Catapulting the Propaganda: Tender Sensibilities and Faux Outrage

When a foreign official accuses another nation of engaging in Goebbel-esque propaganda campaigns, it’s sure to make news. Yesterday, Brazil’s trade minister accused “rich nations” (read: the U.S.) of using Joesph Goebbel’s infamous strategy of repeating lies enough times that the lies become conventional wisdom. The Bush administration reacted sharply – but didn’t deny the accusations, only the reference.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Faux outrage always amuses me, particularly when it’s projected for media / public consumption. Here’s how it works: someone (say, a politician) will make an outrageous or insulting accusation; hyperbole to emphasize a point. Someone on the opposite side of the political fence takes public umbrage – “Gasp! How can you say that? Oh, my tender sensibilities!” – without disputing the main point of the accusation.

Such an occasion occurred yesterday at World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. According to reports, in advance of a WTO meeting this week, Brazil’s trade minister Celso Amorim accused “rich countries” of engaging in Goebbel-esque propaganda in attempting to ram through the Doha trade accords:

Brazil sought to play down a spat with the United States on Sunday that threatened to sour a week of key World Trade Organisation talks after its foreign minister likened arguments of rich countries to Nazi propaganda. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters on Saturday that “misinformation” about the WTO talks recalled the comment of Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth.

A spokesman for U.S. trade chief Susan Schwab said Washington regretted the comment. “We are here to negotiate on substance and that kind of venomous name-calling does not have a place in these talks,” spokesman Sean Spicer said on Sunday…

By way of background, the Bush administration has been trying to hammer out an overarching WTO deal (many core issues in dispute, at least in terms of agricultural trade).

In the end, though, Celso Amorim probably accomplished what he intended to do with such inflammatory remarks. He made the point that the U.S. is controlling the WTO “message” in a manner that does little more than amplify the interests

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Richard Blair |

The GOP Price of Living (and Dying)

Those of us of a certain age have seen the economy expand, then contract, then expand again on many occasions. Things have changed, though – from Reagan’s “revolution” to GHW Bush’s “voodoo economics” through the unprecedented wealth transfer that has happened during Bush II’s reign, there’s a fundamental difference. In that difference lies the reason that I’m a progressive Democrat…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

The BeavI’m old enough to remember when the nuclear family was really the American dream: 2.2 kids, a house with a modest mortgage, mom met the kids at the school bus stop in the afternoon because she didn’t work outside the home, dad came rolling in later in the afternoon, dinner was served, homework was done, then maybe some TV (3 VHF channels and a couple of UHF “independents”). Rinse, spit, repeat.

The promise of technology and automation was never that Americans would lose their jobs to machines, but that the machines would make the jobs more efficient and lead to a better quality of life for everyone. LBJ’s “Great Society” was a product of progressive thinking – that yes, indeed, it was possible for the previous generation to leave the next generation just a little bit better off, and so on and so on.

In the past, I’ve ranted about how there was a palpable shift in the overall demeanor of big business back in the early days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Perhaps I was a bit closer to it (“the shift”) at the time because of the point that I was at in my career – I’d been with the same employer for a couple of years, making a pretty good wage, and I was the sole breadwinner in the family. That was my role; that was the real role in life I thought I was supposed to play. But I could sense, even back then, that something was terribly amiss. I just couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Something strange was happening in the work place that augured an uncertain future.

Allow me to use a personal story as a segue into a larger discussion on why I’m a progressive Democrat.

The company I worked for during the Reagan years made a very rapid transformation from a truly “family oriented” employer, to a “bottom line” company. Harvard Business School was just starting to churn out Michael Hammer-cloned MBA graduates using the “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap model of business education. The heady days of merger and acquisition really got cranking around the time of Reagan’s second inauguration. The atmosphere in the workplace shifted dramatically in the space of what felt like just a few short months. In fact, the change was so dramatic that, even in the quasi-professional / technical role that I filled, it was becoming obvious that the only way to survive was for those in my technical specialization to organize with a local labor union. And so we tried – I tried. I was very active in the effort.

I was active in the effort for several reasons, but the most important was that the HBS graduates were starting to fling around the specter of competition and deregulation and corporate survival as if to generate a self fulfilling prophecy. And, to a degree, the HBS’ers did just that. What a union offered, even a professional / technical union, were rules that the company and employees had to live by. I reasoned that, without a legally binding employment contract, non-represented, non-management employees were flying by the seat of their pants and without a net.

In the long run, I was right.

The company used a couple of really shady tactics, aided and abetted by a Reagan-reconstituted National Labor Relations Board ruling, to defeat the organizing effort, and the union local was not prepared well enough to respond. The threat of layoffs never emerged for the rank and file union members in the company, but the professional and technical specialties started to be purged in the late 1980′s, as folks like me began to simply make too much money.

As my salary and 401K grew, I clearly recall sitting at my kitchen table one night and amortizing the value of my salary and benefits 20 years into the future. I somberly recognized that evening that the company couldn’t sustain me and hundreds of my coworkers into the future. At some point, even a modest three or four percent increase per year in a fairly decent salary becomes like compounding interest to the bean counters in a company – and it was clear that something had to give. So the professional ranks started taking hits in terms of layoffs, “performance-based” firings, and early retirement package offerings to those in the organization who held the corporate institutional memory.

