The Loaves And Fishes Election?

This may be a Loaves & Fishes election…but a McCain victory won’t feed the masses and it won’t be seen as a miracle. Since magic is equated with a sleight of hand, I suspect history would record a McCain victory as the efficient execution of one exceedingly cynical, but equally slick, illusion.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

If this election turns out to be about religious ideology…while ignoring the real implications of electing a candidate who supports the same policies of the president who created the troubled economy we’re now enduring…it may well be appropriate to call this “The Loaves and Fishes Election”…although I doubt either will be abundant…and they most certainly wont be free.

Troubling as it is, a number of voters seem poised to place matters of morality in front of their own economic self-interest. What remains to be seen is the depths to which voters are willing to sacrifice their pocket books in deference to the religious rhetoric being bantered about by the GOP.

Perhaps the news of the decision by the government to take over the troubled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will provide the impetus for voters to think twice before granting the GOP another four year…on top of the eight during which the national debt nearly doubled and personal income failed to advance.

Let me attempt to make this simple. Under the Bush administration, huge tax cuts were enacted…primarily for the wealthiest of Americans. At the same time, mortgage interest rates were kept artificially low. That allowed for a housing bubble which enabled millions of Americans to borrow and spend newfound equity. It also allowed for those with capital (think those who received the tax cuts) to invest in and profit from the financial market.

Jump forward to the end of 2008. The Bush administration and John McCain favor extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans…arguing that we can’t raise taxes in a down economy. The problem with that logic is that the tax cuts helped facilitate the shoddy economy we have. It also allowed the rich to get richer and it allowed millions of Americans to borrow what they thought was an expanading equity in their homes. That ability to access equity served as the candy coating on an otherwise unsound economy.

However, as they say, it’s now time to pay the piper. So what does this mean for the average American? Well, it means that millions of Americans will see their home values decline, their debt increase, their access to better jobs diminish, and ownership of an expanding national debt that will have to be addressed.

And what does this mean for the wealthiest Americans under John McCain’s more of the same administration? It means that they will have benefited from years of a reduced tax burden. It means they were able to invest this and other money in a finance industry that was fueled by artificially low interest rates…w

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Food Stamps for US, Let World Eat Cake

With the world economic downturn upon us, hunger is speading like a plague, to El Paso, to San Diego, to our entire nation. Indeed, to the world, and the Bush Administration voted against a UN resolution supporting food as a basic human right. They deny responsibility for the economic mess, and then tell the world to go eat cake.


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

With the economy worsening, it appears the number of Americans qualifying for and taking advantage of the WIC (food stamp) program is increasing. Yes, more and more people in the United States are at the risk of going hungry, and it’s on Bush’s watch (no matter how he protests, Bush must take SOME responsibility for the economic collapse). In San Diego, a city proud of its record of having a relatively small number of citizens taking advantage of WIC, the applications for the program are skyrocketing. Same in El Paso and across the country the applications for the WIC program are skyrocketing. The Nation’s food banks are recording record numbers of people lining up for assistance in getting the basics to sustain life, food. The Bush response?

Well, the first Bush response is to attack anyone who tries to lay the blame for the economic downturn on them. Let’s all remember that Republicans don’t take responsibility for any of their errors. Yesterday the Bushies slammed the New York Times for an article linking their policies to the downturn in the mortgage markets. The scoop from Rawstory:

Citing his declaration earlier this year that America was merely suffering from a “rough patch” and his complete avoidance of the word “recession” until earlier this month, the article said such “dismissive” policies are directly linked to the downward spiral of the economy.

“When the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn … The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis.”

If that doesn’t sound like an example of fiddling while Rome burns I don’t know what does. It is an example of more than Bush Administration incompetence, though. But is it merely an example of a callous attitude towards the American citizens hard hit by the Bush economic crisis? Terrence Heath at Billerico, at least, argues that the goal of the Republicans is to drive down the asperations of the middle class. I’m not inclined to protest too much, especially when we note the UN resolution concerning the right to food by the citizens of the world. It was overwhelmingly passed, with just four dissenting votes, from the Bush Administration, and three of its sure votes, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Ukraine.

