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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

with Amanda Waas

Conservative reactionaries have expressed their dislike for the ‘homosexual agenda’ and their tentacles have penetrated the American political system. Strong evangelical efficacy has ensured political compliance from weak politicians.

Yet human consideration must supersede short term political gain. An individual’s humanity should not be sacrificed to votes. Public relations experts and high priced political consultants make this nearly impossible. To take their advice is to win political office; to go against the tide is to accomplish a structural social adjustment (and a personal disservice). The former is characteristic of the majority; the latter requires a higher level of social awareness and political courage.

Unpopular positions are sacrificed to the convenience of branding. Society defines appropriate behavior and condemns so-called deviant lifestyles. Branding along sexual preference serves calculated ends. Promoting sexual orientation to the pinnacle of personal characterization dehumanizes the characterized and divides the citizenry.

Shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (or Girl) mask uncomfortable realities to amuse the public. But not all gay men are interior decorators and not all lesbians are mechanics. Most resemble the cultural norm. Meanwhile media conglomerates continue to profit from avoiding this truth and pandering to America’s comfortable generalizations of homosexuality.

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Progressive policy critics and moderate government insiders have long cautioned against a sustained American presence in the Middle East. American encroachment, they warn, radicalizes young Muslim fundamentalists and substantiates Bin Laden’s message of religious Jihad.

Administration officials dismiss these critics publicly (although rare words of candor do sometimes escape—CIA Chief Goss admitted that the Iraqi invasion has made America less safe) but concede their points privately. Ambitions of U.S. hegemony and supremacy however supersede security concerns. Ideological ambition to “maintain a lock on the world’s energy lifeline and potentially deny access to its global competitors” (like China) is priority number one for American policy makers. Control and access can be maintained in two ways—military and economically.

Great historical precedent lies with the former. A cursory examination of policy papers reveals that America’s thirst for influence and resources transcends party lines. President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 doctrine set the modern day precedent. “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

The current Bush administration has pushed this American foreign policy paradigm to its logical conclusion. Since the Persian Gulf holds two of every three barrels of world oil, sustained American presence and control of Iraq guarantees U.S. supremacy. This pronouncement is not just the conspiratorial claim of a liberal columnist; it is mirrored by the official National Defense Strategy of the United States of America report, released last month by the Defense Department. “Our role in the world depends on effectively projecting and sustaining our forces in distant environments where adversaries may seek to deny U.S. access.”

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The passing of the pope John Paul II has led to an outpouring of world emotion. Iconic-like devotion portrayed the pope as a flawless global leader and has cost him his humanity. While the pope’s accomplishments are noteworthy, his shortcomings provide critical insight.Great emphasis has also been placed on the future of the Catholic Church and the role of a to-be-name pope within it. But before we can speculate about the future, we must first evaluate and learn from the past. An honest remembrance yields mixed results. To reflect on the pope’s failures is not to disrespect his legacy. Rather such reflection comes with the recognition that his passing provides a unique opportunity for the church to learn from its past shortcomings.

By 1989, El Salvador, a postage stamp size country in Latin America was engulfed in a brutal civil war between Salvadorian government forces and leftist opposition groups. The conflict was fueled by peasant frustration over the growing disparity of wealth that stemmed from the country’s agricultural practices. Coffee cultivation, which dominated the Salvadoran economy from the latter half of the 19th century, subsidized the land-owning oligarchy but forced the majority of the Salvadorian population off their land and into poverty. By the 20th century, only two percent of the land-owning population controlled El Salvador’s wealth, and most citizens lived as poor agricultural workers. In the 1930s economic conditions deteriorated further.

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On its surface, the final report of the presidential commission on intelligence is another whitewash and rehash of previous investigations into pre-war intelligence debacles. The president appointed the commission reluctantly, delayed its final report calculatingly and “did not authorize it to investigate how policy makers had used the intelligence they received.” Yet a close read and a cursory knowledge of modern political events still confirms the President’s role in deliberate deception.