Here’s an example of how quickly the changes occurred, and why I worked so hard in the union organizing effort.

At one time, the technical and professional folks made time and a half for overtime (because the company would never compensate their professional people less than their union workers, don’tcha know…). Out of the blue, the non-represented technical workers were required to put in at least 45 hours a week to qualify for time and a half. The uncompensated five hours per week was euphemistically dubbed “professional time”. And then one day, word came down from the executive suite that overtime was completely gone for the professionals. You worked what you had to in order to get your job done, no matter how long it took or how much additional responsibility you had to assume because the guy’s desk next to you was suddenly vacated late on a Friday afternoon (the favorite time to issue pink slips), and there was no replacement for him or her.

But you know who didn’t go? The company never touched the union rank and file, because of the contract. There are still guys working for the company in union positions who were there when the great middle management purge of 1990 took place.

I was fortunate enough to see the handwriting on the wall, and started doing some serious programming work on the side back then, and that led to my ability to leave the company on my own terms in the mid-90′s. After all, computers were where the big money was, Tim Berners-Lee was rolling out the HTTP protocol, and the dot com boom was just getting underway. My services were in pretty high demand, and I brought not only my computer experience to a booming market, but my mature business acumen. It was a great combination that worked for awhile, and I made a pretty good living. And then the dot com bust hit.

Makin' the NutBy the time I was forced back into the job market in the early part of this century, even though my skills were at their peak, my earning power was not. The conservative mantra was, “well, you work whatever you have to work at. McDonalds, whatever. There’s no shame in working hard.” Indeed. It got to the point where I took one of the first jobs that I was offered that was even remotely reasonable in terms of compensation. And then that job was “mergered and acquisitioned”, even though it was in the non-profit sector. The last several years have been a struggle, having come down from positions of both authority and responsibility. In the business climate that I was unfortunate enough to experience, at a certain age, it’s impossible to regain career traction, and you settle for the best job that’s available in order to make ends meet.

I know I’m not alone in my tale, and that there are many out there like me. My real income has declined significantly since the mid-90′s. In fact, I was 1040–²ing more per year in 1995 than I am today. And I’m working harder today than I ever did in my life, for a relatively thankless employer whose executive battle cry at the end of every quarter is: “We’re not making the numbers!! Panic! Panic!!” So, the sales force forward-sells our product line to make this quarter’s numbers at the expense of bookings at the beginning of next quarter. It’s an endless cycle of stupid business decisions that leads to bargain basement deals for our customers, less revenue for the company, and a repeating of the cycle again at the end of next quarter.

The company that I work for in 2008 is by no means exceptional in the modern corporate world. There is no “quality of life”, so to speak. I’m tethered to a cell phone and a computer 24 hour a day, 365 days a year, and I spend my time reacting to business crises rather than getting a break from the bonds. I am literally doing the same work that three people did 20 years ago. But my employer thinks this is ok. (The customers don’t, but that’s another story for another day.)

This is the life that the Republican Party brought to me, and why I’m such a strong progressive, even if I’m getting a bit long in the tooth. I’m angry. I’m angry with the business climate that has upended my life and that of millions of others like me. I’m angry that I’m good enough at what I do that I’m the “go-to” guy when there’s a steaming pile of business shit that someone else has left for me to clean up, but there’s no one to back me up when I have a less than stellar day at the office. I’m angry that at this point in my life I’m locked into a fairly dead-end position because of the paycheck, but more importantly, benefits that I can’t (again, at this point of my life) afford to be without.

In the past year, I’ve seen one of my closest business associates hang it up because it just wasn’t worth it anymore – he bailed out early when he had the opportunity, even as he was somewhat unsure of his financial future. Another (15 years younger than me) had a heart attack just before Christmas. He was back at his desk last week. He’ll never make it to retirement. Another is opting for early retirement in March rather than spend another minute with her nose stuck to the grind stone.

The nuclear family is a dream of the past. There are so many among us (thankfully, I’m not yet one of them) who have to work two and three jobs just to pay the mortgage, electric bill, and put food on the table because real wages have declined so precipitously in years recently passed. But the GOP thinks that’s all right, in fact, they’re proud of it. They think it’s just peachy that mom and dad have to work themselves to the point of exhaustion, and then on the other hand they wonder why the nuclear family has disintegrated.

There is more than just a mortgage crisis at hand, and I don’t think anyone in a position to say so really wants to admit it in polite company. There is a very real family financial liquidity crunch that is underway, and sooner than later, the crunch is going to affect all of us. The unprecedented wealth transfer from poor and middle income families to the uber rich is nearly complete. The folks at the bottom of the GOP-led financial pyramid scheme are nearly bled dry, and the pyramid is about to collapse. To sustain itself a little longer, the folks at the top of the pyramid will have to start an Amway-style ritual of financial cannibalism amongst themselves. I think that (to an extent) this is exactly what we’re seeing in the stock markets and big financial houses as the true meltdown begins. Is this is how it starts?

An executive of a collapsed subprime mortgage lender jumped to his death from a bridge Friday, shortly after his wife’s body was found inside their New Jersey home, authorities said.

