Friday, June 22, 2007

June 6 -June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007

Oily Incompetence

So there I was yesterday perusing my Wall Street Journal when, at the very bottom of an obscure inside page I spied the following story:

Iraq to Seek Chinese Help to Reinvigorate Oil Industry

BEIJING—Iraq's president today is set to begin a week-long trip to China to address his country's urgent need for help to fix its ailing oil-production system. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is coming to Beijing with a delegation that includes his oil minister, is expected to ask Bering to revive a $1.2 billion oil exploration deal it established with Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule. Plagued by sabotage and theft amid the country's escalating violence, Iraq's oil fields have failed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to return to production levels before the war. Meanwhile, China needs more oil to help sustain rising car-ownership rates and economic growth that have made the country the world's No. 2 oil consumer, after the U.S.

The story was ironic on so many levels where do I begin?

* Self-described “oilman,” George W. Bush and his energy-industry friendly sidekick, Dick along with their lip-licking oil industry army of engineers and consultants, failed to put Iraq's Humpty Oil-Drum-ty industry back together again. Now, tired of waiting, the new (US-backed) Iraqi government has turned to the Chinese for help.

* And how can the Chinese afford to take on such an expensive task? Well with all the dollars they have stacked up like cord wood thanks to the Bush administration's laissez faire trade policies. In fact, if the Chinese oilmen have a sense of humor they will name their first Iraqi field, “WalMart One.”)

* And what will the Chinese do with Iraq's oil? Some will go to fuel the millions of autos all those Chinese factory workers can now afford, thanks to all the stuff they make and sell to Americans. And some of the oil – and oil revenue – will go directly into the mushrooming Chinese military establishment the Bush administration now calls "a growing threat to regional stability."

* It was reported that this week China had finally surpassed the US as the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The availability of Iraq's oil will only lessen China's incentive to find cleaner alternative fuels.

* When Bush toppled Saddam's regime, the only building US troops were ordered to protect was the Iraqi Oil Ministry. One can assume the plan was, that while the rest of Iraq's government buildings – including the museums -- were looted and burned, American oil execs would at least be able to hit the ground running in the intact Iraq Oil Ministry building. The funny part -- now it's the Chinese who are measuring those offices for drapes.

* The Iraqis figured Americans were the smartest people in on earth and, while we screwed up their entire country and killed who knows how many of their civilians, that we'd at least be able to fix what we broke and making it better than ever. Instead we've done neither. So, as Bush once tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” the Iraqis are not going for twice. Instead they are looking for new, more competent, friends, like the Chinese.

* It's not that the Bushies didn't provide value to at least some Iraqis. I mean, they dumped nearly a trillion US dollars into that sand pit. And now our own government auditors say tens of billions of those dollars are, well, “unaccounted for.” While unaccounted for as far as US taxpayers are concerned, rest assured those billions are enjoying Swiss hospitality. (And you can bet the Chinese will not be as stupid.) But now, with their “Get-out-of-Dodge-in-an-emergency” accounts topped off with US dollars, Iraqi officials are looking to the Chinese to put their oil industry back on it's feet.

Oh hell, I could go on and on and on with the ironies. But beyond irony that story was just one more piece in a mounting mountain of evidence that the Bush/Cheney administration can't do anything right, even when they are trying to do what they do best – being bad to the core.

Let's see, besides failing to corner the market on Iraq oil by invading the place and killing tens of thousands of innocents in the process, they also:

Failed to protect America from the worst terrorist attack in our history on 9/11.

Under the guise of denying terrorists safe havens abroad, they turned a non-terrorist haven, Iraq, into the biggest terrorist haven on earth.

By turning their attention to Iraq before completing the job of eradicating the actual terrorists who hit us, al-Qaida in Afghanistan, those terrorists escaped, revitalized themselves and are now turning Afghanistan into an Iraq look-a-like.

When faced with their first real domestic emergency after 9/11 – Katrina – they screwed up on a level that can only be described as historic in the breath and depth of their utter incompetence.

They decided that a policy of benign neglect was the best way to manage the long-simmering Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has now turned out to be a lot less benign than they figured. (Can you spell H-a-m-a-s and G-a-z-a?)

They figured the best way to teach the North Koreans a lesson they won't forget is to refuse to talk to them, thanks to which the North Koreans can now talk turkey with nukes.

They figured the best way to teach the Iranians a lesson was to refuse to talk to them either, thanks to which Iran now has the most advanced nuclear fuel enrichment program in the region and is well on it's way to having nukes too.

They figured that the best way to control illegal immigration was to leave it up to employers to decide if they valued following existing laws more than they valued their bottom line. (Guess which they chose... Duh!)

