Friday, May 25, 2007

The puppies of war 

Our Iraq War Apologist in Chief repeats his "arguments" for dumping more blood and treasure into this godforesaken misadventure.

THE PRESIDENT: As to al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda is going to fight us wherever we are. That's their strategy. Their strategy is to drive us out of the Middle East. They have made it abundantly clear what they want. They want to establish a caliphate. They want to spread their ideology. They want safe haven from which to launch attacks. They're willing to kill the innocent to achieve their objectives, and they will fight us. And the fundamental question is, will we fight them? I have made the decision to do so. I believe that the best way to protect us in this war on terror is to fight them....

No, the fundamental question isn't whether we'll fight Al-Qaeda, it's how we'll fight Al Qaeda. This is just another example of a false choice that Bush constructs so that he can "control the context of the debate" (often through strawmen), because he and his advisors think Americans are hopelessly stupid rubes. Don't ever let Bush tell you that this hideous misadventure in Iraq is the only way we can fight Al-Qaeda. There's a hundred if not a thousand better ways to fight Al-Qaeda than what we're doing now. We could be killing their leadership and destroying their re-established bases in Pakistan, for example. Six years after 9/11, the President says we must occupy a civil warzone in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda? That's Bushit. We don't have to break our army trying to prop up an incompetent government sympathetic to Cleric Al Sadr and Iran. We don't have to be such utter failures at nation-building that it breeds extremism and resentment among the unemployed young men of Iraq. We don't have to do those things, but Bush acts like his way is the only way. And the main reason we have to do it his way is because of the dreaded "puppy dog" view of terrorism, which he repeats ad nauseum.

The danger in this particular theater in the war on terror is that if we were to fail [in Iraq], they'd come and get us. You know, I look at these reports right here in the Oval Office. For people who say that we're not under threat, they simply do not know the world. We are under threat. And it's in our interest to pursue this enemy.

Martha.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? ...

THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

Q -- catastrophic, as you've said over and over again?

THE PRESIDENT: I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. This is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request. And hopefully the Iraqi government would be wise enough to recognize that without coalition troops, the U.S. troops, that they would endanger their very existence. And it's why we work very closely with them, to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn't make that request -- but if they were to make the request, we wouldn't be there.

So, let's review: if we leave Iraq the terrorists will "come and get us". "We are under threat", President Bush says. The terrorists will attack us in America if we don't fight them in Iraq-- HOWEVER, if the Al Sadrists in Iraq's Parliament want to ignore the mortal terrorist threat that Al Qaeda poses to America and tell us to leave, then we will respect those wishes and retreat to our homeland and wait to be attacked. President Bush hopes that Iraq's government would be "wise enough" not to make such a request, but he will honor it if they do. That's Bush's position-- only the Iraqi government can tell us to surrender-- does that make sense?

Also, Bush defended his decision to go into Iraq by saying that he believed "the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power", and that he knoes that "the Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein in power". Yeah, big whoop. Does that mean we should wage trillion dollar preemptive wars every time the world would be "better off" without some dictator? Hussein was bad, but civil war and unwanted occupation is bad, too. Along those lines, I dare you to read and watch the news report the Cunning Realist links to here.

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Jeebus, on Wednesday we learned that history major Bush contrasted Iraq with Vietnam. Josh Marshall made an excellent and succinct analysis of Bush's weird comment:

[President Bush]: "Now, many critics compare the battle in Iraq to the situation we faced in Vietnam. There are many differences between those two conflicts, but one stands out above all: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does.”
...
President Bush appears to be embracing the argument that the Vietnam War was a fight against Vietnamese nationalists who wanted to kick us out of Vietnam but had no interest in us one way or another beyond that. Certainly they weren't going to launch attacks against the US mainland. But that was the Doves' argument. The premise of the war was that it was a battleground in the larger Cold War struggle, one against the Soviets (who certainly had the ability and arguably had the intent to attack us), the Chinese (though that's much more complicated) and international communism generally.

So this is what it has come to: Bush is reduced to interpreting Vietnam from a liberal viewpoint so that he doesn't have to compare it to his war in Iraq.

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As usual, some minor edits were made for clarity.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Assorted Links 

From the PW via the DP:

Without fanfare or national media attention, White House strategist Karl Rove went to Louisiana the weekend before last to woo State Treasurer John Kennedy (D) to the GOP and into the 2008 Senate race against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
...
But it is far from clear that the state Treasurer is all that close to making either jump -- to the Republican Party or into the Senate contest. And some in the state think that, given the President's current standing and the party's showing in the 2006 midterm elections, Rove may no longer be the best person to make the appeal to Kennedy.