The deaths of Walter Buczynski, 59, and his wife, Marci, 37 – the parents of two boys – were being investigated as a murder-suicide, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office…

[He] was a vice president of Columbia, Md.-based Fieldstone Mortgage Co., a high-flying subprime mortgage lender that made $5.5 billion in mortgage loans and employed about 1,000 people as late as 2006.

However, it has since filed for bankruptcy and now has fewer than 20 employees. The company had recently filed court papers seeking approval to pay about $1.1 million in bonuses that would be divided among Buczynski and other staffers so the company could wind down its lending operations and go out of business…

Even in the last throes of corporate failure, the bosses reward themselves.

It’s only speculation, but perhaps this tragedy happened in part because the Buczynski’s were embroiled in some intractable sort of financial difficulty. Still, for each VP of a failed company that can’t take the personal pressure any longer and leaps from a bridge, how many more bodies and destroyed lives from the lower rungs of the economic pyramid have they left in their wake as they pursued the Republican holy grail of financial success and “A-list” cocktail parties?

When consumers stop spending, the economy is going to crash hard. Signs already point to a significant contraction in consumer spending, which is why George Bush today offered up a

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Richard Blair |

Capitalism At The Crossroads: Time To Wing It?

History has long recorded humanity’s dabbling in the elaboration of the latest “ism”. Rarely do we recognize the demise of one “ism” in the midst of the emergence of its replacement. While America debates the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, we seem reticent to discuss the merits of capital “ism”. Doing so could be an important step towards embracing the underlying humanism we frequently ignore.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

In Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”, time is both passed and suspended in anticipation of arrival. Neither the passage of time or the thoughtless suspension of its value is a worthwhile endeavor…yet so much of the human condition is spent accordingly.

Fortunately, the ebb and flow of life frequently compensates for this miscalculation and we are rarely forced to face the futility of our allegiance to being unaware.

At the same time, history, in retrospect, has meticulously recorded such periods of ambiguous angst with the application and affirmation of a seemingly all-encompassing “ism” of merit. Sadly, we humans rarely understand our migration from one “ism” to the next…at the moment it transpires…frequently leaving us in the same suspect and suspended scenario as those waiting for the transformational Godot to arrive.

America, in its quaint yet quixotic commitment to the courtesan we call capital “ism”, is being confronted with such a stretch of meaningless moments…waiting anxiously and aimlessly for the arrival of someone or something to remove the paralysis that permeates our propensity to participate in the chain letter economics that powers our Ponzi scheme psyche…even though we “share” in the ironic experience of watching our pyramid collapse under the weight of its own egocentric and ignoble ideations.

Two events provide perspective on our predicament – one a calamity and the other a harbinger of hope. The former, 9/11, brought us together long enough to offer consolation and condolences before scurrying out the door with our credit cards and the cash created by our homage to home equity high jinks…in hopes of perpetuating perceptions rather than recognizing realities.

The latter, the safe landing of an aircraft on the Hudson river and the preservation of every single passenger’s life, allowed us to reconnect with the principals and perseverance associated with the mythical America and the essence of the collective spirit that had come to define it…all of which evaporated so quickly following 9/11.

Here’s the problem. Today, Captain Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson is no longer just a job well done or an act of American stick-to-itiveness; rather it must be morphed into an extraordinary act of unexpected hero “ism”…a deed beyond the pale…an act of selflessness in a society all about the self. In America, tragedy is synonymous with litigation and triumph with accolades…both of which have material enrichment as their expected outcome. Hence American decency is but a function of fault or fame…not an intrinsic component of character.

As such, in this dark hour of economic uncertainty, the core constructs of capital “ism” still trump our actual ability to embrace the noble identity that gave it life. Like spectators at a Gladiator match, we sit on the sidelines of our “Super Bowl” society admiring the exceptional athlete or the precise pilot…ever focused on the means and methods to our own nascent notoriety…never mindful of the inevitable intersection of motivation and moral maturity.

Let me be clear, when I mention moral maturity, I am not invoking an absolutist ideology or an adherence to religion; rather I’m imploring us to understand the essence of our shared humanity. Moral maturity is not the means to superiority…it is the simple act of enabling and embracing equality in lieu of cachet and celebrity. In fact, doing so not only fosters an appreciation of altruism over the accumulation of assets, it disarms the drive for deification by substituting the satisfaction of service for the seemingly endless search for the satiation of selfishness.

Should there be any doubt as to the dubious nature of our situation, and therefore our ever expanding and suspect sense of entitlement, look no further than the latest Gallup Poll on the merits of the President’s stimulus plan. Only 38% of respondents believe the stimulus plan should be passed as proposed by Barack Obama. Another 37% are in favor of a stimulus plan but they believe it must include major changes.

While the majority of Americans favor Congress’ passing some type of stimulus plan, there is remarkably little confidence on the part of the public that the plan would have an immediately positive impact on the U.S. economy. Americans are also pessimistic about the plan’s potential positive impact on their own families’ financial situations.

There’s only one way to interpret these numbers. Self-interest is the primary motivation that drives debate in America. Confronted with the worst economy since the Depression, and an uncertain future, most Americans cannot view the stimulus plan absent the bias of the status quo…and most of our elected officials must be included in this group. The shortsightedness is astounding.