Ugly. The Bush Administration can’t take responsibility for engineering an economic crisis that has plunged millions across the world into poverty and hunger, and it even comes out against a philosophical statement in the United Nations to declare that food is a basic right of people. In the waning days of this most incompetent of administrations, they are showing venality of an order we have rarely seen in history.

There is hope, I suppose. The Obama Administration has announced that Joe Biden will be using his clout to focus on the plight of the working stiffs in the middle class. I’m not so optimistic that such a project will pay benefits in the near future, but this sure is action that wouldn’t even show up on the bush Administration radar, so you’ve got to give Obama credit for that.

Hey, there’s a lot of work to do for Obama to counteract the appallingly immoral and incompetent policies of the Bush Administration. The problem of hunger is just one of the areas that needs to be addressed. Here I sit this morning, privileged as can be. I returned yesterday from a cruise in the Caribbean. The poverty of such islands as Dominica and Grenada took my breath away, but at least those people have fertile soil with which to support themselves. Sure, I saw three legged dogs and children begging, but observation told me they had food, if not a nintendo. The world is different. The entire world depends on the economic structure of our society to acquire food. And the Bush Administration told the entire world to go eat cake.

It is hard to figure how Republicans can overcome such callous disregard for others and still claim their mantle of the Christian party. Are evangelical Christians so stupid?

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Execs Get Golden Parachute; Taxpayers Get Golden Shower?

The Bush administration is carrying the water for Wall Street executives with regards to their greed for more unchecked compensation. Voters need to let their elected officials know that they are unwilling to take another golden shower in order to enable more golden parachutes.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

The more I see and hear about the bail out of Wall Street, the more I oppose it. Here’s the issue. Taxpayers are being asked to ante up for the good of the nation…and to do so with minimal information and even fewer details. At the same time, the White House is suggesting that any limitation on executive compensation may lead companies to decline participation in the program. I’m calling B.S. on this one.

From The Washington Post:

After 7 1/2 years of drift, President Bush has finally returned to his compassionate conservative roots with a heartfelt plea to Congress to help a needy and deserving group: those Wall Street CEOs who, for all their hard work, have been unable to lift themselves up by their wingtips.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (R-Goldman Sachs) made the rounds of the talk shows on Sunday, pleading for financial executives to be allowed to keep their multimillion-dollar compensation packages even if their companies need to be rescued by the $700 billion federal bailout.

“If we design it so it’s punitive and so institutions aren’t going to participate, this won’t work the way we need it to work,” Paulson, whose net worth is said to be north of $600 million, told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

“To have this program work, we don’t want to make it punitive and make it difficult,” Paulson advised George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

It was a message of mercy and humanity – who, after all, would be so cruel to deny executives their eight-figure bonuses merely because they drove their companies into insolvency? – and administration officials and Republican lawmakers joined the cause of the unappreciated CEOs.

Give me a frickin’ break…just how stupid does the Bush administration think we are. Further, if this isn’t a ploy to manipulate voters, just how damn stupid is the Bush administration? Let’s look at the logic.

First, if we assume that Wall Street is perilously close to collapse, then they need our help, right? Second, if they aren’t willing to accept our demands for fair executive compensation, we have every right to deny them our help. Thirdly, if they have the ability to forego our help in favor of their huge compensation packages, then they aren’t in that bad of shape, right? Fourth, if these companies can put their self-serving interests first, why in the hell should voters forego theirs in order to bail them out. Fifth, if the Bush administration can’t reach these same logical conclusions, then they have no business managing a lemonade stand…let alone the largest bail out in U.S. history.

Honestly, it’s time for voters to call the bluff of the administration that drug us into this mess. If we’re going to get screwed, let’s get screwed on our own terms. There is no plausible rationale to grant unlimited authority to the very people who pushed us into the financial abyss. Beyond that, there is absolutely no justification to take an unwanted screwing, write a huge check for it, and thank the Bush administration for putting it to us.