They launched two shooting wars but did nothing to beef up military medical infrastructure to deal with the thousands of wounded soldiers that would inevitably have to be cared for. (Remembert Walter Reed? Tip of the iceberg.)

They decided to tighten border controls by requiring the millions of Americans who pass back and forth over the Mexican and Canadian borders to have US passports. Then they did almost nothing to prepare for when all those law-abiding American complied by applying for passports.

Even melting ice caps and rising sea levels could not dissuade them from their belief that global warming was some kind of cooked scheme by liberals to hurt the economy and/or sully the reputation of those fine energy companies.

They show more concern for one-day old, multi-celled blastocysts than they do for the thousands of full-term children that dying in Darfur or the millions of full-term humans who die every year from diseases that might be cured by fetal stem cell research.

They believed that outsourcing skilled US jobs to cheap-labor countries would provide higher profits for US companies and cheaper prices for US worker/consumers. And both turned out to be true. Corporate profits are at record highs and prices at places like WalMart have never been lower. Unfortunately the low-wage US jobs that replace the higher paying jobs that were outsourced means that US worker/consumers can now only afford to shop at places like WalMart making it America's modern version of the company store.

While they embraced “the magic of free markets” everywhere else, they decided to spare large pharmaceutical companies from the rigors of that marketplace by making it illegal for Medicare to negotiate volume discounts on drugs, meaning no magic for consumers – just higher and higher drug prices.

Another place they decided there would be no marketplace magic is in health care. Instead they let the insurance industry cherry pick who they will and will not cover and what procedures they will pay for and not pay for. Those who they consider too risky to cover – as in actually likely to need medical services – end up getting those services at taxpayer expense. Which explains why HMO and health insurance companies rack up higher and higher profits even as fewer and fewer Americans can afford health insurance – 47 million and counting. For the health insurance companies it's “heads they win, tails we lose.” marketplace magic. We should all get such a deal.

The Bushies still have an agency that bears the name, Department of Justice, but they've turned it into an RNC political militia. and protection racket. (You got a problem with that?)

The chief law enforcement official in the nation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has lied under oath before Congress, misused his office for political purposes, sanctioned torture, secret prisons and suspension of Habeas Corpus. (Seems the Bushies learned more from the Iraqis about gaming a democracy than they taught the Iraqis about creating one.)

Oh my. That's quite a list. And I bet you could add to it. But hey, who's counting – any more. We are beyond counting now. Now we are all just waiting, counting the hours, minutes and seconds when this nightmare will end. Then will begin the long, and what will surely be a mind-bogglingly expensive, task of fixing what these careless, conniving and criminally incompetent morons broke during their 8-years at the controls.

As part of that process Americans deserve some form of recourse. We may not be able to get at these guys while they're still in office. Time is (thankfully) too short for that, and they've fortified themselves in ways that only those in power can. But once out of office we must, as a nation, demand accountability and recourse. I would, of course, prefer to see them face the kind of criminal charges they so richly deserve. But legal immunity issues are likely to preclude that.

So, if instead we have to dog them to their graves with civil actions, where they are forced to testify under oath, and where they will turn on one another as crooks always do, and spill the beans on each other, and where juries of OUR peers hand down gigantic financial judgments against them, then make it so.

And count me in as Plaintiff No. 1.

Video of the Day

June 12, 2007

Our Desert Dunkirk?

Here's a brain twister for you. What do George W. Bush and Gavrilo Princip have in common?


They both started a world war; Princip when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – starting WW I, and George W. by invading Iraq and starting World War III.

Oh yes, he did. And it's become perfectly clear to anyone who gets his or her news from more than one source. The only surprise in all this is that, those of us of a certain age lived most of our lives assuming that WW III would be a nuclear fight to the death between the capitalist west and communist block east.

Instead when WW III finally arrived it turned out being a low-tech, bloody, old-fashioned fight to the death between moderate Muslims thirsting for progress and fundamentalist Muslims determined to repeat the Inquisition and return to the middle ages.

Now in all fairness, George didn't create basis for this epic confrontation. It's been stewing at a slow-boil for centuries. All George did was turn it up to a full-boil. This month it boiled over, and there'll be no putting it back in the pot.

It's a shame that Americans are so provincial in their choice of news sources. Because proof that World War III has begun, and that it's about to consume the entire Muslim Middle East, is all over the foreign press.