Oh, Rove isn't the only one who will make this appeal to Kennedy, I promise you that. The GOP will do everything it can to lure Kennedy, because he's ambitious and matches up better against Landrieu than most of their other potential candidates. What do the Democrats have to offer him? A tough race against Vitty-cent in 2010?

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In other news, Warren Triche's (D-Raceland) Poker bill advanced to the Senate. Blanco has threatened a veto. I'm definitely on Triche's side on this one. New Orleans introduced poker to America-- and during this nationwide Texas Hold'em poker craze we should be capitalizing on this history, not downplaying it. Heck, an estimated 10,000 people came to New Orleans for the World Series of Poker Circuit Championship at Harrah's. That's the size of a small convention. Yet, Tunica Mississippi promotes its association with poker's "roots" in America, and it hosts poker tournaments with double the prize money of New Orleans' WSOP circuit event. Why can't we have a big-time, multimillion dollar poker event in New Orleans, the birthplace of American poker? Wouldn't top poker professionals and gamblers love to spend a week in New Orleans? And why aren't there more top ranked poker players from Louisiana and the Crescent City, anyways?

The poker movie "Deal" starring Burt Reynolds was filmed in New Orleans last year. I don't know when or if it is coming out in theaters. Judging by the preview, it looks pretty bad. Perhaps, like my much-ballyhooed Burt Reynolds film festival, "Deal" has been postponed indefinitely.

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If interested, please read these two important posts about employment and housing numbers at Big Picture.

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Update: Celsus answers Maitri's questions about the roles and goals of various recovery agencies in the city.

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Finally: aw, that's pisser.

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Zarathustra was born laughing, but we forgot the joke 

One of the reasons I'm so fond of Jeffrey is that he and I share the same mental affliction: we're liberals who are deeply skeptical of the concept of "progress". For us, this ideological tension makes daily living more difficult than it needs to be, and there's an abiding temptation to withdraw occasionally into alcohol, or absurdism, or excessive love for the Ancients or the Saints... But luckily we live in New Orleans, where our twisted mental outlook seems almost appropriate.

Today, I will choose to withdraw into an excessive love for the Ancients. It's one of my favorite indulgences. (Heck, I almost made a career out of it-- studying Plato's stepchildren footnotes and the like.)

I recently read an article about religious persecution in Iraq that reminded me of a quip from one of my favorite college professors. He said, "The problem with philosophy is that no matter where you start, you have to go backwards". It's true.

Alright, here's the article that prompted some "backwards" reflections:

A Sunni extremist group - al-Qaeda in Iraq - has threatened to kill Muslim youths in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah should they convert to Christianity or Zoroastrianism.

“We are hunting those who have converted to Christianity or Zoroastrianism as we consider them renegades and God’s punishment must be implemented by killing them," said a statement posted on the al-Farouk website on 22 April and signed by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
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...about 500 Kurdish Muslim youths have converted to Christianity since 2006 throughout Kurdistan. It is not known how many, if any, have converted to Zoroastrianism, once a dominant religion in much of Iran. The faith has now dwindled to very few followers.

Normally I'd take up the Iraqi Christian angle here, but not after Al Qaeda mentions Zoroastrianism. No, that's definitely a new one. And I can't tell you how much it pleases me that they're worried about Zoroastrian converts.

Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, established the first monotheistic philosophy about 15 to 30 centuries before Jesus of Nazareth came along. His teachings influenced the Western Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as well as the Eastern Dharmic religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism). Zarathustra advocated using reflection and logic to find enlightenment, and to resist the evil that comes from bad choices, and instead focus on "good thoughts, good words, good deeds". Some principles of Zoroastrianism include: men and women are equal, the environment should be kept clean, no slavery, no idol worship, work hard, be generous, and don't be cruel to humans or animals.

Radical stuff, to be sure. But could such novel ideas be put into practice?

