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 |

McCain-Palin: The Perils Of Promoting The Past As Prologue?

John McCain’s decision to attach the imagery of Bill Ayers to Barack Obama is reckless. By casting this election as a continuation of the ideological conflict that characterized the unrest during the era of the Weathermen, John McCain may well be fomenting the reemergence of radicalism.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

It seems to me that a significant question will emerge in the aftermath of the 2008 election. The crux of that question has been framed by the inflammatory rhetoric of the McCain-Palin campaign in recent days. In its effort to sway voters and win this election, the McCain campaign has chosen to ignite animosities that will undoubtedly linger beyond November 4th…animosities that have the potential to unleash the very kind of violence that typified the groups and individuals the McCain campaign has attempted to link with Barack Obama.

At the core of the conflicts that marred the sixties and

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Daniel DiRito |

Opening The Files: 10/13/07

Things are heating up for both sides in the Get Gore campaign.


Commentary By: The Xsociate

An Assault on Nobel Reason

Depending on ones political slant, yesterday you were either suffering from Goremania or Gore-aphobia with the news that Al Gore had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Righties immediately sought to downplay the significance of the award. They were joined by the always obliging Fox News who, though a little slow on the uptake, were soon smearing in style.

With this cap to a year of awards, naturally the topic soon turned to the heated speculation (pun intended) of whether Al would seek out the most coveted prize of all: the Presidency. It’s not all that surprising that in the wake of this award, the thirst for a Gore candidacy would only become more parched. After all, it is but another example of how were it not for the decision of nine Supreme Court justices seven years ago to award Bush the presidency, we may not find ourselves in such dire straits regarding a multitude of problems facing humanity.

In light of that, it’s not surprising there are those pondering what might have been.

Noam Scheiber wonders what effect all the gaga over Gore is having on Bush. Al probably shouldn’t wait up for that congratulatory call.

Gotta love Fox News’ suggestion about who should have been awarded a “peace” prize. Then again, “peace” has been a pretty relative term with them for a while. Hunter, meanwhile, has some other suggestions.

Bob Franken ponders what a head to head with fellow Tennessean Fred Thompson would look like should Al run. For Fred’s stake, lets hope it doesn’t come down to giving short, concise answers.

And some wonder what Gore’s advocacy of confronting climate change has to go with a world peace. My bloghost at ASZ Richard Blair connects the dots for us.

(X-posted at The Xsociate Files)

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by The Xsociate |

GOP Intellectual Center: Goldwater, McCarthy, Reagan, Elmer Gantry?

Neal Gabler points out that today’s Republicans are more like Joe McCarthy than Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. Alas, such comparisons are becoming as trite as that comparison Godwin’s Law describes. Let’s forumulate another analogy. Is Elmer Gantry too trite to use? Paradise Lost? How about D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation?


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Neal Gabler has a nice column in yesterday’s LA Times where he ponders the notion of the Republican intellectual center. He’s following avidly, as we all are, the infighting among the GOPers as they fight to remake themselves. Will the GOP follow the extremist social conservatives, or will they hearken back to a philosophy from an earlier time, to Reagan, or Goldwater? Gabler’s thesis is that there is not intellectual center for the Republican Party, that all they’ve got left are angry and ugly talking heads like Hannity and Limbaugh, and that, as such, what plays for an “intellectual enter” for the Republicans is more like the McCarthy of the HUAC era. Here’s a bit from that LA Times article:

McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.

Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That’s why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama’s relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.

And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Palin. It’s in the genes.

I’m not here to say Neal Gabler is wrong, as there seem to be many McCarthyite tendencies among the Republicans nowadays, but it seems to me that he doesn’t fully describe this intellectual vacuum of the Republicans. Changing a vision of Republican lineage from Goldwater to Joe McCarthy seems too obvious to me. Surely such a move might have rigor, but it seems almost a Godwin-like move. Or maybe I should say that he adequately doesn’t cover the contradictory elements of Republican strategies. Isn’t Elmer Gantry a more apt metaphor, bringing together as it does the notions of deceit, religion, and collective anger? Of course, Elmer Gantry is a bit of an allegory about Mr. McCarthy, is it not?

