Friday, March 31, 2006

There's No Stopping the Tide

(Click on Cartoon for Larger View)

Tierney's take on illegal immigrants (see below) includes the belief that it is impossible to secure the borders, so why even try? For national security reasons, I find that position rather troubling, although I suspect it is more than a bit credible. And if it is true, how can we ever hope to protect ourselves from terrorists, let alone enforce legal immigration?

It seems to me (maybe I've been brainwashed by Lou Dobbs on CNN?) that both national security and immigration enforcement start with secure borders. Given George's statement, "When you make something illegal that people want, there's a way around it," how does he ever propose to keep the nation safe from terrorists slipping into our country?

Forgetting the terrorist issue for the present, let's suppose it is impossible to prevent undocumented people from entering our country. What would we do? Make criminals out of those who hire undocumented workers? Rat to the authorities on anyone who doesn't show a National ID Card at the Piggly Wiggly--and then have them thrown in jail along with their children? (Hello, Big Brother.)

It seems that the only thing worse than our inability to secure our borders would be the alternative scenario -- one that encroaches on civil liberties and starts to feel as paranoid creepy as the McCarthy era.

I don't know about you, but if that's the alternative, I'd say, figure out how to secure the borders--or let the tide roll in.

King Canute at the Border
By John Tierney
The New York Times
George Bush is the King Canute of the immigration debate, and I mean that in a nice way.

Canute has an image problem today because so many people think of him as that batty old English king who thought he could command the tide to recede. But that's the wrong spin on his legend.

In the original tale, he was a sensible ruler who was tired of hearing flattery from his courtiers about his great powers. When they told him that even the tides would obey his command, he went down to the sea to teach them a lesson in limits.

Today's courtiers are the Republicans in Congress and the others demanding that America "secure the border." They're furious at Bush for suggesting that a crackdown at the border will not stop the tide of illegal immigrants.

"When you make something illegal that people want, there's a way around it," he said, pointing out an inconvenient reality that would remain even if a 2,000-mile fence were built on the southern border. People would keep going under it, through it or around it to other borders.

The Border Patrol has tried building fences and adding thousands of agents, and in some places it has made smuggling harder. Yet the overall flow of immigrants hasn't slowed. No matter how hard they work, the agents can't outlaw basic economics.

In San Diego, for instance, agents took pride that their concentrated efforts had caused local smugglers to raise their fee to $1,500. But that's still a small price next to what immigrants stand to gain. Chinese immigrants are already paying $20,000 apiece to be smuggled into America.

It's the same kind of economic quandary that has stymied the war on drugs. For more than a quarter-century, federal and local authorities have tried to solve America's drug problem by making smuggling and dealing prohibitively expensive.

They've stepped up enforcement at the borders, promising that more agents and new technology would make a difference. They've taken the fight to countries supplying drugs. They filled prisons with dealers and addicts. But even though they raised the cost of smuggling and dealing, the increase was never enough to make a difference.

"Seizing drugs has not had any perceptible impact on the availability of drugs," says Peter Reuter, an economist at the University of Maryland who's an expert on drugs and other black markets. "Even though enforcement has gotten tougher by any measure, the prices of drugs have been falling steadily."

I'm not suggesting that stopping drugs is the same as stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. In many ways the drug war is easier because it enjoys more popular support. Most people would like to see less drug use. No one wants a drug market on the corner, and people will urge the police to round up dealers and addicts there.

They're not about to turn in the illegal immigrants working in their stores, their neighborhoods and their homes. They know how hard immigrants work and how much they contribute. They may tell pollsters there's too much immigration, but they like the immigrants they know.

Americans are understandably angry to see immigrants' breaking the law, but they're not going to be assuaged when a crackdown simply creates more illegality. The only practical way to reduce lawbreaking is to change the law so more immigrants can enter legally and the ones here can stop hiding, the approach favored by Bush and Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy.

Some skeptics doubt that illegal immigrants want to come forward and start paying taxes. But most immigrants claim to be willing, at least according to a new survey of more than 200 undocumented workers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami conducted for the Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum.

About 4 in 10 of them said they're already getting taxes deducted from their paychecks, and 70 percent said they'd be willing to pay back taxes to get legal status. More than 90 percent said they'd comply with other requirements, like paying a fine of $1,000, getting fingerprinted and submitting to a criminal background check.

Railing at them for breaking the law is not going to make them go home or stop others from following them here. Immigrants will cross the border one way or another. The more of them we let in legally, the better off everyone will be. Whether you welcome more immigrants, as I do, or whether you'd rather see fewer, there's no point in commanding the tide to ebb.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related articles:

Cartoon of the Day

What Would Bill Napoli Do?

Read Stephanie McMillan's brilliant cartoon about anti-abortion legislator Bill Napoli here. Stephanie is auctioning off the original art to raise money for abortion clinics in South Dakota.

Also see:

Peddling Deception
Federal funds are supporting "clinics" that dishonestly push an anti-choice agenda to pregnant women.
Maloney Announces Bill to Stop Deceptive Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, announced today a new bill, "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services," which targets anti-choice centers that use deceptive advertising offering help to pregnant women or free pregnancy tests to lure women in, especially young and low-income women.

A Step Backward for Gay Rights

Massachusetts Court Limits Gay Unions
Massachusetts's highest court, which legalized same-sex marriage here two and a half years ago, ruled Thursday that gay couples who live in states where such marriages are prohibited cannot marry in Massachusetts.
Read more.

Photo credit: (Robert Spencer for The New York Times) From left, Ed Butler and his partner, Les School and Mark Pearsall with his partner, Paul Trubey, reacting to a ruling that restricted marriages by same-sex couples who live in other states.