[During] the one thousand years of Zoroastrian supremacy there are absolutely no reports of religious wars.
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The golden age of Zoroastrianism was during the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC. Cyrus united the volatile nations of Africa, Europe and Asia into a comparatively peaceful alliance, devoid of enslavement or tyranny. This included the liberation of the Jews from what is known as the Babylonian captivity.
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Nations captured by the Persian Empire were provided a new social order in which freedom of worship, equality and tolerance were instilled as values, and the captive nations eventually freed once they had given up their warring tendencies. This era was remarkably civilised, and some of the many notable features include transcontinental road networks, extensive travel and trade (which strengthens links between nations), the earliest instance of a "pony express" postal service, standardised weights and measures and the introduction of coins - both of which facilitated fair and equitable commerce.

This era is very rarely referenced - perhaps because of our fascination with conflict as a cornerstone of history (a matter not assisted by the fact that historical records tend to focus on the military, rather than the cultural).

Equality, religious freedom, tolerance, no slavery, and a millennium without religious wars... pretty good, huh? And that was 2600 years ago! One wonders how much real progress has been made in the Middle East and Persia since the "golden age of Zoroastrianism"? After all, didn't some tribal barbarians in Iraq just stone a 17 year old girl to death because she loved a boy of a different religion?

But before we get all high and mighty, we should remember that there was slavery in America only 150 years ago, and that was followed by a century (and more) of gross "inequality" amongst the races. Sure, we've made "progress" in recent decades; but it seems we have a long way to go. Especially in Louisiana.

Yes, today we live in a glorious, colorblind "Christian" nation. And we are blessed with a President who understands God's gift of freedom, and who has been called to spread that gift throughout the Middle East, at gunpoint, so that global tyranny will end. And when our President succeeds in that mission, that will be progress. The sooner victory comes, the better; because those Arabs and Persians sure need our help.

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Oh, hey, here's a news item from the Houston Chronicle. Let's read it:

Galveston-- A woman blames the devil and not her husband for severely burning their infant daughter after the 2-month-old was put in a microwave, a Houston television station reported.

Eva Marie Mauldin said Satan compelled her 19-year-old husband, Joshua Royce Mauldin, to microwave their daughter May 10 because the devil disapproved of Joshua's efforts to become a preacher.

"Satan saw my husband as a threat. Satan attacked him because he saw (Joshua) as a threat," Eva Mauldin told Houston television station KHOU-TV.
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Eva Mauldin has set up a MySpace page, "Joshua Mauldin is not a Monster," in hopes of defending her husband and making pleas for people to help her.

See, we have MySpace now. And microwaves. That's progress. But we still think Satan is forcing us to do things, and even our Presidents classify entire countries as "Evil".

I wonder what that funky Persian Zoroaster would say about such explanations.

Zoroastrian doctrine clearly enunciates, that Evil... is produced by wrong, retrograde, evil choices. On the other hand Good is also a product of righteous, ... choices. Evil and Good are clearly ethical edicts, which have no real existence outside Man's minds, mentalities and choices.
Evil doesn't exist outside our "minds, mentalities and choices". That wisdom comes from perhaps 5000 years ago. How far have we "progressed" since then? Not far.

Now, consider this claim:

As a logical conclusion of this teaching, [Zoroastrians] believe that there is no Evil in nature. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes and sicknesses, which humans believe to be Nature's wrath or a manifestation of Evil, or punishment for Man's misdeeds, are in Zoroastrianism ethically neutral. That is they are neither good, nor bad in themselves. They are either the products of chance, the existence of which is necessary to allow freedom of choice, or they are... necessary to uphold creation.


After Katrina, many religious extremists saw a divine hand working. Some Rabbis blamed black Gentiles for God's wrath, some fundagelical Christians blamed the gays, and Al Qaeda blamed the "American empire". Even New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin claimed that God was "mad at America" for waging a war in Iraq, and was upset at the black community for neglecting its own people.

I guess that's what five thousand years of spiritual "progress" will get ya: all kinds of hateful explanations as to why an anthropomorphic God directs natural disasters to certain "parts of the world".

I know it's outside our country's exalted Judeo-Christian-Mormon heritage, but I think more Americans should consider "converting" to Zoroastrianism. I'm serious. Al Qaeda fears it and the Iranians have largely turned away from its wisdom-- what more reason do you need?

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* According to Pliny's Natural History, Zoroaster laughed on the day of his birth.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is unadulterated amnesty worse than amnesty from adultery? 

Senator Vitter says the immigration bill offers "pure, unadulterated amnesty" to illegal immigrants.