Here's a sampler:

Hamas Seizes Base In Gaza -- Fatah Abandons Posts
JERUSALEM, June 14 -- Hamas gunmen wrested control of a key security base in Gaza City from the rival Fatah movement Thursday morning, further consolidating their hold over large swaths of the Gaza Strip. (Full)

Sunni mosques attacked after Shia shrine bombing
14 June 2007 -- BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three Sunni mosques were bombed in Iraq on Thursday in apparent reprisals for an attack on a revered Shia shrine, sparking fears of fresh sectarian bloodletting.
....Al Qaeda militants on Wednesday bombed the Al Askari mosque, but at least six Sunni mosques have been attacked, including one in the capital. The destruction of Samarra’s two gold-covered minarets came after an initial attack on the shrine in 2006, also blamed on Al Qaeda, sparked Sunni-Shia reprisals that have claimed tens of thousands of lives. (Full)

Gates: Iran leaders likely know of arms shipments
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Iran's government likely knows about the shipment of weapons from Iran to Taliban militants in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. Gates said the volume of weapons shipments makes it "difficult to believe" they're coming from smugglers "or that it's taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government." (Full)

Dramatic Taliban resurgence detailed
June 14, 2007 -- OTTAWA — An analysis of the situation in Afghanistan last fall prepared for top levels of the Canadian government warned that the country was becoming "two Afghanistans" with the situation in the fractious South and West continuing to deteriorate and the position of President Hamid Karzai "weakening to a new low." (Full)

Pro-Taliban militants taking over Tank

TANK AFGHANISTAN: Pro-Taliban militants have transformed the once-bustling community here into a city under siege. Following militant raids on government offices, business and a school, Tank’s streets and bazaars are largely empty. An opposition politician and tribal elder believes that one-third of the residents have fled the city. “The government has lost its writ in Tank,” said Sardar Ahmed Gul. “Every evening there is shooting and people cannot go out.” (Full)

Another day of mourning in Lebanon after another murder

14 June, 2007 -- Beirut - Tens of thousands of mourners marched in a funeral procession Thursday for a prominent anti-Syrian legislator killed by a car bomb in a new blow to the stability of Lebanon. The slaying was likely to further inflame Lebanon's bitter power struggle between Saniora's Western-backed government and its Syrian-backed opponents, led by the Hezbollah militant group. (Full)

Soldiers clash with militants in Lebanon
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Lebanese tanks pounded an Islamic militant group's headquarters in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli on Sunday after the northern city's worst fighting in two decades killed 22 soldiers and 17 militants. (Full)

Monitors find rampant fraud in Egypt election

CAIRO • An independent Egyptian monitoring group said yesterday that this week’s elections for the upper house of parliament were marred by widespread fraud and estimated voter turnout at just three per cent...Egypt’s ruling party won 69 out of 88 seats outright in Monday’s parliamentary election while the opposition (Islamic fundamentalists) Muslim Brotherhood got none... (Full)

Palestinian Ambassador in Egypt Asks Muslim Brotherhood To Intervene
On instructions from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo Monther Al Dajani met with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt General Guide Muhammad Mahdi 'Akef at Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Al-Manil and asked him to intervene to persuade Hamas to stop the internecine Palestinian fighting. 'Akef has agreed to the request. (Full)

Iran: Khatami flayed for shaking hands with women
TEHRAN • A hardline Iranian daily yesterday launched an attack on former reformist president Mohammad Khatami who it said had publicly shaken hands with women while on a visit to Italy last month..."Recently a video has been circulating on the Internet showing a former top official visiting Italy, shaking the hands with several women and young girls," said the Siasate Rouz daily, one of Iran's most ultra-conservative papers. "We do not want to publish the address of the Internet site where this film can be seen, in order to avoid propagating corruption in society," it added. (Full)

Iran: Five Soldiers Killed While Fighting Kurds
June 13, 2007: Five Iranian soldiers have been killed in fighting with Kurdish rebels in Northwest Iran, local Iranian papers reported June 13. Two soldiers were killed near the West Azerbaijan border town of Maku on June 10, another two in fighting on the road to the Kurdish city of Mahabad, and one was killed in a land mine explosion near Piranshar, close to Azerbaijan. The area has seen regular conflicts between Iranian security forces and the Pejak, a group linked to Turkish separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party. (Full)

Get the picture? Pretty grim. This is how most great wars begin --long-simmering ethnic/religious hatreds are ignited by some fool playing with matches. And once ignited the resulting war consumes everything and anyone in it's path, until one side vanquishes the other or both sides collapse in physical and/or fiscal exhaustion.

