Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Corporate Immigration

President Bush made a speech on his new plan to improve our immigration policy, which has not been altered since 1986. He spoke of a new guest worker program to allow current illegal immigrants to be granted temporary worker status for three years, which would cover approximately 11 million aliens, and then forcing their return home. This new tougher stance is in direct contrast to the president’s proposal two years ago that spoke of granting amnesty to illegals, which Mr. Bush now opposes. It appears Republican lawmakers are looking for an even tougher approach towards immigration in order to appear stronger on border security. However, both parties are deeply divided on this issue, and it really goes beyond ideology and partisan politics. Some are calling for an immediate deportation of illegals in order for them to apply for the guest worker program. Others, including Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy have proposed legislation that would grant illegal immigrants work visas for up to six years, at which point they must leave the U.S. or be in the process of obtaining permanent residency via a green card.

The guest-worker program was first proposed by President Bush in January 2004, and has been sharply criticized by many from both parties because of the belief it will enable illegal immigrants to obtain legal status. Bush has been tactical in ensuring any immigration policy does not alienate Hispanic voters, or businesses which rely on illegal immigrants for its work force. These political pressures are likely to keep any real strong solution to the illegal immigration problem from developing. Border security is a concern for all of us, especially since 9/11. The vast majority of illegals are from Mexico, and Bush’s proposals to increase border security and expand detainment facilities for illegal crossers are hardly a solution for combating terrorism. All of the terrorists who entered the country before 9/11 did so legally, many via a Passport by plane or at the Canadian border by car, none crossed over the Mexican border, although there is always that possibility in the future. There is no practical plan that would ensure such an event would not happen, due to finite resources and our vast borders. The illegal immigrants currently working here are deemed necessary by some corporate interests to keep labor costs down and ensure healthy profits, and therefore a guest-worker program would benefit not only the illegals, but the businesses who hire them. Enforcement of current immigration laws which ban companies from hiring illegals is not in the interests of well organized and politically powerful businesses. They put a huge amount of pressure on politicians to back off on enforcing the law, and as a result reap the benefits of undocumented low wage labor with reduced healthcare costs and payroll taxes. These abuses have been exposed recently by the Wal-Mart scandal, although frequently small business owners have also been guilty of hiring undocumented workers because they cannot afford to pay higher wages to compete with big business.

A sure fire solution to the problem is simple, but will not happen within the context of the corporate controlled political landscape. By dramatically increasing and enforcing penalties, fines, and prison sentences for business owners who are caught hiring undocumented illegal aliens, and putting them on public trial, the incentive to hire illegals will disappear. The penalties imposed must far exceed any economic benefit these business owners derive from hiring illegal immigrants. If no one will hire them, the immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally will lose their incentive to cross the border. However, legal immigration could be encouraged through increased access and outreach towards those seeking a better life in America. Those aliens entering illegally today looking for work are not doing so because they are too lazy to apply for a visa, since many have proven to be hard working and willing to take manually intensive jobs, the problem has been a lack of access to legal immigration services. Perhaps a little less xenophobia on the part of some Americans could go along way towards easing a legal transition for immigrants to assimilate into our culture and a better way of life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Iraq Withdrawal Resolution

Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, a former Marine and a well respected member of the Armed Services Committee in the House, introduced a plan to pull out our military from Iraq within 6 months, citing a belief that we can no longer win militarily. The problem with this idea is we must win. We broke it, so now we have to fix it on behalf of the Iraqis and their neighbors, even if they don’t want us too. Murtha deserves nothing but respect for having the guts to come out and call for a change in direction for Iraq, which is sorely needed. Although the House debated this issue on Friday, the bill actually voted down was a Republican version introduced by Duncan Hunter that would have called for an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. The strategy used by the majority party was a ploy to make illegitimate any notion of leaving Iraq prematurely and staying the course the President has set. However, there is no doubt that something must be done to reverse the course of this war, and pave the way for an Iraqi government to take charge of its own security. Our current course has left American soldiers in a position of attrition. The troops clear out the insurgents in an Iraqi city, leave, and the insurgents simply return to refortify their position. The borders of Iraq also remain porous, especially along the Syrian border. There are simply not enough troops to secure the borders from foreign terrorist incursions. Unfortunately, the Secretary of Defense has resisted any alteration to the current strategy.

