Six Degrees of Speculation: February 2008: Archives

February 28, 2008

The Price Of Economic Inequality? genre: Econ-Recon & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Behind Bars

A report on the rising number of incarcerated Americans provides a disturbing look at the unspoken impact of economic inequality and the high cost we pay for perpetuating it. At the same time, during each election cycle, politicians from both parties accuse each other of practicing suspect fiscal discipline.

For this discussion, I want to look at the costs of incarceration in relation to providing universal health care as well as the Bush tax cuts. Time and again, the GOP points out the exorbitant costs that might be associated with providing universal health care. From what I've read, the plans being pushed by Senators Clinton and Obama are reported to cost 10 to 15 billion dollars annually. That's a big expense...but before one concludes we can't afford it, one must consider the burgeoning costs of incarceration and the distribution and impact of the Bush tax cuts.

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

NEW YORK -- For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.

Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 - one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it's more than any other nation.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

So in the course of 20 years, we have increased our annual corrections spending by a whopping $38 billion dollars. That is roughly three times the projected annual cost to provide universal health care...health care that would help elevate the very people who are disproportionately represented in the prison population. Factor in the following data on the Bush tax cuts and one will begin to see the larger picture.

From MSNBC.com:

WASHINGTON - Since 2001, President Bush's tax cuts have shifted federal tax payments from the richest Americans to a wide swath of middle-class families, the Congressional Budget Office has found, a conclusion likely to roil the presidential election campaign.

The conclusions are stark. The effective federal tax rate of the top 1 percent of taxpayers has fallen from 33.4 percent to 26.7 percent, a 20 percent drop. In contrast, the middle 20 percent of taxpayers -- whose incomes averaged $51,500 in 2001 -- saw their tax rates drop 9.3 percent. The poorest taxpayers saw their taxes fall 16 percent.

Unfortunately, these percentages are deceptive. Let's look at a practical explanation of what these tax cuts meant to the working poor.

From BusinessWeek.com:

Imagine you are a waitress, married, with two children and a family income of $26,000 per year. Should you be enthusiastic about the tax cuts proposed by President Bush? He certainly wants you to think so. He uses an example of a family like yours to illustrate the benefits of his plan for working Americans. He boasts that struggling low-income families will enjoy the largest percentage reduction in their taxes. The income taxes paid by a family like yours will fall by 100% or more in some cases. This is true--but highly misleading.

President Bush fails to mention that your family pays only about $20 a year in income taxes, so even a 100% reduction does not amount to much. Like three-quarters of working Americans, you pay much more in payroll taxes--about $3,000 a year--than in income taxes. Yet not a penny of the $1.6 trillion package of Bush tax cuts (in reality, closer to $2 trillion over 10 years) is used to reduce payroll taxes. Moreover, should your income from waitressing fall below $26,000 as the economy slows, your family could be among the 75% of families in the lowest 20% of the income distribution that stand to get absolutely zero from the Bush plan.

The President claims that the "typical American family of four" will be able to keep $1,600 more of their money each year under his plan. Since you won't be getting anything like that, you might be tempted to conclude that your family must be an exception. Not really. The reality is that the President's claim is disingenuous. Eighty-nine percent of all tax filers, including 95% of those in the bottom 80% of the income distribution, will receive far less than $1,600.

In other words, when a 100% tax cut is the equivalent of $20.00, a family of four might be able to translate that twenty dollars into a meal at McDonalds...one time in 365 days. On the other hand, if one is lucky enough to be in the top one percent (those with $915,000 in pretax income...and first class health care) of earners and receive a 20% tax reduction, I suspect the savings would buy more than one fast food dinner over the course of a year. The skewed advantages...and disadvantages...suddenly become obvious.

If that isn't bad enough, let's return to the costs of incarceration and look at future cost projections.

From The New York Times:

By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, and will accelerate as the prison population ages.

In less than four years, we will spend another $25 billion annually (more than enough to pay for universal health care) to incarcerate more and more Americans...the bulk of which come from the economically underprivileged.

More From The New York Times:

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.

Let me be clear...crime is wrong...and it should be punished. However, we cannot ignore the factors that facilitate crime. Failing to provide opportunities to those most lacking in resources is also wrong...and it often leads to a lack of education and therefore a susceptibility to participating in crimes that are driven by poverty.