I trust that my main man Vitty-cent knows a thing or two about adulterations. If not, surely his boy Rudy Giuliani can help him figure it out. "America's Mayor" has committed one or two "adulterations" in his life.

(H/T to the DP)

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Craziest quote I've read all week 

The LA TIMES reports:

In a private meeting just off the Senate floor, McCain (R-Ariz.) got into a shouting match Thursday with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) over details of a compromise on immigration legislation. Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy with his campaign to take part in the negotiations, prompting McCain to utter "F… you."
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McCain has shouted at people for any number of reasons, including errors of judgment, disagreements on public policy and even how to set up a podium.

"In McCain's world, there aren't legitimate differences of opinions," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which differs with McCain on some issues. "There is his way and there is evil. That is how he approaches issues. That is one of the reasons for conservative nervousness about him."

Wait a dadgum second! Since exactly when did conservatives start worrying that a candidate's approach to issues was too simplistic, or too binary, or too manichean, or too undiversified, or too "black and white"...? Precisely when did those qualities become liabilities to conservatives?

Did I miss a sea change or something?

After six years of Duhbya the Decider, after six years of dictatorial bullsh*t and neverending false choices, some ACU guy is claiming that conservatives are suddenly "nervous" because McCain allegedly believes that "there is his way and there is evil"? Is this guy serious?! After six years of Bush, he has the stones to say there aren't legitimate differences of opinion in "McCain's world"?

That's hilarious.

Are we to believe that conservatives suddenly want a candidate who "does" nuance, and who sees shades of grey, and understands how complex the world can be? Is that it? If so, I'd like to ask one thing:

When the hell did this start?! A week or so after conservatives re-elected one of the most rigid and incurious Presidents in American history?

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Lights out, insurgent radio-- turn that shiite up! 

Why do we build expensive embassies when we clearly don't care about diplomacy (or competence)?

From ABC via Atrios we learn:

Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.

Facing tough questions before a congressional panel last week, Broadcasting Board of Governors member Joaquin Blaya admitted none of the senior news managers at the network spoke Arabic when the terrorist messages made it onto the air courtesy of U.S. taxpayer funds.
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The station's gaffes have included broadcasting in December 2006 a 68-minute call to arms against Israelis by a senior figure of the terrorist group Hezbollah; deferential coverage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference; and a factually flawed piece on a splinter group of Orthodox Jews who oppose the state of Israel, according to the Wall Street Journal, which has reported the network's travails for months.

Here are some snippets from recent WSJ stories by Joel Mowbray:

"Television Takeover" 3/12/07:

Fighting to create a secular democracy in Iraq, parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi had come to rely on at least one TV network to help further freedom: U.S. taxpayer-financed Al-Hurra.

Now, however, he's concerned. The broadcaster he had seen as a stalwart ally has done an about-face. "Until now, we were so happy with Al-Hurra. It was taking stands against corruption, for human rights, and for peace. But not anymore."

Stories that he believes cry out for further investigation, such as recent arrests of those accused of supporting the terrorists in Iraq, are instead getting mere news-ticker mentions at the bottom of the screen. And Arab voices for freedom, which used to have a home on Al-Hurra, are noticeably absent. "They're driving out the liberals," he complains.

"Mad TV" 5/1/07:

Testifying under oath recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice misled Congress in her strong defense of Al-Hurra, the taxpayer financed Arab TV network. It was unwitting, though. She herself was misled.

During the March 21 House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) pressed Ms. Rice on the wisdom of providing a platform to Islamic terrorists, citing Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's Dec. 7 speech, which Al-Hurra aired live. The broadcast speech "went on for 30 minutes," she responded, "followed by commentary, much of which was critical of Nasrallah."

In fact, Mr. Nasrallah's speech was carried in its entirety, roughly an hour and eight minutes. The commentary that followed -- a 13-minute phone interview with Wael Abou Faour, a member of Lebanon's governing coalition -- was indeed critical of Mr. Nasrallah. He accused the Hezbollah leader of not being anti-U.S. and anti-Israel enough.


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"A Rush and a 'Piyush' and the Land is Ours" 

Yesterday the T-P had an interview with former Senator Breaux, discussing why he declined to run for Governor against Bobby Jindal. This particular snippet jumped out at me:


Breaux declined to criticize Jindal and said he didn't want to "run the race in the newspaper." But dropped hints during the interview at some of the attack lines he had planned.