The Muslim Middle East is just beginning that process. The smack-down pits radial Islam against moderate/progressive Islam. It's too soon to pick a likely winner, but we know who thefool with the matches was, own Hemorrhoid-in-Chief, George W. Bush. The events he sparked are now out of his hands, and everyone else's. The dogs of war are loose in the Muslim world. They've already tasted blood in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon and, as any livestock farmer knows, there are only two cures for such dogs -- old age or a bullet between the eyes.

What does the start of World War III in the Middle East mean to the US? Well, first it means we better figuring out fast how to live without oil from that part of the world. Because our traditional oil-buddy, the Saudi Arabia, is to the fundamentalist fighters what Berlin was to the Allies during WW II.

And it means we should start now getting our troops the hell out of there, before we they find themselves stuck in a desert version of Dunkirk.

June 11, 2007

Who's On First?

By now you are probably confused. Don't feel bad, it is getting a bit complicated. But I am sure there's a well-oiled plan behind it all. Let's see if we can figure it out.

The minute I picked up my morning paper I just knew millions of Americans will be wondering if maybe this was misprint:

U.S. Arming Sunni Insurgent Groups in Iraq
BAGHDAD, June 11 (UPI) -- U.S. forces in Iraq are reportedly expanding a strategy tried in Anbar Province of arming Sunni Arab groups to fight against militants linked to al-Qaida....According to the newspaper, U.S. commanders held talks with Sunni groups in at least four areas of central and north-central Iraq where the insurgency has been particularly strong. Many of the groups have had past links to al-Qaida but grew disillusioned with its tactics, particularly suicide bombings that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, the newspaper says. In exchange for U.S. backing, the Sunni groups have agreed to fight al-Qaida and halt attacks against American units. (Full)

Yes, it was the Sunnis that started the post-Saddam insurgency, killing US troops and thousands of Iraqi Shiites. And yes, it was Sunnis that teamed up with al-Qaida to fight the US occupation. But that's so yesterday. Now the Sunnis have added al-Qaida to their enemies list. And, as our Commander-in-Chief likes to say, “we adjust.”

This “adjustment” was triggered (excuse the pun) when the Sunnis figured out that, should they actually force Shiites out of Sunni areas of Iraq with al-Qaida's help, al-Qaida intended to run the show in those areas, not the Sunnis.

That left the Sunnis caught in their own “Triangle of Death,” between Shiites that want all Sunnis dead, the Americans who wanted Sunnis to get used to being an oppressed minority in the country they once ruled and al-Qaida, that considered Sunnis just a source of food, shelter and cannon fodder.

So the Sunnis turned to the only one of those three that's managed to work itself into as big a jam they had – the Americans. Like two drowning swimmers they've glommed onto to one another hoping that, together, they can figure out a way to avoid going down together.

A deal has been struck. The Sunnis “promise” to stop killing and blowing up American troops if the Americans help Sunni tribes cleanse their areas of foreign al-Qaida fighters.

Admittedly, it's a novel idea. After all, Plan A hasn't worked. There was some kind of reverse double whammy thing going on with US tactics against al-Qaida-in-Iraq. The more US troops we put in to fight al-Qaida, the more al-Qaida fighters showed up to shoot them. (It was almost as though al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, meant it when he encouraged the US to send more troops to Iraq so his men could kill just that many more “infidels.”)

Just a few weeks ago the idea of the US arming Sunni insurgents would have been considered madness. This morning it's US policy.

Of course this new US plan does have it's detractors -- like the majority Shiite population for example. The Shiites have been busy stalling for time while it uses US money, training, guns and “democracy” to bulk up for the mother of all civil wars against the Sunnis.

Mahdi militia looks to isolate Sunnis
McClatchy Newspapers: BAGHDAD -- In the past 10 days, the fiery Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia has resurfaced in force, making a push to roust Sunnis from Baghdad and to isolate Sunni enclaves in the west of the capital from their brethren in the south...Mahdi Army militiamen in the Shiite dominated neighborhood of Bayaa were reinforced by other Shiite fighters and men in civilian clothes with weapons have cordoned off the area. In the past 10 days Mahdi Army activity has escalated, intensifying in the past two days with the capture of two Sunni mosques, residents and police said. ... The push appears to be part of a strategy by the Mahdi Army to control swaths of the once Sunni-dominated west bank of the Tigris River. (Full)

The last thing the US-supported, Shiite-dominated Iraqi government wants is to have their own personal trainer helping the Sunnis bulk up too. As they see it, all that's going to do is make it harder for the Shiite's to reach a “final solution” to sectarian violence once Americans leave.

Okay, you with me so far?