It’s a nice little intellectual exercise. What best represents the Republican intellectual center? It’s just too easy to imagine that center to be My Pet Goat, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or even the Bible. I suppose Paradise Lost, with the Devil as the tragic hero, might be a nice work by which to describe the Republican intellectual center. Even then, though, such a highly moral text doesn’t seem to me to have the kind of irony necessary to describing Republicans in their present state of sin. But one look at a guy who supposedly represents the intellectual wing of the GOP, William Kristol, nails this question, I think. Here’s Kristol giving Bush advice, from next week’s Weekly Standard:

In addition, Bush can explain to Americans just how his administration’s detention, interrogation, surveillance, and other counterterrorism policies have helped keep us safe. If he lays out the case for them publicly–as his appointees are surely doing to their transition counterparts privately–he’ll make it easier for the incoming Obama administration to back off rash promises and continue most of the policies. This would be a real service to the country. It would also force a rethinking, by those capable of rethinking, of the cheap and easy demagoguing on issues like Guant–namo and eavesdropping. Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.

As it happens, a Rasmussen Reports survey last week found about half of U.S. voters say the United States should not close the terrorist detention facility at Guant–namo, while less than a third think it should. So, on this and other war-on-terror-related issues, Bush’s positions are reasonably popular–even though the Bush administration has done very little to make its case. Attorney General Michael Mukasey did a good job of laying out the argument for the administration’s conduct of the war on terror in remarks to the Federalist Society a little over a week ago. Bush should take up this cause.

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

OK, maybe this extended quote represents just what Gabler meant with the McCarthy metaphor. Kristol is talking the straight Bush line on terror, cherry picking polls when they support him, and calling for a hard line backed by the kind of jingoistic rhetoric that might make McCarthy proud. Kristol goes so much further, though. The man wants to give the Medal of Freedom to people who tortured prisoners, who kept some innocent prisoners at Gitmo for years? No, this is far more Orwell than McCarthy. This is just bizarre, and more bizarre still is that someone like William Kristol has a job writing this drivel.

Monday, December 1st, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Buh-Bye Lipsticked Pit Bull – Caribou Barbie Gets A 150K Makeover?

Well, well…it looks like it’s the McCain-Palin campaign that has “champaign wishes and caviar dreams”. While the right wing pundits have been pushing a false story on Michelle Obama’s supposed elitist tastes, it looks like Caribou Barbie has been the beneficiary of a 150K makeover.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Oh how I love irony! My frenzied friends on the right have done their damnedest to portray the Obama’s as snooty elitists…despite the fact that it’s the McCain’s who own seven homes, thirteen automobiles, and a virtual department store of haute couture for Cindy to show off on the campaign trail.

None of this should come as a surprise since the GOP has spent the last three decades pretending to care about the interests of the common man. With the emergence of the maverick McCain-Palin reformers ticket, that persona has been put on steroids…championing the likes of Joe Six-Pack, Joe The Plumber, and Tito The Construction Worker.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to play a caribou killin’ moose burger eating mom, with a doggone down home dialect, when one is dressed up in 150K of name brand clothing purchased with campaign funds. It’s especially problematic when just days earlier your rabid right ring rottweiler’s are pushing a story about Michelle Obama partaking of a delectable dinner fit for an airing on an episode of Robin Leach’s “champaign wishes and caviar dreams” Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

So here’s the problem…it turns out the Michelle Obama story was false…shooting a huge hole in the efforts to paint her as none other than an angry and arrogant African American manifestation of Mommy Dearest meets Leona Helmsley.

From The New York Post:

The source who told us last week about Michelle Obama getting lobster and caviar delivered to her room at the Waldorf-Astoria must have been under the influence of a mind-altering drug. She was not even staying at the Waldorf. We regret the mistake, and our former source is going to regret it, too. Bread and water would be too good for such disinformation.

Now cue the creation of Caribou-Barbie-wears-Christian-Lacroix (yea, that’s close enough for Vic the Voter to draw a connection to hockey’s Pierre Lacroix, right?) and you begin to see the sweet irony that comes with exposing those whose expertise is found in concocting ill-conceived illusions.

From Politico:

The Republican National Committee appears to have spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August.

Politico asked the McCain campaign for comment, explicitly noting the $150,000 in expenses for department store shopping and makeup consultation that were incurred immediately after Palin’s announcement. Pre-September reports do not include similar costs.

Spokeswoman Maria Comella declined to answer specific questions about the expenditures, including whether it was necessary to spend that much and whether it amounted to one early investment in Palin or if shopping for the vice presidential nominee was ongoing.