What needs to happen is the right-wingers need to stop attacking their criticizers and start devising an overwhelming force that includes more troops from allied nations in order to secure Iraq long enough to rebuild its own security forces and infrastructure. The costs Americans are burdened with will overwhelm future generations in the form of a massive national debt and a weakened economy if this administration does not find a way to bring in international relief for Iraq. The failure of the war strategy, the intelligence misinformation, and prewar miscalculations of the difficulty of stabilizing a post-Saddam Iraq is now irrelevant. The war hawks need to understand they made a mistake, apologize, and move on by making things right in Iraq, and getting our troops home when the job is done. The global war on terror cannot possibly proceed without a stable democracy in Iraq at this point, and a war of words is not going to make this happen. Put up or shut up already Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Ms. Rice, and Mr. President. Same goes to those Democrats who don’t seem to have a viable plan to get Iraq stabilized. Everyone needs to just shut up and listen to Mr. McCain. Start a draft if you have to, just get it done!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Access to Intelligence

On Veteran’s Day, President Bush made a speech strikingly similar to one he made a couple months ago in order to regain public confidence in the war in Iraq with one major exception. Bush launched a scathing attack on the Democrats who have accused him of misleading the American people into the war, arguing that it is “deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.” Although it is true that the anti-war movement and the extreme left are perhaps guilty of being unfair in their attacks on the war for failing to acknowledge Congressional complicity with the war, mainstream Democrats and moderate liberals have been fair in calling the conduct and strategy of the war into question and indicating in hindsight the lack of adequate evidence for WMDs in Iraq should have been more closely examined prior to the war. Bush failed to point out that the war resolution that “more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate” had voted for only authorized the use of force, if necessary, to disarm Iraq and made no mention whatsoever of “removing Saddam Hussein from power.” This is an important distinction, especially considering what happened in the first Gulf War, and Bush’s campaign promise to not engage in nation building. In addition, many concerns were voiced by various members of Congress of the Administration’s decision to withdraw U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq prior to the war resolution despite the objections of Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, and the governments of France and Germany to allow the inspections to be completed.

The most important points Bush made was that the Democrats in Congress “had access to the same intelligence” and that “intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.” These statements are not entirely true. Although members of Congress do indeed have access to much of the same intelligence, members of the executive branch are more accustomed to dealing with matters of national security and are consistently in contact with the intelligence community. It used to be true that Congress had little access to intelligence until Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal resulted in an expansion of intelligence access from executive privilege to congressional access on a need to know basis. However, the Intelligence Community (IC) remains deferential to the executive branch in passing on the most critical and sensitive intelligence information, often consulting with it before briefing members of Congress. In fact, if a member of the executive branch believes the information being provided by the IC is incomplete or inaccurate, the IC will review the information before passing it on to Congress. Often intelligence is limited to members of various intelligence oversight, national security, and appropriations committees that must deal directly with classified information or intelligence agencies. On the other hand, most members of the executive will have access to the same “raw” intelligence as soon as it becomes available to the IC, while relevant filters are applied to the same information by the time it reaches members of Congress. Clearly, the President, who receives daily briefings from the IC, still has access to more current, sensitive, and unfiltered information than do many members of Congress at any given time. The level of national security clearance provided members of the executive exceed that of members of Congress, who do not have a clearance level, but receive relevant filtered information because of their elected status and as required to make decisions regarding the declaration of war and drafting appropriate legislation.

The other point regarding foreign intelligence agencies is only partially true. Even Bush’s closest ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, had access to intelligence that refuted some of the evidence that suggested Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his weapons programs, but chose to ignore it. The British Government’s Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 clearly indicates “the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.” Our own CIA was split on some of the evidence, especially the claims of a British intelligence source that Saddam had attempted to acquire materials used for uranium enrichment from Niger, later proven to be false, yet still allowed to be used in the President's State of the Union Address in 2003. There is no denying that false information was used in the case for war, admitted to by both the IC in our own country, as well as other foreign intelligence agencies. The corruption within the U.N. oil for food program notwithstanding, the intelligence sources available to each member nation were in conflict within each agency and with one another, far from unanimous in their assessment of the Iraq threat. Nevertheless, the evidence presented to both the American and British people was clearly one sided, and did not include any dissenting information that was present within the IC both here and abroad. This is the definition of cherry-picking evidence for political means, something historically used by members of Congress according to the IC, but the reverse appears to be true this time. The caveats in the National Intelligence Estimate were completely ignored. Clearly Bush’s pre-war claim of the “imminent threat” posed by Saddam was an exaggeration of the facts made available by the IC even at that time.