Immigration, Reform, and Democracy

In today's NY Times op ed (below), The Krug Man broadens the discussion of the economic implications of immigration reform to include the political economic ramifications, something I haven't heard others discuss, but an issue of enormous importance to the health of our already ailing democratic form of government.

The Road to Dubai
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.

But immigration remains a difficult issue for liberals. Let me say a bit more about the subject of my last column, the uncomfortable economics of immigration, then turn to what really worries me: the political implications of a large nonvoting work force.

About the economics: the crucial divide isn't between legal and illegal immigration; it's between high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants. High-skilled immigrants — say, software engineers from South Asia — are, by any criterion I can think of, good for America. But the effects of low-skilled immigration are mixed at best.

True, there are large benefits for the low-skilled migrants, who may find even a minimum-wage U.S. job a big step up. Immigration also raises the total income of native-born Americans, although reasonable estimates suggest that these gains amount to no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

But low-skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans. And immigrants increase the demand for public services, including health care and education. Estimates indicate that low-skilled immigrants don't pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of providing these services.

All of these effects, except for the gains for the immigrants themselves, are fairly small. Some of my friends say that's the point I should stress: immigration is a wonderful thing for the immigrants, and claims that immigrants are undermining American workers and taxpayers are hugely overblown — end of story.

But it's important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts. Moreover, what really worries me isn't the narrow economics — it's the political economy, the effects of having a disenfranchised labor force.

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas — and neither group has the right to vote. Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don't count is likely to ignore workers' interests: it's likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

This isn't idle speculation. Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations — often the result of immigration — tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.

Of course, America isn't Dubai. But we're moving in that direction. As of 2002, according to the Urban Institute, 14 percent of U.S. workers, and 20 percent of low-wage workers, were immigrants. Only a third of these immigrant workers were naturalized citizens. So we already have a large disenfranchised work force, and it's growing rapidly. The goal of immigration reform should be to reverse that trend.

So what do I think of the Senate Judiciary Committee's proposal, which is derived from a plan sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy? I'm all in favor of one provision: offering those already here a possible route to permanent residency and citizenship. Since we aren't going to deport more than 10 million people, we need to integrate those people into our society.

But I'm puzzled by the plan to create a permanent guest-worker program, one that would admit 400,000 more workers a year (and you know that business interests would immediately start lobbying for an increase in that number). Isn't institutionalizing a disenfranchised work force a big step away from democracy?

For a hard-line economic conservative like Mr. McCain, the advantages to employers of a cheap work force may be more important than the violation of democratic principles. But why would someone like Mr. Kennedy go along? Is the point to help potential immigrants, or is it to buy support from business interests?

Either way, it's a dangerous route to go down. America's political system is already a lot less democratic in practice than it is on paper, and creating a permanent nonvoting working class would make things worse. The road to Dubai may be paved with good intentions.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

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American Empire in Its Final Hour

Thomas Friedman, in today's NY Times op ed (below), paints a picture of today's Iraq as a country in chaos. This is what the flawed policies and decisions of BushCo have wrought.

What Friedman gets wrong is the fact that BushCo cares nothing about establishing democracy in Iraq. What they care about is a stable Iraq, ruled by a friendly U.S.-installed puppet regime, so that the U.S. can continue to spend beaucoup war bucks (our tax dollars, folks) on building permanent military bases equipped with Burger Kings, bowling alleys, and other sundries.

Why, you ask, do we need permanent military bases in Iraq? All the better to grow empire, my dear.

How realistic is it that BushCo can still achieve these goals? Put it this way: American Empire is at the 11th hour.

Iraq at the 11th Hour
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
The fate of the entire U.S. enterprise in Iraq now hangs in the balance, as the war has entered a dangerous new phase. It is the phase of barbaric identity-card violence between Sunnis and Shiites. In the late 1970's, I covered a similar moment in Lebanon, and the one thing I learned was this: Once this kind of venom gets unleashed — with members of each community literally beheading each other on the basis of their religious identities — it poisons everything. You enter a realm that is beyond politics, a realm where fear and revenge dominate everyone's thinking — and that is where Iraq is heading.

Jeffrey Gettleman reported last Sunday in this paper about Mohannad al-Azawi, a quiet Sunni pet shop owner in Baghdad who was abducted from his store and found murdered the next morning. His skin was covered with purple welts, and his face and legs had drill holes in them. His brother Hassan, the story noted, "carries the autopsy photos with him, along with a pistol. 'I cannot live without vengeance,' he said."

Once embedded, this cycle of fear and revenge is almost impossible to break. People conclude that the only thing that can protect them is a militia from their own sect, not the police or the army. Then these militias, which come to life to protect the neighborhood, take on a life of their own. They develop protection rackets, feel the thrill of power and, as that happens, start to do all they can to prevent the government from restoring its authority. Finally, as the BBC noted in a recent report from Baghdad, some Iraqi politicians are now concluding that "they can gain more power and influence from building on sectarian loyalties than from appeals for national unity." When politicians decide they can get ahead by appealing more to fear than to hope, national reconciliation goes up in smoke.

A Baghdad blogger, the Mesopotamian, quoted by, gave a vivid description of his neighborhood: "The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of Interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personnel in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is especially true for the 'Sunni'-dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en masse in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are nonexistent, although we see them everywhere.

"I don't know anymore what can be done to rescue the situation. At least, those who are supposed to be in positions of responsibility should stop lying and painting a false picture. ... I regret sounding so pessimistic, but the alarm must be sounded. ... What is happening is Baghdad is something really awful."