That's the situation in central Iraq. Up north things are also getting a bit confusing. But not to worry. The White House says it's not the way it looks. The Kurds have been the administration's poster children of good Iraqi behavior. They have a nice little thing going up north now that Saddam is gone. In fact, for all intents as purposes, their own little country up there, at least in everything but name. (Though the Kurds have nicknamed the area “Kurdistan.”)

But the Kurds figure they left something behind in Turkey and Iran – like more country. Their definition of “ours” seems to extend further west and east into areas that Turkey and Iran define as “theirs' and have the international deeds to prove it. To which the Kurds reply, “We don't need no stinkin's deeds,” and so are pressing their claims... with guns.

The Turks were not amused.

Turkey is Poised for War against Iraq's Kurds
Turkey is dangerously close to launching a full-scale war across its eastern border into northern Iraq. The aim would be to wipe out the bases of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), destroy once and for all the party's separatist ambitions, and put an end to cross-border terrorist attacks and hit-and-run raids by the PKK, which have inflamed nationalist opinion in Turkey. ... (But) Far from quelling Kurdish separatism in Iraq, the war might revive it in Turkey itself, home to some 15 million ethnic Kurds. Turkey fought a bitter war against the PKK from 1984 to 1999 which resulted in 35,000 dead and the displacement of some 2 million. (Full)

The Iranians, who the US has been trying to freeze out influence in the region, area having a field day with all this. The Iranians have assured the Turks that, should the Kurds become troublesome, “you guys hit -em and we'll hold-em.”

And of course the Iranians already pretty much call the shots in the Shiite south of Iraq, and they pull the strings of the largest Shiite political and militia forces in the rest of the country.

Oh, and how's this for coincidence. Guess who else is giving guns and explosives to the Sunnis – Iran. Why? Because the Iranians want al-Qaida out of Iraq just as much as the Americans do. And the Iranians know that once the Sunnis chase al-Qaida out they will quickly turn their weapons back against occupying US troops. (Sure the Sunnis will also fight Iranian-supported Shiites. But in the Bizarro World that is the Middle East, Iran sees that as the least of the post-Saddam/post US era in Iraq.)

I understand that the uninitiated might see all this as evidence that the US is losing ground in the region – big time. But we are just, in the words of our Command-in-Chief, “adjusting.”

It's against this backdrop of “adjusting for success,” that administration supporters have decided that this would be the perfect moment to administer a giant dope-slap to the Iranians.

Lieberman Backs Cross-Border Air Attacks On Iran
June 11, 2007 9:40 a.m. EST: Washington, D.C. (AHN) - Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut who was formerly a Democrat and who strongly supports the Iraq War, has said he backs cross-border attacks on Iran if that nation doesn't stop training Iraqi insurgents. ... "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Mr. Lieberman said in an interview yesterday on the CBS News. (Full)

And, hey, how about those Sudanese? Remember when Bush said that “you are either with us or you are against us?” Well the Sudanese, it turns out, are with us:

Sudan helps US spying in Iraq: report
11 June 2007: WASHINGTON - The government of Sudan, regularly accused of backing atrocities in Darfur, has secretly allowed its spies to gather information about the insurgency in Iraq for the United States, The Los Angeles Times reported Monday...Citing unnamed intelligence officials, the California newspaper said Sudan has become increasingly valuable to Washington since the September 11, 2001, attacks because the Sunni Arab nation is a crossroads for Islamic militants making their way to Iraq and Pakistan. (Full)

Hey, what's a little genocide among allies? The Sudanese, you see, are Sunnis! Which dovetails nicely with the new tactics in Iraq. Sunnis in Iraq now get to kill just about anyone they want, with US guns and explosives even, as long as they kill al-Qaida fighters and not US troops.

And the Sudanese can continue exterminating non-Muslim blacks in Darfur -- as long as they continue to snitch to the CIA on al-Qaida.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, we learned another thing about the administration's well-oiled plans. Sure we are giving guns now to Sunni insurgents, and sure the Shiites are unhappy about that, and sure it's going to make the inevitable civil war a lot more bloody that it otherwise would have been. And, when all that bloody shit hits the fan, US troops will have a front row seat:

US Plans to Keep 40,000 Troops in Iraq
June 12, 2007: The US military is planning for a long-term presence in Iraq even if there is a big troop withdrawal early next year...The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, declined to comment on reports in The Washington Post at the weekend that outlined a Pentagon plan for a post-occupation force of about 40,000 soldiers....Thomas Ricks, the Post's military correspondent, said the plan involved four components: a 20,000-strong reinforced mechanized infantry division, assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi Government; a training force of 10,000 troops to work with the Iraqi military and police units; a small but significant special operations unit; and finally a command and logistics unit of about 10,000 troops. (Full)

Just what 40,000 US troops will do in Iraq while Sunnis and Shiites slaughter one another around them, is unclear. Ostensibly they will simply be there to keep an eye on al-Qaida, and not to intercede on either side in a civil war. Iran will side with their Shiite cousins, Syria will back their Sunni/Baath Party brethern, Turkey and the Kurds will be duking it out up north, a war that will threaten the cohesion of NATO itself.