A comparison may help explain my concerns as well as my contention that capital “ism”, in its current form, is no longer viable. Let’s start by assuming that our economic situation is dire. If so, then one should be able to construct a scenario to evidence the gravity of this moment as well as the complacency that has grown out of our commitment to the tenets of capital “ism” as they have existed since the Watergate years.

For this exercise, let’s assume that NASA has identified an asteroid heading towards earth in ten years and that its trajectory puts the U.S. at great risk. Now suppose that in response, our government decides to establish safe shelters in all major metropolitan areas. Logically, one should be able to presume that Americans will get behind the effort and pitch in to insure that the country is prepared for the worst. One should also be able to expect that individuals will put self-serving objectives aside in hopes of achieving maximum safety and survival. In other words, while some people might feel slighted by the placement of shelters…or other aspects of any response plan…the gravity of the situation undoubtedly dictates that such concern is set aside in order to work towards a collective solution to an anticipated crisis.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that our adherence to a “me first” mentality may well preclude our ability to react effectively to this or any other plausible threat. Therein lies the inability to visualize the risks of maintaining our seemingly insolent and intransigent mindsets. You see; the instincts we momentarily demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 still exist. Unfortunately, the fact that we so easily slipped back into more of the same doesn’t portend well for addressing the current economic crisis…a crisis that is more than a glitch in the U.S. economy…a crisis that won’t be solved by imploring Americans to go shopping…a crisis that is the leading edge of a reordering of the world and the manner in which we humans serve as stewards of this earth…and therefore whether we will be purposeful proponents for the ongoing existence of humankind.

The fact that so many of us latched onto the “Miracle on the Hudson” as a tangible measure of the enduring human spirit serves to illustrate the paradox we seem so unwilling to acknowledge. On the one hand, we marvel at the fact that a trained pilot was able to land an airplane on water…yet we forget that absent years of training…a concern by the flight crew for the safety of their fellow man…and finally…the presence of wings…it not only couldn’t have successfully landed on the water…it would have been unable to support and sustain the 155 individuals who stood upon those wings while waiting (and believing) that kind and compassionate passers-by would come to their aid.

America is a plane in trouble…but our fate need not be dependent upon the heroic acts of a select few. At the same time, we must be wise enough to listen to those who may have more insight. This plane of ours will never achieve a safe landing if each of its passengers demands their turn in the cockpit…regardless of ability. The role of being a good citizen is also an act of hero “ism”…even if it means sitting quietly in coach while the pilot brings us to safety or helping an elderly passenger make their way onto the wing once the plane has landed.

America can no longer wait for our Godot to arrive. We needn’t a savior or a heroin…we needn’t aspire to the adulation we believe accompanies a seat atop the pyramid…we needn’t support or negate our leaders based upon political ideology…Godot is every man and every woman…Godot is merely a belief in each other predicated upon the notion that we grant the humanity we seek…Godot need not come if he is already here…Godot does not exist if we need him…humanity does not exist if we betray it.

If we humans are too survive, it’s time for us to wing it…which is nothing more than believing that the service of humanity floats all boats…as well as the plane in which we are all passengers. Fighting over the stimulus plan while the plane is crashing is absurd. Human “ism” may lack the glitter and glamour of capital “ism”…and it may mean less in a few pockets but more in most…but it may well be the only remaining “ism” of consequence.

Its merits will never be fully known if its value is never fully affirmed…yet it has always been there for us to accept. If it isn’t adopted in the here and now, history will fail to recognize and record it. You see, in the absence of humanity, there is no future. If there is no future, there will be no history. In the end, all “isms” lead to the same destination. We can travel willingly or we can jeopardize our very existence. The waiting must end…the wings exist. There’s room for everyone.

Cross posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Prism Prison: In Search Of Rainbows?

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In stating as much, they omit the fact that the absent heart may be neither fond nor profound. Hence in many cases I suspect it is but momentarily vacant. Such is the explanation for my period of absentia from blogging.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In stating as much, they omit the fact that the absent heart may be neither fond nor profound. Hence in many cases I suspect it is but momentarily vacant. Such is the explanation for my period of absentia from blogging.

With that stated, my return to writing is an exercise in conflict. Specifically, in the aftermath of the November election, I’ve been in search of vision…the ability to see beyond my own malaise in order to capture the essence of the existential angst that envelopes my own psyche and leads me to conclude that all is not well in the evolving identity we define as the human condition.

In order to offer insightful observations on this or any other subject, I frequently travel the only path I’ve found fertile enough to germinate a glimmer of advancing awareness…isolation. You see, I’m convinced that the momentum of our fundamentally mundane and mechanical morass is the very means by which we find ourselves disconnected from that which can keep us traveling towards a more meaningful and noble destination…a more perfect humanity and the sustaining spirit that would invariably accompany it.

The election of Barack Obama, on its surface, incites hope, which is as it should be. On the other hand, the circumstances that led a majority of Americans to effect his election require a more thorough examination…one that respects, retains, and relies upon the missing elements alluded to above…that being both the curiosity and the cynicism necessary to move us forward while simultaneously forcing us to question the prudence of our precarious path…the one we’ve traveled to get here as well as the one we’re still walking.

