have not been studied empirically, while others (e.g., same-sex contact in public restrooms) have been studied much more extensively. It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.

When apprehended, many offenders may suffer substantial social repercussions, in addition to any criminal justice related consequences that may ensue. Threats to their
marriages, friendships, jobs, reputations, and social standing often cause them to try to distract attention from their behaviors by showing exaggerated degrees of respectability, such as strong ties to the religious community or passionate condemnation of homosexuality. The larger the community's moral objections to public sexual activity mean that participants have much to lose if they are discovered.

Two things are immediately apparent. One, The Justice Department realizes that efforts to limit this type of activity have moral considerations...and that can lead to prejudicial judgments. Two, the fact that same-sex activity is the only activity that has been extensively studied supports my contention that little effort is expended to suppress similar heterosexual activity. It also suggests that a bias has existed for many years with regard to homosexual activity and it has often been targeted.

A lack of privacy may also be the reason for male sexual activity in public restrooms. In particular, men with heterosexual identities may want to conceal their behavior
from significant others. Their heterosexual identities also deter them from using other, less-public venues such as gay bars or sex clubs. Some homosexual men also lack the freedom to pursue same-sex partners privately due to family or peer disapproval. A community's condemnation of homosexuality may drive the behavior to remote, although public, locations, particularly among those exploring their sexuality and not yet connected to the gay community.

Most researchers and practitioners agree that focusing solely on arresting those engaging in public sexual activity is unlikely to reduce the overall scope of the problem. In your response strategy, you should acknowledge that it will be difficult to affect people's motivations for engaging in the activity. A balanced approach combining enforcement strategies and those targeting environments that support the behavior is most likely to decrease the prevalence of the activity and the public's concern about it.

Used alone, enforcement efforts are likely to lead to displacement. Although not the most desirable outcome, there is evidence that when displacement does occur, the magnitude of the problem decreases with the move to a new location.

In addition, an exclusive focus on environments in which same-sex interactions occur can result in charges of bias and discrimination. Therefore, you must address the full range of public sexual activity and target particular locations based on objective, justifiable assessments of threats to public safety.

Again, the report confirms many of the same conclusions offered by the party quoted above and with whom I discussed the issue. I view the warnings in the last paragraph to be a tacit acknowledgment that there has been a focus upon same sex encounters. Note the use of the word objective...a word which tells me that the Justice Department has encountered programs that are subjective.

The report proceeds to list a number of possible responses to the presence of illicit sexual activity in public places. The list begins with 17 suggested responses (proactive actions intended to reduce the activity and make locations less favorable meeting places). This is followed by numbers 18 and 19 which are listed under the heading "Responses With Limited Effectiveness". Those two items are "Using Undercover Decoys" and "Harassing Or Intimidating Suspects".

18. Using undercover decoys. While using undercover officers to pose as interested parties in illicit same-sex public activity can lead to many arrests, such operations have not had long-term effectiveness in reducing overall activity levels. At best, they temporarily displace the activity to other locations, and the activity usually returns to prior levels once the operations have ceased. Further, given the active role that undercover officers must take to confirm suspects' intentions, the police may be vulnerable to entrapment claims. In addition, many officers are reluctant to serve as decoys because of the customary behavioral scripts they must follow. Finally, some may see the serious social consequences of the publicity following an arrest as disproportionate to the severity of the offense.

19. Harassing or intimidating suspects. Many who engage in public sexual activity do not want witnesses and try to avoid being seen. Thus, it can be difficult for police to obtain probable cause for an arrest. When the community pressures police to address the problem, officers may resort to harassing or intimidating those observed loitering in parks or rest areas. This approach undermines police integrity, can create tension with the gay and lesbian community and other residents concerned about civil rights, and has not proved particularly effective.

For the most part, the Justice Department document seems to be a reasonably objective discussion of the topic. I interpret the tenor to be impartial and informative...all of which I find rather refreshing given the well-publicized concerns as to the Bush administrations possible inclinations to politicize the department.

When one considers the arguments I've presented, in conjunction with the information provided by external sources, a picture begins to emerge. Clearly, there has been an inordinate historical focus upon the pursuit and punishment of those engaged in same sex encounters...likely a derivative of established social norms and values.

Over time, it also appears that there has been a growing awareness that programs to limit public sexual activity need to evolve and to begin incorporating methods that seek to extinguish the behavior as opposed to criminalizing it. That is a positive development.

Regardless, those in positions of authority are still forced to confront the views, opinions, and complaints of the citizens which they serve and/or represent. In so doing, there is likely to remain a focus upon, and a bias against, same sex activities.

Responsible leadership would be wise to approach the sensitive subject with caution, with an emphasis upon deterrence, and with the ample evidence necessary to prevent overreaction and the imposition of prejudicial programs that are simply designed to appease an angry public.

At the same time, the society at large must do its part to foster an environment that doesn't penalize, ostracize, or marginalize those who are desirous of same sex relationships. Simultaneously, closeted gays must summon the courage to come out in order to foster greater understanding in the society...and more importantly...to allow themselves to experience the healthy and meaningful relationships they may feel are unattainable in a judgmental environment.

As I've explored this topic, I cannot help but acknowledge the irony found in the opposition to same sex marriage or its equivalent. Truth be told, those who decide to vilify homosexuality may actually do more harm by acting to oppose the recognition of such relationships...a fact that may well be evidenced by the behavior of the Senator and many others.

Clearly, people are entitled to oppose homosexuality. At the same time, denying homosexuals the opportunity to establish meaningful and recognized unions seems to contribute to the damage that can be done to decent human beings...individuals who seek little more than the same acceptance and rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that adults who participate in same sex sexual activities in public locales aren't culpable for their actions or that they are entitled to interpret opposition to same sex relationships as a justification for their suspect behavior. Nonetheless, I contend one cannot be discussed in the absence of the other.

In the end, if we're truly a nation which prides itself upon its compassion and its affinity for Christian values, why would we be so careless as to refuse to extend these considerations to our fellow citizens? It's an inconsistency worth pondering.

Tagged as: Homophobia, Homosexuality, Justice Department, Larry Craig, LGBT, Public Sex, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, Sexuality, Sting Operations

Daniel DiRito | August 30, 2007 | 11:45 AM | link | Comments (1)
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Carrying GWB's Water: GAO Shoots Holes In Bucket genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

George Bush's Water

Oh I just can't wait for the good news...you know...the good news about the success of the surge and the progress being made on the political front in Iraq. With every nugget of good news, the Bush administration apologists race to report the shifting tide while also chiding the defeatist Democrats. You have to admire their fortitude...their undaunted willingness to push the rock back up the hill over and over again...as if to be reenacting the plight of the mythical Sisyphus.

Unfortunately, the rock appears poised to slide back down the hill once again with the release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. According to a draft of the document, the White House has apparently engaged in an effort to offer an assessment that may well conflict with the more negative views found in the administration. In other the words, the spin doctors have been very busy in anticipation of the GAO report as well as the findings to be offered by General Petraeus in September.

To demonstrate the divide that exists between those who are carrying the President's water and the GAO assessment, I decided to put one statement next to the other and allow the reader to draw their own comparisons and conclusions.

From The Boston Globe:

Good news, but not for Democrats
By Jeff Jacoby | August 29, 2007

For months, observers have been crediting General David Petraeus's "surge" with remarkable progress on the ground. That message has come not only from longtime supporters of the war, but from some tough critics as well.

Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, analysts at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, jolted Washington with their July 30 op-ed column, "A War We Just Might Win." Eleven days later, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which had long pronounced the war a misbegotten disaster, radically revised its view. "The US military is more successful in Iraq than the world wants to believe," journalist Ullrich Fichtner reported. So much so that the outcome the Bush administration "erroneously predicted before their invasion -- that the troops would be greeted with candy and flowers -- could in fact still come true."

More good news came just this week in a breakthrough announced by Iraq's top Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish politicians. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and the Kurdish regional president, Massoud Barzani, are joining forces on legislation to settle some of the thorniest issues bedeviling Iraqi politics, including a national oil policy, an easing of de-Baathification, and the release of certain detainees.

For most Americans, positive developments in Iraq are very welcome. But good news is bad news for the Democratic left, where opposition to the war has become an emotional investment in defeat.

From The Washington Post:

Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals
GAO Draft at Odds With White House
By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks
Thursday, August 30, 2007

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

"While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."

Look, the bottom line is that the Bush administration is waging multiple wars...the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq...and the one at home designed to justify the quagmire in Iraq.

Jacoby's tortured defense cites the widely criticized O'Hanlon and Pollack article...the one that received broad criticism and which the authors felt compelled to point out that they had no input in deciding the title of the article...stating that it may have been too optimistic and inconsistent with their actual conclusions.

Worse still, Jacoby goes so far as to quote a German article which repeats the pre-war assessment of Dick Cheney that our soldiers would be greeted by candy and flowers. I hate to point this out to Jacoby, but that was nearly five years ago and at this point...assuming they ever existed...the candy is undoubtedly stale and the flowers have long since wilted. In fact, stale and wilted seems like a much better assessment of the situation...as well as the one voters seem much more inclined to accept.

Jacoby then pivots to discuss the al-Maliki government's announcement of political reconciliation...failing to acknowledge the fact that the government is being boycotted by nearly half of the cabinet or the fact that former Bush administration officials are actively seeking to unseat the al-Maliki government. Essentially, this announcement of a tentative meeting of the minds comprises a portion of what little progress is being reported by the GAO. Jacoby fails to mention the numerous other benchmarks that remain unmet.

Clearly, Jacoby is entitled to his optimism...but reality tells us that his article is little more than a biased attempt to build momentum for a failed strategy and an unpopular war. His final spin seeks to suggest that Democrats are falling all over themselves as they attempt to disavow themselves from their partisan negativity. His effort to depict the position of the Democrats as an "emotional investment" seems to be little more than a classic case of projection.

Suffice it to say that Jacoby's ginned up garble lacks substance, does little to impugn the position of the Democrats, and serves to highlight the desperation of the White House as it approaches the eleventh hour of a malaise which arguably mirrors a mythical tragedy.

The following excerpts from the Post article provide further contrast and cast additional doubt on the veracity of the Jacoby piece.

One of eight political benchmarks -- the protection of the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature -- has been achieved, according to the draft. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Baathification, it assesses failure.

"Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet," it says. An internal administration assessment this month, the GAO says, concluded that "this boycott ends any claim by the Shi'ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity." An administration official involved in Iraq policy said that he did not know what specific interagency document the GAO was citing but noted that it is an accurate reflection of the views of many officials.

The GAO draft also says that the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently declined from 10 in March to six last month. The July White House report mentioned a "slight" decline in capable Iraqi units, without providing any numbers. The GAO also says, as did the White House in July, that the Iraqi government has intervened in military activities for political reasons, "resulting in some operations being based on sectarian interests."

The Bush administration and those inclined to defend it seem to be ignoring one crucial consideration...they fail to realize or accept that their campaign to tout progress cannot succeed without some actual progress. The American public is generally patient...but to assume that they are also stupid is a grave misjudgment.

George Bush may have little to lose at this point...but those within the GOP who are willing to ignore the message of the 2006 election do so at their own peril.