We have likely exceeded the point at which it will cost us more to punish and incarcerate those who commit these crimes of poverty than it would have cost us to insure their education, to raise the minimum wage above the poverty level, and to grant them the dignity and peace of mind that comes with knowing one's family members can receive health care when it is warranted; not just when it is necessary to prevent death.

Instead, under the guidance of the GOP, we have elected to ignore the fact that 47 million Americans lack health care and to focus upon further enriching the wealthiest...all the while being forced to endure asinine arguments that doing so will create jobs and thus facilitate a rising tide to float the boats of all Americans. It simply isn't true.

At a savings of $20 a year, millions of Americans can't even buy a seat in the boat...let alone stay afloat by treading water in the midst of the steady deluge of ever more ominous waves. If the number and availability of life preservers continues to dwindle, we are fast approaching the point at which our society will collapse under the weight of the inequity we chose to ignore.

If that happens, it will be as my grandfather argued many years ago, "They can eat you, but they can't shit you". The cannibalism has begun. What follows will not be pleasant.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Economics, George Bush, GOP, Health Care, Hillary Clinton, Incarceration, Jobs, Minimum Wage, Poverty, Prison, Racism, Tax Cuts, Tax Rates, Wealth

Daniel DiRito | February 28, 2008 | 3:27 PM | link | Comments (0)
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February 27, 2008

Mac & Sleeze: When Serving Kinder Gentler Compassionate Conservatism Just Won't Do? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Mac & Sleeze

Those hoping for a kinder gentler presidential election complete with a heaping helping of compassionate conservatism might want to prepare themselves for a plate of partisan politics that will be far less palatable. I find myself suspecting that the GOP may be laying the groundwork for a bait and switch strategy aimed at satisfying voters newfound penchant for a civil campaign.

With the emergence of John McCain as the seemingly inevitable Republican nominee, voters may be under the impression that we're moving beyond choreographed character assassinations and stealth swiftboating strategies. My hunch is that the GOP's alternate approach includes John McCain appearing to take the high road while the usual suspects redouble their efforts to eviscerate the enemy.

I'll try to explain. This week, we may have witnessed a preview of the plan. My concern is that the orchestration was evidenced in Bill Cunningham's introduction of Senator McCain (and his effort to define Barack Obama)...which was followed by Senator McCain rapidly renouncing Cunningham's remarks...even though the campaign had arranged the appearance of the raucous radio personality.

What happened before and after McCain's criticism seems implausible to me. How could the McCain campaign have been so oblivious to what Cunningham was going to say? Why did Cunningham almost instantly withdraw his support for the Senator...stating instead that he would now join Ann Coulter in supporting Hillary Clinton? One, I can't imagine the McCain campaign didn't discuss the introduction with Cunningham. Second, I doubt anyone who is so well connected to a campaign such that they are chosen to introduce the candidate makes such an instantaneous about face. Hence, it's important to analyze his actions; searching for the underlying objective.

Note that in shifting his support to Clinton, Cunningham has left himself room to change his mind should Obama be the Democratic candidate (the same candidate he sought to define as a soft on terror Muslim sympathizer). If we project ahead, let's suppose Obama is the Democratic nominee; leaving the Coulter's and Cunningham's of the GOP without a candidate. We could assume they won't vote...or we could assume something far more strategically savvy. Using Cunningham's own word, I look for these current outliers to suddenly announce their own "kumbaya" moment...the one that states, "I actually supported Hillary Clinton...and that's a difficult calculation to make...but when I imagine an Obama presidency as the alternative to John McCain, I have to support John McCain".

So what does this achieve? Well, it sends GOP voters two important messages. First, it says that some establishment conservatives were actually willing to support one of the most reviled Democrats (Clinton)...a candidate the base could never support. Second, once Obama became the candidate, those same establishment conservatives decided to come back and support John McCain...because Barack Obama must be worse than Hillary Clinton. So what is the conclusion GOP voters will be asked to draw? If the choice in November is between John McCain and a candidate that is worse than Hillary Clinton, they have to get out and support John McCain.

By utilizing this approach, it allows people like Cunningham and Coulter to continue to rail against Obama as they supposedly support Clinton...all the while further defining Obama as worse than Hillary...doing the work for the McCain campaign while he keeps his hands clean and moves to higher ground. At the same time, the media darling McCain can stay below the radar and avoid being directly associated with the scorched earth strategy.