The commission outwardly concluded that, “in no instance did political pressure cause them [intelligence officials] to skew or alter any of their analytical judgment.” The very next sentence contradicts this assessment. “That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence agencies worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”

This conventional wisdom was sought, crafted and manipulated by the administration. Since dissenting opinion did not compliment the administration’s presupposed ideological assumptions of American foreign pre-eminence, it was conventionally expunged.
A quick reminder for the forgetful: In January of 2004, George W. Bush’s former treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill disclosed that the Bush administration had been planning an Iraqi regime change “from the very beginning.” According to O’Neill, “Saddam was topic ‘A’ ten days after the inauguration.” O’Neill’s remarks are consistent with the ideological outlook of the President’s closest advisors.

Back in 2000, as members of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (the brains of the Iraqi invasion), signed onto a “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for A New Century” memo, counseling America to “play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security.” The document suggested that, “while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” In 1998, Wolfowitz urged President Clinton to brand removal of Saddam “the aim of American foreign policy.”

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Morality extends beyond the bedroom. Yet Americans are still focused on the mating habits of their fellow citizens. When we have sex, with whom we have sex and what results in the wake of that sex has preoccupied and often outraged the public. On the contrary, America’s direct participation in humiliating, immoral and illegal prisoner abuse has garnered only modest indignation. Popular media and Congressional reactionaries have said relatively little of the moral implications of such behavior.

The ideological (liberal) media and the mainstream news organizations have done their part in bringing allegations of prisoner abuse to the front pages of American newspapers. Most recently, former prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have complained of female interrogators smearing them with menstrual blood and rubbing them sexually. While Joe Ryan might view the practice more favorably, most Muslims are repulsed. As one journalist put it, “the tact reveals the religious heart of the war: the object is to kill the culture not simply the carrier.”

But Americans are in denial. Stories of sleep deprivation and electric shock first appeared in April of 2003, and as of this writing, not a single civilian official has been held accountable. The release of torture pictures paved the way for countless Congressional hearings, investigations, and condemnations that resulted in nothing more than a bureaucratic big-bang and a public relations campaign that served as a thin veneer for reform.

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My last column addressed the army’s recruitment shortage. “For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year with just 18.4 percent of its recruitment goal met … that amounts to less than half of last year’s figure and falls well below the Army’s goal of 25 percent.”

The cost of troop recruitment has also gone up. The army is forced to offer large bonuses to secure troop reenlistment and is currently experiencing difficulty filling undesirable (truck drivers in Iraq) and highly-skilled positions. While minorities and the financially underprivileged are already overrepresented in the forces, they are becoming harder to recruit. (See Feb. 25 column). Yet their openings are not being filled by middle class or upper class children. We, like Dick Cheney, “have better things to do.” Meanwhile, our army is overstretched and underprotected.

America is at war yet it refuses to allow all those who volunteer to join her armed forces. Some restrictions rest on credible weight or strength minimums, others are rooted in institutional discrimination. Last Thursday the General Accounting Office found that under President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, hundreds of highly skilled troops were forced out of the forces after it was discovered that they were gay or lesbian. The American tax payer financed this disenfranchisement to the tune of $200 million. “The estimated cost was for recruiting and training replacements from 1994 through 2003 for the 9,488 troops discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.”

Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy allows gays to serve in the armed forces as long as they do not take part in homosexual activity or disclose their sexual orientation. Of the gays and lesbians pushed out of the service, 757 held hard-to-fill jobs and 322 spoke Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, “which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists.” U.S. intelligence agencies and the 9/11 Commission have lamented the death of properly trained and educated translators. Many believe that sufficient interpretation of pre-9/11 communications could have resulted in preemptive action or greater threat awareness.

Yet conservative ideology triumphs over American safety. A majority’s personal distaste for homosexual activity is extended into the public policy sector and its discriminatory tentacles serve to strangle the opportunity of a minority and endanger the whole. American fear of homosexuality transcends the terror of Islamic fundamentalists.

Fear should not supercede morality. Discrimination against a sexual preference is as immoral as racial segregation or gender inequity. While gay marriage has replaced social security as the “third rail” of American politics, its acceptance is forthcoming. Until then Americans deserve a reassessment of Clinton’s ill fated military policy.