Tagged as: 2008 election, al Maliki Government, Democrats, GAO, George W. Bush, GOP, Iraq, Jeff Jacoby, Sectarian Conflict

Daniel DiRito | August 30, 2007 | 9:28 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 29, 2007

The Queen Of Mean Is Still Pulling Strings genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Queen Of Mean

In truth, I could care less about the estate of Leona Helmsley...but upon reading some of the instructions from her will on the internet this morning, I had to comment about the person that would leave these details and directives. Given the terms of the will, Helmsley, known unaffectionately as "The Queen Of Mean", lived up to her nickname...even after her death.

NEW YORK - Leona Helmsley’s dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley’s grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire’s estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father’s grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer’s other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for “reasons that are known to them," she wrote.

“I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley mausoleum," Helmsley wrote in her will.

The mausoleum, she ordered, must be “washed or steam-cleaned at least once a year." She left behind $3 million for the upkeep of her final resting place in Westchester County, where she is buried with her husband, Harry Helmsley.

She also left her chauffeur, Nicholas Celea, $100,000.

OK, I'll be the first to acknowledge that its a free country and Helmsley was entitled to do as she saw fit. I'll even give her the benefit of the doubt and agree that she actually worked to earn some of the money held in her estate. Beyond that, I'm not sure I can find any other redeeming remarks to make about a woman who obviously spent the better part of her life angry, bitter, and vindictive.

No doubt Helmsley's will was designed to fulfill each and every intention found in the expression, "her reach extended beyond the grave". Such rancor is not only reprehensible, it is a restive reminder of a woman who apparently lacked the ability to see beyond her own self-absorbed persona...a woman who defined her worth solely in terms of wealth...and likely used that wealth to manipulate all those who came within striking distance of the virtual viper.

At the same time, I can't help but think that Helmsley was a fool...perhaps a judgment I have no authority to make...but one I'll proceed to offer with the confidence that my conclusion won't be challenged by a long line of Helmsley apologists and defenders.

Assuming the reports are accurate that the estate was worth approximately $2.5 billion...the money designated for friends, family, her chauffeur, her canine confidante, and, of course, the upkeep of her granite gravesite...is as best I can tell a paltry sum of just over 35 million, not even two percent of her estate.

In fact, the money spent on her final resting place...when combined with the funds designated for its upkeep as well as the dollars left to her dog...almost matches all the money she left to living relatives.

To understand my calling Helmsley a fool, one story will suffice to illustrate my assertion. A few years back, Helmsley decided to relocate the remains of her husband. The decision was precipitated when the cemetery elected to construct a large group mausoleum that obstructed the view from the family plot.

Leona Helmsley, for years the imperious head of a multibillion-dollar real estate and hotel empire, will spend eternity in a $1.4 million suburban mausoleum with a magnificent view, alongside her beloved husband, Harry.

She previously moved her husband's remains after becoming dissatisfied with his old neighborhood.

The expansive family mausoleum at Woodlawn was memorably described as a "tomb with a view," but the sweeping vista disappeared when a public mausoleum -- potentially filled with those "little people" who paid taxes -- went up nearby three years ago.

An irate Leona called the new construction "a disgrace," and resolved to relocate the remains of her husband and her son, Jay Panzirer.

She purchased a piece of land in Sleepy Hollow to construct a new mausoleum -- and quickly alienated her husband's new, living neighbors. A wooded section of the cemetery was stripped clean of trees in summer 2005.

The new construction lacked permits, and village officials quickly shut down the project, Zegarelli said.

The two sides worked out their differences -- fines were paid and donations were made by the Helmsley group to repair some of the damage. Last August, the mausoleum was approved for the reinterment.

Please note the final paragraph...the one in which the true nature of Helmsley is exposed. Specifically, in the words, "fines were paid and donations were made", the essence of Helmsley is revealed. Unwilling to see beyond her own desires and demands and unable to resolve issues amenably...Helmsley relied upon her money to buy the cooperation and congeniality of those she encountered.

Unfortunately, such a strategy rarely works with ones own family members...and the fact that she disinherited two of her grandchildren affirms that reality. Regardless, even in death Helmsley held fast to her beliefs and left the vast majority of her wealth to charity...and in so doing she confirmed herself to be a fool. Let me explain.

Anyone who has been around fundraising or worked with charitable organizations knows that those charged with the task of finding and finagling the necessary financial backing are masterful manipulators...and I say as much with no malice since it is a required skill. In my estimation, those who are successful at fundraising must be regarded as capable and competent pseudo-psychologists...and they must have the patience of Job.

Sadly, all too often, people like Helmsley succumb to the serendipitous swooning of these savvy shills...all the while believing that they are receiving the respect and the required restraint they desire and demand...but cannot obtain from those they encounter in the regular course of events...real life people who are often relatives with real feelings which are, on occasion, released in raw and unedited exchanges.

As we know, for a woman like Helmsley, there is little room for give and take...a debilitating condition which I believe she regularly exhibited...though I confess that I do not know the particular dynamics of its origin in her personality. Notwithstanding, this well-documented trait likely made her the ideal candidate for the donation dance...an artful exchange enacted by those able to convey the belief that one's partner is the ideal lead...while all the while directing their every step until such time as they are furtively separated from the sought after and subtly solicited funds.

At the end of this dance, people like Helmsley are unconsciously convinced that what they have taken in the way of psychic soothing far exceeds the gift they give...and the process of give and take has been reduced to little more than a primal pampering reminiscent of the comforting coos of a nurturing nanny.

In designating that the lions share of her fortune be distributed through the Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust, Helmsley departed this life still enamored with the faulty notion that charity does not and will not begin at home. Fortunately, those strangers who may benefit from her great wealth will not be required to dance with the devilish diva. Tragically, her family and friends who acquiesced to her every whim will remain relegated to the sidelines...still dancing to the demands of a damaged and domineering demagogue.

Tagged as: Empire State Building, Harry Helmsley, Leona Helmsley, The Queen Of Mean, Trouble

Daniel DiRito | August 29, 2007 | 9:42 AM | link | Comments (1)
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August 28, 2007

Sen. Craig, Bathroom Sex, & The Broad Berth Of Bias genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Broad Berth Of Bias

I'm always fascinated by the reaction to stories like that of Senator Larry Craig...the Idaho senator who plead guilty to disorderly conduct following his arrest for lewd behavior (he was basically charged for allegedly soliciting sex from a male police officer) in a Minneapolis airport restroom.

A number of reactions are exactly what one might expect given the political persuasion of the senator. Craig has been an opponent of gay rights for the duration of his service in the senate...opposing gay marriage and hate crimes legislation and basically voting the family values platform without fail. Therefore the accusations of blatant hypocrisy have been loud and they've been warranted.

Craig's actions are a repeat of an all too familiar script...powerful anti-gay leader gets caught in pathetic pants down gay situation and then begins the process of denial. In that regard, it is difficult to sympathize with these men given their propensity to victimize gays through their very public and influential positions...all the while living closeted gay lives in secret...frequently exhibiting a history of engaging in tawdry anonymous sexual encounters on the sly.

Here's where it gets tricky...no pun intended. In the rush to comment on the situation, the door is kicked open to all types of erroneous assertions...assertions that emanate from the bias, prejudice, and judgment that comes with the topic of homosexuality.

Generally speaking, the comments from the gay community are straightforward and they speak of vindication and the utter hypocrisy exhibited by those individuals who have made a career of championing the vilification of the gay lifestyle. The gay commentary also includes expressions of dismay with a society that stigmatizes homosexuality such that some individuals are unable or unwilling to expose their gay identities and therefore succumb to the deception and the detachment that accompanies such incidents.

In this particular instance, the commentary from the gay community has also included a degree of outrage that the Minneapolis police department is targeting consensual gay sex as a matter of criminal activity...the point at which it becomes complicated and also where we begin to see the infiltration of bias.

As I've read the many comments on the situation...both from the left and the right...it became obvious that there is a void in understanding an important fact of gay life. Gays and those familiar with the gay community seem to understand that there is an unspoken communication code amongst gays...one that allows them to identify each other. It exists because identifying another gay individual isn't a matter of simple gender identification...and it can be a matter of life and death.

As we all know, the vast majority of society is heterosexual and therefore the accepted pattern of courtship (the means by which people make connections...be they flirting, dating, sexual, or the predecessor to marriage) is between a man and woman. As such, it is expected that men and women will make advances towards each other in order to express interest. These behaviors are well known and easily identified.

On the other hand, those within the gay world have created their own method of courtship...a method that is necessarily more clandestine and far less obvious. That method exists because gays realize that if they were to approach courtship randomly...with the presumption that all others were homosexual...they may be subjecting themselves to the likelihood of anger and even physical danger. The bottom line is that advances of a gay nature are not an open and socially accepted behavior. Gays cannot act upon attraction without first evaluating the potential that such an approach will be welcomed.

The only clear exception to this may be the gay bar...a safe environment that mirrors what heterosexuals find in virtually all of their travels. It is a place where gays can let down their guard and feel safe to express interest in others with little reason for worry. At the same time, any heterosexual who has ventured to a gay bar...and found themselves the object of flirtatious advances should have an appreciation for the daily gay experience. Fortunately, heterosexuals in a gay bar generally needn't feel their physical safety is threatened should they mistakenly make an advance towards a member of the opposite sex. Gays, on the other hand, would not likely find the same in a straight bar.

Let me point out one other consideration...the issue of stereotypical behavior. Many heterosexuals struggle to understand some of the mannerisms of homosexuals...with effeminate behavior being the most obvious. My own anecdotal analysis suggests that it is simply another way for a homosexual to expose their sexual preference to others without the need for the subtleties of a secret code. If one is gay and one wants to maximize the number of individuals who will know as much in order to increase the potential for others to come forward and identify their similar orientation, then acting in stereotypical ways may simply be a successful alternative strategy.

Hopefully, those who may have been puzzled by this apparent secret code of communication that was exhibited by Senator Craig will now have a better understanding of the underlying dynamics that foster it. The bottom line is that if one is never forced to adopt such strategies, one would likely be oblivious to them...but that doesn't nullify their existence.

Now factor in the additional considerations of men like Senator Craig...considerations that go beyond the above mentioned realities. The senator and other closeted individuals must make the same judgments...but they are also focused upon avoiding the acknowledgment or exposure of their sexual preference. Essentially, they are seeking others in similar situations, or at the very least, individuals who they can reasonably assume to be desirous of a limited and/or secretive encounter...whether that be a conversation, a date, sex, or an ongoing relationship.

Let me draw an important comparison to heterosexuality...one that begins to expose the unfair bias that is often triggered by events similar to that of Senator Craig. The best way to understand the actions of Craig is to think about the heterosexual man or woman that is looking for an affair. They must be able to secretly identify an individual who will be receptive to their advances, respectful of their need for discretion, and willing to be complicit in hiding the relationship...whether it is strictly sexual or something much more or much less.

In reading the commentary on the Senator's actions, some have chosen to view his actions as perverse, sick, twisted, and indicative of all that is wrong with the homosexual lifestyle. Let me be clear...I am not defending the actions of Senator Craig...I am simply suggesting that they are not unique to homosexuals. The problem is that some of the characterizations have sought to identify the Senator's behavior as exclusive to homosexuals in order to condemn the gay lifestyle.