At the outset, he referred to Jindal as Piyush, Jindal's given name, and an echo of the Democratic Party strategy to highlight Jindal's Indian-American heritage. Breaux also planned to portray himself as the more mature and experienced candidate who, at 63, is nearly twice as old as Jindal.

"He worked for me once," Breaux said, referring to his service on the Medicare Commission when Jindal was executive director.

First off, some of this reporting seems like speculation. If Breaux mentioned "Piyush" at the outset of the interview, he might've been being playful or bitter or any number of things. It doesn't necessarily mean that referring to Jindal as "Piyush" was one of "the attack lines" that he had planned to (personally) use for his campaign.

But let's assume it was a central part of the Dems (discreditable) plan, and that Breaux himself-- not merely the hacks on his staff-- would "highlight Jindal's Indian-American heritage" on the campaign trail. Doesn't that immediately conflict with Breaux's desire to portray himself as the more "mature" and "experienced" candidate? Quite simply, it's not mature to play name games. As soon as Breaux uttered his first "Piyush", Republicans would be crying "racist" and criticizing the tactic (as if they'd never seen racial code used before). "Piyushgate" would be precisely the sort of non-issue that the media would love to turn into a big deal. But, make no mistake: if Breaux tried to tweak Jindal by calling him "Piyush", it would seem petty and small (if not mean). And doing so would give Bobby a thousand opportunities to characterize Breaux as an old fart who is avoiding the real issues and focusing on personal attacks, when the people of Louisiana need fresh ideas and solutions... blah blah talking points.

Really: Is the State Democratic party so lame, and so bereft of strategic insight that they thought the "mature" Breaux needed to call Jindal "Piyush" in order to win? Was that really one of the centerpieces to their anti-Jindal campaign? Did they honestly think that coded appeals to racists would carry the day for them? Is that how they wanted to keep the Governor's Mansion?

To the extent that there was a "Piyush" strategy by Breaux and/or the State Dems-- it was lame, heavy-handed and would've backfired in this particular election. It would be much much better to characterize Jindal as Bush's naive, Republican poodle rather than as a brown melanin-rich guy with a funny name (kinda like Obama).

For example: in last year's mayoral contest, should Mitch Landrieu have referred to "Ray Nagin" as "Clarence Nagin" instead? (After all, "Clarence" is Nagin's real first name, even though he doesn't use it.) Or would that have been childish? Weren't there other reasons why Landrieu lost?

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Speaking of "heavy-handed", apparently "Bobby Jindal's baby's mama" was outraged by a rather excessive comic strip by the guys at Badmash.

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The title is another gay Smiths reference, but I repeat myself.

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I am my degenerate kid's mom 

It's been a while since I've written about Dr. Laura's son, so here' s a quick update: after a quick stint as a hookah pipe dealer and a GOP convention goon, Deryk Schlessinger became an army paratrooper and was sent to Afghanistan. At some point along the way, he found time to create an awful myspace page that his mother would describe as obscene. (We're talking about child molestation cartoons, racial epithets and things like that... it makes you wonder if Deryk was properly "cared for" and "fed" as a child.)

Then, we get an army spokesman actually floating the idea that Deryk's myspace page might be an elaborate hoax created by our Islamofascist enemies. Jonathan takes it from there.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

"I'm a rat out on a mission, I'm in your front yard under suspicion" 

NRO's David Frum says:

With the immigration *compromise* in the Senate, President Bush and the Senators have detonated the slow-motion trigger on a Republican debacle in 2008.

He's not wrong. You can review Frum's list of reasons "why" here, but I'll excerpt the two I found most compelling:

* The deal scrambles the 2008 race, in ways deeply unhelpful to the party. The deal has wounded all three of the GOP front-runners: McCain because he is deeply implicated in it; Giuliani because he has tacitly endorsed it; Romney because it has added one more flip-flop to his already too lengthy list of reversals. The deal helps the two undeclared Republicans, Gingrich and Thompson - both of whom, alas, are much less electable on a national ticket than the three declared front-runners.

Giuliani tacitly supports the "amnesty bill"? Uh oh. How's Senator Vitty-cent gonna handle that one? Is he once again going to "agree to disagree" on a major issue with the Presidential candidate he endorsed?

* The White House/RNC defense of the deal only enrages Republican voters. When Tony Snow [argues]... that George W. Bush has been tougher on illegal immigration than any president ever... well, he invites jeers and derision. Of the 35 million foreign-born people in the United States, some 8 million have arrived since 2001. Of the 12 million estimated illegals in the United States, some 4 million have arrived since 2001.