Truth be told, we have no assurances that this bail out will work. For two years, the Bush administration has told us the economy is sound and that we aren’t in a recession. Two weeks ago they assured us that the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seizure was the answer to our problems. In short order, they bail out AIG after telling us the bail outs were over and these companies needed to seek their own solutions. Days later we’re told the sky is falling and we need to bend over.

No way…no how…I’m happy to let it burn to the ground before we give Wall Street a free pass. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers. If they want more of our money, it’s on our terms or to hell with them. Let’s see who blinks first.

ONE ADDITIONAL POINT:

We’re hearing a number of insiders suggest that homeowners bear some responsibility for this predicament. The argument contends that too many of us bit off more than we could chew. OK, I’ll accept that there’s some truth to that contention…but it isn’t the whole story. The whole story needs to consider the fact that the average American has spent the last seven years working harder and producing more…for less money.

The fact of the matter is that millions of Americans gambled on the historical data that home prices will rise. When they did, many of them did so because they needed money and the only means available to obtain it was to borrow against the equity they thought they had in their homes.

Yes, that may have been shortsighted and imprudent…but so too is it detestable that our elected officials failed to be good stewards of the economy. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans didn’t trickle down…and the few jobs that were created weren’t enough and they weren’t higher paying jobs. Instead, far too much of the Bush tax package was invested in high risk financial gimmicks designed to create easy profits.

If we’re going to assess blame, then let’s not forget where the bulk of it belongs. It belongs squarely on the backs of those who have promoted a morally bankrupt economic philosophy that concentrates wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the hard work of the many.

There’s one additional saying that applies to the current situation of our greedy cash chasing countrymen…”bet –em high and sleep in the streets”. All that’s left to be said to our Wall Street friends is, “Welcome to Main Street…and don’t forget to bring some cardboard boxes and a warm blanket”.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

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 |

Financial Meltdown: Math & The Myth Of Fiscal Responsibility

As we steel ourselves for the bail out of a failing financial system, it’s time to review the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. For nearly three decades, the GOP has succeeded in hanging the “tax and spend” label on the Democrats. Accepting that premise has likely enabled this painful fleecing.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

While the details haven’t been disclosed, it appears that the powers that be are considering a plan to bail out Wall Street…in a big way…on the backs of the American taxpayer. Troubling as this sounds, it may be the only viable solution. Regardless of the eventual solution, one thing is clear, the losses will be large.

I want to focus on an analysis of the aftermath and the philosophy that led us to this point. I want to do so because I lived through the Savings & Loan scandal and I’ve been convinced for more than two years that the housing bubble, the artificially low interest rates, the lack of proper oversight, and the associated paper “equity” borrowing it fueled would lead to this type of meltdown.

Having established this backdrop, I want to make the case for driving a stake through the heart of trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the meme that the “tax and spend” Democrats are fiscally irresponsible.

Here’s the deal. The existence of large sums of money in the U.S. economy is a given…it has always been there and it will likely continue to be there (though eight years of GOP malfeasance will make digging out from under the enormous debt a formidable obstacle). With that said, we must begin to consider politics and the inevitable debate about what we will do with the money.

By and large, the party that succeeds in holding power and driving public sentiment gets to decide where the money goes. Without a doubt, the GOP has won this battle for the better part of the last thirty years. In doing so, they have succeeded in attaching the “tax and spend” label to the Democrats…driven primarily by highlighting the Democrats desire to fund and insure existing safety net programs (Social security, Medicare, Welfare, and Unemployment benefits…as well as expand others (Healthcare).

At the same time, the GOP has chosen to foster an economic structure that is weighted towards large corporations and the wealthy. Part and parcel of this approach has been the undermining of labor unions, the refusal to increase minimum wages, the willingness to ignore the huge number of uninsured, allowing the influx of illegals to provide cheap labor, and a willingness to accept the growing divide between the haves and the have nots.