Let me be clear. In stating my clearly cautionary pessimism, it should not be construed as an indictment of our newly elected president or his aspirations for our advancement, which he so artfully outlined during an inspirational campaign.

Notwithstanding, in light of our unprecedented economic uncertainty, I suspect we are a society and a world in the throes of an inevitable sea change…the kind that history so aptly tells us has the potential to signal the death knell of an antiquated “ism” or to embolden the emergence of one that has not yet been defined. At the same time, history also tells us that the gravity of these tipping point events is rarely identified at the time of arrival.

For the seeker…a moniker to which I aspire (redundant and ironic)…travails and time are intertwined in an effort to envision what exists around the bend while lacking tangible evidence. It’s the equivalent of reading a book and predicting the ending without having read the intervening chapters…a feat that defies logical construction yet one that is achieved and that is frequently recorded by historians as the astute observations of a visionary…all of which illuminates the unfortunate predicament of the seeker.

The seeker assumes the role of a prism…demonstrating a willingness to see what went before, endeavoring to receive it as real while hoping to tease essence out of its obviousness in order to emit something that is more than the sum of its observable parts…only to be defined as an instrument of distortion…despite the fact that the vision that the prism (the seeker) emits is wholly constructed from reality…though ordered in ways that defy convention and incite accusations of engaging in acts of incantation or pessimistic prognostications.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite expressions, “Everything’s shit…until it isn’t”. The prism realizes that the reverse is equally profound, “Nothing’s shit…until it is”. Those who are able to ascertain these moments of transformation are met with ire in the here and now…and then…at some point in the distant future…the still blind byproducts of humanity’s persistent progeny proclaim the prescience of the prism…and history’s equation remains intact.

Unfortunately, the seeker rarely has the satisfaction of witnessing the affirmation of his or her hypothesis. Death has long since consumed what remained of his or her human form. As such, all that is the tragic nature of the human condition is affirmed in a legacy of legitimacy never lived…though dutifully recorded years hence by virtual stone tablet statisticians in a surreal semiconductor society.

The heart stirs…though the circuitous circumlocution of the human condition remains elusive. A bend approaches…the seeker seeks.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Bloated Rhetoric and PR Sinks the Big 3 Bailout

This bailout of the Big Three automakers is not an easy issue, and their flying in three seperate private jets is just part of the problem. Americans will take this hit, including the unions and including the notion of both jet pooling, carpooling and a commitment to mass transit. This is an opportunity Bush will shrink from, as have the Dems, so far.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I am reminded of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia. Everyone is dressing up nice, flying on their fanciest corporate jets, puffing themselves up before the camera. Congressmen, Titans of failing industry, Senators, Talk Show babblers, Union Leaders. It’s all a dance with far more attention to the drama than to the facts of the issue. Will a bailout help America? Isn’t that the most basic issue here? It seems much less the focus today than that a potential candidate for President in 2012, Mitt Romney, has come out against the bailout in the New York Times. This has become far more a PR and political event than a rational and steady examination of the economic advantages and disadvantages, as far as I can tell.

On the PR side, the Big 3 Execs should certainly have jet-pooled to the hearings in Washington. Oops! Tres stupide, non? We just got out of an election where the word “elitist” is being thrown around like confetti and the boys from Detroit each take their own private jet to DC? Hey, don’t get me wrong, I believe in companies using private jets. I am the son of an executive and I flew on those jets with Dad for several years, at least a half dozen times. I have no problem with the use of private jets, but GOOod GOD, MAN, FIRE YOUR PR PEOPLE NOW! Mr. Wagoner, Mr. Mulally and Mr. Nardelli, get a clue.

How about those bloated salaries? Do you think, Mr. Wagoner, that it is unfair of we who you are asking for a handout ask about your pay? (Forbes rates it around $14MM last year.) Mr. Mulally? ($21.7MM in 2007.) As far as creating a little tiny bit of goodwill in front of Congress and the Senate is concerned, these guys should have opened with a description of plans already underway for scaling back pay of executives, including themselves. They did not, but instead showed up in a phalanx on private jets. That PR blunder is overshadowing the issue, and part of delivering a message is managing such distractions.

More bloviation comes from the Senate, where Harry Reid is passing the buck to George Bush and to a GOP proposal. Hey, Bush has got the cash now in that $700BB bailout package they don’t seem to be spending, and he’s still in charge. There aren’t two Presidents at a time, after all. Bus will do the sensiblwe thing, right? Can you say “Heck of a job, Pausony?”

This is a debacle in the making with no easy solutions. The potential impact is devastating, whether we go through bankruptcies for the Big Three or whether we bail them out. The State of Michigan could go under, we could lose millions of jobs, and inaction or the wrong action could trigger a deep depression. Or so the bloviating is warning us. It’s time for a steady hand, and that hand we elected doesn’t enter office until January 20th. But let me suggest a solution.