Think about it…when Sarah Palin asked us to imagine the difference between a hockey mom and a Pit Bull, we foolishly believed it was limited to lipstick. Well, we now know it includes skirts and suits, handbags and high heels, dresses and designer wear, and anything else one can buy on a paltry allowance of 150K.

Not to worry though, John McCain and Sarah Palin plan to share the pie with the two Joe’s and Tito and Vic…that’s what Republicans do when they cut taxes for all of Robin Leach’s BFF’s. A word of caution to the wise though…you better stay alert…I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a few of the crumbs when they fall off the table.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

The Evolution Of Elections – Intelligent Design Debunked

It seems to me that fear plays an integral role in politics. I suspect there is a connection between the fear of death (terror management), the rejection of evolution, a predisposition to create fact from fiction when faced with frightening situations…and a convergence of all three in politics.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

As we move closer to the election, I’ve witnessed a phenomena that has only recently begun to make sense to me (by the fact that it doesn’t make sense). First, I have to hand it to my Republican friends…their tenacity in creating tangible talking points out of thin air is unmatched.

Let me provide an example before I attempt to draw the connection between the manner in which they analyze and strategize elections and the predisposition of some Christians to promote intelligent design over evolution.

Over at the National Review, flummoxed politicos are desperate to craft a salient narrative to leverage John McCain back into a position to win the election. What they fail to realize is that their lurching from one idea to the next is simply supporting the Obama mantra that John McCain and the GOP are erratic. Take a look at the following.

From Jonah Goldberg (Part One):

I have no idea whatsoever if there’s merit to this, and if there is how much merit, but lots of email like this:

When are people going to start talking about the REAL reason the markets are down – Obama up in polls. If I was McCain, I’d start telling people, “If you want to lose more money, vote Obama.”

From Jonah Goldberg (Part Two):

Now, it’s far more likely that the causation and correlation suggested by some readers is backward: the markets tank for non-political reasons and Obama does well as a result, rather than Obama does well and then the markets tank. Still, I think Pethokoukis’ point that Obama’s success may make investors more pessimistic about the future has some plausibility to it.

Finally, it sounds like this reader has it right (and I should correct a bunch of emailers who seem to think I was suggesting McCain blame Obama for the crashing markets, which I think would be ludicrous).

Jonah,

The suggestion that markets are down because of Obama’s rising in the polls shows a preposterous misunderstanding of economics, and McCain will be (rightly) pilloried if he tries to make that claim. I have no doubt Obama will be an utter disaster for business and economic growth/recovery in this country, but the markets are reacting to fact that unemployment is way up (and climbing), manufacturing numbers are way down, housing prices are still falling, credit has seized up, overnight funding is near impossible to acquire at anything but prohibitive cost, there continue to be real questions as to the solvency of financial institutions and their nightmarish balance sheets, etc. Just about every piece of data that comes back these days is negative, with the exception of falling commodity prices and a strengthening dollar, as Kudlow correctly mentioned last week. Companies growth prospects in this kind of environment are bleak at best, and the markets are reacting in kind. In addition, the ban on short selling of financials rolled off today, so some of the downward pressure that had built up over the past week released itself today.

We’ll reach a bottom of the market eventually, however–and I mean no disrespect to the previous e-mailer you quoted below–it’s na–¯ve to suggest the continued hammering we’re all taking has anything material to do with the political zeitgeist.

OK, to argue that the ascension of Obama in the polls is responsible for our crashing financial system requires the suspension of reality. Now in fairness, I have to note that Jonah, in his second posting, dismisses the notion offered by the emailer in his prior posting. At the same time, this has seemingly become standard operating procedure for my friends on the right. Again, there’s no fault in testing trial balloons; though there is folly in releasing the ones that don’t merit a moments consideration. Doing so gives them an air of legitimacy that fosters more of the same.

Here’s the problem…all too often GOP operatives establish an outcome (the preferred fact or belief) and then they create a hypothesis to support it. Clearly this isn’t out of the ordinary with regards to scientific study. Virtually every hypothesis has at its origin some level of belief that it may be true, which leads to its testing. The problem with many on the right is that their bias and partiality leads them to corrupt the construct in order to rig the results. In other words, the scientific method is an acceptable construct when it yields the preferred result. Should it refute the optimal outcome, the kitchen sink must be tossed at it in order to discredit it.