Donald Rumsfeld's criminally negligent decision not to deploy enough troops in Iraq to begin with created this security vacuum. But the insecurity was compounded by the unique enemy that emerged to take advantage of that vacuum — Sunni Islamo-nihilists. These are a disparate collection of groups with one common agenda: America and its Iraqi allies must fail; they must not be allowed to build Iraq into a Western-style, democratizing society. When you are up against an enemy whose only goal is that you must fail, and which does not care about how much death and destruction it inflicts on its own people, let alone on others, it is extremely difficult to establish order.

The Iraqi Shiite community showed remarkable restraint in the face of the murderous provocations by these Islamo-nihilist gangs during the past three years. But that restraint is over. It's now clear that some Shiite militias are ready to match the Sunni nihilists, killing for killing. So the slide into a medieval barbarism has begun.

Do not believe any of the Bush team's happy talk. It doesn't matter if Iraq is quiet in the south and quiet in the north. If Baghdad, the heart of the country, is being ripped apart, then there is no Iraq — because there is no center.

There is only one hope for halting this slide and that is the formation — immediately — of a national unity government in Iraq, with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds sharing power, and the deployment on the streets — immediately — of massive numbers of troops and police, both Iraqi and American, to prevent more of these tribal killings. If a national unity government is not formed soon, and if these identity-card murderers gain more momentum, any hope for building a decent Iraq will vanish.

It is five minutes to midnight.

Photo credit: Thomas L. Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related Articles:

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Coming Soon: Mushroom Clouds Over Vegas!

Well, it seems our friendly Chicken Hawk's are up to their usual "shock and awe" antics. This time, they're thinkin' it would be pretty darned cool to explode some of their new and improved, biggest, baddest bunker busters ever--right here in good ol' Las Vegas, U.S.A!

Sure does bring new meaning to the slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," don't it?
"I don't want to sound glib here but it is the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons," said James Tegnelia, head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.


"We also have -- are you ready for this - a 700-tonne explosively formed charge that we're going to be putting in a tunnel in Nevada," he said.

"And that represents to us the largest single explosive that we could imagine doing conventionally to solve that problem," he said.


"We're also making sure that Las Vegas understands," Tegnelia said.
And they've alerted the Russians. Now that's mighty considerate of the military, don'tcha think?

The test is scheduled for the first week in June so we'd best hurry-scurry and make our hotel reservations real soon, if we want to get a front row view of all the fireworks. Don't forget your ear plugs and your gas masks, now!

This is gonna be a whole lot more excitin' than sittin' through Cirque du Soleil or some namby pamby Wayne Newton act.

You really gotta hand it to Cowboy George and his Bomb-Sniffin' Ranch Hands. They'll do anything in the name of peace, don'tcha know. Just as long as it has to do with war.

Also see:

Chicago Tribune | Non-atomic bomb test to pack a big bang

Bye Bye Black Jack Jail Bird

(Sing to the tune of "Bye Bye Black Bird.") | Abramoff Gets Nearly 6 Years in Prison
MIAMI — Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former partner were sentenced to nearly six years in prison on fraud charges but were allowed to remain free while they help a corruption investigation that has embroiled Congress.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff and Adam Kidan to five years and 10 months behind bars on Wednesday for concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer during the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos.
Read more.

Jill Carroll Released!

American Reporter Kidnapped in Baghdad Is Released
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 30 — Jill Carroll, the American reporter who was kidnapped in Baghdad nearly three months ago, was released today.

Ms. Carroll, whose abduction generated international attention, said in an interview shown on Baghdad television that her captors "never hit me and never even threatened to hit me."

Asked what message she wanted to send to the United States, she said firmly, "I was treated very well, it's important for people to know that.

Photo credit: (Baghdad TV via Associated Press) Jill Carroll told the Associated Press in a televised interview that her captors "never hit me and never even threatened to hit me."
Read more.

Also see:

VIDEO: Jill Carroll Tells Her Story

Jill Carroll Timeline (March 30, 2006)

Text of the Statement by Carroll's Family (March 30, 2006)

Journalist Jill Carroll Released in Iraq (March 30, 2006)

Hostage Jill Carroll released (March 30, 2006)

VIDEO: In her own words (March 30, 2006)

Reporter Freed in Iraq, 3 Months After Abduction (March 31, 2006)

Elation, Relief at Jill Carroll's Release (March 31,2006)

We The People ... Have No Clothes

"We the People ... Have No Clothes" (click to download .pdf file) is a pamphlet written and made available by Robert Franza, at no cost, for download and distribution.

Preface Excerpt:

To highlight our responsibilities, I have chosen two contemporary events: the war on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. The information I have provided was available to decision makers prior to each of these events and, most importantly, was publicly accessible - it was also available to each of you. That fact illustrates why I chose the title "We the People... Have No Clothes." That fact also illustrates our civic responsibilities to our Republic. It underscores our failure as citizens in holding our government and our information media accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities.

The declarative initial phrase of the Constitution of the United States, "We the People...", means every one of us doing everything we possibly can, every day, to seek truth, speak truth, demand truth and hold ourselves accountable as we hold others accountable. Whether we find ourselves in the majority this week, or the minority next year, the inevitability of the political cycle demands all of us be truthful and accountable. We can differ in goals and objectives, but we must all demand the truth and insist our government act within the law and within a framework of respect for all human life and the limited resources of our planet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


David Brooks plays defense attorney for illegal immigrants in today's NY Times op ed (see below). What he says, although I question some of his statistics and their sources, is generally true. And given his objective to convince "social conservatives" that "a balanced immigration bill is consistent with conservative values," I can't really fault Brooks for telling only half the story.