Someone should take charge. The salary and pension structure at the Big 3 is the problem, and if there is a bankruptcy, then the Big 3 would be able to bargain hard for concessions. Bankruptcy has its perils, however, in that people likely won’t buy cars from companies in peril, as they are worried about warranties and the like. Bankruptcy is rightly seen by the automakers as the first step towards collapse. Whoever takes this by the horn needs to offer a way to keep the auto companies viable for the long term, and that means massive UAW concessions. Nope, that’s not going to make the unions happy, but it is reality. It’s time to mandate a government controlled reorganization tied to a bailout, a reorganization tied to cuts in pay and pension reform for the entire auto industry. If this means an equity stake by the government, just as we now have one in much of the banking industry, then so be it.

Bold? You betcha! Politically risky, since it stomps on the unions like a bug? You betcha! But let’s look at some positives about the US Auto Industry. JD Power’s evaluations of the quality of the cars themselves are as high as they’ve been in a long time. The productivity of American auto workers is high, though their salaries be bloated. What is needed here is a plan that addresses costs for the auto industry both short and long term, that addresses the need to turn the industry radically towards energy efficiency and new energy technologies, and that injects buying power into the hands of American consumers. Only government action can do such a thing, and only bold government action.

I imagine at Barack Obama headquarters, where today they are focused on Janet Napolitano, our soon-to-be Secretary of Homeland Security. It is time for Barack Obama to call up Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, investment genius Warren Buffet, and the rest of his stellar economic team and ask what the bold plan should be, the nuts and bolts of it, and then take that plan to the people. I can hardly blame Obama if he does not push this hard, given that he is not President yet, but it seems to me that the time is here for action, and nobody trusts Bush. This one will ultimately be in Obama’s hands, so maybe it is time to act now so that Bush and the GOP don’t dig us a deeper problem.

Hey, check that out. A confirmed liberal, I just proposed a plan that smacks the unions hard and blames Democrats in Congress for passing the buck. Of course, I also blame the Republicans for ineptitude. Still, this is not a partisan issue. It is about our entire country potentially going into a depression, not a mere recession. That means drastic action, guided by the smartest men and women out there, needs to be put on the table and now.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Defrosting The Denial – The Bitter Bite Of 700 Billion Deaths

It’s said that grief is a five stage process. As we embark upon a 700 billion dollar bail out, I suspect the American people are just beginning this journey. At the moment, denial seems to be the order of the day. I fear the next four steps will be far more difficult.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Americans should be heartened by the plan to stabilize the struggling financial industry. We Americans like action as it soothes the angst created by a stock market in free fall, a housing industry in the tank, a shrinking supply of job prospects, and a general sense of uncertainty as the 2008 election approaches.

As much as I’ve tried, I simply can’t find the reasons for optimism. Frankly, it has all the feel of the death of a loved one…that unease one has in the pit of one’s stomach…an eery recognition that the die have been cast and there’s nothing that can be done to change the trajectory. At times like this, it’s not unusual to grasp at straws…playing games with ourselves in the hopes of turning back the clock and washing away the events we find so troubling. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.

As I’ve attempted to make sense of my own thoughts, I kept coming back to the thoughts of death and the steps psychologists tell us we go through to deal with the grief it brings. If one ascribes to this theory, the first step is denial. Truth be told, I find that an apt description of where we’re at. Rather than focus on our loss, we point our thoughts towards the proposed bail out. In fact, I suspect there is comfort in the sheer size of the endeavor…so much so that the bigger it is, the better we may feel.

It’s akin to sitting in a chair while mom consoles us and applies a bandage to cover our skinned knee…only in this case the injury is far more serious and the salve is far more ethereal. I suspect it will take time for us to adjust our mindset…a mindset that’s been carefully crafted over a number of years with the rhetoric of rah rah…rhetoric that tells us we live in the promised land…that we can do no wrong…that we will prevail because it is God’s will…that our actions are inevitably and invariably enlightened.

Yes, we’re the nation that survived a civil war, the nation that overcame the great depression, the nation that won two world wars, the nation that promoted democracy to the detriment of communism, and the nation that has been the envy of the world. In as much as history predicts the future, we Americans have an expectation that tomorrow will simply affirm yesterday and all will be well. Unfortunately, our optimism is predicated upon ignoring the historical plight of virtually all other societies.

I’ll recount a story I’ve told many times…since this may actually be the moment at which its full magnitude can best be understood. When I was in high school, I had a Social Studies instructor who was quite the character. In fact we called him Wild Bill. He was a colorful man who was well-traveled and full of stories one might expect to find in a Hemingway novel. At the same time, he possessed a keen understanding of the big picture…one of those thinkers who could quickly make sense of the obscure and connect all of the dots.

One day, while I was seated in his class, he proceeded to impart some of his insights, and for whatever reason, the sheer significance of his hypothesis was seared into my brain. As he spoke of the world and the interactions of societies and nations, he paused, as if to question whether he should allow his thought to escape his lips…and then as one would expect, he let rip the following, “The day is coming when the wealth we have in the United States will be challenged. At some point, the family in South America or the family in Asia is going to say, –we want a refrigerator too’, and the intertwined nature of the world will force us to address their demands. The disparity that exists today cannot be sustained forever.”