That brings me to the connections between those who oppose the theory of evolution in favor of creationism or its most recent stepchild, intelligent design, and those who would put forth an intellectually dishonest explanation to further their political objectives.

Let me be clear, it’s a free country and we’re all entitled to attempt to influence others with whatever arguments we choose to employ. The problems arise when the credible and convincing means to measure the validity of a theory are cast aside in deference to ideological intransigence. You see, when an individual can dissect the Bible into those portions they accept and those segments they set aside…all the while maintaining the infallibility of the process and the indisputable nature of the conclusion…fiction has been elevated to a level commensurate with fact.

Even worse, there is no rational or reasonable means to compel these believers to abandon their arbitrary assertions in favor of a fact driven formula. Once this rejection of reasonability is rejected relative to religion, the distance to its dissolution with regards to other disciplines is easily abridged. In the field of politics, once dogma is allowed to dethrone dutiful deduction, extremism is enabled.

Hence, the efforts to assign arbitrary attributes to Barack Obama is the epitome of embracing this elusive equation. Not only does this promote discord, it precludes its resolution. Before it can be corrected, the quintessential question must focus upon uncovering the underlying motivations.

As I watch John McCain and his minions grapple with the prospect of defeat…and the fear that imparts…it supports my suspicion that terror management is at the core of our conundrum. Terror management posits that we humans are prone to obsessing upon the fear of our mortality and acting to diminish it.

As such, religion and the promise of an afterlife is a strategy to assuage the anxiety. Those predisposed to acting from fear are therefore susceptible to strategies that allow irrational ideations to override objective analysis. When confronted with fearful events, the instinctual reaction is to resort to the suspension of reason in order to construct a place of comfort.

Unfortunately, this behavior has an “imprinting” quality such that it is self-reinforcing the longer it persists. In the political realm, it is manifested in a refusal to allow or applaud alternate avenues of governance. The Clinton presidency is an excellent example. There is little doubt that his tenure was a period of relative peace and prosperity…and yet many on the right refuse to recognize as much. These individuals often argue that the time a president is seated in office isn’t the essential measure of his merit…or they prioritize other considerations…such as morality in the case of Clinton.

Here’s the problem. This approach isn’t applied consistently. Ronald Reagan receives credit for his time in office as well as for a number of ensuing years. Questions of morality, such as his having been married twice and his silence on the AIDS epidemic, are ignored. Shades of gray are danger zones and the pursuit of black and white…regardless of either’s availability…is the ultimate safe haven from which to view the world. With the passage of time, the GOP and its pliable and therefore palatable propaganda becomes the only amenable world view…facts be damned.

Doubt is equated with death and it must, therefore, be banished. Science, though seemingly certain, is still too slow in providing a palatable domicile from which to proceed. To embrace it is to risk the possibility that one’s earthly existence could end before it can afford acceptable answers to free one from fear. A retreat to the malleability of irrational ideations is the only avenue by which one can construct an illusory and idyllic island, insulated from the unmovable manifestation of mortality.

Death is certain; political suicide is optional. Come into the light my GOP friends…I promise it won’t kill you. Besides, you’ll still have heaven as a backup, right?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, October 9th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Donna Brazile & Sarah Palin: The Truth Is Black & White

The McCain campaign’s use of inflammatory innuendo is an affront to American decency and a detestable example of cynical contrivance. The following videos highlight the hypocrisy of Sarah Palin as well as the promise of rejecting her rancid racial rhetoric and McCain’s reckless candidacy.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

It’s easy to get lost in the rampant rhetoric of elections. All too often we forget what the stakes are and just how important it is to vote. We do so at our own peril. The following two videos serve to illuminate the bright line between rhetoric and reality.

In the first video, we garner some insight into the extent of Palin’s hypocrisy and her willingness to ride the political fence for advantage. While Sarah Palin is busy traveling the country attempting to portray Barack Obama’s brief association with former Weatherman, Bill Ayers, as the reason to reject his election, she completely ignores her own suspect affiliations.

She wants us to believe that Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer because he sat in the same room with Bill Ayers and served on an education committee with him. At the same time, she completely ignores her endorsement of a man and an organization that is actively seeking the secession of the state of Alaska from the United States…a man whose hatred for his country is every bit as inflammatory as the words of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Now take a look at the second video and listen to the impassioned remarks of Donna Brazile as she elucidates the essence of this election absent hateful hyperbole. If Brazile’s utter honesty doesn’t move you, you might want to start looking for your misplaced soul. If you don’t know where to look or can’t be bothered, I know an abrasive Alaskan governor you might want to pal around with.