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The occupation of Iraq has made Americans less secure. Bush administration policy has radicalized Muslim extremists and drastically enhanced the Muslim call to jihad. Bush did this knowingly and deliberately.

In his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, the new CIA Director confessed that the war in Iraq “was giving terrorists experience contacts for future attacks… They represent a potential pool of contacts; build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks.”

The American progressive movement and the U.S. intelligence community have long cautioned against such an outcome. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2002 warned that an invasion could increase the threat of terrorism and the National Intelligence Council has recently concluded that “Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of ‘professionalized terrorists.'” But Bush invaded anyway. The benefits of the ends superceded the consequences of the means.

The means have had dire consequences. For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year with just 18.4 percent of its recruitment goal met. According to the Washington Post, that amounts to less than half of last year’s figure and falls well below the Army’s goal of 25 percent. Fewer soldiers are joining the army out fear of ending up in Iraq, the epicenter of international terrorism and the local of a poorly planned and ill-justified war. For many potential army recruits, the President’s campaign of lies, misrepresentations and omissions has drained enthusiasm from the American ideal of volunteerism. For this reason, the army has had to offer large monetary incentives and re-enlistment bonuses to potential “volunteers.” The average cost of signing up a recruit has risen from $15,265 in fiscal 2001 to $15,967 in fiscal 2004.

These and other costs have resulted in a staggering $427 billion budget deficit- the great majority of which can be attributed to the President’s irresponsible tax cuts and the $220 billion invasion and occupation of Iraq. Bush’s 2006 budget plans to extend the former and supplement the letter. And in order to “cut the deficit in half in five years,” the budget slashes $212 billion from 150 domestic discretionary programs and $138 billion from mandatory programs. These programs disproportionately benefit the poor and middle class. The same cannot be said for Bush’ tax cuts.

An August 2004 Congressional Budget Office study confirmed that from 2001 to 2004, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans experienced a drop in their federal taxes from 64.4 to 63.5 percent. The richest 1 percent of Americans, “earning $1.1 million saw their share fall to 20.1 percent of the total, from 22.2 percent.” Middle class Americans experienced a tax increase. Those earning $51,500 to $75,600 “saw their share of federal tax payments increase. Households earning around $75,600 saw their tax burden jump the most, from 18.7 percent of all taxes to 19.5 percent.”

The tax cuts have effectively shifted the tax burden from the rich to the middle class. And in his 2006 budget, the President is kicking the poor while they’re down. The more desperate their situation becomes, the greater the possibility for recruitment. Because of this, the $2.5 trillion budget eliminates education, environmental and housing programs. Forty-eight education programs will be cut, rural health grants will be phased out, many federal-funded community food and malnutrition programs will be terminated, food stamp benefits would be eliminated for 200,000 to 300,000 people, “a freeze in child-care funding would cut the number of low-income children receiving help by 300,000 in 2009” and Medicaid will face a $45 billion reduction over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the President plans to make his tax cuts permanent at a cost of $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years and to eliminate two obscure tax previsions that carry with them $115 billion 10-year price tag. And while such policies disproportionately benefit households making over $200,000 a year, they are financed through the sacrifices of the middle class. Most American military families fall below the $200,000 income bracket and find themselves at the mercy of Bush’s domestic reductions.

Here in Poughkeepsie, military and other middle class families are already hurting. In recent weeks, the YWCA has been forced to shut down. The Youth Resource Development Corp., “an agency which provided job training and life skills to [577] local young people for 20 years” has also had to close it doors and file for bankruptcy. Program directors blame the closure on a loss of state and federal funding and foresee more closings in the future. President Bush’s 2006 budget brings this vision to fruition. The proposed budget cuts grants to state and local governments by $10.7 billion and reduces federal spending on domestic programs by 14 percent over the next five years.

If all presidential budgets provide a glimpse into administration priorities, then Bush’s interests lie with the top 20 percent of Americans. While the president acknowledges that “during this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory,” his domestic and foreign priorities endanger the soldiers and financially devastate their families.Such policies only aide international terrorists and endanger Americans. Don’t take my word for it; go read Porter Goss’s statement. I’m simply pointing out the obvious

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