In retrospect, it’s difficult to know the basis for his prescient thought. My own suspicion is that it was a combination of recognizing the advantages of being an American traveling in a world filled with poverty and his own appreciation for the excesses that are an integral part of human nature. In other words, I think he was sure that our freedom and our wealth would not go unnoticed as we Americans traveled the world and allowed others to witness the essence of the American dream and seek to make it their own.

Returning to grief, I would suggest that the denial we’re experiencing is, in fact, predicated upon our first recognition of Wild Bill’s prediction…the moment at which the rest of the world has made its demand for a refrigerator. Yes, it’s been building for a number of years…but not in a manner that slaps us in the face and says wake up. One need only look at the globalization of manufacturing, our shift towards a service economy, our inability to supply our ever expanding energy needs, our growing reliance upon imports, and our inability to compete given the fact that our standard of living (wages) must be factored into all of our transactions with the rest of the world.

So where does this leave us today? Well, if one accepts the validity of the grief model in explaining our current predicament, we’re barely beginning our march towards the final stage of our journey, acceptance. Right now, 700 billion makes us feel better because it is the language we understand…a money driven construct. Unfortunately, we’re still attached to the notion that the dollar can dictate value to the rest of the world…and while that may well be a valid view, it remains to be seen for how much longer.

Optimists like to point to the debt ratio of other nations in order to dismiss the significance of this bail out and our unrestricted deficit spending. However, the fact that we’ve doubled our debt in eight years can’t be ignored. At some point, the advantages the dollar has afforded will no longer exist and the more debt we assume, the sooner it will erode.

You see, it isn’t just 700 billion for Wall Street…it’s 700 billion annually for importing oil…it’s half a trillion and counting for an endless war…and it’s entitlement programs that cannot be sustained. Even more concerning, it’s a housing market that may never again be the primary wealth creation mechanism for the average American. Absent this key component, the engine of the American dream may have eclipsed its life expectancy.

I suspect one could reasonably argue that the last seven years prove as much. Truth be told, the money that has kept our economy from acknowledging the shadow of a global reality came from artificial interest rates that allowed Americans to keep spending by borrowing against their expanding, though contrived, home equity. As the world waits to see the shake out, there is little reason to believe that confidence in the American economy will be fully restored. As the inevitable autopsy is completed, the endemic toxicity of our superficial economy will cause a shift away from contact with the infectious dollar.

As we move into anger, the second stage of grief, we will likely face our greatest test. Try as we might, blame will come with anger and there will be calls for accountability as we cling to our hopes of preserving the American dream. As we watch the world advance around us, the heat of our anger will eventually give way to a cold reality…a reality that will put ice in the lemonade of our global neighbors…and leave us wondering if we can stand the bitter bite of the lemons we’re left with.

Look on the bright side…if we survive this most sour sojourn…there’s only three more steps to navigate – bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Monday, September 22nd, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Compare & Contrast: Family Values & The 2008 Election

Reducing elections to comparisons on two or three moral conundrums is an oversimplification. It keeps us from having to look more closely at our candidates, our country, ourselves, and our collective actions. Family values must go beyond the cardboard caricatures we construct.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

The GOP has, for years, claimed to be the party of family values. Unfortunately, that title is more like a badge worn on one’s lapel than an innate commitment to morality. Even worse, this carefully chosen description is primarily tailored to encompass those issues the GOP feels will garner votes. This seeming manipulation is no accident. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the GOP practices selective morality…the kind that makes a revelation of hypocrisy all the more significant.

Consider the facts. John McCain wants us to believe he shares the values of the evangelical voters he seeks to court. Unfortunately, his own history suggests something else…yet that hasn’t stopped McCain from moving to claim he’s always been aligned with Christian values. Well, if one believes that Ralph Reed represents family values, perhaps John McCain is entitled to wear his new badge.

In the first of the two following videos, Dems Rapid Response sheds some much needed light on the kind of values the GOP has actually come to represent under the leadership of men like George Bush. Yes, they consistently rail against abortion and same-sex marriage…while condoning deceit, deception, and dishonesty…the kind that robs hard-working Americans of opportunities and insures that the political elite will maintain their hold upon wealth and power.

The truth of the matter is that Ralph Reed, once a burgeoning star in the GOP (who diligently mouthed the party’s moral mumbo jumbo), was exposed as the corrupt cash chasing charlatan he’s always been. In fact, his rapid ascendency was formulaic…and his speedy demise deservedly mimicked that of many of his crooked Christian cohorts.

The fact that John McCain is happy to attach his fundraising efforts to Reed is a testament to the priorities he and his party share. The hypocrisy is revealed in their simultaneous attempts to connect Barack Obama’s secular sensibilities with all things un-American…and therefore paint them as lacking moral justification.

In the second video, Matthew 25, a Christian political action committee, offers some much needed contrast…and begins the difficult work of dislodging the faithful from many of the fraudulent fabrications about Barack Obama that are being fostered by legions of GOP loyalists.

Sadly, we’ve become a nation that finds much of its worth in the denigration of others…and the blinding bravado of dogmatic intransigence. If it isn’t the gays or those who favor a woman’s right to choose or the hotel chain that offers adult movies to patrons or the network that allows Janet Jackson to expose her breast, it’s the French and those other nations that have chosen secularism and the full separation of church and state.