So let’s step back for a moment to the S & L scandal (the late 80′s, early 90′s)…the last instance when profits were privatized and losses were socialized. Rampant real estate speculation and a lack of regulation of the financial industry made a number of investors very wealthy while saddling taxpayers with approximately 123 billion dollars of debt. As an aside, it should be noted that numerous investors were building commercial properties and apartments with no intention of ever managing them…they were simply milking the unregulated financial system.

Now let’s take a look at the GOP’s objections to any form of universal healthcare put forth by the Democrats. The argument suggests that it would cost anywhere from 60 to 100 billion dollars annually. At the same time, it must be noted that the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 have been projected to cost 2.5 trillion dollars over ten years…and we’re also spending approximately 120 billion dollars annually on the war in Iraq. As to the costs of the current Wall Street bail out, it’s difficult to determine the damages. For the sake of this argument, I’m going to estimate that the final tally will approach a trillion dollars.

Now lets calculate the total dollars these items represent. If we assume that only half of the tax cuts were unwarranted (they went to the very wealthy), we have 1.25 trillion. Let’s add in 600 billion for five years of the Iraq war (we’re being conservative). That leaves the 120 billion lost on the S & L scandal and the trillion dollars we’re assuming will be lost on the Wall Street meltdown. Taken together, this totals just under three trillion dollars.

OK, now lets see how many years have passed since the S & L scandal. We’ll use 1985 as our start date (again we’re being conservative), which equates with 23 years. For this exercise, we’ll go ahead and round that to 25 years.

If we take our 25 years and assume it would have cost 100 billion dollars per year to fund universal healthcare, that brings us to a total of 2.5 trillion dollars. Note that the use of 100 billion per year is also an extremely conservative number as it would have been far cheaper to provide in the earlier years.

As you can see by a simple review of the numbers, we had enough money to fund universal healthcare for the last 25 years…with nearly a half trillion dollars to spare. Unfortunately, we didn’t have universal healthcare. Instead, those of us that have had healthcare insurance, paid for it for 25 years…and we also received a meager tax cut for the last seven years. If you look at the total dollars the average family received in tax cuts for these seven years, I suspect one would be lucky if it would have paid for three or four years of healthcare insurance (we’re completely ignoring the deductibles and copayments).

So if we look at the rhetoric of the GOP for the last 25 years, they want us to believe that any consideration of universal healthcare would have been irresponsible. They’ve repeatedly told us that the Democrats would raise taxes and spend money we didn’t have…on programs we couldn’t possibly afford.

However, if we look at the numbers above, the only thing we received for supporting this philosophy for managing our government’s finances (our money), was minimal tax cuts…promised nearly every election cycle (surprise, surprise?). At the same time, those in charge squandered three trillion dollars of our money on tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, an unwarranted war, and two episodes of enabling unregulated and painful financial disasters.

In the end, you can slice it any way you like…but you can’t disregard the fact that the money was there to provide universal health care…or any number of other programs designed to benefit all Americans. In the interest of being fair, all of the blame can’t be placed on the GOP, since the Democrats went along with many of these ill-advised expenditures…or the policies that enabled them.

Regardless, it’s also true that the Democrats frequently did so because voter sentiment demanded it. In other words, voters bought into the rhetoric that the GOP would let us keep more of our money and the Democrats would undoubtedly take more of it away from us. Since we know that all politicians cater to the whims of voters in the hopes of winning elections, it’s no wonder the Democrats have acquiesced and appeared amazingly weak. They’ve been on the wrong side of the argument and they’ve failed to convince voters otherwise.

That brings us to where we now stand. If we voters fail to recognize what has happened in the last 25 years as a result of enabling the rhetoric and the policies of the GOP, we do so at our own peril. It’s time for us to demand that our money be spent on programs that serve the greater good; not the ones that line the pockets of the greedy and the wealthy. The money is there…it has always been there…it’s time we elect politicians that have the interests of all Americans at heart…politicians who will be honest stewards and spend our money wisely.