However, Craig's motivations are mirrored in the heterosexual community in those individuals seeking to conduct clandestine affairs. All one needs to imagine is the man who frequents the area of a city where prostitutes can be found or that travels for work and can be found in the hotel lounge seeking a one night encounter. If one chooses to characterize such actions as perverse, sick, and twisted...so be it. I am simply suggesting that there are those who hope to attach such a label to homosexual behavior while avoiding the same insinuation with regard to heterosexuals. Deception and cheating are the same wherever they occur.

As to the legitimacy of targeting such behaviors in the restroom of an airport, I think one can make the argument that it is, in fact, an unfair assault upon homosexuals. Again, I'm not suggesting that I find anything remotely appealing about airport bathroom sex...nor am I suggesting that it represents a healthy expression of anyones sexuality. At the same time, I can identify numerous other venues...venues that are not intended for sexual encounters...but that are clearly used as the means to achieve a sexual encounter...amongst heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

Everyone has been to a concert where two individuals meet up and engage in sexual activity. The same can be found at sports events (think Nascar and bare breasts), wedding receptions, house parties, amusement parks, beaches, airplanes (think mile high club), high school dances, pool parties, public parks, and other venues too numerous to mention.

The question is whether "lewd behavior" is targeted at such venues...and by that I mean that police officers are assigned to engage others who may be seeking to use a venue to solicit sex...not just security staff that might put a stop to such behavior should they encounter it in the course of their responsibilities. I seriously doubt that the police assign a woman officer to attend a concert in order to catch men who solicit her for a sexual encounter...just as I doubt officers would be found at the other venues mentioned with the sole purpose of identifying individuals who are desirous of a sexual encounter. I think the distinction is that these other venues may have employees who are supposed to put an end to such activities if they are encountered...but they are not assigned to entice such advances in order to bring charges.

Again, I have no particular sympathy for Senator Craig...I am simply suggesting that there may well be a double standard at work with regard to homosexual contact. Frankly, it should come as no surprise since we commonly hear expressions like, "I don't care what they do in private but I don't want it flaunted in my face". Further, we have gone so far as to institutionalize such stigmatization of homosexual sex. The best example is found in the military with the policy called Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In other words, gay sex must be behind closed doors and it mustn't be discussed or exposed to the public at large.

In the case of these airport encounters, apparently closed doors are not sufficient...and the mere insinuation of a sexual interest is grounds for charging an individual with an offense. I personally find the prospect of restroom sex distasteful...but no more than I would find the prospect of sitting next to a couple engaging in sex at a concert or on an airplane or at a Nascar race.

Unfortunately, society still struggles with the notion of homosexual sex and the situation with Senator Craig points out the apparent double standard that exists. Granted, the locations gays may choose to find such encounters may differ from those chosen by heterosexuals...but that may simply be a function of the other societal taboos that are at play and that make it more difficult for gays to express an interest in another individual.

The fact that Senator Craig is a hypocrite remains...but there is also an element of hypocrisy that isn't solely reserved for the Senator...hypocrisy that is evidenced in the tacit endorsement of heterosexual encounters while portraying homosexual displays of a sexual nature as wrong, vile, disgusting, and illegal. That hypocrisy simply suggests that society still has a long way to go.

In the meantime, the actions of Senator Craig as a U.S. Senator simply help foster such bias and prejudice...and it makes his behavior as a Senator all the more offensive. His actions in the Senate are an affront to decency and they make a mockery of the responsibilities that should accompany positions of leadership. The fact that he is likely gay simply makes his political actions all the more detestable.

Tagged as: Bias, Gay, Heterosexuality, Homophobia, Homosexuality, LGBT, Senator Larry Craig, Sexuality

Daniel DiRito | August 28, 2007 | 9:17 AM | link | Comments (4)
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August 27, 2007

Curtains To Cry Havok And Let Slip The Dogs Of War genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Dogs Of War

Today was a day of vindication for our four legged friends in the canine world. A dog killer met with justice and the President's bulldog will no longer be in a position to administer injustice. Michael Vick will likely be headed to the big house and Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales, who has been in the dog house for months, will finally be leaving the White House...and in so doing, perhaps the disregard of civility and the calculated dismantling of civil liberties will no longer be in vogue nor will its continuance be granted a free pass.

Michael Vick will no longer be able to fight dogs and the dog fight over the manipulation and mismanagement of the Department of Justice may have finally turned an important corner with the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. The welcomed news suggests that man's best friend may longer be a tool for twisted amusement and upstanding men may no longer be dogged because they refuse to carry the water of partisan pit bulls.

Despite the resignation of Gonzales, it is likely too early to believe that the Bush administration is about to embark on a course replete with a repertoire of new tricks. Fortunately, the President and his pack of political hacks are on a short leash with little more than fifteen months remaining on their tenure as America's often amateurish and antagonistic army of alpha-males.

With the departure of the President's leading lapdogs, the Fredo and Rove "Gravy Train" era of acrimony...that period of time during which they sought to turn every political office and operative into a rabidly red recruit...has finally come to an end.

Whether all of the bodies these yard dogs meticulously buried can be found is doubtful...but they will at least be prevented from any further littering of the lawn with lame excuses, lapses of memory, and long-winded legalese.

Its been a long time coming, but I suspect a large number of Americans are breathing a welcomed sigh of relief knowing "that dog won't hunt" again...at least not in what remains of the Bush administration. In light of the news...and as with all tragedies...its nice to know that the days of rewarding these men for bad behavior has finally come to an end.

Tagged as: Alberto Gonzales, Department of Justice, George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Michael Vick, NFL, U.S. Attorneys

Daniel DiRito | August 27, 2007 | 10:10 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 24, 2007

Debunking The Myth Of The "Troop Surge" genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Myth Chip

Everybody's talking about the surge...is it succeeding...is it a failure...will it allow the Iraqi government to turn the corner?

Some Democrats have been willing to acknowledge that the additional 30,000 troops has had a positive impact...which has led other Democrats to accuse them of capitulation. Simultaneously, these seemingly favorable remarks have also led some within the GOP to conclude that the President's persistence is paying off and that the Democrats are finally realizing that victory is achievable.

Lost in the dialogue is an important reality...one that requires little more than the appropriate comparisons...comparisons that the President and his supporters have wisely avoided...comparisons that the Democrats have been remiss to expose.

My thoughts on the subject were crystallized by a comment from a reader. The comment came in response to a posting which discussed a recent survey on the ability of the surge to succeed. The experts consulted overwhelmingly concluded that the surge would not succeed...and the reader disagreed...offering the following closing statement.

Like it or not, the surge is working, just ask Hillary or any Democrat (in private of course).

Victory or defeat, you decide.

In reading the comment, I realized that the Bush administration has succeeded in framing the discussion of the surge to its advantage. Let me explain. I've previously argued that the notion of defeat is the one thing which prevents Americans from demanding an immediate end to the war. The polling suggests that while a large majority of voters feel the war has been mismanaged...and while there is a majority consensus that a withdrawal timeline should be established...a strong majority seem to be struggling with the notion of losing...and that mindset is the very point upon which the Bush administration framing is focused.

Clearly, that is a powerful force for the Democrats to overcome...and each time a Democrat affirms the success of the surge, they reinforce the hopes of those voters who do not want to accept defeat. I contend that the Democrats need to change the way they discuss the surge and they need some plausible examples to make their point.

Here's what I would suggest. As long as the surge is characterized in traditional terms as a military offensive, the results will continue to be viewed in terms of victory or defeat. To change that dynamic, the Democrats need to frame it differently.

I contend the surge should be portrayed as comparable to increasing the number of police officers in a large city in order to reduce a troubling crime rate. In that model, the 30,000 additional troops is approximately a 22 percent increase in police officers.

Clearly, most Americans would understand this line of reasoning and in presenting the surge in this manner, it then allows the Democrats to pivot to the crucial message...the one that tells voters that crime prevention is a persistent and ongoing battle...it isn't a war that is won; it is simply the means to manage and deter the inherent potential for crime that will always exist.

As such, the struggle in Iraq is predicated upon a similar situation. More troops will deter the inherent potential for sectarian violence and insurgent activity...so long as the troops remain. However, a surge isn't a means to victory; it is a management strategy. Unfortunately, it cannot end until such time as the Iraqi government puts in place the means to self-manage the policing of their society.

Further explanation is needed to complete the framing. If one looks at the city of Chicago and its long period of crime and corruption, one begins to see the task at hand in Iraq. Not only is there a large "criminal" element in the Iraqi population at large; there is at a minimum a void in the Iraqi leadership...and at worst, they may well be complicit in fostering the violence and the corruption. Evidence suggests the latter is more likely.

In other words, we are no longer engaged in a military conflict; we are attempting to build a civil society through the insertion of an occupying force. The problem with that scenario is that it is divorced from the realities that exist within both the civilian population and the political leadership. Iraq not only has the equivalent of the rampant organized crime gangs that plagued Chicago; it also has a similarly corrupt government that isn't inclined to extinguish the gang warfare.

Lastly, the history of Chicago informs us that change occurred when the will of the people of Chicago mandated that change...a process that wasn't achieved in short order...a process that is most accurately viewed as generational shift; not a function of a surge mentality. In fact, one could argue that the addition of more police officers during Chicago's dark days would have simply given the combatants more wherewithal to prosecute their objectives. The situation simply lacked the innate institutional means for reform.

Iraq is no different...and while throwing 30,000 honest officers into the equation may limit the wheeling and dealing of those intent on the acquisition of power and profit...the society lacks the ability and the initiative to embrace the proposed social and political shifts.

Taking a current example...the city of Baltimore has already seen 200 murders this year. Using the surge mentality, the city could decide to increase the number of police officers in hopes of reducing this alarming trend...but the dynamics that created the trend in the first place must be eliminated in order to achieve sustainable improvement. Reality tells us such an endeavor will take a long time (see Chicago or any other city that confronted such a dilemma)...and it involves more than expanding the ranks of the police force. Undoubtedly, the city has issues with poverty, drugs, education, gangs, race, and any host of other factors that can be expected to precipitate such a decline.

Now imagine a similar situation in a nation that completely lacks the long standing governmental structure found here in the United States. We have the benefit of a stabilizing force that cannot be underestimated and yet we still encounter situations like Chicago in the early 20th century and Baltimore in the here and now. Iraq has none of that to bring to bear on the situation.

By providing the above argument to establish the magnitude of the tasks facing Iraq, the final piece of the rationale can be introduced...and it is best done through the asking of one essential question..."If another nation had intervened in Chicago or one chose to intervene in Baltimore now, how would the inhabitants of either city react and what response could we expect from the vast majority of Americans?"

I think the answer is obvious but I'll provide an example to illustrate my point. The European Union recently implored the governor of the state of Texas to reconsider the state's intention to execute a convicted criminal...and to place a moratorium on capital punishment. Governor Perry's office offered the following response.

The governor's spokesman, Robert Black, said in a statement that "230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination.

"Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens," Black said. "While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas."

Suffice it to say that we would be fooling ourselves to presume that the same sentiment doesn't exist in Iraq. In fact, the recent remarks of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in response to U.S. criticism of the lack of political progress, highlight the degree to which self-determination will remain an obstacle to our efforts.

