Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hypocrisy Deluxe

Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)

For those not familiar with it, there's an organization called Cape Wind that's proposing to put a 130-unit wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The wind farm would provide for about 75% of the energy needs of the Cape Cod area and the surrounding islands, which includes Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. You sort of get the idea that there's a lot of money tied to the denizens of the region, which happens to also include the Kennedy enclave in Hyannis Port, MA.

Now there may be legitimate questions concerning the wind farm (honestly, I don't believe that myself, but for argument's sake let's say there are), but the powers that be aren't interested in discussing those problems out in the open, in front of the American people. No, they're trying to kill the whole thing through some political sleight of hand. Senator Kennedy, the father of Congressman Patrick Kennedy, has managed, with the help of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, to have an amendment tied to the Coast Guard appropriations bill that gives the governor of Massachusetts the authority to block the wind farm. If the Coast Guard bill passes, and as a rule there's no reason why it shouldn't, then the amendment kicks in, and it turns out that the Governor of Massachusetts happens to oppose the wind farm. Here are the problems with all of this:

- We have a sitting President telling the country we need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. Bush happens to be enamored with hydrogen, which at present doesn't wean us from fossil fuels, but hey, he's trying, right (I say this with tongue-in-cheek)? Now we have a proposal for a wind farm that would serve to help with the weaning process, and you'd think that all politicians, especially from this part of the country (New Englands, were new power plants are few in coming), would be behind it; not the Kennedys.

- How is it that a Republican senator (as we all know the Kennedy clan is Democrat) from Alaska cares so much about Nantucket Sound? Stevens was in a position to get the amendment included in the Coast Guard bill and was apparently approached by Kennedy to do so; he obliged. Stevens says that this is a state's rights issue, but the consensus seems to be that he's helping a fellow senator.

- Why shouldn't the governor of Massachusetts have veto power over Cape Wind? Well, why should the governor have veto power over this when he doesn't have veto power over other similar power plant proposals? Ok, maybe that's indeed a legitimate enough question, one that should be addressed via open hearings and debate, not by slipping the effort a mickey via an appropriations rider.

Now maybe Cape Wind is the wrong thing to do, maybe it will unfairly reduce property values, impair navigation in the Nantucket Sound, and otherwise produce an eyesore in the area of huge proportion - there's no evidence to support any of this, and in fact there's evidence to support quite the opposite (see the Cape Wind site), but let's be fair, right? So let's do this through an open process, not by tying it to an appropriations bill for the Coast Guard, in effect sneaking a killer option through without hearings or a fair and open debate of any sort.

Now here's where Patrick Kennedy's hypocrisy comes in. The following is from the business section of today's Providence Journal :

"Much like the LNG proposals for Providence and Fall River, I believe there are many unanswered questions including the overall impact on local communities, safety, commerce and environmental and navigational concerns," Kennedy said.

"In a situation such as this, I believe local elected leaders have the best understanding of the impact this has on their communities. For that reason, I do support the governor taking an active role in the approval process. We cannot go about the siting of these facilities in a piecemeal fashion where businesses have the power to run roughshod over the interests of the local communities and consumers."

Now of course he's not the one sneaking an amendment through on an appropriations bill, his father is, but give me a break. If he believes what he's saying here, vice throwing up smoke, then he should be calling for hearings on the Cape Wind project. Instead, since daddy is doing his dirty work for him, he gets to spout some otherwise plausible reasons for opposing this project while knowing full well that the fix is in to have this taken care of through the senate.

Kennedy doesn't get my vote in November, and if you're as much put out by this as I've been definitely visit the Cape Wind web site and find out who you can get in touch to express your disapproval of the amendment and having this decided in the open, which is how so many of us mistakenly have believed was the way we did things in this country; don't kid yourself.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Undocumented Workers? Cheeessssh ...


I was listening to NPR's Day to Day on the way home this afternoon. One of the stories had to do with the semantics of illegal aliens. Interesting ... you know you're dealing with a hot potato when one of the parties, usually the one perceived to be on the wrong side of the issue, starts trying to bludgeon you with how you're abusing semantics.

Apparently illegal aliens, and their advocates, are taking exception with the term illegal aliens - it somehow seems to make it seem like they don't belong here, and otherwise diminishes their humanity, or something like that. I found this especially curious inasmuch as my wife is a "legal alien". I don't hear about the "legal aliens" getting up in arms over being called aliens. But the inference, per one of those interviewed for this piece, is that somehow we're equating illegal aliens with monsters as we all know that aliens are something that come from the Zed quadrant in the Crab Nebula. But apparently it's only the illegal ones that are monsters.

My understanding was that the term "alien" denotes someone who wasn't a citizen of the place that they happen to be residing in at the time. The adjective "illegal" as applied to alien would mean a person who isn't a citizen of their place of residence who managed to get there by means other than legal ones. What's so demeaning about this? I mean to me it's perfectly descriptive and totally apropos.