Finally, numerous Administration officials, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Director of the CIA George Tenet, members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Democrats in Congress who voted for the war resolution have all publicly either admitted to and apologized for the use of false information, or expressed regret for supporting the use of force in hindsight. The Administration’s pre-war claims that the troops would be greeted as liberators, the war would be short lived, and WMDs would be found all turned out to be false. The conduct of the war has even been criticized by members of the President’s own party, including John McCain, who has joined many others in calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and believes there is an inadequate number of troops present to secure Iraq, especially the borders shared with Syria. The prisoner abuse scandals have only aggravated the situation we face in a struggle we must win, making it even more critical that foreign support of Iraqi security and reconstruction is encouraged and strict guidelines for the treatment of prisoners in upheld. Our image and credibility in the world is as critical to our success in Iraq as our military strategy.

Important source links:

Congress as a User of Intelligence:

Bush Tries to Gag Critics in Veterans Day Speech:

Transcript 11-11-05 - Bush’s Speech on Iraq and Terrorism:

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Corporate Oil Priorities

Congress held hearings on record oil windfall profits for the largest oil corporations this week. The Big Oil CEOs tried to frame the argument against a windfall tax on oil profits as a matter to be left to a free market in a global economy, citing the price controls instituted by government during the oil crisis of the 1970s that resulted in shortages for American consumers. Economically speaking, their assertions are indeed correct, but the framing of this debate in that context is shortsighted and only delaying the inevitable long-term socioeconomic, environmental, and global consequences. Investing in renewable resources and new technologies must become a national priority for the sake of our own national security and that of the rest of the world. Any windfall profits tax should be aimed at encouraging exploration of a wide variety of alternative sources of energy, not more oil, and educating the public on individual responsibility to conserve energy and become more self-sufficient. Although Congress efforts to direct a small percentage of those profits towards the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LHEAP) is well intentioned, ultimately it will not solve the long-term consequences of reliance on fossil fuels as the primary source of energy and transportation.

The long history of our love for cheap oil accelerated during the 1973 Arab embargo that was in direct response to the Nixon Administration’s economic policies. The removal of the U.S. dollar from the gold standard resulted in a devaluation of the oil resources controlled by OPEC. In addition, the West’s continued uneven support of Israel against the powerless Palestinians, and other U.S. foreign policies that included the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 because of its opposition to the U.S. oil corporations’ control over its natural resource, subsequently installing the Shah’s oppressive authoritative Islamist regime in its place had angered the Arab world, both moderates and extremists alike and continue to this day. The Iranian revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Shah and the subsequent hostage crisis were a direct result of U.S. foreign policy dictated by self-interested U.S. oil corporations. This corrupt corporate policy in foreign matters continued with the backing of the subsequent Iraqi invasion of Iran led by Saddam Hussein, the arming of Iran-contras in Nicaragua, and the mujahideen forces led by bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets. All of these events set the stage for September 11, 2001 and is the perfect example of blowback. The 20th Century should be remembered for the Cold War policies of the West that involved corporate oil grabs from Third World Islamic countries with ties to extremist groups that were armed by the U.S. to fight communism. In essence, the oil corporations’ involvement in foreign policy decisions is partly responsible for the creation of an armed and increasingly widespread backlash by global Islamic terrorists against the West and its moderate Islamic sympathizers.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Defining Torture