The Democrats would do well to remind voters of the position held by George Bush prior to the 2000 election. At that time, candidate Bush rejected the notion of nation building. Let's give the President his due...his position on nation building was right before he was elected to the presidency. Unfortunately, one would be hard pressed to offer the same assessment of his track record since he became the sitting president.

U.S. voters need to understand that the United States is no longer engaged in a war in Iraq...that ended in short order with the toppling of the Hussein regime. Our troops successfully completed their mission long ago. When the Bush administration uses the words of war...words like "troop surge"...to discuss our failed effort at nation building, it is the responsibility of Democrats to firmly and fiercely rebut this foolish fairy tale.

Its time voters knew the truth...we won the war...our presence in Iraq is no longer a question of victory or defeat...the only outstanding decision is the one confronting the people of Iraq..."Are they ready to begin the difficult task of building a nation?"

Tagged as: Crime, George W. Bush, Governor Perry, Iraq, Nation Building, Nouri al-Maliki, Saddam Hussein, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | August 24, 2007 | 11:43 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 23, 2007

Understanding Iraq...One Analogy At A Time genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Tongue-In-Cheek

Existential Angst

As I read the summaries of the latest National Intelligence Estimate, I found myself lacking for words to explain my ongoing frustration with the utter mismanagement and growing futility that seems to plague this misguided war in Iraq.

Instead of offering more of the same criticisms, I decided to make my commentary a creative and corny exercise in existential angst...thereby seeking to identify a few analogies that capture my feelings about this never ending war in Iraq. Feel free to share some of your own.

If Iraq were an orchestra, not only would the director's baton be broken, half of the musicians chairs would be empty, the ones at which musicians were seated would all have different sheet music on their stands, the auditorium would be dark due to a lack of electricity, and the audience would be fighting over the few bottles of water that are available from the concessionaires...who can neither speak the same language nor issue change in the same currency.

If Iraq were a Seinfeld episode, the animosity between Jerry and Newman would result in assassination attempts, Kramer and his assistant would never get the oil bladder to the window to drop on Jerry's former girlfriend...and if they did get it to the window, black market thugs would intercept it in order to sell it for a few extra bucks...long before it could land upon Jerry's former girlfriend, and Elaine would never need a case of sponges because Putty's putter wouldn't work anyway.

If Iraq were a football team, the coach's son would have been unfairly installed as the quarterback...only to have been subsequently voted off the team by his teammates...after which a majority click would then elect the inept kicker to replace the coach's son at quarterback. He would then attempt to drop kick his passes to his receivers...who would intentionally drop the ball to undermine the new quarterback because they belong to a minority click. When every drive therefore ended short of the red zone, he would mistakenly throw the ball through the uprights; resulting in a fifteen yard penalty and a loss of downs.

If the war in Iraq were an episode of Leave It To Beaver...it would be Voodoo Magic. In the program, the United States would be Wally, Iraq would be the Beaver, Iran would be The Rutherfords, Ward and June are the United Nations, and George Bush would be the inimitable Eddie Haskell.

In typical fashion, Eddie convinces Wally to go to a double feature movie on voodoo magic despite the objections of Ward and June. Wally listens to Eddie and drags the Beaver kicking and screaming into an ill-advised adventure that goes from bad to worse. The Beaver, angry at Eddie for creating a mess, places a curse on Eddie and spends the rest of the episode undermining the weaselly Eddie Haskell. Ward and June have to step in and manage the situation because Wally's had it with Eddie and the Beaver will have no part of Eddie's schemes.

If George Bush were Bill Gates and Iraq were an up and coming Fortune 100 company...well...in this case...that would be analogous to the rhyme, "If wishes were horses, Beggars would ride"...and that isn't gonna happen anytime soon.

Tagged as: Al-Maliki, Existentialism, George W. Bush, Iraq, Leave It to Beaver, National Intelligence Estimate, Sectarian Conflict, Seinfeld

Daniel DiRito | August 23, 2007 | 5:03 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Coal Mining: Santa Claus, Stockings, & Bad Behavior genre: Econ-Recon & Six Degrees of Speculation

Lump Of Coal

I've got coal on the brain...and the news just keeps what remains of my neurons popping. As a kid, I remember thinking about my behavior and whether it had been sufficient to prevent me from receiving a chunk of coal in my Christmas stocking. Of course I soon realized that parents had simply co-opted the holiday as a means to insure that children toe the line.

Today, as an adult in America, coal has become a symbol for something far different. In many ways, it represents the inability of the United States to address our growing dependence upon foreign oil and all that has become associated with that dilemma.

By and large, coal is an outdated fuel source...but one that remains a prevalent and precious reserve in this country. Not that many years back, it appeared that coal might literally become a fossil fuel...one that was shelved in favor of other energy sources...but then the world suddenly realized that oil reserves would not last forever, nuclear power wasn't as safe as we had hoped, and those with the lions share of crude weren't on the best of terms with the United States.

At that point, coal returned as king...and along with its resurgence came the concerns about its lack of cleanliness...as a polluting fuel...as well as environmental concerns resulting from the actual extraction process. Lastly, its return to prominence brought with it concerns about miner safety.

The Sago and Crandall Canyon mining disasters brought renewed attention to the travails that accompany a dependence upon coal. In the absence of a comprehensive energy plan...one intended to solve our reliance on external sources...there will continue to be controversy surrounding the coal industry and our need to exploit the reserves that exist.

An article in The New York Times highlights the controversies that can be expected to result from our efforts to balance the need for fuel alongside of our desire to preserve the many pristine locales from which coal must be extracted...not to mention the need to limit the amount of pollutants we emit into an already taxed atmosphere. The obstacles are many.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 — The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams.

It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion.

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.

The rule, which would apply to waste from both types of mines, is known as the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream.

The Interior Department drafted the proposal to try to clear up a 10-year legal and regulatory dispute over how the 1983 rule should be applied. The change is to be published on Friday in The Federal Register, officials said.

The Clinton administration began moving in 1998 to tighten enforcement of the stream rule, but the clock ran out before it could enact new regulations. The Bush administration has been much friendlier to mining interests, which have been reliable contributors to the Republican Party, and has worked on the new rule change since 2001.

Interior Department officials said they could not comment on the rule because it had not been published. But a senior official of the Office of Surface Mining said the stream buffer rule was never intended to prohibit all mining in and around streams, but rather just to minimize the effects of such work.

He said the regulation would explicitly state that the buffer zone rule does not apply for hundreds of miles of streams and valleys and that he hoped, but did not expect, that the rule would end the fight over mine waste.

Mr. Lovett of the Appalachian Center said the rule would only stoke a new battle.

“They are not strengthening the buffer zone rule," he said. “They are just destroying it. By sleight of hand, they are removing one of the few protections streams now have from the most egregious mining activities."

Like it or not, coal will continue to be an important source of energy in the United States until such time as efforts are made to establish a comprehensive energy plan designed to foster alternative sources, minimize reliance on foreign oil, and reduce the negative impacts from coal extraction and pollution. It won't be easy and it wont be cheap.

Additionally, to achieve this goal will require major changes...changes that most Americans haven't exhibited much of an inclination to make...changes that would require large and long established industries to adapt. Unfortunately, many of these same industries have strong political ties and have been major campaign contributors. They also employ influential lobbyists who insure that their interests are heard and that they receive favorable legislative treatment. Separating politicians from their political lifeline wont be easily achieved.

Unfortunately, the situation with regards to coal reminds me of the expression, "Everything old is new again". While its true that my parents are unable to use Christmas to negotiate my good behavior...and while I no longer have to worry about Santa Claus placing a chunk of coal in my stocking...I'm afraid that America's failed energy policy means that we're all going to see a lot more coal stuffed in our proverbial stockings.

It just goes to show that yesterdays lessons rarely lose their relevance. We American's need to change our behavior...or its coal today, coal tomorrow, and coal on Christmas.

Tagged as: Campaign Contributions, Coal Mining, Crandall Canyon Mine, Energy Policy, Global Warming, Lobbying, MSHA, Oil Dependence, Sago Mine

Daniel DiRito | August 23, 2007 | 11:17 AM | link | Comments (1)
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White House: Obstruction To The Nth. Degree? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

No Access

At some point, it is impossible to avoid suspecting that the Bush administration has something to hide...something that they are willing to keep from the American public regardless of expense, regardless of propriety, and even regardless of their own written words.

The Washington Post is reporting that the White House, in a motion responding to a lawsuit initiated by Citizens For Responsibility And Ethics In Washington (CREW), is now asserting that the White House Office of Administration isn't subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

CREW is seeking information related to the reported deletion of some five million emails...some of which were thought to be relevant to the investigation into the firing of a number of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration.

The Bush administration argued in court papers this week that the White House Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act as part of its effort to fend off a civil lawsuit seeking the release of internal documents about a large number of e-mails missing from White House servers.

The claim, made in a motion filed Tuesday by the Justice Department, is at odds with a depiction of the office on the White House's own Web site. As of yesterday, the site listed the Office of Administration as one of six presidential entities subject to the open-records law, which is commonly known by its abbreviation, FOIA.

CREW said it understood that internal White House documents had estimated at least 5 million e-mails were missing from March 2003 to October 2005.

The Bush administration has not provided a number publicly. Some of the records may have been subject to a document preservation law administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, said that "one has to wonder if this is an effort by the White House to keep secret the details of how millions of White House e-mail suddenly went missing. The OA's disingenuous claim that it is not subject to the FOIA is contradicted by its own actions and statements."

[...] the Office of Administration, which was formed in 1977 and handles various administrative and technology duties, responded to 65 FOIA requests last year and even has its own FOIA officer, records show.

In its 20-page motion, the Justice Department argues that past behavior is irrelevant, pointing to a 1996 appellate court ruling that found the White House-based National Security Council was not covered by FOIA even though it had complied with the law previously.

I keep coming back to the same question...why is the White House so focused upon preventing the public from seeing this information? Not only has this office previously provided access to information under the FOIA, it has an employee on staff intended to handle such matters. If the office isn't subject to the FOIA, why would it need an employee for such activities? The only rational answer is that the release of the information being sought by CREW would suggest acts of impropriety.

Look, I understand that Washington is a very partisan environment and no doubt both parties seek opportunities to embarrass and discredit the opposition. As such, I expect for there to be some level of resistance to fishing expeditions that may be intended to do little more than find political ammunition.

Notwithstanding, the degree to which the White House seems willing to resist any and all investigations cannot be ignored. I've said it before and I'll state it again, "I haven't seen this level of obfuscation since Richard Nixon"...and that is certainly a discomforting realization.

Perhaps this persistent resistance is nothing more than an indication of the President's confrontational Texas cowboy mentality...and a realization that being the sitting President gives one significant latitude...latitude that might as well be used to advantage. The fact that George Bush depicted himself as a uniter prior to his election only adds to the angst many voters experience when witnessing his affinity for acrimony.

If the White House has, in fact, played fast and loose with the law, it seems safe to assume that it will eventually be exposed. Whether that happens prior to the end of his second term remains open to debate.

Frankly, I'm just looking forward to that point in time when the voting public can focus its attention on the actions of a new President...one who we can hope won't be so obsessed with keeping the citizenry in the dark.