The Washinton Times is unamused by the so-called "amnesty bill", and says that it will be expensive:

[The immigration legislation] which provides amnesty for nearly all of the 12 million (or maybe even 20 million) illegal aliens already here, would swell the size of the welfare state in a way we haven't seen since Lyndon Johnson imposed his Great Society on us four decades ago.
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Mr. Rector of the Heritage Foundation says one major effect of the Senate amnesty bill will be to make approximately 9 million additional persons -- many of them low-skilled immigrants -- legal permanent residents of the United States who could lawfully benefit from a variety of social programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and public housing. Over the course of their lifetimes, these people will utilize $2.5 trillion more in government services than they will pay in taxes. American welfare and social services were designed for poor Americans; as a result of amnesty legislation, this legislation would expand the American welfare state to include a significant portion of the population of Mexico.

Even though I don't view illegal immigration as a top tier problem, I do think this proposal seems massively complex, and likely unworkable. Whether it qualifies as "amnesty" or not, the bill includes a huge amount of expense, red tape, and unenforcable rules. How can I expect employers and illegal immigrants to use some byzantine "points system" that I can't even understand?

The trap for the GOP is that only a bill with amnesty provisions can pass the Senate, and that's anathema to the rabid right. So hard right Republican presidential candidates will rally against the bill, and its (reasonable) supporters like McCain and Guiliani. For example, Mitt Romney is now aligning himself with the "deport 'em all" crowd and railing against the Senators who are trying to forge a compromise. Senator McCain didn't like being trapped in the middle. Today he struck back against Romney's opportunism:

"Maybe I should wait a couple weeks and see if it changes," Mr. McCain said of Mr. Romney's position on immigration this week. "Maybe he can get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his yard."

Great images there-- "small gun", "Guatemalans on the yard"... good stuff. This pleasures me so much because-- in so many ways, from Iraq to immigration-- the right wing has become like a snake eating its own tale.

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Title quote is drawn from Rancid's "Salvation" (lyrics here) which is not about immigration per se, but I thought it fit close enough. Kewl kidz know that prior to Rancid, Tim and Matt formed Operation Ivy, one of the coolest bands of all time.
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Category 5 embassies 

Ashley despairs that we're building the world's largest embassy in Baghdad instead of levees for South Louisiana. The article he links to says the U.S. embassy there costs about $600 million and is one of the few projects in Iraq that is "on schedule and within budget". But part of the reason the project is under budget is because a) it's wildly expensive and b) the Kuwaiti construction firm that "won" the contract allegedly exploits its labor force. (Even still, the Kuwaiti firm was far from being the low bidder.)

As large as the $600 million figure is, it still greatly understates the true costs of Bush's Embassy boondoggle. Before construction occurred, we spent 1 billion tax dollars on "embassy operations" in Iraq when there wasn't even an embassy to operate! (I'd love to see a line item breakdown of the costs for that one.) And even when the embassy does finally become operational, it will still cost about $1 billion annually to operate the microcity there (plus millions more for blast proof walls, and flak jackets and helmets and other unanticipated costs.) Indeed, the AP reports:

The embassy has ordered its staff to wear flak jackets and helmets while outdoors or in unprotected buildings. The order was issued one day after a rocket attack killed four Asian contractors in the Green Zone this month.
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The State Department and Congress have tussled this year over a $50 million request for additional blast-resistant housing. The department says it did not anticipate needing so many fortified apartments when the embassy was in the planning stages three years ago and Iraq was a less violent place.

The new Democratic-controlled Congress has grumbled about the approximately $1 billion annual cost of embassy operations in Iraq and told the administration the embassy is overstaffed at roughly 1,000 regular employees. Add security contractors, locally hired staff and others and the number climbs to more than 4,000.

"This is another case where poor planning, skyrocketing costs and security concerns are colliding in the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, and we need to make adjustments," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate panel that pays for State Department operations.

"They want hundreds of additional embassy staff who they cannot safely house within the new embassy compound. It's time for a reality check," said Leahy, D-Vt.

The article notes that the second most expensive U.S. embassy is currently being built in Beijing for $434 million. The U.S. already has 11 different embassy offices in Beijing, but since America is apparently so flush with extra money right now, I guess we can afford major construction projects in foreign capitals. Right?