The bottom line is that the GOP desperately needs to define Obama...negatively. Having the GOP candidate do this dirty work isn't ideal in 2008 given that a majority of voters don't seem inclined to accept more of the partisanship fostered by the likes of Karl Rove. If this can be achieved by unattached surrogates who also have the ear of those Republican's less apt to be enthused with a McCain candidacy, all the better.

If they succeed, then the entire GOP can sit down at the table...together with the independent and moderate voters they must have to win in November...ready to indulge in the equivalent of a twice baked batch of kinder, gentler, compassionate and conservative, comfort food...a delectable dish of "Krafty Mac & Sleeze".

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Ann Coulter, Barack Obama, Bill Cunningham, Democrats, GOP, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Swiftboating

Daniel DiRito | February 27, 2008 | 9:58 PM | link | Comments (2)
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February 22, 2008

Hillary's Stellar Debate Moment - Part Two genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Truth.jpg

A number of readers responded to the posting Hillary's Stellar Debate Moment. I truly appreciate hearing the thoughts and observations of my readers and I welcome engaging dialogue. I was going to reply in the comments section of the prior posting but I soon concluded it warranted a second posting.

I do so because I've noticed a trend that troubles me...one that is innately important to me and that highlights one of the overarching motivations behind the creation of Thought Theater. I'll attempt an explanation.

Throughout my life, I have prioritized the pursuit of more truth above all else (that doesn't mean I always lived it). In so doing, I often find I'm unable to permanently attach myself to any particular group, club, party, or affiliation. All too often, such allegiances include the requirement that each member adopt and affirm all of the beliefs (truths) of the organization...even if that arrests the pursuit of the truth...or...heaven forbid...demands the wholesale suspension of the truth.

What this means in practical terms is that I'm often viewed as a contrarian. I've accepted my role, though I prefer to characterize it as a commitment to seeking more truth...even if I find it painful...even if it makes me unpopular. What I've learned is that my pursuit of truth is far more sustaining than any of the perceived spoils that accompany affected affiliations.

Before I proceed to the topic at hand, some background might be beneficial. I attended high school at an all boys Catholic boarding school. We were allied with an all girls Catholic boarding school. Over time, it became vogue to denigrate the girls at our sister school and it became cool to date girls from the local high school. As with most trends in teenagers, the shift was facilitated by a vocal few and followed by the pliable masses.

Ironically, I (the closeted gay guy) came to the defense of the girls at our sister school...writing opinion pieces in the school paper assailing the mob mentality and the thugs who had triggered the entire ordeal. Simply stated, I defended the truth because it was the right thing to do. I took my share of flack from a few students but over time I won the respect of far more. In retrospect, it merely took someone to stand up and state the obvious. Sadly, it reinforced my belief that in the absence of a voice, the truth becomes little more than an amalgam of invented and inflicted animosities heaped upon the helpless and the hapless.

Having been bullied in grade school until I finally stood up for myself and bloodied the nose of the ringleader, I developed a keen sense of injustice and an unyielding commitment to fairness. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't remotely perfect then and I'm still not...but I can recognize a mean spirited assault in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, life isn't black and white or neat and tidy. Yes, when it comes to people, it's much easier to lump and label than it is to dissect and discern...but then who ever said the search for truth should be easy?

Hence, the most important thing I learned was that truth can be found in places and in people one wouldn't expect or predict. I came to realize that even a thug can speak the truth or act with fairness...but that required suspending my own bias in order to be objective...even while knowing I could rationalize doing otherwise. So what was the essential lesson? If I wanted fairness, I had to grant it to others...regardless of my own bias.

As I've followed politics and the upcoming election, I've found myself experiencing many of the same feelings and circumstances...and that includes allowing my own bias to interfere with the pursuit of truth. Fortunately, I'm still committed to fairness. With that in mind, I offer the following observations with regards to last evening's debate and the ongoing need to seek truth.

First, I'm including the content of an email I received in response to the posting. I also encourage readers to take a moment and read the comments in the posting as they provide the context for my remarks.

hi: i think you fell for a bit of theater--have you seen the utube of john edwards "after this is all done, we'll be ok" and its america he's worried about? or the clip of bill yakking about taking"hits." hill's greatest moment was empty gesture. the question was soft ball and hill was prepared with stolen words in an attempt to hit a home run. i thought you were more sophisticated than to buy her performance. or maybe your use of stellar was merely acknowledging the performing aspect. the message was old, the delivery not bad.