Image courtesy of Talk Left

Tagged as: CREW, George W. Bush, Justice Department, U.S. Attorneys, White House Office of Administration

Daniel DiRito | August 23, 2007 | 10:06 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 22, 2007

George W. Bush: Not A "Stickler" For Mine Safety? genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Stickler And Murray

UPDATE:

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that public records indicate that many of the statements made by mine owner Bob Murray during the Crandall Canyon Mine rescue attempt have been less than accurate.

Since the outset of the mine collapse, there has been a dispute as to the type of mining taking place at the site. According to the records reviewed by the Tribune, retreat mining was in fact taking place...despite statements to the contrary by Murray.

Records of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that, after Murray acquired a 50 percent ownership in the mine on Aug. 9, 2006, his company repeatedly petitioned the agency to allow coal to be extracted from the north and south barriers - thick walls of coal that run on both sides of the tunnels and help hold up the mine.

That stands in stark contrast to statements Murray made Monday asserting that his company's mine plan, and that of the previous owner, were one and the same.

Documents on file with the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining show Andalex had previously decided not to mine those barriers, determining it posed a risk to worker safety.

"There was a change of philosophy there," said Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA attorney and Kentucky mine official. "It's certainly very questionable. They wanted to get as much coal out of it as they can."

Calls to the company's attorney and spokesman Michael McKown were not returned Tuesday.

In February and March, the company did "retreat mining" in the north barrier, a practice that involves cutting away the remaining support pillars to extract the last coal deposits, leaving the roof to fall in.

Those who watched Bob Murray during the rescue attempt would have been hard pressed to miss his confrontational demeanor and his air of certainty. Having been around coal mining in my younger days, Murray is typical of many of the operators I've encountered.

Why Murray would see fit to misrepresent the type of mining taking place is somewhat puzzling given the likelihood that the mining records would be made public. I suspected then, and I suspect now, that Murray has been attempting to parse words in order to deflect the inevitable criticism.

In my own experience, it isn't unusual for there to be an ongoing battle between mine operators and MSHA...with mine owners frequently involve attorneys as they attempt to avoid cost creating rulings on the part of the government agency. It's a classic case of big business seeking to subvert regulations in order to improve the bottom line.

While I have witnessed valid arguments coming from both sides of these disputes, all too often the impact on the actual miners isn't the primary consideration. Mining is undoubtedly a risky endeavor...both from a financial standpoint for the operators and with regards to those who actually remove the coal.

In recent years, it appears that MSHA has acquiesced to the owner/operators. Given the recent spate of accidents, I would argue that the emphasis needs to return to the safety of the miners.

_____________________________________________________
ORIGINAL POSTING:

I've not written about the most recent mining disaster in deference to the feelings of the families who may have lost loved ones. Given the possibility that the rescue efforts are about to halt, I felt it was the right time to address the issue and the ongoing disregard for mine safety...a disregard that has become more evident since the Sago Mine disaster in early 2006.

Thought Theater previously posted on the differences between safety standards present in the Canadian coal mining industry and those here in the United States...differences that can be directly traced to saved lives in Canada...and lost lives here in the United States. I highly recommend that readers take the time to read that posting which can be found here.

Adding to the egregious nature of this most recent disaster is the fact that the man appointed by President Bush to head the Mine Safety & Health Administration was met with significant Congressional opposition (bipartisan) due to legitimate concerns about his safety credentials...yet the President still chose to proceed...awarding the position to Richard Stickler by virtue of a recess appointment.

Today, the Washington Post offers more details on the subject...raising more doubts as to the merits of the appointment.

Members of Congress, union officials and worker advocates were skeptical before the Aug. 6 accident that Richard Stickler was dedicated enough to worker safety.

Now all three groups are pointing out mistakes they say Stickler has made in handling attempts to rescue six trapped miners. The situation grew more grim last week when three rescue workers were killed in a subsequent cave-in.

Critics think any investigation of the accident will ultimately ask why MSHA signed off in June on a mining plan for the area where the collapse occurred.

Experts have said the terrain there was already risky for the type of mining the operators wanted to do. Concerns about the roof's stability after a cave-in damaged another part of the mine in March made MSHA's approval even more questionable, they say.

But the mine workers union and others say Stickler has failed to change the climate at MSHA from one of "really coddling mine operators," said Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, which opposed Stickler's appointment and is calling for an independent investigation of the accident.

In the early days of the rescue, the bespectacled Stickler was regularly upstaged during news conferences by the mine's blustery co-owner, Bob Murray, who used press conferences to rail against his critics and insist that an earthquake - not a structural failure - caused his mine to collapse.

Critics say Murray has a reputation as a bully in the industry and he has openly criticized MSHA's inspectors. Murray's dominance led many observers to wonder whether Stickler was able - or willing - to control the scene.

In fairness, Stickler has his defenders and he earned praise for releasing a candid report on the Sago Mine disaster. Regardless, questions remain about Mr. Stickler's allegiance to mine operators and their economic considerations. As he is confronted with requests to implement improved safety measures designed to protect the miners...measures that would be costly to operators...there is concern he will defer to the wishes of these powerful and influential company executives.

Stickler's meek performance at Crandall Canyon...in contrast to the brash demeanor of Bob Murray, owner of the mine...simply heightened the nagging concerns. When Stickler's actions are coupled with the Bush administration's propensity to defer to big business and afford them with significant regulatory leeway (think toys contaminated with lead), it is difficult to conclude that safety is a priority. Factor in a review of the superior Canadian mine safety measures and the picture isn't very pretty.

Sadly, it seems that miners suffer an injustice akin to that referenced in the well known adage, "Out of sight, out of mind". It's time to prioritize their well-being and enact measures focused upon improving mine safety in America.

The following video clip is from Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He discusses the Stickler appointment and speaks with Arianna Huffington on the need to pass legislation meant to provide better safety.

Keith Olbermann On Mine Safety & The Bush Administration

Tagged as: Bob Murray, Canada, Coal Mining, Crandall Canyon Mine, George Bush, MSHA, Richard Stickler, Sago Mine

Daniel DiRito | August 22, 2007 | 1:30 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Mr. President...Democracy Is As Democracy Does genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Democracy

I like it when a simple situation can provide insight into more complex matters...and a new article in the Washington Post delivers the goods. It has long been thought that the Bush administration has sought to orchestrate events...big and small...for political advantage. In fact, if one has read much of what has been written about Karl Rove since his announced departure, the Bush administration rarely missed an opportunity to exploit an event for partisan gain.

The latest example involves a lawsuit filed by two individuals who were ejected from a Bush event because they wore objectionable clothing that wasn't favorable to the President. As a byproduct of that lawsuit, the Bush administration was forced to release an instruction manual which details the measures taken to insure that presidential appearances were partisan events...events where protest and dissent were quickly quashed.

In viewing some of the detail contained in that document, one is able to see the degree to which this administration was willing to circumvent opposing views. It also helps explain the concerns that this President has chosen to isolate himself from those who do not share his vision or his views...leaving him unaware of the other relevant arguments and convinced that his thoughts are not only mainstream; they are majority mandates that must be maintained.

Not that they're worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn't want any.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."

The "Presidential Advance Manual," dated October 2002 with the stamp "Sensitive -- Do Not Copy," was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004.

The manual demonstrates "that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. "Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it's not a favorable one."

I find it interesting that a man who likes to fashion himself as a champion of freedom and democracy has so little regard for enabling it...when it may take the form of dissent...and therefore not agree with his vision of it. Even more ironic is the fact that the President, just this week, chose to label himself as a dissident. Its difficult to avoid the contradictions.

As to providing insight into more complex matters, I can't help but wonder what can be discerned about other policies enacted by the White House that have yet to be exposed. I also can't help but think back to the presidency of Richard Nixon...the last occupant of the Oval Office who had a compulsive streak with regard to those whom he regarded as his opponents.

As I allow myself to explore the possibilities, I find no comfort in my thoughts. Permit me to offer some plausible concerns. There are many. They include the surveillance programs discussed in the NSA scandal and subsequently monitored by the FISA court, issues of torture with regard to enemy combatants, the holding of prisoners in Guantanamo and other unidentified facilities without due process, the possibility that U.S. Attorneys were fired for failing to better serve the partisan goals of the GOP, the institution of signing statements designed to modify legislation which fails to meet with the President's favor, and the outing of Valerie Plame in order to discredit her husband's contentions with regards to WMD's and the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Let's look at one particular item. With the recent expansion of the surveillance measures allowed under the FISA court...a move the Bush administration argued was essential to combat terrorism...we clearly see an area vulnerable to the abuses of power one might expect from a leader who is obsessed with conformity and who has a history of seeking to silence those who would undermine his message (as evidenced by the "manual".

Yes, we can all agree that it is important to prevent terrorist attacks...but just this week we saw the Pentagon cancel the TALON program...an anti-terror database used to gather information...information that included the activities of anti-war groups as well as LGBT advocacy organizations...groups clearly unrelated to the purpose underlying the establishment of the program. Again, if abuse exists in this program, what other abuses are taking place that we have yet to uncover?

The questions raised by this and other examples are many and they all center on concerns about the misuse of power. If a president is willing to create a manual to manage and monitor those who attend his public appearances...and such activities typify a mentality prone to pushing the partisan envelope...one must wonder what other measures have been established...or what other legitimate programs have been hijacked in order to carry out other similar activities.

Once one begins to explore this area of thought, another concern emerges...the one that became known as "stonewalling" during the Nixon years...and is now being called "executive privilege" by the Bush administration. Let's again look at the contradictions.

Here we have a President who has made the exportation of freedom and democracy the flagship of his administration...and at the same time...here at home...he has made it a practice to circumvent both under the guise of national security. Am I alone in seeing the inconsistencies? I struggle to understand a man who would...on the one hand...be willing to risk his legacy upon a doctrine of creating democracies around the world and accepting of the likelihood that history will be unkind in recounting his actions ...and then on the other hand, be willing to approach issues of established democratic process at home with such disdain and a seeming disregard for all that he so firmly and fervently espouses.

If he has done no wrong, then no wrong can come from allowing the democratic process to verify as much. In doing so, would he not be demonstrating his commitment to the form of government he insists can bring peace and prosperity to the world? When his actions seem just the opposite, one must view the dissonance with skepticism...all the while looking for a palatable explanation. Stepping back, his actions with regard to public appearances and the creation of a manual offer the necessary blocks upon which to build a reasoned rationale.

The President's apologists would contend that his actions at home are simply a reasonable response to the partisan proclivities of his detractors which have been designed to cast disfavor on the President and the GOP. In the absence of his unpopular and controversial actions with regard to Iraq, I might accept that argument...an argument that could sensibly conclude that no president should do that which is detrimental to his retention of power...especially if it is part and parcel of a partisan effort to undermine his support.

Unfortunately, this President casts himself as a man of principle and conviction...arguing that while his actions in Iraq may be unpopular with the voting public, they are the right thing to do. Is it logical for a man of this ilk to take a completely opposite approach at home? If democracy is the holy grail for the people of Iraq and other oppressed nations, why subvert it here in the United States? If the President has done no wrong, why not let the democratic process do what it does best...expose truth...and therefore illuminate the promise of a free and open society.