Of course, by then this administration will safely hunkered down it's own Green Zone, Crawford, Texas from where they can blame the whole mess on the Democrats.

June 6, 2007

The Mexican Model

I can't vacation in Mexico. The last time I vacationed there was about ten years ago and that was it for me.

It turns out I can't enjoy being served gin and tonics while laying on a beach at a comfortable resort while, 300 yards down the beach a peasant woman washes her family laundry at the mouth of a foul-smelling creek as her children work the tourists for spare change.

Mexico is a country where a privileged minority have it good... very, very good. A country built on serfdom means never having to cut one's own lawn, raise one's own kids, or for that matter doing anything one deems beneath them.

That's life for a tiny minority of privileged Mexicans. The rest of the population scrapes and scrambles just to get by.

If you like that kind of social arrangement you're in for a real treat, because it's coming here. Actually, it's here already in some places, and is making steady inroads in communities across America.

"There's the rich, and then there's everything else, in terms of the economy but also in terms of social class," says Edward Wolff, a New York University professor and expert on the wealth gap. He likens it to the social divisions of the 1890s, adding: "If you don't counteract the extreme inequality trends, I see some social upheaval coming. That's my worst fear." (Full)

I only mention this because this week the US Senate is debating how to handle flood of illegal immigration from Mexico. If you are confused by the bedfellows that support the current “comprehensive” reform measure, you can be excused. They are an odd lot, to be sure. Democrats and Republicans both support “comprehensive” immigration reform. But to understand the reasons, you have to separate them. Because very different agendas at play.

Democrats support the measure because Hispanic groups, a rapidly growing voting block, want a bill that will legalize the 12 million or so illegal Mexican immigrants now living in the US. They also want to retain the pretend border and workplace enforcement measures that have facilitated that influx.

Republicans want something else. They want to recreate the Mexico model right here on our side of the border. Outsourcing of once good-paying manufacturing jobs has already devastated America's once vibrant blue collar demographic. Workers whose jobs were lost to outsourcing have been relegated to lower paying service sector jobs. (The companies that once employed them are the same ones that are doing so well on Wall Street these days, and that's a major reason why.)

With that milestone now behind them Republicans have now turned their sights on highly-paid skilled white collar American workers. These domestic professionals are costing corporations money so, under the guise of “global competitiveness,” Republicans now want to increase the number of foreign skilled workers companies can hire through the H1-B visa program.

They also slipped into the “comprehensive” immigration reform bill measures that will skew future immigration to favor skilled immigrant workers, programmers, engineers, architects, and the such. Like the flood of unskilled immigrants that preceded them, these skilled foreign professionals work for less than their American counterparts. By hiring foreign professionals willing to work for less than half what similarly skilled Americans , companies can record another boost to their bottom line.

But what of displaced skilled American workers? They are not about to settle for unskilled, low-wage work in the service sector? The US Chamber types have a glib response – displaced skilled Americans should stop whining and “retrain” themselves for a different job or profession. If you ask them just what that new profession might be, they are short on answers, since they know that every skilled profession is the corporate hit list.

I get myself in all kinds of trouble with my friends on the left when I talk about immigration because I don't toe the party line. You know... the “there's no such thing as an illegal person,” clap trap non-sequitur, and those Mexicans that claim “we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us.” To whom I replay, “Yeah, that's what the Guatemalan illegals in Mexico shout too while Mexican police shove them back across their border with Guatemala – generally after administering them a thorough whomping.”

Of course there are real humanitarian issues mixed in with the other ramifications that flow from the inescapable reality of the world's richest nation sharing a porous border with one of the world's poorest. But those ramifications go both ways. Immigration is not a zero-sum game. One group's gain comes at the expense of another group. While uncontrolled flows from Mexico put pressure on US workers and wages, it takes releaves social pressures in Mexico which otherwise would almost certainly result in pressure on the privileged to spread the wealth more fairly. Rather than the US addressing the welfare of indigious Mexican workers we are securing the welfare of their oppressors back home.

Meanwhile back home here it was once an article of faith that “what's good for American businesses is good for America.” That may have been true once, but today it's demonstrably just the opposite. What's considered good for business today are things like, loose environmental and work safety regulations, shedding pensions and health care for workers, paying less in taxes to support a national infrastructure that benefits them more than anyone and, of course, a surplus of cheap workers.