Officials anticipate that the new embassy in Beijing should be ready for the 2008 Summer Olympics. That's just super-nifty. Perhaps our bureaucrats in the Baghdad embassy can watch the Games in their new embassy food court or recreation room.

Here's an AP photo of the groundbreaking ceremony in Beijing-- I think the gold helmets are a nice touch:



Looks pretty!



Cranes over Baghdad's Green Zone city:


Only a Billion tax dollars per annum for 1000 permanent embassy employees! What a bargain. I wonder if its built to withstand "Cat 5" sandstorms?

Seriously, how did it come to this?

We "do what it takes" to build expensive embassies in Baghdad and Beijing, but we don't "do what it takes"* to rebuild New Orleans, Louisiana?

We prefer to restore the wetlands for Shia tribes in Iraq rather than restore America's Wetlands in South Louisiana?

We pressure other countries to forgive Iraq's debts so it can rebuild, but we cannot waive the 10% match for a city drowned in a Federal Flood?

We send more Americans and Louisianans to fight and die overseas, while the Iraqi Parliament engages in slapfights, ignores the nation's business, works between 10-15 hours per MONTH, tells us to butt out, and makes extended summer vacation plans?

We have a President who commits us to launching manned spaceflights to Mars by 2015, but can't commit to building big piles of dirt levees to save South Louisiana? (You see, when it comes to piles of dirt, we must yield to the "dictates of science".)

The operating cost over the next 20 years for this new, "under budget" embassy in Iraq is roughly $20 billion-- or about the same amount of funding South Louisiana still needs to protect the nation's port/oil/gas infrastructure from floods and erosion.

If I wanted to make the same kind of false choice "argument" that Bushco specializes in, I could say: When it came down to protecting South Louisiana or building the most expensive embassies in the world, I guess you could say that President Bush is the "Embassy Guy".

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* things like Cat 5 levees, restored wetlands, enough money for damaged infrastructure and waiving the onerous Stafford Act.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hillary Clinton comes to town 

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came to New Orleans to give some speeches and pass around the hat. The T-P described it this way:

Calling the still-ravaged condition of post-Katrina New Orleans "a natural disaster that has become a national embarrassment and an international disgrace," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday delivered a scorching critique of the federal government's response to the storm and outlined a 10-point recovery program she promised to enact if voters send her to the White House next year.

If I may, Senator Clinton, here's a tip: your critique would be more "scorching" (and accurate) if you described post-Katrina New Orleans as a "man-made disaster that has become a national embarrassment...". A Federal Flood, if you will.

"Unfortunately, the federal government did not do its job," the New York Democrat said at Dillard University's commencement. "It did not uphold its end of the bargain... Rebuilding this city is not just an obligation of New Orleans or Louisiana. It is an American obligation."

Word.

Throughout her time in New Orleans, Clinton was adamant about the need to restore the city, saying: "The people who ask, 'Why rebuild New Orleans?' are offensive, insensitive and ignorant."
Amen, sister!

In addition to urging streamlined procedures to eliminate duplication and speed recovery, Clinton called for waiving the rule requiring the state to put up 10 percent of the cost of the federal aid for which it has applied.

Even though this requirement has been waived in 32 of 36 previous disasters, Clinton said, the Bush administration has refused to do so this time, a stance that she called "unbelievably unfair and mean-spirited."

I'm not a big fan of Hillary's, but I do wish I was there for that speech. Nicely done!

A couple days earlier, while Sen. Clinton was discussing her Gulf Coast "recovery agenda", the T-P reported:

And recognizing that the city cannot thrive without adequate flood protection, Clinton said that as president, she would request a "stem-to-stern" review of all Army Corps of Engineers plans and demand the highest level of levee protection, though she stopped short of declaring a timeline.

"I believe we should order the corps to achieve Cat 5 protection over time," she said.

Even with the vague "timeline" loophole, Clinton's demand for the highest level of levee protection is more than we've gotten (or will get) from the current President. Again, good for her.

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Be my guest worker 

It amazes me how so many conservatives have decided that immigration is the hill on which they want to make their stand.

Between this, Iraq, and "Team Rudy" the GOP is in danger of fracturing. Just two and a half years ago, Fred "Realignment" Barnes was declaring that "Republican hegemony in America is now expected to last for years, maybe decades". Today, I share the belief that the Republican Party will not want its sitting President to speak at their 2008 nominating convention.