The current debate over the treatment of detainees in the war on terror has intensified on several fronts. First, reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq surfaced in April 2004. Almost since the beginning of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, there had been rumors of prisoner abuse in Iraq. With the convictions of several military officers at Abu Ghraib and the court martial of the military commanders assigned there at the time, the Bush Administration appeared to have taken a stand against these forms of prisoner treatment. However, the Administration does not consider detainees captured in Afghanistan to be protected by the Geneva Convention because they do not qualify as prisoners of war under international law, but have acknowledged Iraqi detainees are protected. The “Convention Against Torture” in Article I of the Geneva Convention, as agreed to by the Reagan Administration, defines tortures as “Any act which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him... information or a confession, punishing him for an act he... has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him.” (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse)

Now there are reports of secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere under the control of the CIA and being used to detain and interrogate key terrorism suspects. Such a secretive system undermines American credibility under international law and calls into question our values concerning torture. Republican Congressional leaders are now calling for a probe into the leak of the existence of these secret prisons, citing national security concerns. Democrats are also willing to join in as long as there is an equal effort to investigate pre-war intelligence failures and the identity leak of a CIA agent, both as equally important to national security. Some Republicans are actually willing to investigate the prisons themselves, as some Democrats have suggested, not just the leak that led to their discovery, noting a concern for a lack of oversight.

In response to the damage inflicted upon America’s reputation of prisoner treatment under international law as outlined in the Geneva Convention, Republican John McCain has led the effort to restore the nation’s positive image. The Detainee Amendment was proposed by McCain on October 3, and was subsequently approved by the Senate by an overwhelming 90-9 vote. This attachment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, amendment #1977, would reaffirm the Army Field manual as the standard for all interrogations conducted under the U.S. Department of Defense and ban all forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners. This amendment has become necessary, according to McCain, because recent events undermine America’s international standing on prisoner treatment, endanger American prisoners of war, and combined with the Bush Administration’s legal position that the Convention Against Torture do not apply to foreigners held outside of the U.S., the rules need to be more clearly defined. In addition, prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay would also fall under this protection, even though they are not legally protected as prisoners of war.

The Vice President and 9 Republican Senators have publicly opposed this amendment, calling for an exemption for the CIA. John McCain was held in Vietnam as a prisoner of war for over 5 years and endured torture firsthand. Those who have argued against this amendment believe that it is critical to our national security that certain interrogation methods be an option for the CIA in order to extract critical information from terrorists. However, McCain is the only member of either Congress or the Administration who truly understands that any information extracted through interrogation tactics that fall under the definition of torture would prove to be unreliable, because a detainee will say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear in order to stop the pain. Some of the intelligence gathered concerning alleged Iraqi weapons development used to justify the Iraq invasion is believed to have been extracted in such a manner, and was deemed unreliable by elements of the CIA for that very reason.

Here is a source link for more on the McCain Detainee Amendment:


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chalabi Controversy

Ahamed Chalabi, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, is paying the U.S. a visit this week. He will be meeting with Secretary of State Condi Rice, among other Administration officials. Why is this man coming here especially considering the fallout he had with the Bush Administration after he was accused of passing U.S. intelligence to Iran in April? Oh by the way, Chalabi visited Iran yesterday and had nothing but praise for the very regime that proclaimed Israel should be wiped off the map and which has taken a hardline approach towards U.S. policy as of late.

A small history lesson may be in order here. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) were responsible for a large chunk of pre-war intelligence given to a skeptical CIA that later turned out to be fabricated, including the infamous images of mobile biological weapons labs presented to the U.N. by former Sec. of State Colin Powell. The INC had been working towards the removal of Saddam, a Sunni Arab, from power since 1992, which Chalabi, a Shi'ite Muslim, has been a member. Chalabi had formed especially close relationships with neoconservatives including members of PNAC, most notably Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Bush Administration is now using Chalabi as a scapegoat for pre-war intelligence failures… how puzzling.