The fact that he hasn't and the fact that he continues to employ efforts to obstruct and obfuscate serve to invalidate his intentions...leaving objective observers suspicious as to his sincerity. Let me be clear...I'm not suggesting that a President should never refuse to cooperate with Congress...but in looking at the Bush administration it becomes a question of degree. Clearly, this President has made it a matter of practice...a quantitative fact which must be viewed in its proper historical context...leaving one doubtful and disturbed by the persistent patterns.

In the final analysis, the difference between the activities of the Bush administration and those of Richard Nixon are little more than the fact that the Bush administration has had the benefit of a war on terror upon which it has been able to legally piggyback it's efforts to monitor and manage those who are viewed as opponents. Regardless, the intentions and the abuses which have resulted are no less heinous and no less indicative of a man obsessed with maintaining power and silencing or stifling those who might seek to unseat him.

When the President characterizes the quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world as the fundamental struggle confronting civilization, I can't help but think of the Michael Jackson song...the one that says "I'm starting with the man in the mirror". Mr. President, may I sincerely suggest you take a look?

Artwork by Phil Scroggs

Tagged as: Democracy, FISA, Freedom of Speech, George W. Bush, Guantanamo, Iraq, NSA, Richard Nixon, TALON, Torture, U.S. Attorneys

Daniel DiRito | August 22, 2007 | 8:53 AM | link | Comments (1)
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August 21, 2007

Fred Barnes: Journalist, Apologist, Magician? genre: Econ-Recon & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Wizard Behind The Curtain

Fred Barnes, in an editorial at the Wall Street Journal, offers his manifesto for Republican resurgence. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the piece is a textbook demonstration of the degree to which GOP insiders haven't a clue with regards to the concerns of ordinary Americans as well as the existing political realities. Even worse, much of the piece is an exercise in the "if only" mentality one might expect to find in the Harry Potter world of fantasy and magic. The following excerpt is wholly illustrative.

Clearly the war hurt, more than a little. Just as clearly, a turnaround in Iraq would help enormously.

But even if the "surge" is as successful as it appears it might be, there's a problem. While public support has increased recently, the war still faces deep-seated opposition. There's a widespread view that its cost in lives, money and national prestige has been too high. This won't change overnight. Public opinion isn't quite that fickle.

It's not immutable, however. What if military success by Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander, is matched by a political breakthrough engineered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Or matched by the acceleration of political reconciliation at the provincial rather than the national level in Iraq? Either scenario is possible.

I'm willing to concede that anything is possible in this world of uncertainty...but to assume that all of the above will transpire seems akin to Mr. Barnes believing that he holds the winning Power Ball ticket. Yes, it could happen...but it is hardly a reasoned piece of journalistic conjecture.

While Barnes is imagining a political breakthrough, Senator Levin and others are suggesting that the Maliki government is not only an obstacle to progress; it may need to be removed for any hope of political reconciliation to emerge. Shouldn't a Wall Street Journal piece offer more than the fanciful thought one might find on a slip of paper removed from a fortune cookie?

For the sake of those within the GOP who are actually seeking a blueprint for a return to relevance, may I suggest that the content of this editorial may not be the horse upon which to hitch their hopes?

Mr. Bush can't erase the memory of his inept handling of Hurricane Katrina. But if another disaster occurred and the president responded effectively, that would counteract the memory of his Katrina performance.

OK, if this is part of the Barnes plan, why not be bold and ask Pat Robertson and the 700 Club to pray that god's wrath be brought upon another sinful city so that the President can redeem his poor performance. Never mind that this sounds like Barnes is wishing America experience a natural disaster in order to achieve political gain.

As I recall, each time a Democrat has mentioned the possibility of a terrorist attack and that we are no safer as a result of the invasion of Iraq, the GOP has pounced upon such statements as vile, unpatriotic demonstrations of blatant partisanship...going so far as to argue that the Democrats hate America and calling such statements a willingness to sacrifice American lives for political capital. Conversely, is hoping for a natural disaster a noble cause if it helps the GOP?

On fiscal issues, Democrats foolishly dismissed the president's insistence on cutting $22 billion from overall discretionary spending, claiming it was a puny amount. To them, it is. To the public, it's not. A veto war on spending bills is likely to work in Mr. Bush's favor, though not if weak-willed congressional Republicans cut and run. Should it lead to a government shutdown--call it the shutdown trap--that would be all the more harmful to Democrats.

On taxes, Democrats appear confident there's no trap at all, so long as they don't raise taxes on the middle class. Thus congressional Democrats have felt free to pass tax hikes this year on energy companies, foreign corporations and cigarettes, and they're poised to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000 a year.

Republicans believe Democrats have misread their mandate on taxes. We'll see.

Fred, where have you been while this President has nearly doubled the national debt from 5 trillion to 9 trillion? Have you forgotten that this is the President who enacted the largest entitlement program in recent history with the passage of his prescription drug benefit? When the Democrats fail to get excited about 22 billion dollars, they do so while pointing to the borrow and spend backdrop that has typified the Bush administration.

As to the tax hikes which Barnes feels will hurt the Democrats, clearly the number of Americans impacted by such increases is miniscule...but then again, I doubt Barnes spends much time with ordinary citizens. Frankly, Barnes might want to consider the possibility that voters have grown weary of tax cut promises from the GOP. Putting a few dollars into a voters pocket...while at the same time taking it out through inflation, wage stagnation, a suspect economy, declining home prices and sales, tightening credit, and the expenditure of 10 to 12 billion dollars each month on an endless war effort...doesn't seem like much of a winning strategy.

They practically invited Democrats to trump them on ethics and lobbying reform. And they've allowed their obsession with illegal immigrants to get out of hand. This drives away Hispanic voters and leaves the impression that Republicans are small-minded, ungenerous and nasty. The worst offenders are the presidential candidates, who would be wise to tone down their rhetoric on immigration.

Yes, nothing like embracing a strategy premised upon the notion that a leopard can suddenly lose its spots. The glaring omission in this suggestion is any understanding of where the GOP actually stands with regards to immigration...other than where Barnes posits may be most politically advantageous. Perhaps the fact that the Republican Party seems to treat this and so many other issues as nothing more than political calculations is what is troubling voters?

From my vantage point, Republican candidates have spent years using the immigration issue to pander to competing constituents such that the majority of the wells have been poisoned and the kool-aid is no longer potable. Weaving a workable message at this point would be akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

As Karl Rove has noted, Republicans need a big idea. The best available is the one Mr. Bush abandoned: ownership. Allowing private investment of payroll taxes for Social Security would only be a start. An Ownership Society would allow individual Americans, rather than government, to control how and where their health care, public education, 401(k) and IRA funds are spent.

I'll give Barnes credit...if you're in the last act of a show that is undoubtedly destined to go dark...you might as well pull out all of the stops. Sadly, like most men who become enamored with their own self-interest, Barnes' Ownership Society finale is little more than the wish list of a man and a Party that has not only sought to raid the cookie jar...but has also decided that it is entitled to devour all of the delicacies on the dish.

In the ultimate miscalculation, Barnes' final words ring hollow to the many voters who can't afford this months rent, who work jobs that do not provide health insurance, who couldn't put money in a 401K even if the company offered one, and who haven't the time or the energy to invest social security funds for a future they can't begin to imagine as they try to scrape together the means to put enough food on tonight's dinner table.

I hate to be the one to break this to Fred...but after reading his manifesto, the final thought that crossed my mind was that it would be far easier for voters to simply vote for the Democrats than for them to hope that the Republicans can shed their sullied skin and suddenly become the compassionate conservatives they so masterfully marketed as none other than George Bush.

In the end, the Barnes piece has served one valuable purpose...it has made it abundantly clear why voters will likely relegate the GOP to the sidelines for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, maybe Mr. Barnes and his fellow Republicans can craft the next iteration of an ill-conceived illusion. One thing is certain, they would be well advised to choose a better wizard...one that isn't quite so visibly unable to manipulate the machinery as the drapes of deception are dismantled.

Tagged as: 2008, Fred Barnes, GOP, Immigration, Iraq, Katrina, Ownership Society, Social Security, Wall Street Journal

Daniel DiRito | August 21, 2007 | 10:29 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 20, 2007

A Thoroughly Modern America...Think Again? genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Think Again?

We Americans like to think of ourselves as evolved individuals who embrace freedom and equality for all...and in many ways our history has demonstrated the truth found in this assumption. At the same time, we haven't encountered that many recent opportunities to test the merits of our hypothesis.

As I read the news this morning, I found myself wondering if we may be on the verge of moving in the opposite direction...or, at the least, if our stated commitment to such beliefs might be little more than a nice piece of veneer applied to a hidden harbor of hostility.

The events of 9/11 undoubtedly created a heightened level of fear...a level we Americans have rarely been forced to face. In its aftermath, we have seen a growing willingness to suspend some of the civil liberties which have highlighted our purported belief in an open society and a transparent system of governance.

While I understand the inclination and the necessity to act in this manner (within reason), I find myself concerned that such actions may be a slippery slope towards the adoption of other attitudes that serve to undermine the principles upon which this nation was founded.

I suspect many readers may be thinking I'm about to discuss the efforts of our President to allow for greater clandestine surveillance along with other measures he has sought to detect and minimize terrorist threats. While I do view such measures with a healthy degree of skepticism, my observations today are focused upon the thoughts and beliefs we each hold as individuals and which impact America's status as a beacon for the tenets of democracy and equality.

For some time now, I've expressed doubts to friends and acquaintances about the potential of a woman or a black man to be elected to the presidency...not as a function of their competency to lead...but as a function of inherent prejudices that lurk within the psyche of some segments of our society. Simultaneously, I've felt that the growing opposition to our rapidly expanding immigrant population contains an element of ethnic bias in addition to the many legitimate concerns that can be associated with shoddy border control.

Today, three articles caught my attention and lent support to my suspicions. The following excerpts are from the first article.

From McClatchy News:

DES MOINES, Iowa - A pair of Sen. Hillary Clinton's worst nightmares trudged past a giant blue "Hillary for President" sign outside the Iowa State Fair here with palpable disgust.

"Hillary can go to hell," said Alice Aszman, 66, a Democrat from Ottumwa. "I'll never vote for her. I don't think a woman should be president. I think a man should. They've got more authority."

Her husband, Daniel, 50, also a Democrat, agreed: "I think women should stay home instead of being boss."

A July poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers by the University of Iowa found that Clinton had 30 percent support among women and 18 percent among men. By comparison, there was no difference in gender support for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who got 21 percent from both men and women.

The same poll found that 32 percent of women strongly agreed that Clinton was electable, while only 14 percent of men did. And 30 percent of women strongly agreed that Clinton was the Democrats' strongest candidate, while only 17 percent of men did.

In a general election however, it could be a major problem, because men traditionally vote for Republicans at a higher rate than women vote for Democrats.

"She has to be careful the men don't split against her more than women split for her," Smith said.

As I read the article, two items stand out. One, we tend to view bias or prejudice as coming exclusively from those who are different than the one at whom the bias or prejudice is directed...meaning bias towards women should come from men and bias towards men should come from women. Unfortunately, that assumption isn't accurate and the evidence...in the case of Senator Clinton...pours out of the mouths of other women who embrace established societal notions that gender can and should be a limiting factor in certain circumstances.