The immigration issue, has more than two sides. It's complicated. And the omitted complications need to be addressed if we are to come up with a sensible and moral solution to the problem--if it is, in fact, a problem.

As Robert Scheer points out in "Legalize the 'Illegals'", though we are a nation of immigrants, we have a rich history of blaming them for virtually every societal malady du jour. Better that, than blame ourselves, where the root of the problems usually lie.

Like Lou Dobbs of CNN, I believe we should first blame ourselves for failing to secure our own borders and then start securing them--pronto. Secure borders are imperative for both our national security and our ability to enforce immigration laws and stop the flow of illegal immigration. Importantly, the intent of secure borders is not to stop immigration, but to facilitate legal immigration. The Bush administration has failed miserably, despite their truculent terrorist tough talk, to secure our country from illegal immigrants crossing our borders, much less terrorists. The very fact that we are discussing an illegal alien problem is proof that BushCo has failed. But, then, we knew that.

While we immediately begin to secure our borders, we should be drafting an immigration policy that provides both an avenue for new immigrants to achieve citizenship and a way for illegal aliens who are already here working and raising families to legally gain citizenship. (We could look to our neighbors to the North for some pointers on both border control and immigration law; They've done a far better job than us.)

The more mean-spirited among us will argue that the illegals have broken the law and should be treated as the criminals they are; we should show them no mercy, throw them in jail, or deport them. I would argue that we have failed to enforce our own laws for years, knowingly and willingly, for purely selfish reasons; The black market for illegal aliens is a most attractive labor market for a wide variety of businesses, including agriculture, food service, child care, cleaning services, landscapers, contractors, construction, and more--business loves ultra-cheap labor because they love the resulting ultra big profits. And we love shopping for the resultant cheaper goods.

But, you protest, that's the problem! Our workers wages are being driven down by the ultra cheap immigrant labor! Perhaps. But is that the immigrant's fault? Or the business's fault? Obviously, businesses are taking advantage of these people and knowingly, in many cases, paying them a subsistence wage. And we continue to take advantage of low, low prices.

So what do we do?: Raise the minimum wage laws, my friends.

I submit that no one can make a living at the present minimum wage (stuck at $5.15 an hour for the past nine years) and if they can't make a living, they can't afford to buy much so they can't possibly add much to the economy. Fair wages help people and the economy. So let's up it, right now.

Immigrants to Be Proud Of
By David Brooks
The New York Times
Everybody says the Republicans are split on immigration. The law-and-order types want to close the border. The free-market types want plentiful labor. But today I want to talk to the social conservatives, because it's you folks who are really going to swing this debate.

I'd like to get you to believe what Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas believes: that a balanced immigration bill is consistent with conservative values. I'd like to try to persuade the evangelical leaders in the tall grass to stop hiding on this issue.

My first argument is that the exclusionists are wrong when they say the current wave of immigration is tearing our social fabric. The facts show that the recent rise in immigration hasn't been accompanied by social breakdown, but by social repair. As immigration has surged, violent crime has fallen by 57 percent. Teen pregnancies and abortion rates have declined by a third. Teenagers are having fewer sexual partners and losing their virginity later. Teen suicide rates have dropped. The divorce rate for young people is on the way down.

Over the past decade we've seen the beginnings of a moral revival, and some of the most important work has been done by Catholic and evangelical immigrant churches, by faith-based organizations like the Rev. Luis Cortés's Nueva Esperanza, by Hispanic mothers and fathers monitoring their kids. The anti-immigration crowd says this country is under assault. But if that's so, we're under assault by people who love their children.

My second argument is that the immigrants themselves are like a booster shot of traditional morality injected into the body politic. Immigrants work hard. They build community groups. They have traditional ideas about family structure, and they work heroically to make them a reality.

This is evident in everything from divorce rates (which are low, given immigrants' socioeconomic status) to their fertility rates (which are high) and even the way they shop.

Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants have less money than average Americans, but they spend what they have on their families, usually in wholesome ways. According to Simmons Research, Hispanics are 57 percent more likely than average Americans to have purchased children's furniture in the past year. Mexican-Americans spend 93 percent more on children's music.

According to the government's Consumer Expenditure Survey, Hispanics spend more on gifts, on average, than other Americans. They're more likely to support their parents financially. They're more likely to have big family dinners at home.

This isn't alien behavior. It's admirable behavior, the antidote to the excessive individualism that social conservatives decry.

My third argument is that good values lead to success, and that immigrants' long-term contributions more than compensate for the short-term strains they cause. There's no use denying the strains immigration imposes on schools, hospitals and wage levels in some markets (but economists are sharply divided on this).

So over the long haul, today's immigrants succeed. By the second generation, most immigrant families are middle class and paying taxes that more than make up for the costs of the first generation. By the third generation, 90 percent speak English fluently and 50 percent marry non-Latinos.

My fourth argument is that government should be at least as virtuous as the immigrants themselves. Right now (as under Bill Frist's legislation), government pushes immigrants into a chaotic underground world. The Judiciary Committee's bill, which Senator Brownback supports, would tighten the borders, but it would also reward virtue. Immigrants who worked hard, paid fines, paid their taxes, stayed out of trouble and waited their turn would have a chance to become citizens. This isn't government enabling vice; it's government at its best, encouraging middle-class morality.