(more…)

Friday, August 15th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Do Immigrants Reduce Crime Rates In Urban Areas?

Murder rates are on the rise in a number of urban areas in the Northeast and one possible explanation being offered is that those metropolitan areas with the lowest immigrant population are more unstable. Murder rates in cities with higher immigrant populations seem to have remained relatively stable in recent years. While immigrant population is [...]

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Murder rates are on the rise in a number of urban areas in the Northeast and one possible explanation being offered is that those metropolitan areas with the lowest immigrant population are more unstable. Murder rates in cities with higher immigrant populations seem to have remained relatively stable in recent years. While immigrant population is offered as one explanation, officials point to other factors in a growing problem with murder rates in the Northeast.

PHILADELPHIA – Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities in a bloodstained corridor along the East Coast are seeing a surge in killings, and one of the most provocative explanations offered by criminal-justice experts is this: not enough new immigrants.

The theory holds that waves of hardworking, ambitious immigrants reinvigorate desperately poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods and help keep crime down.

It is a theory that runs counter to the widely held notion that immigrants are a source of crime and disorder.

‘œNew York, Los Angeles, they’™re seeing massive immigration ‘” the transformation, really, of their cities from populations around the world,’ said Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson. ‘œThese are people selecting to go into a country to get ahead, so they’™re likely to be working hard and stay out of trouble.’

I think the argument has merit though it is always risky to generalize. Regardless, it isn’™t difficult to imagine that the fear of deportation or being apprehended by a justice system that one doesn’™t understand would offer some level of deterrence. Additionally, my own anecdotal experience suggests that many immigrants spend long hours working and they frequently have more than one job. That alone limits the time one might have to get into trouble. Lastly, it may also be safe to assume that immigrants view living in the U.S. as an opportunity and the means to a better life’¦and happy people are generally peaceful people.

In interviews with The Associated Press, homicide detectives, criminal justice experts and community activists point to a confluence of other possible factors.

Among them: a failure to adopt some of the innovative practices that have reduced violence in bigger cities; the availability of powerful guns; and a shift in emphasis toward preventing terrorism instead of ordinary street crime.

Others blame a resigned acceptance of ‘œquality-of-life’ crimes, such as running red lights and vandalism. Some law enforcement authorities argue that ignoring such crimes breeds disrespect and cynicism and leads to more serious offenses.

The last paragraph makes a lot of sense to me. When people are desensitized such that they view others as little more than annoyances or obstacles’¦rather than as fellow human beings with feelings, emotions, and families’¦it becomes easier to disregard human life. Anyone who has driven in traffic should understand the phenomenon whereby we think the worst of anyone who happens to cut us off or drive erratically’¦until we witness someone we know doing so and then realize that real people are in those vehicles and they don’™t always have bad intentions.

University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman is a prime exponent of the theory that immigration exerts a moderating effect on crime among poor black men.

‘œCities that have heavily concentrated and segregated African-American poverty are the places that have increases in homicide,’ Sherman said. ‘œThe places that have lots of immigration tend not to have nearly as much segregation and isolation’ of poor blacks.

Sherman acknowledges the theory is evolving and unproven.

He said immigrants ‘œchange the spirit’ of a community and affect the way young black men in poor areas relate to each other.

The percentage of foreign-born residents is 11 percent in Philadelphia, compared with 22 percent in Chicago, 37 percent in New York and 40 percent in Los Angeles, according to 2005 census figures.

Alison Sprague, executive director of Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, suggested there is some merit to the theory. Immigrants in Philadelphia tend to be crime victims rather than perpetrators, she said.

‘œI really do think the vast majority of people are trying to earn a living and support their families and stay under the radar,’ Sprague said. Illegal immigrants, especially, ‘œhave every motivation not to get involved in something.’

‘œThe second-tier cities have fewer economic possibilities for people,’ said Arlene Bell, a former prosecutor who now runs youth centers in Philadelphia. ‘œWhen there are no opportunities for kids growing up, no possibility of entering the work force ‘” particularly with their level of education ‘” they’™re left to their own devices.’

No doubt economic opportunity is a factor’¦and it may also explain why immigrants choose the locales they do. Cities with better economic conditions are apt to have more immigrants and cities suffering high unemployment are apt to have higher crime.

The fact that immigrants choose cities with more jobs and better economic conditions does suggest that their intentions and ambitions make them less inclined to criminal activities. In other words, they enter the U.S. believing they will have an opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams.

Cities with high crime rates and blighted areas are likely inhabited by people who feel trapped by their economic status’¦people who are living generational poverty and have come to view their opportunities with little hope’¦making them more susceptible and inclined to crime. They simply have a much more negative perspective of their situation than their immigrant counterparts. Despite the fact that immigrants may also come from generational poverty and have experienced similar economic struggles, they have, by virtue of their efforts to enter the United States, demonstrated a more hopeful perspective and a compelling desire to improve their station in life.

I think that perspective may have a significant impact on how one behaves. No doubt hopeful people are more mindful of the pitfalls of crime and therefore make choices to avoid such behavior. People who feel hopeless simply begin to believe they have nothing to lose and are unable to see beyond the moment which makes them prone to bad behaviors.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Saturday, June 30th, 2007 by Richard Blair |