Then someone else is interviewed, some professor who, along with his students, tracked all the metaphors used to write about "illegal aliens" in, if I remember correctly, LA. Apparently when you use the word "ferret" to talk about pursuing illegal aliens, e.g. "They were working to ferret out the illegal aliens in Pasadena Country", what you're inferring is that you see illegal aliens as rats or rodents since that's what ferrets like to chase after. I swear it makes one begin to regret any time spent building a vocabulary or leery about ever using a thesaurus - God only knows what you're supposedly actually saying when you use more than a 9th grade vocabulary to describe something.

Of course the problem now is what should you call "illegal aliens"? There's still some controversy over this, though you'll be happy to know that the President is in tune with the new term "undocumented worker" - but of course G.W. knows a large voting block when he sees one, and he also appreciates how "undocumented workers" are good for his business buddies. I happened to visit where I read the following:

"Calling an illegal alien an undocumented immigrant is like calling a burglar an uninvited house guest."

Well, I have to admit, that does seem to hit the nail on the head.

They're aliens because they're not citizens, they're illegal because they got here illegally regardless of however much I may sympathize with their reasons for coming here, and that's that. Now what to do about them well that's something else all together and a name change, i.e. from illegal alien, a.k.a. undocumented immigrant, to "guest worker" won't really solve the problem.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More From Our "In-The-Future" President


How can you not be touched by that picture? Being a new father, with a toddler of about the same age, this just pulls at my heart, I mean right down there in the right ventricle. Of course the problem comes in when I engage my brain - Goddamn logic! The brain pipes up, and soon the right ventricle thing starts to rapidly fade into oblivion. Why, you may ask? This isn't G.W. simply sharing a touching moment with a new born, no, no, no, that's not it at all. Bush is actually explaining to the kid how he's loaded our national debt, social security problems, and so much else on him and his generation, and G.W. is likely interpreting the loud belch he's getting in return as a sign of approval. The only possible redeeming aspect of this conversation that might have resulted would have been if the kid power-chucked his formula onto the deceiver-in-chief (oh God, my animosity here is really starting to show, I need to get this in check as it might start affecting my blogging), but that would have been hoping for far too much - the spin-meisters here likely made sure the kid hadn't been recently fed and dusted G.W.'s hands with Similac or Enfamil to throw the kid off from howling.

Ok, what's gotten me onto this most recent rant? I read a story line on CNN yesterday, Bush: 'Hydrogen is the fuel of the future' and it got my blood pressure up a tad. I tend to use CNN as the warning bell that tells me to look for more in-depth coverage somewhere else, so I then went to the Times where I found Energy Politics on Earth Day as Bush Tours California. Here I read:

"I strongly believe hydrogen is the fuel of the future," Mr. Bush said, adding that he thought that today's children would take their driving tests in hydrogen-powered cars.

Of course taken in the collective consideration of all the other things that are "in the future", it raised my BP a few additional points. I have little doubt that at some point in the future, after we've actually perfected an economical means by which to harness the power of fuel cells, that hydrogen will make a dandy alternative fuel source. I mean if it's good enough for most of the U.S. rocket inventory, as it has been, in combination with its good buddy oxygen, for so, so many years, why shouldn't it be good enough for cars? Of course the means by which hydrogen is used for cars is vastly different than it is for lifting rockets into orbit, though otherwise the fuel cells used inside a spacecraft would not be vastly different with regard to the basic physics. But therein lies two problems: 1. figuring out how to make powerful enough fuel cells economically, and 2. obtaining sufficient hydrogen to make this work. A subset to #2, which I won't get into but is worthy of some mention, is how one goes about constructing the infrastructure for delivering hydrogen, a tricky gas to store given the size of the hydrogen molecules, that would be roughly equal to how we distribute gasoline - no easy, nor cheap thing to do.

Where does hydrogen come from? Today it mostly comes from fossil fuels, and one of the government's main areas of focus in this area is to get hydrogen from coal, to wit, as found at
Experiments examine hydrogen-production benefits of clean coal burning:

"While some day we may be able to produce hydrogen by breaking up water
molecules in association with the high-temperature heat from nuclear power
reactors, or through renewable energy technologies, right now the most cost-effective way to produce hydrogen is with coal," says Chris Shaddix, principal investigator for clean coal combustion at Sandia's Combustion Research Facility.

The fact that the U.S. has an extraordinary supply of coal in the ground (we in fact export coal) makes a technology that would extract hydrogen from coal that much more attractive. Of course one still has the problem of what to do with the by-products of the use of coal, to include the carbon dioxide that would be produced and the heavy metals that come with various grades of coal - the radioactivity put into the environment by a coal-fired electrical plant from the radioactive heavy metals in the coal far exceeds what one gets from an equivalent nuclear powered one (and let's not talk about the mercury, another not so nice heavy metal, from coal-fired plants.) So while today's children may be taking their driving tests with hydrogen-powered cars (unlikely, actually, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt), the hydrogen they'll be burning will likely be from a fossil fuel source.