And that's what on the burner in Congress this week. When you hear supporters of the current immigration bill peddling their vision of “comprehensive immigration reform,” first look at the speaker's name tag. If it reads “Democrat” they are whoring for Hispanic votes. Make have no doubt about it. There is not a shred of honor or integrity or humanity involved. It's all about rounding up the Hispanic demographic for Democrats and depriving Republicans of the same. If you believe otherwise, I have a garage full of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction to sell you.

If the name tag Ids them as “Republican,” then they are pimping for US Chamber of Commerce and their corporate supporters. Absolutely and provably bought and paid for.

So where do I stand on immigration reform? Somewhere else, apparently. I understand the problem created by reality of 12 million illegals already embedded in the fabric of our country. Most of them came here after the last “comprehensive” immigration reforms passed during the Reagan administration that legalized 3 million. That round of legalization attracted the 12 million more we are now all obsessing over. Do it again the same way and in decade we'll a 48 million more demanding a fast-track to citizenship. Frankly I find myself on the side of people I normally shudder at. I would counsel benign neglect – follow the changes below and let attrition whittle the number down to a level where, in few years, we are down a manageable level.

Other changes:
  • Pass strict workplace enforcement with real penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers.
  • The repeal or amending of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which forms the legal basis for so-called “anchor babies.” The intent of the 14th Amendment was to assure that the children of freed African-American slaves were denied US citizenship. It had nothing to do with babies of foreign immigrants and Congress needs to do whatever is required to clarify that issue.
  • Limit aid to undocumented immigrants to basic humanitarian issues, such as emergency health services, food, water and temporary shelter pending deportation.
  • Would be immigrants from Mexico must get in the same line and comply with the same rules as every other nationality wanting to immigrate legally to the US.
Not a very “liberal” stance, huh? Yeah I know. I'm a realist. Sorry. But unless we want the US to look like the country Mexicans are fleeing, we need to stop demagoguing and sentimentalizing this issue. We need to get real about it, real fast.

Of course, I doubt we will. Those Americans – many members of my “baby boom” generation -- have warmed to the Mexican model. After all, it's nice to have a nanny, a housekeeper and gardener happy to work for peanuts.

And then there's the agribusiness folks. They like to scare us with tales of how much we'd have to pay for our food if they couldn't hire cheap Mexican farm workers.

Maybe so, but these same agribusiness lobbyists about wet themselves singing the praises of turning food (corn) into Ethanol. I don't recall any of them warning doing that would drive food prices up. Have you noticed the prices in the cereal and meat aisle lately? Well, get ready, because they're going yet higher.

Cereal prices to rise

Wednesday, June 6, 2007-- — General Mills Inc. said it would raise cereal prices to match increases by competitors. General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe said Tuesday that customers should see lower prices per box, but the boxes will be smaller, so the effect is a price increase....The maker of Wheaties and Lucky Charms has been looking for a way to boost profits, which have been squeezed by higher prices for fuel and ingredients such as oats. (Full Story)

If you think you're suffering sticker shock at the pump, just wait another year or two and you'll feel the same way when when the clerk tallies up your weekly grocery tab.

But never mind. That's a different issue, they'll tell you. Agriculture needs both cheap labor and the ability to sell their food crops for fuel. It's a “national security issue,” they add – with stern faces. (So, you prefer affordable food to fighting terrorists?)

And once again way too many working class Americans will nod in obedient agreement. We like our internal combustion gadgets. If we have to burn food to keep the speed boat running, oh well. And if that's going to drive up food prices, well that just means we need cheap farm labor all the more, right?

But of course.

And then there's all those spoiled baby boomers who've developed a taste for cheap hired help. And all those over-paid, over tax-exempted executives saddled with huge lawns that need mowing, pools that need care, multiple homes too keep clean. Imagine if they had to pay American workers a living wage to do all that! Unthinkable.

And so we continue a lemming-like march towards the Mexican model. When that happens the new border action will shift further north as undocumented Americans seek in Canada what they allowed to be pissed away back home.

June 5, 2007

Crazy. Call Me Crazy

First let me reassure you – you aren't crazy. At least I don't think you are. You just feel that way some days. I know because I felt it again this morning. And wouldn't anyone? I mean these two stories were virtually side by side in my morning paper:

Rice Blasts Venezuela's Chavez
ANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Venezuela's foreign minister fired verbal broadsides at each other Monday over the closure of a key opposition television station in Venezuela...Rice protested the shuttering of Radio Caracas Television, RCTV, calling it Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's ''sharpest and most acute'' move yet against democracy as thousands of university students marched in Caracas to protest.