If we don’t, let me be the first to predict the next financial scandal. Unless we choose a different course, it will invariably happen as soon our memory of the last one fades and we resume our role as gullible voters who settle for false promises and paltry tax cuts. Rest assured, once the coast is clear, the greedy will gladly step in and bust the bank again…while their bullshitting benefactors turn a blind eye.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Friday, September 19th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Generational Wedge Issues and the U.S. Fiscal Crisis: Up Yours, Baby Boomers

Goodness Gracious of apathy I sing
The baby boomers had it all and wasted everything
Now recess is almost over
and they won’t get off the swing…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Up YoursI’ve been out of the loop for the past few days, and yesterday evening I wanted to catch up on the chatter in the progressive blogosphere. But as I hit a few of the blogs that I visit on a regular basis, it wasn’t the election chatter that caught my eye. My attention was consumed by a new advertisement that’s been rolled out on some A-list blogs (see the screen capture to the left). The creative aspect of the ad hit me with the force of a ton of bricks:

Up Yours, Baby Boomers

My initial reaction, as a card carrying member of the baby boomer generation? “Whoa. You talkin’ to me, buddy? You got somethin’ to say? Let’s take it outside and discuss. I might be on the shorter side in stature, and getting a bit long in the tooth, but I think I can hold my own in a smackdown. So, why you dissin’ me, baby? WYFP? Ready to go?

Why did I get my ass up in the air? Because in my view, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation advertisement sets up a very pressing national problem as a generational wedge issue…

(more…)

Friday, June 27th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Does It Get Any Worse? 57,000 Lbs. of Chicken Stolen from Food Bank

I’ve heard of hot TV’s “falling off of the back of trucks”, but never frozen chickens. Over this past weekend, someone stole 57,000 lbs of frozen chicken (and two tractor trailer rigs) from the Food Bank of Delaware. Does it get any lower than that?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

In one of my previous life incarnations, I managed the logistics operations at an inner city food bank. I’ve written about hunger issues on ASZ many, many times, and yes, it’s personal to me. So when this story came to my attention (from a former associate), it bothered me on a whole lot of levels, because I frequently dealt with the food bank that’s involved in the story…

(more…)

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Are Those Opposed To GI Bill In Favor Of Stealth Conscription?

George Bush and John McCain oppose the expanded benefits in the GI Bill passed by the Senate yesterday. They believe it might entice service members to leave the military. Limiting benefits because they provide alternatives to military service is stealth conscription.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

The passage of Senator Jim Webb’s expansion of the GI Bill to provide expanded educational benefits highlights a topic most don’t want to discuss. Since abolishing the draft and making service in the military voluntary, critics have argued that an inordinate number of the ranks are filled by those who lack other opportunities…including the ability to afford a college education. In other words, they contend that the election to join the military can often be a de facto economic decision.

When critics, like New York Representative Charlie Rangel, raise concerns that an inordinate number of new enlistments come from lower income families, those opposed to reinstating the draft accuse them of insulting our service people. Essentially, they contend the criticism impugns the patriotism of those who have volunteered to serve their country. If that deflection fails, they have also argued that the criticism insults the intelligence of military personnel by suggesting that those who serve in the military are uneducated.

That brings us back to the Senate’s passage of the Webb bill. One of the redeeming benefits of the passage of time is that is frequently shines a bright light on hyperbole and hypocrisy. In what can only be seen as a reversal of logic, some of those who rejected the assertions of men like Charlie Rangel are now opposed to expanding the benefits provided by the GI Bill. Yes, they are now arguing that those expanded benefits might entice some service members to exit the military in order to take advantage of the educational benefits. In other words, given other and better opportunities, some members of the military might not want to continue serving.

Let me be clear. The patriotism of those who enlist has never been the issue and it wasn’t for those who criticized the all volunteer army. Those who contended that it attracted individuals who lacked other opportunities always believed in the patriotism of those who enlisted…just as they will continue to believe in it should some service members elect to leave the military in order to utilize their expanded educational benefits.