Social conservatives, let me ask you to consider one final thing. Women who have recently arrived from Mexico have bigger, healthier babies than more affluent non-Hispanic white natives. That's because strong family and social networks support these pregnant women, reminding them what to eat and do. But the longer they stay, and the more assimilated they become, the more bad habits they acquire and the more problems their subsequent babies have.

Please ask yourself this: As we contemplate America's moral fiber, do the real threats come from immigrants, or are some people merely blaming them for sins that are already here?

Photo credits: (1) (AP) A Mexican flag is displayed as a huge crowd protests immigration reform in front of Los Angeles City Hall, Monday, March 27. Students across the country walked out of classes to demonstrate against the proposed changes. (2) David Brooks (The New York Times)

Also see:

The Let's All Play "Search for WMD" or ....

What are they up to this time? A new kind of diversionary tactic to get us all out of their hair? (We spend useless hours culling through old papers to some inane end, so we quit paying attention to and blogging about their current bungling and mischief--yee haw!)

Or Maybe they think we're getting bored with all their propaganda news stories and could use a whole new kind of meaningless entertainment? I dunno. I give.

Whatever the reason, our pals in DC-Land have suddenly decided it would be a grand time to put millions of declassified Iraqi Documents on the web so we can all play detective (woo hoo!) and find--they hope, they hope!--some missing piece of information proving something or other about iraq's WMD's or ties to Al Qaeda or some other such nonsense.

Doesn't that sound insanely fun?

Or maybe just...insane.

Related articles:

Enemy of Our Enemy - New York Times

Al Gore: The Should Be President

"The former Vice President, the should-be president, spoke from his heart, his soul and his intellect about equality, about fear and about the future. The subject happened to be equality of gay people in this country. But it was really a call for America to stand as what we have been for more than 200 years, to be that porous bastion of hope and grace that has struggled at times with itself, but has always risen to greater heights." Read more.

Also see:

Stealing Elections

Mark Crispin Miller talks about how the right stole the 2004 presidential election
In his latest book, Fooled Again: How The Right Stole The 2004 Election, And Why They'll Steal The Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), Mark Crispin Miller argues that it wasn't moral values which swung the election - it was theft.

“How the Secretary can re-certify the Diebold machines when they don’t comply with California law, they violate the standards set by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that the Secretary said he intended to follow, and he still doesn’t have the report back from the ITAs that he said he was waiting for is beyond me.”
A Voting Machine Mess - New York Times
The United States Justice Department sued New York State this week for having the worst record in the nation when it comes to complying with the Help America Vote Act. Now lawyers for the state and the Bush administration are trying to negotiate a solution in a rushed atmosphere that could involve some very bad compromises. Being late is humiliating, but hurrying up and buying the wrong voting systems would be far worse.
The Unknown Candidate: WILL YOUR VOTE COUNT?

The Unknown Candidate: Support 'Horse Sense' Election Security

Bet on a Bet but Not on a Ballot

How To Steal an Election
It's easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine, says University of Pennsylvania visiting professor Steve Freeman. That's because Vegas slots are better monitored and regulated than America's voting machines, Freeman writes in a book out in July that argues, among other things, that President Bush may owe his 2004 win to an unfair vote count. We'll wait to read his book before making a judgment about that. But Freeman has assembled comparisons that suggest Americans protect their vices more than they guard their rights, according to data he presented at an October meeting of the American Statistical Association in Philadelphia.

(Click on image for larger view)

Making Democracy Transparent by David Dill,
The question isn't whether ballot fraud happens. The question is, why should we trust any election results?

Florida Votes Time-Date-Stamped Two Weeks before Election
The internal logs of at least 40 Sequoia touch-screen voting machines reveal that votes were time- and date-stamped as cast two weeks before the election, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Katherine Harris Caught Up in Bribery Scandal
U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Thursday she did not knowingly do anything wrong in her associations with a defense contractor who prosecutors say illegally funneled thousands of dollars to her campaign in 2004.

Questions about the donations have arisen as Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who oversaw the 2000 presidential election recount, tries to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Bush National Insecurity Strategy

Tom Friedman is dead on target in today's NY Times op ed (see below). To add grist to the seriousness Friedman's assertions, be sure to read: Will The Real America Please Stand Up?

Facts and Folly
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
I was leaving for a trip the other day and scooped up some reading material off my desk for the plane ride. I found myself holding three documents: one was the Bush administration's National Security Strategy for 2006; another was a new study by the Economic Strategy Institute entitled "America's Technology Future at Risk," about how America is falling behind the world in broadband. And the third was "Teaching at Risk," a new report by the Teaching Commission, headed by the former I.B.M. chairman Louis Gerstner Jr., about the urgent need to upgrade the quality and pay of America's K-12 teachers.

The contrast was striking. The Bush strategy paper presupposes that we are a rich country and always will be, and that the only issue is how we choose to exercise our power. But what the teaching and telecom studies tell us is that key pillars of U.S. power are eroding, and unless we start tending to them in a strategic way, we aren't going to be able to project power anywhere.

Because we've long been rich, there is an abiding faith that we always will be, and those who dare question that are labeled "defeatists." I wouldn't call Lou Gerstner a defeatist. He saved I.B.M. by acknowledging its weaknesses and making dramatic changes — beginning with scrapping I.B.M.'s arrogant assumption that because it was such a great company, it could do extraordinary things with average people. Mr. Gerstner understood that an extraordinary company could stay that way only if it had a critical mass of extraordinary people. This is the message of his Teaching Commission: We cannot remain an extraordinary country without a critical mass of extraordinary teachers.

"If teaching remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by second-rate skills," Mr. Gerstner says. "We can wake up today — or we can have a rude awakening sooner than we think."