Pakistan takes TV stations off air
Islamabad: PAKISTAN'S President, Pervez Musharraf, has cracked down on the country's television networks in a move against growing calls for a return to democracy. Several stations were taken off the air at the weekend. On Monday, General Musharraf introduced emergency legislation providing for stiff fines and the closure of channels deemed to have broken the law. The military-dominated government is angry at what it calls "sensationalist" coverage of the crisis surrounding the suspended Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

I must be crazy. After all, in neither story did the reporter mention the other, or try to reconcile the inherent contradictions. So, I must be seeing something that ain't there. I must be crazy.

We've all wondered just what goes on in the mind of a crazy person, so here, let me give you glimpse by letting you into this crazy person's mind. Here's how my crazy brain spun it's wheels on all that.

Whoa! Back up buddy. Somethings amiss here.
  • Chavez pulls the plug on television news he doesn't like and the US calls him a dictator.
  • Musharraf pulls the plug on news outlets that he doesn't like and the US says nothing about it.
  • Chevez is considered an enemy of the US, though his only weapon of mass destruction appears to be his mouth (and bears an uncanny resemblance to Benito Mussolini.)
  • Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them, and we call Pakistan a friend and “partner in the war on terrorism.”
  • Chavez was democratically elected by the Venezuelan people.
  • Musharraf is the General Alexander Haig of Pakistan... he simply appointed himself “in charge,” and intends to keep it that way.
  • If Chavez is overthrown, either undemocratically or democratically, the only international ramification would be that US oil companies get to reclaim their Venezuela's assets.
  • If Musharraf gets overthrown, either democratically or otherwise, the chance that Islamic terrorist groups getting their hands on nuclear materials and/or actual nukes, goes from slim to PDG (Pretty Damn Good.)
Whew! Maybe I'm not crazy after all. By George, I think I get it.

Venezuela is in the US dog house as long as socialist big mouth, Chavez, is running the place.

But Musharraf can be anything he must be to to stay in power. That means if he has to jail opposition leaders, so be it. If he has to smother Pakistan's free press in it's crib, smother away. If he has to fix upcoming elections, buzz Diebold and go for it baby, there'll be no objections for this end.

It must be because the US has piled all the chips it has left on a US-subservient Pakistan. After all, it's the only country in the Muslim world without oil (or much else of value for that matter) that can be bought off with liberal applications of US money and military gear. It's also one of the few remaining nations on earth whose leader is so threatened by his own people that a day with out US protection is a day without sunshine – as in forever. Pakistan is also the only country that has less control over it's own border regions that the US. Which is why it is such a popular spring break destination for al-Qaida undergrads throughout the region.

So, let me review:

A democratically-elected leader with a big mouth, but lots of oil, no nukes, who squashes democratic forces in order to remain in power, is an enemy of freedom, democracy and the US.

But a leader who seizes power in a coup, refuses to resign his post as the nation's military leader, whose people hate and would likely replace if allowed to vote in a free and open election, but who isn't about to allow it, a leader who harbors within his notoriously unstable country both terrorists and nukes – oh, and who also suppresses press freedom, is embraced as a friend of the US and a partner in the global war against terrorists.

Shit. That didn't help.

Wait! I wonder if there's some kind of sliding schedule for these kinds of considerations – a relativity thing going on. Maybe Einstein missed something in his theory of relativity. Maybe not just time, but democracy and freedom are relative forces in the universe as well.

Since I never fully understood Einstein's original theory, maybe I'm not crazy just because I can't get my neurons around a theory of relative freedom and democracy either. Nevertheless, there clearly appears to be some kind of relative standards involved in these highfalutin international mashups.

Hmmmm, I'll try one of Einstein's thought exercises: If Musharraf and Chavez are both fired into space in different rockets, and Musharraf travels at the speed of light while Chavez travels only as fast as the sound of his own words ... Forgetaboutit. That doesn't help either. I still don't get it.

So I go back to my paper:

''Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of government,'' Rice told the ministers. ''Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy.''

Suddenly I'm chanting --

“Head-On! Apply directly to the forehead.
Head-On! Apply directly to the forehead.”

So I turn on CNN to drown out the refrain, and there's George W. Bush lecturing the G8 nations in Prague on the importance of “transparency in government.”

“The United States is also using our influence to urge valued partners like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to move toward freedom. These nations have taken brave stands and strong action to confront extremists, along with some steps to expand liberty and transparency.”

That does it. I'm crazy. Pass the Prozac.

Make it a double.

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Channeling Marie Antoinette