Two, the long established view that women should have narrowly defined roles in society...roles that are predominantly subservient to men...remain well established among men in America and women who operate outside these parameters are frequently met with derogatory characterizations. While a strong male figure receives the admiration of many males, a strong female is frequently viewed as acerbic and the object of misogynistic ridicule.

Moving onto the next article, the following excerpts point to the underlying obstacles faced by a black man when seeking to hold the highest office in the land.

From The Philadelphia Enquirer:

A computer search finds 464 instances in which Obama's name appears in print in conjunction with the phrase black enough. The first was in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2003 when he was preparing to run for the Senate. Writer Laura Washington recalled his loss in an earlier House race to a South Side incumbent. "Whispers abounded," she wrote, "that Obama was 'not black enough.' "

Washington went on to recall how her uncle, a retired black railroad worker, had seen Obama wearing "a thousand-dollar coat" while visiting a public-housing project. Her uncle, she said, "dismissed him as an 'elitist.' "

And isn't that telling? A black rapper who visited that same housing project wearing a thousand-dollar coat would be celebrated and emulated. A black politician who does so is an elitist.

Man, I wouldn't walk in Barack Obama's shoes for a million dollars. Oh, he seems like a swell guy. But it must get real old real fast being America's tabula rasa, its blank slate upon which it projects unresolved racial aspirations and fears. If it has been painful watching some conservative white Americans project upon him the latter (Is he too black? Is he Muslim? What about that weird name?), it has been just as painful, if not more so, watching many black Americans grappling with the former.

So the question of whether he's "black enough" reveals more about the people asking than the man being asked. Liberal, and black, and conservative, and white, we have projected our own realities upon this guy, have written like mad upon the blank slate.

Again, we see much the same with regards to Senator Obama. His obstacles are twofold. He must overcome the objections that emanate from within his own racial profile. Senator Obama, much like a woman candidate for president, has to contend with the objections of blacks who see his success as an indication that he has abandoned his racial constituents in favor of winning the approval of whites.

I was particularly struck by the comparison made with regard to the expensive coat. The success achieved by a senator with a good education and excellent credentials can potentially be viewed to be inferior to the success of a rapper. In that dynamic, one can't help but notice the built-in resistance to change and the peer pressures that exist to prevent certain types of social, cultural, and economic mobility.

At the same time, the senator is confronted by the bias and prejudice that one might well expect to be directed at his candidacy from those racial groups which have had a history of viewing blacks as lesser and unfit to serve as president.

The following excerpts from the final article confront the question of immigration and the growing animosity that permeates the topic.

From McClatchy News:

Scores of organizations, ranging from mainstream to fringe groups, are marshalling forces in what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "a war here at home" against illegal immigration, which he says is as important as America’s conflicts being fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While most of the groups register legitimate, widespread concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on jobs, social services and national security, the intense rhetoric is generating fears of an emerging dark side, evident in growing discrimination against Hispanics and a surge of xenophobia unseen since the last big wave of immigration in the early 20th century.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said the number of "nativist extremist" organizations advocating against illegal immigration has grown from virtually zero just over five years ago to 144, including nine classified as hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan supremacists.

Demographers and immigration experts say the passions over illegal immigration in the opening decade of the 21st century are comparable to those that swept through American cities with the surge of immigrants who descended on U.S. shores from the 1900s to the 1920s.

The latest wave of immigrants — both legal and illegal — is predominated by Mexicans and other Latin Americans who are venturing deep into the U.S. interior to follow the job market, often settling in towns and cities that, just a few years earlier, were unaccustomed to Hispanics.

The resulting demographic impact on local communities can often lead to social tensions that help explain the intensity of feelings over illegal immigration, said Meissner and other experts.

John Trasvina, president of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said the backlash over illegal immigrants is clearly generating widening anti-Hispanic sentiments, often exemplified in hate rhetoric on talk shows and over the Internet.

MALDEF has thus far prevailed in legally defeating municipal immigration ordinances, but Trasvina said that "a poisonous atmosphere" remains.

"What these ordinances do is add tension to the communities," he said. "So a woman in the grocery is talking to her daughter in Spanish. It emboldens the person standing in line behind her to say, 'Hey, speak English.'"

It seems to me that the growing opposition to the expanding Mexican and Latin American immigrant populations may be the best example of the pervasive nature of bias and prejudice. I would argue that the recent outcry results from the perceived threat to our established cultural structure has reached a point of critical mass.

For well over two decades, the influx of immigrants served our interests...interests which included cheap labor in the form of migrant workers, nannies, housekeepers, landscapers, and other roles which Americans viewed to be inferior. While these immigrants remained in the background such that their impact on society was difficult to observe, many Americans were willing to benefit from their presence.

As these immigrant populations became a visible and measurable force in society, their presence has met with a growing disfavor...some of which results from racial prejudice and has led to such vocal and vehement opposition. Efforts to portray the negative impact of immigrants upon society has suddenly overwhelmed much, if not most, of their positive contributions.

In the end, these three articles paint a troubling picture. Despite numerous admirable attributes and an historical willingness to be welcoming and inclusive, I have to wonder if we aren't standing upon the precipice of a period of exclusion and a re-kindling of old, yet inextinguishable inequities.

While the current administration seems to be focused upon exporting our way of life to the obviously oppressed, we at home may well be in the process of dismantling or erasing the hard fought principles this country has toiled to achieve...the same principles this president has so persistently sought to promote. At the moment, I find myself struggling to view this as a win-win situation.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, 9/11, Barack Obama, Equality, Hillary Clinton, Immigration, Prejudice, Racism

Daniel DiRito | August 20, 2007 | 11:16 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 16, 2007

What If God Is Sick & Tired Of Our Arrogance? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

Arrogance

Do you ever see a headline in a newspaper or at a site online which catches your attention, but for some reason you just can't convince yourself to read the content? I saw one of those headlines yesterday and while I didn't succumb to reading the article at that moment, I broke down and read it today.

As to why, well, initially I wasn't completely sure...perhaps curiosity...maybe boredom with the lack of other eye catching news...but then I took the time to explore what the headline said that turned me off...as well as led me back to the article. Following the title and some relevant excerpts below, I'll attempt an explanation.

Dutch Bishop: Call God ‘Allah’ To Ease Relations

AMSTERDAM - A Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has proposed people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding, stoking an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims.

Bishop Tiny Muskens, from the southern diocese of Breda, told Dutch television on Monday that God did not mind what he was named and that in Indonesia, where Muskens spent eight years, priests used the word "Allah" while celebrating Mass.

"Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will name God Allah? ... What does God care what we call him? It is our problem."

A survey in the Netherlands' biggest-selling newspaper De Telegraaf on Wednesday found 92 percent of the more than 4,000 people polled disagreed with the bishop's view, which also drew ridicule.

First, a bit of background. The climate in the Netherlands has been rather volatile since the death of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh's work was critical of Islam and his murder, viewed to be an act of retaliation, increased tensions with the immigrant Islamic community.

The comments of the Bishop were intended to be a conciliatory gesture to the Islamic community and I don't doubt his sincerity. Unfortunately, the irrationality which permeates the circumstances leading to the Bishop's remarks comprise the basis of the angst I experienced when first reading the headline.

With nary a thought, I knew if I read the article it would not only lead to frustration, it would serve to remind me why I find religion to be such a baffling exercise in contradiction as well as a perpetual source of human conflict. Having now read the article, I can attest to the fact that it easily met my stated expectations.

Here's my dilemma...and perhaps someone will be able to offer the insight necessary to unburden me. Let's assume that the Bishop's followers...no, let's go so far as to say that all those in the Netherlands who currently use the term god...suddenly acquiesce to the use of the term allah. With that assumption, would those who believe in the tenets of Islam suddenly shed their animosity towards other religious persuasions?

Conversely, if all those who profess an allegiance to Islam in the Netherlands suddenly conceded to use the tern god instead of allah, would the anger directed at those who embrace Islam suddenly evaporate?

I'll answer my own questions. In both cases, I would respond "of course not". In providing this answer, I point to the utter insanity that exists with regards to religious beliefs. Here's the point...on some hypothetical level, most people would assert and agree that there is only one god or one allah. At the same time, the actions of the majority of religious people suggests that there must either be numerous gods or allahs, or that a majority of the world's population undoubtedly believes in false gods or allahs.

Even more perplexing, each religious group is certain of the infallible nature of their belief in their god or their allah...which also means they are certain of the invalidity of the beliefs held by the remaining majority of human beings. In holding this view, the world therefore has numerous minority populations who are convinced that they are justified in condemning all others, justified in their efforts to impose those laws that support their beliefs and nullify the beliefs of their adversaries, and justified in pursuing and prosecuting plans to prevail.

So in the end, while I commend the effort of the Bishop to be magnanimous, I wouldn't hesitate to bet the farm on the following. If you put the Bishop in a room with a Mullah to discuss religion and tell them they may not leave the room until such time as they agree on one god or one allah...and of course that also means they must agree that there can only be one set of values or mores for living a proper life...the two of them will never emerge from that room. Further, if the door to that room does open, it will likely mean that only one of the two men remains alive and able to emerge...and he will do so while espousing that the one true god or allah had granted him the strength to prevail.

As such, I don't know how to conclude anything other than the fact that civilization has and will always be on the verge of utter chaos and constant conflict. When I acknowledge that thought, I find myself more convinced that god or allah are nothing more than creations of the human mind designed to enable one man to negate another.

Lastly, as a person fond of logic, reason, and rationality...I find myself imagining what a god or an allah might be thinking...were he or she to actually exist...as he or she watched us humans interact. In that exercise, one would be hard pressed to reach any plausible conclusions.

Let's start with the assumption that god or allah has a sick sense of humor and we're simply here for amusement. That would mean that he or she has devised a world such that his or her existence will remain unproven to us humans because he or she has chosen as much. In this model, the amusement would arise when he or she whispers clues into enough ears to pit us all against each other. The amusement would presumably emanate from us remaining in conflict on a perpetual basis. Unfortunately, as an all knowing being, we wouldn't actually be amusing because god or allah would already know what we were going to do. Therefore amusement fails as an explanation.

Two, if we believe that god or allah created humans...then he or she would have done so with the full intent that we be imperfect since he or she, in his or her perfection, could have made us perfect. Therefore, if one were god or allah...meaning one is all knowing...creating imperfect beings while knowing the outcome of said creation would ultimately serve no purpose. It couldn't entertain because he or she would already know the script. So what other reasons might explain our creation?

If we assume we are the product of a deity's creation, then his or her creation would never become perfect of its own volition since it would have been knowingly created with chosen or selected flaws. That would mean that he or she would have to fix us for us to serve any meaningful purpose in our association with a perfect being. If he or she intends to enact the fix...since we humans could not do so by design...because if we could, we would have to already possess the capabilities of a god...then why hasn't he or she already affected the fix and what reason would suffice for him or her to keep us around in a perpetually imperfect state? I'm not sure there is an answer that makes sense.

Further, if we assume that he or she is gradually revealing more answers to us over time...then that would have to happen through god or allah's selection of certain individuals since we wouldn't possess that ability innately. That means that those of us who were not chosen would actually serve no purpose and we would always remain reliant upon the ability and willingness of those chosen to know more, to share it with us.