This man has a shady history that began over two decades ago when he started a bank in Jordan which later failed, and subsequently charged with bank fraud by the Jordanian government in absentia. He was involved in the failed Kurdish uprising in the mid-1990s, and fled the country following their defeat. Since the Iraq occupation, Chalabi and others from the INC have been under investigation for fraud and other criminal charges in the country. The U.N. made it known last year Chalabi would not be welcome in a new Iraqi government. Then Chalabi and the INC started promoting evidence for scandals in the Oil for Food Program without providing any documents, prompting criticism from the U.S. for undermining the investigation. Despite all of this, Chalabi managed to regain some credibility and got his current position in the new Iraqi government last April as a member of the United Iraqi Alliance. How very puzzling indeed.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Gang of 14 Represent Hope

For those of you who are getting sick of political partisanship take heart, for there are at least 14 U.S. Senators who are willing to break with their respective parties to come together and get something done for us. To all you partisans, beware, you will no longer have the satisfaction of your party pulling off any extreme “stunts” to further embolden the party hardliners. These names found in the so called “Gang of 14,” will frequently appear in various other contexts in their efforts to do the right thing by the people. A moderate approach has proven again and again to be the best way of dealing with so many critical issued we face in this country, and will continue to be. The original intent of the “Gang of 14,” sometimes called the “Mod Squad,” was to resolve partisan conflict in the Senate over judicial nominees, and was successful in preventing a filibuster by Democrats and the use of the “nuclear option” by Republicans which would have banned the use of those filibusters in parliamentary procedure. Currently there is some discussion that the Alito nomination could be secured if the group decides to stick together and support him.

The group consists of 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans who are widely considered to be political moderates. Republican Senator John McCain is a maverick who is probably the most respected and popular among the 14. McCain has also been heavily involved in campaign finance reform, media reform, ending pork barrel spending, the 9/11 Commission, and is currently leading an effort to establish specific guidelines for treatment of detainees suspected of links to terrorism not protected as P.O.W.s under the Geneva convention, along with numerous other populist endeavors. McCain is also on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee currently investigating lobbyist Jack Abrimoff and his connections with the recently indicted Republican Tom DeLay. McCain has never been afraid to speak out against members of his own party if he feels they are in the wrong, including the President, although he is supportive of most of Bush’s policies. Other members of the Gang of 14 include Democrats Joseph Lieberman, Robert Byrd, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Daniel Inouye, Mark Pryor, and Ken Salazar. Republicans included besided McCain are Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Mike DeWine, and Lincoln Chafee. Many of these individuals are heavily active in various committees working on bipartisan matters concerning national security, defense, intelligence, eminent domain, education, and of course judicial appointments. They stand as proof that in fact reasonable Republicans and Democrats can compromise on important issues in order to get things done for the American people while disregarding partisan criticism.

For more details on each member of the “Gang of 14” and the original purpose of the group itself, see the following link:


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Senate Closed For Business

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held a rare closed session for a couple of hours initiated by the Democratic leadership. The constitutional rule invoked (Rule 21, est. 1795) is known as a “secret session” because all visitors and cameras are required to vacate the Congressional chambers and forces a meeting of all members of the law making body. The most vocal during the meeting were Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, who invoked the rule without bipartisan support, and Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, who called the event a “stunt” and that the Senate was hijacked by the Democrats. Nonetheless, the Senate members agreed to monitor the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into pre-Iraq War intelligence as a result of the Democrats calling attention to the issue. The six member bipartisan task force was formed and agreed to report back on the progress of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of prewar intelligence on November 14.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts is the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and completed phase one of the investigation last year, producing a 511 page document on intelligence flaws used to justify the Iraq war, and promised to complete a second phase to cover additional issues not covered in the initial report. Senator Reid wanted assurances that the second phase would actually be completed without further delay by Republicans, which motivated him to call the secret session. Roberts claimed the committed intended to complete phase two by the end of next week anyway.

The timing of this by the Democrats was obviously intended to magnify the recent indictment of Scooter Libby and the ongoing CIA leak investigation that still includes Karl Rove. They felt the Administration had used the Alito nomination to detract media attention from the indictment, which it did, so accusations of playing politics is a fair charge for both sides. Exaggeration of prewar intelligence and cherry picking precarious evidence to support the claims of weapons of mass destruction and their related programs presence in Saddam’s Iraq should remain an issue as long as this war drags on. There is no denying the strong evidence coming from the Downing Street Memo as well as former Administration officials’ revelations of a neoconservative kabal to manipulate prewar intelligence to serve the goals of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). This Administration’s hostility towards internal dissent is truly unprecedented and disturbing. The Democrats should have invoked a secret session a long time ago to speed the investigation along and bring it out for public scrutiny.