The Teaching Commission notes that "our schools are only as good as their teachers," yet this "occupation that makes all others possible is eroding at its foundations." Top students are far less likely to go into teaching today; salaries are stagnant; nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. To remedy this, the commission calls for raising teachers' base pay, finding ways to reward the best teachers, raising standards for acquiring a teaching degree and testing would-be teachers, on the basis of national standards, to be certain they have mastered the subjects they will teach (

Meanwhile, the report by the Economic Strategy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, is equally harrowing. It notes that while the U.S. led the world in broadband Internet access in 2000, it has now fallen to 16th place. In 2000, 40 percent of the world's telecom equipment was produced in America. That share is now 21 percent and falling. The U.S. ranks 42nd for the percentage of people with cellphones.

In an age when connectivity means productivity, when communications infrastructure is at the heart of any innovation ecosystem, these things matter for job creation and growth. The lack of ultra-high-speed networks in the U.S. "makes it impossible for U.S.-based companies to enter key new business sectors" — one reason venture capitalists are moving their R.&D. start-ups to Asia, E.S.I. noted.

"The wealth and long-term economic growth of the United States," it added, "have long depended upon technological advancement as a means of competing with our foreign rivals. ... America's emphasis has always been on achieving such high levels of productivity that it could be the low-cost producer while still paying high wages." The study offers a variety of regulatory and investment prescriptions (

It's not surprising that the Bush strategy paper is largely silent about these educational and technological deficits, as well as about the investment we need to make in alternative fuels to end our oil addiction. Because to acknowledge these deficits is to acknowledge that we have to spend money to fix them, and the radical Bush tax cuts make that impossible. It would be one thing if we were going into debt to solve these problems that affect our underlying national strength. But we are going into debt to buy low-interest houses and more stuff made in China.

We're like a family that is overdrawn at the bank just when the parents need to send their kid to college, buy a computer and a D.S.L. line, and replace a gas-guzzling furnace. Whatever "strategic plan" that family has for advancement, it won't get anywhere until it rebalances its books.

Photo credit: Thomas L. Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

VIDEO: Katrina 7 Months Later

Watch the latest video in the Hurricane Katrina series by Chris Hume. Seven months since New Orleans was nearly wiped out by the storm, Chris Hume is revisiting some of the people he met the first time, when the city was still flooded and under martial law. Also, a coalition of Iraq war veterans and Katrina survivors march to New Orleans from Mobile, Alabama, to speak out against the occupation of Iraq and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. (Dispatch from New Orleans)
(Photo: Chris Hume / TruthOut)


"F" Stands for "Failure" Stands for "Halliburton"

Halliburton's Performance Worsens Under Second Iraqi Oil Contract
By Representative Henry Waxman's Office
t r u t h o u t | Press Release
Tuesday 28 March 2006

Washington, D.C. - Today Rep. Waxman released the first analysis of Halliburton's RIO 2 contract to restore Iraq's southern oil fields. The examination of previously undisclosed correspondence, evaluations, and audits reveals that government officials and investigators have harshly criticized Halliburton's performance under RIO 2. The documents disclose an "overwhelmingly negative" performance, including:
  • Intentional Overcharging: Halliburton repeatedly overcharged the taxpayer, apparently intentionally. In one case, "[c]ost estimates had hidden rate factors to increase cost of project without informing the Government." In another instance, Halliburton "tried to inflate cost estimate by $26M." In a third example, Halliburton claimed costs for laying concrete pads and footings that the Iraqi Oil Ministry had "already put in place."

  • Exorbitant Costs: Halliburton was "accruing exorbitant indirect costs at a rapid rate." Government officials concluded that Halliburton's "lack of cost containment and funds management is the single biggest detriment to this program." They found a "lack of cost control ... in Houston, Kuwait, and Iraq." In a partial review of the RIO 2 contract, DCAA auditors challenged $45 million in costs as unreasonable or unsupported.

  • Inadequate Cost Reporting: Halliburton "universally failed to provide adequate cost information," had "profound systemic problems," provided "substandard" cost reports that did "not meet minimum standards," and submitted reports that had been "vetted of any information that would allow tracking of details." Halliburton produced "unacceptable unchecked cost reports."

  • Schedule Delays: Halliburton's work under RIO 2 was continually plagued by delays. Halliburton had a "50% late completion" rate for RIO 2 projects. Evaluations noted "untimely work" and "schedule slippage."

  • Refusal to Cooperate: Evaluations described Halliburton as "obstructive" with oversight officials. Despite the billions in taxpayer funds Halliburton has been paid, the company's "leadership demonstrated minimal cooperative attitude resolving problems."
The report is available online at or emailed upon request.

Related articles:

Contractor Bilked U.S. on Iraq Work, Federal Jury Rules

Exporting Self-Help

Calling all French students: Care to defend yourselves from Tierney's brutal attack against your character?

I'd try, but for one problem: I don't think we in America have too much to lord over others right now. We're already doling out hoards of unwanted advice, mostly bad, and bullying into everybody's business all over the world, with abysmal results.

At least the French students have enough chutzpah and "self esteem" to get off their duffs and protest their government about something (right or wrong) they feel strongly about.

That's a whole lot more than I can say for the majority of American college students, who are frantically obsessed--above all else--with getting a job that will pay them the most mucho buckos.

In America, money is the new morality.

I win. You lose. Tough luck. It's every man for himself.

Oh, we killed innocent civilians in Iraq? Our soldiers are dying for lies?

Oops. Sorry. Not my problem. Protest the war? What for?