First, I love politics and I understand that it often involves emotions and that can lead to pettiness, anger, animosity, and partisanship. Human nature is such that we're all prone to bias...and politics may be the arena where it is most noticeable.

As such, I find myself troubled by the refusal of so many individuals to acknowledge any positive acts on the part of the candidate(s) they don't support. Even worse, I'm amazed that one Democrat is willing to assail another simply because they don't support the same candidate. Truth be told, how can Democrats call Karl Rove and the GOP ruthless when Democrats engage in the same behavior...within their own party's primary?

I understand the desire to win...but I have never sought to win if it involved having to abandon my belief in the pursuit of truth. That means that I accept that "the truth" won't always be on my side...and it won't always vindicate me and vanquish those that I oppose. At the same time, if I'm committed to the truth, it will always lead me towards more of it...sometimes willingly and sometimes kicking and screaming. I cherish that reality even if it has the potential to kick my butt.

I mean no disrespect by the following remark, but it needs to be said. Time and again, people, motivated by their own bias, make statements that make them appear to be "full of shit". It's the equivalent of calling a square a circle and then expecting everyone to agree with you...simply because it supports the reality you're promoting. Sometimes it works...especially if one is skilled at manipulation...but it never circumvents the actual truth...ever.

Sadly, those who choose this approach, often aim their efforts at those who, by and large, share their same basic goals and objectives (e.g. Dems on Dems)...but for any number of reasons they seek to achieve those goals and objectives by virtue of their preferred path. I view such acts as unenlightened episodes of intellectual dishonesty. It's akin to the notion that the end justifies the means. I don't think it's that simple.

Let me explain. Truth is a function of consistency and those who seek to be affiliated with the truth can only remain so if their words and deeds are in fact consistent with it. Truth requires vigilance and commitment. Call it being on the watch for the flip flop effect...call it being willing to call a lie a lie...call it an insistence that deception and deceit must be exposed whenever it rears its head...but that which isn't consistent with the truth can never be called an impartial demonstration of objectivity and rationality. Hence truth can set us free or it can make us prisoners of our refusal to face it.

So let's return to the email and the issue of Senator Clinton's "stellar debate moment". A number of folks have pointed to the hypocrisy found in Hillary Clinton accusing Barack Obama of plagiarism and then proceeding to use the words of others in her closing remarks. So what truth can we discern from this inconsistency? Here's where it gets complicated.

First, I would argue that the definition of plagiarism has been stretched to score political points. We're all guilty of using words, ideas, and expressions that we've heard or read...but that fails to meet the intent of plagiarism. Making such an accusation may be an acceptable political strategy but it isn't consistent with the pursuit of truth.

Second, this means that Hillary's actions were inconsistent with the manipulated truth she had previously sought to create. At the same time, the fact that she demonstrated this inconsistency doesn't nullify the truth of the words (borrowed and original) she spoke last night...just as her accusations directed at Senator Obama didn't negate the truth of the words (borrowed and original) he recently spoke.

The fact that the Obama campaign employed the same manipulation of the truth in accusing Senator Clinton of plagiarism following last evening's debate was also inconsistent with the truth...albeit done as a tit for tat response (a rationalization). You see...this is the danger of deviating from the consistent pursuit of truth. It becomes a never-ending struggle to create truth rather than to find it and to honor it.

So let's look at Senator Clinton's actual remarks. Those intent on assailing the Senator have focused upon a small portion of a statement that was nearly three minutes in duration. I view that as an obfuscation of the truth. Her statement was more than "we're going to be ok but I'm not so sure America will be" and "I've taken some hits in my life". Ignoring the entirety of the statement is an attempt to score political points through manipulation. It's done all of the time...but it isn't consistent with the pursuit of truth.

Further, we've all found ourselves in situations where the words of others best describe our truth as well as larger, far more encompassing "truths". After all, the bulk of our thoughts have been experienced, spoken, or written by others. There just aren't that many original thoughts or wholly unique ways to express them. If there were, we'd all be esteemed authors and poets.

That brings us back to the intended meaning of the word plagiarism. The manner in which it has been utilized in this campaign is absurd...and the more we all embrace its false meaning; the more we convolute its true meaning. Such is the process that accompanies the destruction of language and therefore our ability to communicate effectively and honestly. It's truly an example of the slippery slope effect...and the deconstruction of fundamental truths.