All the Dems have to do is stay out of the way, and let the hard right assail Rudy (and Vitty), and demand draconian "solutions" to the brown illegals crossing our southern border, and keep dreaming of "victory" in Iraq... etc. But the Dems are notorious for pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory, so they won't stand idly by while the opposition implodes.

Recently, Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, said:

I vow to fight this and any other [immigration] 'deal' that includes amnesty. If the Senators think border control and workplace enforcement are good ideas -- and they are -- then they should leave it at that. The continuing influx of illegal immigrants to this country is problem number one. Closing access and restricting incentive should be job number one, and only.
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I am very alarmed about the rising number of illegal immigrants in Louisiana and its effect on our state and local resources. Illegal immigrants have flocked to South Louisiana in search of construction jobs as the state rebuilds after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and this surge is weighing down our already-overburdened health care system and law enforcement agencies.

Wonder why these illegal immigrants "flocked" to South Louisiana? Well part of the reason is that many of their Latino brethren were actively recruited here by the good folks at Halliburton as well as Hotelier Patrick Quinn. The WSJ reports on the latest developments regarding Quinn (free article):

One of the toughest problems in the reconstruction of New Orleans has been finding enough workers to revive the city. Now a hotel company that found a legal way to bring in workers from Latin America has been hit with a lawsuit alleging that it has exploited them in violation of U.S. labor law.

The lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Louisiana against closely held Decatur Hotels and Chief Executive F. Patrick Quinn III touches on the hot-button issue of finding workers for the Gulf Coast region following last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina. That debate centers on whether companies are hiring foreign workers, mainly Latino migrants, because they are cheaper or because there is a dearth of U.S. residents available to take blue-collar jobs. Many illegal immigrants, mainly from Latin America, have been flocking to New Orleans to do cleanup work.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, involves an unusual move by Decatur to recruit foreign workers under a government program, known as the H-2B guest-worker program. To qualify for the program, employers must prove to the government that they cannot find U.S. residents to fill the jobs in question. The program is designed to hire foreign workers to do temporary work in nonagricultural areas, often on a seasonal basis.
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About 300 foreign workers are believed to have been hired early this year by Decatur to do housekeeping, maintenance and other work at its properties, according to officials at the National Immigration Law Center, a Washington-based advocacy group involved in the case.

In the lawsuit, 82 workers from Bolivia, Peru and the Dominican Republic allege that Decatur and Mr. Quinn violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to reimburse them for fees paid to labor recruiters working as agents of the hotel chain abroad, as well as travel expenses and visa fees adding up to as much as $5,000. The lawsuit says Decatur should have made those payments in their first week of work to comply with labor law. The lawsuit further states that the company exploited the workers' indebtedness and lack of familiarity with U.S. laws to violate their legal rights.

Patrick Quinn is the husband ex-husband of Republican State Senator Julie Quinn. [This sentence has been corrected. YRHT apologizes for the error.]


And... OMIGOD! As if on cue, a San Antonio news station breathlessly reports:

Hundreds of illegal immigrants have registered to vote in Bexar County in recent years and dozens of them have actually cast ballots, canceling out the votes of U.S. citizens, 1200 WOAI news will report Thursday morning.

Figures obtained by 1200 WOAI news shows 303 illegals successfully registered to vote, and at least 41 cast ballots in various elections.

Wait a second. Forty one illegal ballots were cast in "various elections" in a county with 1.5 million people in it? Is that a crisis? Obviously I don't approve of vote fraud... but c'mon! This is actually tremendously good news, if you think about it. Consider it this way, if you polled your average conservative immigration alarmist, and asked them to guesstimate how many "illegals" were casting votes in San Antonio, do you think they'd say "a few dozen", "hundreds", "thousands" or "over ten thousand"? I would bet only a tiny percentage would say a "few dozen" or less.

For comparative purposes, I think back to the 2004 elections, where I personally witnessed well over 41 New Orleanians get disenfranchised when voting machines weren't working in one precinct, and adjacent precincts were wrongly refusing to let voters cast provisional ballots. I saw a bus with disabled people and senior citizens pull up, wait a half hour or so, and then leave for good. In addition to that, one must wonder how many Xavier students refused to wait in line for 3-5 hours to cast their vote. And the Secretary of State thought this election went very smoothly. Blah.

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