If you want to know why this elections matter, watch these videos a second time and ask yourself where the truth lies. The evidence is overwhelming. Casting a vote on election day is our opportunity to send a message that the truth still matters. If Sarah Palin wants to reject America when it’s politically expedient, I think it’s only appropriate we return the favor.

Given the choice, I’d much rather take a seat in the back of the bus with Donna Brazile than hitch a ride on the “Straight Talk Express” with the likes of Sarah Palin and John McCain. Come November 5th, I want it to be clear that Donna Brazile can sit anywhere she likes and I want Sarah Palin to know that her brand of rancid rhetoric has no place at the political table.

Sarah Palin’s Pals

Donna Brazile

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Bailout Imbroglio: Politics, Power, Pulpits, & Profit

The failure to pass bailout legislation is a symptom of a larger issue…one that percolates in the background. Good governance must promote a social structure that insists the nation be neutral while accepting the soul’s autonomy. Preserving our American identity hangs in the balance.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

We’re in uncharted waters with a leaky boat and a storm on the horizon…but the GOP wants us to know that Nancy Pelosi is a mean-spirited partisan.

Let me see if I can get this straight. The Republican president of the United States sends the Secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Chairman to Capital Hill with a message of impending economic doom…asking the party in power to put aside partisanship and pass necessary legislation.

The party in power (Democrats) holds its nose and puts together a bill premised upon the gravity of the situation, endures John McCain’s grandstanding at the eleventh hour, allows him to characterize his involvement as critical to the success of the process, spends hours meeting with those in the GOP who want to amend the bill, comes to an agreement on a bill the GOP leadership can support, and then brings the bill to a vote.

In that vote, over sixty percent of Democrats support legislation that was requested by the head of the opposition party, two thirds of the presidents fellow Republicans jump ship and oppose the bill, and the GOP house leadership wants Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to shoulder the blame?! Well there you have it…nothing illogical about that, right?

Frankly, I’ve personally reached the point at which I’m opposed to any attempt to glue what remains of our failed government back together. Unless and until politicians are held accountable for the consequences of their actions, I’m in favor of pulling the rest of the metaphorical china from the cupboard and smashing it all on the floor. I say as much because I don’t think anything will change until the American public is forced to face reality…even if that means standing in line for a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup.

Look, let’s be honest as to what all of this GOP partisanship is about. From their self-serving perspective, it’s power and money…and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to obtain both. Voters, on the other hand, have allowed themselves to be drawn into an ideological struggle to define morality. Taken together, this is the underlying formula for the disaster we’re witnessing.

Instead of a candid discussion on the merits of rescuing our financial structure, the political combatants have spent years defining our differences in terms of good versus evil; right versus wrong. While voters blindly engage in this theoretical tug of war, the real battle for dominance is waged in the trenches…replete with lobbyists looking to commit larceny in tandem with their trusted troopers…the political elite.

The unseen metrics of today’s maelstrom center upon the pursuit of profit. Those house Republicans who opposed today’s legislation tell us they are concerned about main street. In truth they, in concert with their corporate benefactors who want the government to insure their success without foregoing the profits that may eventually result from the government’s intervention, see main street as a peripheral player.

Let me explain. If the bail out takes the current form, the companies that avail themselves of it will have to forego the upside of the very assets that have made them a ton of money during the housing bubble and now leads them to the edge of financial ruin. Conversely, if the legislation is structured as an insurance mechanism, they receive the financial assist they need without foregoing the future profits that may ensue with the passage of time and an improved economy.

In other words, house Republicans are carrying the water of Wall Street while telling us they’re looking out for the interests of taxpayers. You see, one need only look at the proposal that came from the Bush administration…a virtual blank check to assist their wealthy benefactors…to understand their intentions. Only when the legislation, as modified by the Democrats and a handful of Republicans, became apparent, did the GOP revolt materialize. It did so at the behest of their capitalist (and opportunist) friends who stood to see their profit potential handed over to the American taxpayer.

Don’t be fooled…the motivation of many in the GOP, who voted against this bill, has little to do with those of us living on Main Street. The proof is found in today’s vote…and the reality that a bail out is inevitable. The acrimony simply centers on who gets the lion’s share of the benefit.

(more…)

Monday, September 29th, 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 |
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