However, in our imperfection, we would never understand what god or allah had revealed to the chosen few; we would have to believe them as a matter of faith. However, since god or allah already knows our imperfections, god or allah would know that we were incapable of knowing how to decide what we should believe as a matter of faith. Therefore, making some people capable of understanding more and providing them clues or knowledge would do little more than fuel controversy and conflict.

In other words, our enlightenment would ultimately still have to be given to each of us by god or allah electing to alter the imperfections we were created with. That holds true if we're to receive enlightenment as a matter of faith through others or if we're each to be given more knowledge directly from god or allah.

In the end, we humans cannot explain or understand the notion of a god or allah outside of our human existence...which leads us to define god or allah in human terms and which means our perceptions will always be flawed. At the same time, in our imperfections, we will always disagree as to who is more right. Moreover, logic tells us that our imperfections will preclude any of us from ever being able to prove what we believe to be right.

Therefore, in our efforts to define god or allah, we actually insult the very god or allah we think exists. When we presume to know god or allahs intentions, we diminish god or allah by falsely elevating ourselves. Knowing as much ought to instruct us to spend our time understanding each other and making this existence as palatable as humanly possible...for all of us humans.

If there is a god or an allah, he or she would already know that such a goal is the noblest practice and the highest pinnacle we can achieve with the abilities he or she had provided to us. I'm not sure any higher being would be amused by our preoccupation with assigning them a name...let alone an identity of our human making. Perhaps its time that we humans focus on that which is within our grasp?

Tagged as: Allah, Catholicism, Faith, God, Humanity, Islam, Religion

Daniel DiRito | August 16, 2007 | 11:57 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 15, 2007

Rootin' Tootin' Rudy "Rassles" Foreign Policy genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Rootin' Rudy

Rudy Giuliani apparently thinks our next president ought to conduct America's foreign policy in the same manner he navigated the end of his last marriage...an in your face flaunting of one's ability to do what one chooses regardless of how it might be perceived and who might get hurt in the process. Perhaps I'm being too harsh...after all...he does have more experience than most.

Never let it be said that Teddy Roosevelt had anything on Rudy Giuliani. The esteemed former mayor turned modern day Rambo apparently believes one should not only carry a big stick...but one ought to loudly and clearly shout out who is scheduled to receive the next clubbing. Perhaps he and Dick Cheney could enjoy spending vacation time together clubbing baby seals?

In the course of a week, Giuliani has offered perhaps the most ill-conceived view on foreign policy since...oh, let's see...George Bush?! Better still, Giuliani, in his apparent wisdom, has decided to one-up George Bush by arguing that efforts to establish a Palestinian state may have been far too hasty and it may be time to reconsider the need for more preconditions.

From The New York Sun:

"Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again," Mayor Giuliani writes in an essay published yesterday in Foreign Affairs. "It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism."

In some of the boldest language on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict used thus far by any presidential candidate, Mr. Giuliani writes: "Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel."

That language appears to be a direct shot at President Bush and Secretary of State Rice, who are making just such a push for final status negotiations between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert in September, despite Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June.

Mr. Giuliani's senior foreign policy adviser, Charles Hill, said yesterday that the Bush administration's current push to forge a peace deal between the Palestinian Authority president and the Israeli prime minister may be "risking too much."

Mr. Hill went further yesterday, saying he does not expect that Mr. Giuliani, if he becomes president, would support Iraqi national elections, scheduled for 2009, if it appeared that they would empower Islamist terrorist parties and others with their own private armies. "We would have to look at the situation at that time," he said.

Prior to the 2000 presidential election, George Bush told voters that he was opposed to nation building. Over six years later, the President not only favors nation building; he considers it his divinely inspired mission to deliver freedom and democracy to the oppressed peoples of the world.

Reading between the lines of the Giuliani manifesto, this process would be continued, though he seemingly favors a slower implementation of open elections. As I read the Giuliani approach, he would only implement a fully democratic government when he was convinced the decisions of the voting public would meet with his favor. After all, why shouldn't the exporter of democracy have the prerogative to dictate the type of freedom he wants to install?

Apparently Mr. Giuliani believes such benevolent meddling will be met with thankful acceptance from the recipients. If not, I presume the new and improved "decider" might conclude it's time to pull out a larger Louisville Slugger and pummel the misguided until such time as they realize what's good for them.

Good for Giuliani...at least he doesn't seem apt to make the Cheney mistake of promising us a rose petal parade. His approach seems to be much more measured...I think he'll be happy with a few strategically placed statues expressing a sufficient level of homage to the liberator.

No doubt Rudy must fashion himself as the law and order candidate. If I didn't know better, I might conclude that Mr. Giuliani is determined to prove that wearing a skirt should never be seen as a sign of weakness. While that may seem inconsequential, keep in mind that Hillary, his potential opponent, does wear pants.

Given this bold effort to portray a tough guy image, maybe the campaign should adopt a new slogan, "Look out world, there's a new sheriff in town". On second thought, that could prove risky...he did spend a lot of time in the Village...people.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, Israel, Palestine, Rudy Giuliani

Daniel DiRito | August 15, 2007 | 3:28 PM | link | Comments (0)
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August 14, 2007

The ABC's Of The 2008 Presidential Election genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

For a number of years, the GOP political strategy has been characterized by a focus upon three prevailing issues that many have chosen to call "God, guns, and gays". As we approach the 2008 election, there seems to be...

Tagged as: 2008 Presidential Election, Fred Thompson, GOP, Iran, Iraq, LGBT, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, War on Terror

Daniel DiRito | August 14, 2007 | 4:56 PM | link | Comments (0)
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August 13, 2007

An Epitaph For Karl Rove genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Epitaphs are typically reserved for the dead...but after reading the many views on the passing of Karl Rove...from his role in the George Bush White House...one might conclude that the "Wicked Witch" has had the misfortune of being under...

Tagged as: George Bush, Karl Rove, LGBT, Partisanship

Daniel DiRito | August 13, 2007 | 9:59 AM | link | Comments (25)
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August 11, 2007

Kos: Defining The Center With A Circular Argument? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

It is human nature to want to be right...and unfortunately, it is also human nature to make such assertions even in the absence of the necessary evidence. While I understand the instinct, I'm not sure it serves to advance...

Tagged as: Daily Kos, DLC, Markos Moulitsas, Nancy Pelosi, Ned Lamont, Netroots, Progressive, Susan Gardner, YearlyKos

Daniel DiRito | August 11, 2007 | 10:03 AM | link | Comments (1)
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August 10, 2007

Christopher Hitchens On Freedom Of Speech genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

The following video clips are from an appearance by Christopher Hitchens at the University of Toronto's Hart House Debating Club. The topic for the evening was, "Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate." As always,...

Tagged as: Christopher Hitchens, Freedom of Speech, Religion, University of Toronto

Daniel DiRito | August 10, 2007 | 4:30 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Thoughts On Logo's Democratic Candidate Forum genre: Gaylingual & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

After watching the Democratic presidential candidate forum on Logo, I've given some further thought to a few issues that I've pondered for some time and I decided now was the appropriate time to share those thoughts. Generally speaking, the...

Tagged as: 2008 Presidential Election, Equality, LGBT, Logo, Same-Sex Marriage

Daniel DiRito | August 10, 2007 | 9:06 AM | link | Comments (4)
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August 9, 2007

Iran's Ahmadinejad & Iraq's Al-Maliki Hold Hands genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Snapshot Thoughts

Trite as it may sound, a picture is, on occasion, worth a thousand words...and the following picture may best tell the story of the Bush administrations miscalculations with regards to Iraq and our efforts to establish a democracy that...

Tagged as: Dick Cheney, George Bush, Iran, Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nouri al-Maliki, Sectarian Conflict

Daniel DiRito | August 9, 2007 | 3:36 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Musings On Musharraf & Bush: Birds Of A Feather? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Every now and again, I decide to post an item that offers little more than an interesting observation...with little relevance in the larger scheme of things. I've been preoccupied with Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf of late...likely a function of...

Tagged as: al Qaeda, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, Taliban, War On Terror

Daniel DiRito | August 9, 2007 | 1:10 PM | link | Comments (0)
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August 8, 2007

Political Strategy: Pakistan/Musharraf Calculation genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Keep a close eye on Pakistan...both in terms of Musharraf's ability to hold power and also with regard to how the Democratic candidates frame their positions on handling the sensitive relationship. Bear with me while I elaborate. Reuters is...

Tagged as: 2008 Election, al Qaeda, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, War On Terror

Daniel DiRito | August 8, 2007 | 2:09 PM | link | Comments (6)
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Petraeus: 190,000 Lost Weapons A Clerical Error genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

In a follow up to Monday's report which stated that the United States could not account for 190,000 weapons provided to Iraqi security forces, General David Petraeus told Alan Colmes of Fox News Radio that the loss resulted from...

Tagged as: Alan Colmes, General David Petraeus, Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Sectarian Conflict

Daniel DiRito | August 8, 2007 | 10:01 AM | link | Comments (1)
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August 4, 2007

Court Rules Oklahoma Anti-Gay Law Unconstitutional genre: Gaylingual & Six Degrees of Speculation

In a ruling favorable to same sex adoptive parents, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has ruled that an Oklahoma Law designed to ignore adoption orders issued in other states was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the...

Tagged as: Bigotry, Evangelical Extremists, Fanaticism, LGBT, Religious Right, Same-Sex Adoption

Daniel DiRito | August 4, 2007 | 11:34 AM | link | Comments (1)
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U.S. Democracy In Iraq: Segregated Bathrooms genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

It seems that each day brings a new report from Iraq which leaves me wondering what we're thinking and what we hope to achieve. The latest comes from the McClatchy News Service and it involves segregated bathroom facilities on...

Tagged as: Democracy, Iraq, McClathy News, Segregation, U.S. Military

Daniel DiRito | August 4, 2007 | 10:07 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 3, 2007

No Water Or Power: Winning Hearts & Minds In Iraq? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Nothing says we're here to help you better than turning off the power and shutting down the flow of water when it's 122 degrees outside. Yes, the United States is busy winning the hearts and minds of the people...

Tagged as: Baghdad, General Shinseki, George Bush, Iraq, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | August 3, 2007 | 11:34 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 1, 2007

Dominoes: Musharraf, Malaise, & More Of The Same genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

I've got dominoes on my mind today...but unfortunately they're not the type that one would find to be entertaining. The primary domino I'm watching is the unstable situation in Pakistan...the country one might call the new Afghanistan... and the...

Tagged as: al Qaeda, George W. Bush, Iraq, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, Saudi Arabia, War On Terror

Daniel DiRito | August 1, 2007 | 2:28 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Zogby Poll: Are American Voters Sore Losers? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

As I reviewed the data from the latest Zogby Poll, I came to a new conclusion that will undoubtedly draw the criticism of some of my fellow citizens...but what the hell...I think it needs to be spoken. A majority...

Tagged as: Congress, Democrats, Iraq, Republicans, War On Terror, Zogby Poll

Daniel DiRito | August 1, 2007 | 11:07 AM | link | Comments (0)
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