Those who aligned with George Bush and John McCain in opposing this bill have simply exposed their inclination to make military service a matter of necessity. Voting to deny service members the same level of educational benefits that existed when the GI Bill was first passed is evidence that they recognize the differences between conscripted service and volunteer service. Why else would they not support a bill that would give volunteer service members the same benefits that were afforded to conscripted ones?

Truth be told, those opposed to this bill don’t want to provide a plausible alternative to military service because they know that the decision to enlist is, in fact, often a decision of economic necessity because there is a lack of other opportunities for those whose families lack the means to send them to college.

Look, I don’t object to the government using carrots to entice enlistment. The military can be the means to advance one’s education that might not otherwise be possible. Regardless, choosing to deny former service members access to benefits that will reward their patriotism and service is a far more egregious act than to question the inequity of an all volunteer military.

So what is the message given by those who would deny these benefits? Well it clearly states that they favor a system that facilitates the enlistment of the economically disadvantaged and they certainly don’t want to do anything that might take away the leverage that it provides. In other words, it tells our enlisted persons that we’re happy to have them defend their country’s commitment to freedom but we’re opposed to providing them the opportunities that would grant them the opportunity to exercise that freedom.

While I’m not in favor of a draft, I am in favor of an honest discussion on the shortcomings of the existing all volunteer system. It seems entirely hypocritical for those who have attempted to ignore the contention that economic motivations may lead to the population of our military to now be speaking out against providing the very opportunities and alternatives that their adversaries have long suggested were lacking.

When Charlie Rangel suggests that a draft would make members of Congress think twice about sending American soldiers into harms way if they knew their own sons and daughters might have to serve, he’s simply pointing out the same hypocrisy. In the end, if our volunteer military results from the fact that some individual’s lack or are denied reasonable alternatives, then it is, in essence, a form of conscription.

If I didn’t know better, I might conclude that those opposed to the expansion of the GI Bill are not only in favor of stealth conscription; they may actually be endorsing de facto enslavement…with pay…of course.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 |

BushCo Plans for Iran? And Bonus Wiretapping Info…

Two stories are creating a lot of chatter today: an unidentified senior Bush administration official allegedly told a senior Israeli official that BushCo will be going after Iran before their term ends, plus, is there more to the illegal wiretapping story than meets the eye? Or is this simply a “buy” opportunity for Halliburton stock?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

So much to consider, so little time today.

First up: The Jerusalem Post reports today on an Israeli Army radio claim that one of the Bush administration’s higher-up henchmen informed an Israeli official in a closed door meeting that Bush and Cheney are champing at the bit to go after Iran prior to the end of their term in office. Who would the senior BushCo henchman be? Hadley? (That’s my guess.) Of course, the White House today is trying to downplay such speculation. Attaturk has more on at Firedoglake. Think this is all tinfoil hattery? Allow me to point you to an earlier post of mine.

Next up: Both Digby and Emptywheel take on a Radar Online report that there’s much more to the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program than meets the eye. As you follow the links above, recall that Halliburton was contracted by DHS in 2006 to build detention camps in the U.S. Here’s how Marketwatch characterized the camp construction at the time the contract was awarded:

The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to expand existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs, KBR said. The contract may also provide migrant detention support to other government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency… [emphasis mine]

Feel safer yet? And please, someone tell me once again why impeachment is off the table?

Goddammit, someone (who matters) please connect the dots…please…I know I’m just a blogosphere dilettante and my opinion is laughable…but there’s something happening here…what it is ain’t exactly clear…

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Sometimes When You Get Too Close, You Get Too Far

2008 will be a historical election…but whether it will be a transformative one remains to be seen. Transformation likely means different things to different generations. Fulfilling the hopes and dreams of some of us can be seen as a threat to the rest of us. Perhaps the lessons learned in 2008 will bring all of us closer to where we belong.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

“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.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Monday, February 11th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |
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