I challenge everyone to go back and look at Senator Obama's face while he listens to Senator Clinton's closing remarks. I'm convinced that what you will see in his face is an acknowledgment and an affirmation of the truth he's hearing...regardless of whether some small portion of it was "lifted" from others. In the end, the truth of the words she spoke resonated with Barack and with the audience. It was a real moment because the listeners grasped the truth of the spoken words...even if it was a "performance"...even if Barack thought it was a performance.

To discount her statements because one thinks she prepared and practiced speaking them is to suggest that she should be singled out as a candidate who isn't entitled to avail herself of the long-established practices of public speaking and politicking. To suggest that the question was "a softball" ignores the fact that both candidates were given the same opportunity to answer it. It was a level playing field. Negating Senator Clinton's "home run" answer because she was prepared for the question is utterly illogical.

The truth is that most of what we see in a debate is performance. Criticizing a candidate for a stellar performance is akin to shunning a good movie because one of the actors (who you don't particularly like) was superb. Yes, we're all entitled to our subjective conclusions...but passing a biased opinion off as an objective analysis circumvents the discernment of truth.

It happens all the time in politics and all too often in life. It is a virulent virus...one that has the potential to replicate so fast that we're on the verge of untruth becoming a pandemic infection. Even worse, how does one cure a disease that is self-inflicted and self-perpetuating? If the motivation to pass a virus exceeds the desire to defeat it, then sickness has trumped sanity.

Truth is never old and it remains truth whenever and wherever it is delivered. Truth isn't the sole domain of any individual; it is bigger than than...because it must be. One can dislike the messenger while still acknowledging and accepting the message.

Politics is an attempt to get voters to embrace both. Regardless, if we collectively focus on affirming truth whenever and wherever we see it, hear it, read it, or find it, we send our own message of rejection to those who may be engaged in delivering a corrupted version of it. If we consistently send that message, we inoculate ourselves from the ravages of untruth and we single out those who have become its carriers. In so doing, we begin the process of retraining the body politic to reject deceit and deception and we set in motion a system that rewards those who pursue it and perform it...consistently.

The truth is...when the end and the means are one and the same...the truth is.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Austin Debate, Barack Obama, Bias, Democratic Nomination, Fairness, Hillary Clinton, Justice, Karl Rove, Partisanship, Politics, Truth

Daniel DiRito | February 22, 2008 | 6:07 PM | link | Comments (5)
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February 20, 2008

How Many Revised Economic Forecasts Before The Fed Says The "R" Word? genre: Econ-Recon & Six Degrees of Speculation

Stimulus Package?

Just how many revised economic forecasts does it take to finally conclude that the U.S. is in a recession? Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan likes to up his odds we're heading into a recession by approximately 20 percentage points every quarter. Current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke seems to prefer a different approach. His modus operandi is to lower GDP a few tenths of a percent with each revised outlook.

As an outside observer, this measured slide towards using the "R" word feels like being in my car at a red stoplight with my favorite backseat driver seated beside me. As we wait for the lights to change (because we know they will), my trusted traffic manager sits there predicting the seconds until the opposing green light will turn yellow...never getting it quite right...but jubilant each time he announces...after the fact...that "The light just turned yellow". This process continues until our red light turns green and we can proceed to the next intersection...to start all over again.

While I realize my analogy isn't an actual equivalent, the frustrations are much the same. Yes, predicting the twists and turns of the economy isn't an exact science...but I do find our willingness to grant these prognosticators a free pass each time they err to be a rather absurd practice. The fact that the nation holds its breath each time a new report is scheduled for release merely supports my contention.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lowered its projection for economic growth this year, citing damage from the double blows of a housing slump and credit crunch. It said it also expects higher unemployment and inflation.

Under its new economic forecast, the Fed said that it now believes the gross domestic product will grow between 1.3 percent and 2 percent this year. That's lower than a previous Fed forecast for growth, which at that time was estimated to be between 1.8 percent and 2.5 percent.

With economic growth slowing, the Fed projected that the national jobless rate will rise to between 5.2 percent to 5.3 percent this year. That is higher than the central bank's old forecast for the rate to climb to as high as 4.9 percent. Last year, the unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent.

And, with energy prices marching upward, the Fed also raised its projection for inflation. The Fed now expects inflation to be between 2.1 percent and 2.4 percent this year. That's higher than its old forecast for inflation, which was estimated to come in at around 1.8 percent to 2.1 percent.