In America, it is Donald Trump's lifestyle to which our young aspire. The fact that we indescriminately drop bombs on the heads of innocents is simply not priority.

After all, what good would it do? You can't get rich from standing up for what's right.

Photo: George W. Bush as a college cheerleader at Yale

Who Moved My Fromage?
By John Tierney
The New York Times
As student protesters and workers try to paralyze France today, I don't suppose many of them are looking to America to come to their country's aid. Nor do I suppose many Americans are in the mood for a new Marshall Plan. But I have a modest proposal anyway.

Someone needs to rescue France from its self-proclaimed malaise. Close to a quarter of its young people are unemployed, but they're too busy burning cars to look for jobs. They're protesting a new policy allowing workers under age 26 to be hired for a two-year trial period during which — quelle horreur! — they could be easily fired.

This policy, intended to encourage companies to take a chance on inexperienced workers, is being denounced for producing "slave jobs." It would be "like living beneath a guillotine," said Charlotte Billaud, a Sorbonne student.

"We're not disposable — we deserve better," said another student, Aurelie Silan. "Aren't we the future of France?"

Yes, mademoiselle, you are. That's the problem. What kind of college student wants a lifetime employment guarantee for the first job out of school? France's future is a generation of students whose idea of a good career — chosen by 75 percent of them in one poll — is a government job.

The leaders of the French Revolution called for constant daring: "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace." Today's street protesters have another motto: "Contre la Précarité." Against Precariousness!

Legend has it that when Napoleon's Imperial Guard was cornered by the British at Waterloo, its leader boldly declared: "The Guard dies. It does not surrender." Today's French can't even stand up to unarmed foreigners. When French young adults were asked what globalization meant to them, half replied, "Fear."

Beneath that facade of arrogance, the French are suffering from a condition apparent to any American. They have low self-esteem. They're not feeling empowered. They need that great engine powering our economy: the American self-help industry.

The French produce great Camembert, but they haven't absorbed the wisdom of Spencer Johnson's modern classic, "Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life." They haven't heeded Donald Trump's instructional CD, "Think Like a Billionaire." They haven't mastered Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" or Anthony Robbins's "Awaken the Giant Within."

A few French men and women have looked across the ocean for guidance — Robbins says he advised François Mitterrand — but the French masses still haven't awakened their inner giants. And they won't, unless we help them help themselves by sending over the titans of the American self-actualization movement.

This Marshall Plan B wouldn't cost American taxpayers much beyond a few French lessons, plane tickets and hotel rooms. The French might initially resent the intrusion — they have that fear of new things — but we can reassure them: there's a precedent. The U.S. government sent them the pioneer of self-help literature, Benjamin Franklin, and Paris loved him.

The only serious objection I expect is from Americans worried about our G.N.P.: Could the American economy struggle along without these gurus? But I think we're ready to go it alone, thanks to the billions of dollars of wisdom we've already stockpiled.

We've learned secrets like "Be Proactive" and "Think Win/Win" (two of Covey's seven habits). We now realize, thanks to Robbins, that "the past doesn't equal the future." We've paid $19.95 for Johnson's revelation: "Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese."

We can afford to share this knowledge with the French. If they understood Covey's radical Win/Win theory — "Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial" — French students might not be marching today. They might wonder why they'd want to spend the rest of their lives (well, at least until they retire in their 50's) working for someone who doesn't want them around.

If the French students studied Johnson — "The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese" — they might even consider the possibility of changing jobs. We could send them French versions of Donald Trump's CD, "How to Launch a Great Career," which does not include instructions for burning cars.

Eventually we could introduce them to Trump's television show, but not right away. There's a good reason "The Apprentice" hasn't made it to French TV. For now, "You're fired" translates as "We riot."

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

For Further Reading:

  • "France's Misguided Protesters" Editorial, New York Times, March 27, 2006.

  • "For the French, Joie de Vivre Fades Into Fear:Recent Riots Magnify Malaise Gripping Nation" by Molly Moore. Washington Post, March 25, 2006.

  • "Sham : How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless" by Steve Salerno. Crown, 288 pp., June 2005.

  • BBC NEWS | Europe | Violence flares at French rallies
    Students fear the First Employment Contract (CPE), which passed into law last week, will erode job stability in a country where more than 20% of 18- to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than twice the national average.

    Mr Chirac has called for dialogue between ministers and labour leaders, but union officials say they will not enter into talks until the CPE is suspended.

    The government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin proposed the law to help youths in the French suburbs who took to the streets last year, many unhappy with the lack of employment opportunities.

    The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the worry for the French government is that, as in May 1968, French students are expressing wider disenchantment with a government that is seen as remote and out of touch.
  • France: National student protest held against government attack on young workers

  • Le McJob
    The current youth uprising in France has caught international observers off guard. Over a million students and workers marched on March 18th and 19th, not just against a discriminatory law - the new "First Employment Contract" would make it easier to fire workers under 26 during their first two years on the job - but against a society that seems to have no place for them.

Inhuman Rights

Injustice. Abuse. Torture. Death. Silent victims. Will we be their voice? Or turn the other way?

In Disgrace, and Facing Death
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
KHANPUR, Pakistan

Aisha Parveen will live another day. Indeed, at least another week.

Ms. Parveen, the young Pashtun woman I wrote about on Sunday, was kidnapped at the age of 14 and imprisoned in a brothel here in southeastern Pakistan for six years. She escaped in January and married the man who helped her flee, but now a Pakistani court has charged her with adultery and is threatening to hand her back to the brothel owner — even though she is adamant that he will then torture and kill her.