The Fed said its revised forecasts reflected a number of factors including "a further intensification of the housing market correction, tighter credit conditions .... ongoing turmoil in financial markets and higher oil prices."

In truth, I suspect that the average American has just as good a sense of where the economy is headed as those who get paid to inform us. If the last number in our checkbook is negative, we conclude we have a problem. Why wouldn't the same math hold true for our national economy?

No, we allow our political leaders to sell us on the notion that a tax rebate of $300.00 to $1,200.00 is all that matters and all that is needed to jump start the economy...even as they continue to predict further economic contraction. Excuse me, but isn't that on par with each of us taking a cash advance on an already debt heavy credit card and thinking we're suddenly in the black?

Look, I understand the notion of spending an economy out of a downturn. However, the rest of that equation posits that the increased spending will result in new jobs, greater investment and productivity, and increasing revenues for the individual, the corporation, and the government.

Unfortunately, this equation may no longer be valid...especially since the jobs are often created in other nations, the investments are frequently targeted for countries with cheap labor such that productivity is less relevant, and the only increased revenues find their way into the pockets of formerly impoverished third world individuals and the corporations and their CEO's that benefit from the enhanced bottom line that ensues.

So what does the average American get? A stimulus package that provides a single check that won't overcome the unfavorable wage-inflation ratios, the higher costs of fuel, the expanding credit card debt, the skyrocketing health care costs, and the ever shrinking job opportunities.

At the same time, some of our political leaders clamor for making the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent and lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent. I don't know about anyone else, but these refund checks remind me of the dynamics underlying "the world's oldest profession"...the one where one party gets poked for a few bucks by the fat cat who realizes that money can buy him anything he wants.

In the end, getting the powers that be to speak the "R" word is an exercise in relabeling. After all, once the deed has been done and the hush money has been paid, does it really matter what we call an old fashioned screwing? I think not.

Tagged as: Corporate Profits, Corporate Tax Rates, Economics, Federal Reserve, GDP, Globalization, Inflation, Outsourcing, Recession, Stimulus Package, Tax Cuts, Tax Rebates, Taxes, Unemployment

Daniel DiRito | February 20, 2008 | 2:27 PM | link | Comments (2)
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February 11, 2008

McCain - Yes We Can...But Would We Want To? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

If you haven't seen the video touting Barack Obama and his message of "Yes We Can", you can view it below. I've also included a parody of that video (John.he.is) that is intended to illuminate John McCain's unfavorable contrast.

Given the reach of YouTube and other similar sites, the hype surrounding the 2008 election will be unlike any other. What remains to be seen is whether these messages reach individuals who haven't already chosen a candidate or if they simply provide an outlet for the enthused partisans.

Yes, on the surface, the number of views is amazing...but further consideration may simply tell us that the internet is merely replacing the mainstream media as our preferred means of communicating with like minded individuals. Clearly, the lack of limitations on the content found on the internet currently provides for sharper critiques and the creation of more unfiltered "swiftboating" strategies.

The belief that communication serves a worthy purpose in its ability to connect us may actually be morphing into a medium that provides the means to form even more narrow affiliations with even more ability to carry out pointed attacks and to push targeted agendas.

Time will tell if we've unleashed progress or simply advanced the progression of heightened partisanship. One thing is certain, every individual now has the opportunity to participate, to pontificate, and to promulgate. Whether that's good or bad remains to be seen. In the meantime, good luck with separating the wheat from the chaff.

h/t to Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice

Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music Video

John.He.Is - A Parody Aimed At John McCain

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, John McCain, Partisanship, YouTube

Daniel DiRito | February 11, 2008 | 3:58 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Sometimes When You Get Too Close, You Get Too Far genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Generations

"Sometimes when you get too close, you get too far" is one of many pearls of wisdom handed down from my Italian immigrant grandparents. They used the expression to warn their children that all relationships weren't the same and that there are circumstances whereby getting too involved is ill advised. Fortunately, my parents passed those same words along to their children. I've been focused on the saying for several weeks as I've been seeking an understanding of my own indeterminate malaise.

Let me offer some background and then some explanation. I love politics and psychology and I often focus on their overlap when writing. I've done so because I'm convinced that all of our actions can be traced back to the individual's psyche. Try as we might, I suspect we actually understand very little about the mechanics of that entity...other than the fact that it undoubtedly makes each of us uniquely flawed individuals.