Ms. Parveen's court hearing was yesterday, and I was afraid that would be the end. But the court adjourned the case for one week for further investigation. And Ms. Parveen's lawyer thinks the mood is different now: the Pakistani press picked up on my column, and the attention will make judges more careful about handling her.

So the publicity may save her life, but it won't make much difference for thousands of other Aisha Parveens around the world. Asma Jahangir, the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she sees cases like Ms. Parveen's all the time.

"There is no such thing called justice in Pakistan," said Ms. Jahangir, a prominent lawyer in Lahore. "It has simply collapsed."

Ms. Jahangir fights heroically for poor women who have been charged — like Ms. Parveen — with zina offenses under Islamic law. Zina encompasses fornication and adultery, and accusations of zina are effective weapons against women.

Landlords often evict women tenants, for example, by accusing them of zina. Worse, women who go to the police to report rapes can be arrested for zina, because they have acknowledged illicit sex and yet usually cannot provide four male witnesses to prove that it was rape.

Even professionals like Ms. Jahangir are targeted if they confront the government. Last year, for example, the police attacked her and a group of other middle-class women demonstrating for women's rights. She says that an aide to President Pervez Musharraf gave the police instructions about her: "Teach the [expletive] a lesson. Strip her in public." Sure enough, the police ripped off her shirt.

Ms. Parveen, now living in hiding after several kidnapping attempts in the last few days, faces an even more brutal struggle. Her only stroke of luck is having her new husband, Mohamed Akram, who rescued her from the brothel, on her side. The young couple are lovebirds, and each keeps talking about being so lucky to have found the other.

But Mr. Akram, while unwavering in his love, has disgraced his family by marrying a supposedly fallen woman, and his older sister is suffering.

"My brother-in-law sent me a message: 'Unless you divorce her, I will divorce your sister,' " Mr. Akram lamented. "She has two kids. And he's also beating her now. He's very upset because I married a girl who was in a brothel, who is not a virgin."

The couple cannot seek refuge with Ms. Parveen's parents, because Pashtun parents routinely protect their family honor by killing daughters accused of zina.

"I cannot go back there because if I do, they'll kill me," Ms. Parveen said. "In their eyes I'm dishonored, because even if a girl is kidnapped, then in their eyes she still should be killed."

Saddest of all, her story isn't newsworthy in a classic sense. There's nothing at all unusual about a young Asian woman suffering years of sexual enslavement, or judicial malpractice or murder.

And that's the challenge for us all, Asians and Americans alike — to change our worldview and put gender issues like sex trafficking higher on the global agenda.

A quarter-century ago, Jimmy Carter plucked human rights abuses from the backdrop of the international arena and put them on the agenda. Now it's time to focus on gender inequality in the developing world, for that is the greatest single source of human rights violations today.

Political dissidents tend to get the world's attention. But for every dissident who is beaten to death by government torturers somewhere in the world, thousands of ordinary women or girls die prematurely because of the effects of discrimination. In India, for example, girls 1 to 5 years old are 50 percent more likely to die than boys of the same age, because the boys are favored. That differential accounts for the death of a young Indian girl every four minutes.

Since these victims usually are voiceless, I'll give Ms. Parveen the last word so she can prick our consciences.

"God should not give daughters to poor people," she said in despair. "And if a daughter is born, God should grant her death."

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)


VIDEO: Trapped Between Love and Death

Women go 'missing' by the millions

House of Cards Comes Tumbling Down?

Andrew Card Resigns as White House Chief of Staff

Hmm. Sudden, huh? Think it might have something to do with this?:
Fitzgerald Will Seek New White House Indictments

Andrew Card Resigns as White House Chief of Staff: White House chief of staff Andrew Card has resigned and will be replaced by budget director Josh Bolten, an administration official said Tuesday.

Quiet Maven Steps Onto the Policy Stage: A profile of President Bush's Director of Office of Management and Budget, soon to be the White House Chief of Staff.

The Raw Story | Rove said cooperating in CIA leak inquiry: According to several Pentagon sources close to Rove and others familiar with the inquiry, Bush's senior adviser tipped off Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to information that led to the recent "discovery" of 250 pages of missing email from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Washington Note: Beneath the Surface on Plame Investigation: Rove and Libby in Deadly Dog Fight: Rove giving Patrick Fitzgerald a path into 250 pages of deleted and/or previously unprovided electronic communications from and within the Vice President's office must give serious heartburn to Scooter Libby's defense team, being paid for in part by this cabal of supporters.

Also see:

Monday, March 27, 2006

Molly Ivins Festival

Feeling low?

Get your Molly wit fix here:

FLASH PRESENTATION: Children of Abraham: Death in the Desert

From Chris Floyd of Empire Burlesque.

This is a must see flash presentation. Warning: Some of the visuals are disturbing and not be suitable for viewing by children.

Watch: Children of Abraham: Death in the Desert

See Also:

U.S.-led raid kills civilians north of Bagdad

FILM SPECIAL: Iraq's Missing Billions

Exposed: How American Contractors With The Help Of U.S. Government Raped Iraq


UNCOVERED: A shocking story of fraud, incompetence and corruption, unscrupulous foreign contractors who made millions from dodgy contracts, and literally billions of dollars for which no one can account.

Dr. Ali Fadhil, a 29 year old Iraqi doctor, investigates what has happened to billions of dollars worth of Iraqi money which was put into the care of the US led coalition to be spent for the benefit of Iraqi people on the reconstruction of their country.

Watch: Iraq's Missing Billions

Or Download the film here.

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