If we look close enough, perhaps we can find themes or threads that connect some of us. At the same time, it seems safe to infer that the reverse is true...meaning there are also threadbare holes in this imperfect human tapestry that divide us. Politics is thus the tundra upon which these commonalities and these differences unfold.

This current election cycle is a unique moment in our American history. Never before has it been inevitable that either a woman or an African American would be the nominee of one of our political parties. Part and parcel of that eventuality is the concept of change. Confronting this change, in my estimation, involves many of the same dynamics found in my grandparent's thoughtful insights.

There is a spoken belief that our nation long ago confronted issues of race and gender and set in motion the removal of the barriers associated with either. There is also an unspoken reality that neither has been achieved. As we approach the moment where our lip service may well be forced to acquiesce to the living of these lofty proclamations, we begin to see that the closer we get to its achievement, the further we may be from its existence.

The evidence that exists is no doubt the equivalent of a DNA match. Whether it's a product of our capitalistic mindset that idealizes winning and posits that the opposite is losing, I don't know for sure...but I suspect it may well be. If so, then nothing could be more divisive than to ask voters to affirm one oppressed group over another. It's as if fate is bringing us to the precipice of progress...only to ask us to make a choice that will catapult one group to the pinnacle while seemingly pushing the other into the abyss. While this isn't actually the choice, it may be the perception.

Worse still, those groups who lack a contestant in the competition for the quintessential prize worry that the elevation of one of their fellow second class societal equivalents may well result in the further disproportionate distribution of the spoils of success. Hence, if the perception exists that the proverbial pie isn't large enough to nourish us all, then the thought that one's longtime competitor (for the crumbs that fall off the table) is about to receive not only a place at the table, but a plate...and a bigger piece of the pie, is apt to create angst...and resentment. Therein lies what we must attempt to understand.

An example might be beneficial. I received a distressing call from my younger sister last week. As I picked up the phone and said hello, all I heard on the other end was my sister sobbing...telling me that she had just gotten off the phone with my mother. My heart sunk as my mind raced to guess who had died or was diagnosed with a terminal disease or fallen gravely ill. It's amazing how many thoughts can occupy a few seconds. I immediately asked, "What's the matter?" As I braced for the bad news, she replied, "I told mom I had caucused for Obama and she got mad and hung up on me".

You see my mom is in her seventies...and the thought that a fellow woman would choose to support "the other candidate" (a man who happens to be black) is akin to treason. Add to that the fact that she grew up in a small Colorado community as a Catholic whose Italian immigrant parents had distinct accents and customs that were foreign to those around them and one begins to see the generational impact.

Such is the insidious nature of discrimination and prolonged periods of lost or limited opportunities. Let me be clear...my mom doesn't have a racist bone in her body and I can't recall a single disparaging remark about any minority (save for her angry comments at my announcement many years ago that I was gay). Nonetheless, she is a product of a society that relegated her and other women to a lesser status and in so doing served to rob her and many others of the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The fact that she saw similar limitations placed upon her foreign born parents only exacerbated her awareness of the issue.

When I subsequently spoke with my mother on the phone, the gravity of the situation was revealed when she stated, "I want to see a woman elected to the presidency before I die." Yes, the same woman who idolized the charisma and the hope she found in JFK couldn't envision that my sister had seen the same in Barack Obama. She could only feel her own sense of loss and sadness at the fact that time is cutting short her chances to witness the culmination of her dreams and her hopes.

2008 will be a historical election...but whether it will be a transformative one remains to be seen. Sometimes the closer we get to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the least of us, the more difficult it can be to preserve them for the rest of us. Hence, transformation can be a double-edged sword.

My love for my mom and my sister is unlimited...and yet it can't always bridge the gaps that come between people from disparate eras. When injustice has been administered and experienced over lengthy periods of time, it may be impossible to repair the damages or remove the regrets that accompany it.

We each see life through our own prisms. We occasionally see the same thing when looking through those prisms...yet if we see those things in our lives at differing chronological points, they will likely have different meanings. In the end, sometimes when you've gone too long without, you've gone too far within. Perhaps the lessons learned in 2008 will bring all of us closer to where we belong.

Tagged as: 2008 election, Aging, Barack Obama, Chauvinism, Death, Gender Inequality, Generation Gap, Hillary Clinton, Immigration, Italian Immigrants, JFK, Misogyny, Racism

Daniel DiRito | February 11, 2008 | 10:01 AM | link | Comments (2)
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