Mr. Shaddix at Sandia mentions renewable energy technologies, which would certainly seem to make hydrogen more attractive. This would mean taking energy from the sun, wind, or some other "renewable" energy source, and directing it into the breakdown of water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen. The problem here is cost, and here I turn to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, specifically Hydrogen--The new fuel of choice:

Cost is a significant factor limiting the use of renewable hydrogen. It now costs several times more to make hydrogen from renewable energy than by producing hydrogen from fossil fuel. The OEA is involved in several promising demonstration and research projects for renewable hydrogen, but it will be 5 to
10 years before these technologies approach the current price of obtaining hydrogen from fossil fuels.

From my general reading I'd say that 5 to 10 years is an optimistic estimate, though with the price of oil climbing the way it is who knows what sort of stimulant that would provide? The problem is that perfecting the technology is one thing, building the infrastructure to support the "hydrogen" economy is something else all together different and that's not going to happen in 5 to 10 years.

So yes, hydrogen may be a fuel of the future, but we'll still be sucking on a fossil fuel teat, like we are with ethanol. Corn is a great sort source of ethanol, as any whiskey drinker can attest to, but to grow that bushel of corn and then transport it somewhere takes an incredible amount of fossil fuel, something that's not often mentioned by gasohol advocates, yet General Motors for one has the nerve to hype this as a "green" alternative.

Hydrogen, alcohol, and many other wonderful alternative sources of energy may well have a place to play in our future energy needs, but they're all "in the future", they're an abstraction when it comes to comprising a signifncant portion of this country's energy needs. Right now they're being used by this administration to sway us into thinking that something substantial is actually being done to address our energy problems and needs, when in fact they're being used as a near term deception and may indeed also be a long term deception. Conservation and a realistic energy policy, which certainly aren't nearly as sexy as technology dependent solutions that arrive in some indeterminate future, are what's needed, but no one in a position to make a difference seems to be pushing this. Why? It means pain for the average American, having to make a sacrifice, and we're now being led by a government that's loathe to make you feel any pain for the ostensible war we're in, in fact they want to reduce taxes though that's by and large for the well-to-do. So in the no child left without huge debt mentality of this administration we'll just let our kids feel and shoulder our pain, though no one reading this should have any doubt that they'll be around long enough to share it with them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Reflection on Immigrants: Part II


Apparently this picture was taken while these young men and women were out demonstrating against the proposed new immigration laws. Now there's been little in the way of demonstrations here, and I haven't followed the media closely enough to know how common it is for people involved in these demonstrations to feel compelled to fly Mexican flags in their zeal to show displeasure with American immigration policy. I mean if these people love Mexico so much, and all the more power to them if they do, then stop demonstrating in the U.S. and go to Mexico where I'm sure they'd be welcome, though how gainfully employed they'd be I'm not sure. So is the purpose of waving a Mexican flag to show support for Mexico or to wave it in the face of Americans to let them know that the flag wavers, or someone they know, are likely to get their way here in the U.S. in spite of the fact that they're actually Mexican citizens?

The Times had the following article today, Crackdown on Workers Brings Dismay and Anxiety. I have to admit that it's hard to appreciate why a crackdown on something that's been illegal for so long is getting so much press, but then if you're cynical about it then some of the reasons for what's going on do come out in this article. Here's some grist from the article:

"What happened yesterday, I think, is a tactic that they are using to scare us so we don't keep on pushing to get rights," said Ms. Perez, 38, who came from Venezuela 10 years ago. She was referring to an announcement on Thursday by Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, that the stepped-up enforcement would continue.

I don't think Ms. Perez understands that she has no rights as an American citizen. Yes, she's here, and yes the Constitution doesn't quite explicitly say you have to be a U.S. citizen to be entitled to the rights of an American, but then it's ridiculous to assume that anyone who steps off a plane or ship from somewhere is now imbued with full-fledged American rights and privileges. Oh, and that would include someone who managed to sneak into the country 10 years ago and didn't get caught in all that time.

The following really got me as it's so typical of what is used to excuse what's going on right now with illegals that it's taken for granted:

Some employers also criticized Mr. Chertoff's plan, under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement will increase the number of worksite enforcement agents and efforts to root out businesses that submit fake Social Security numbers for workers.

"If we didn't have them, we'd really be in a bind," Roy Pace, a mechanical contractor in Austin, Tex., said of immigrant workers.

and then followed a bit later in the article with:

Billy L. Heller Jr., chief executive of Pacific Tomato Growers in Palmetto, Fla., said companies were not equipped to verify their workers' status, a task he said belonged to the government, not employers.

"Does this mean I have to have people spend the whole day on a government Internet site double-checking numbers?" said Mr. Heller, whose company grows
produce in Florida, California, Georgia, Virginia and Mexico. "We are not document police, and we can't discriminate. If folks present what looks to be reasonably legitimate, then we have to act as if it is."

"If we didn't have them we'd be in a bind ..." --- yeah, you'd have to pay regular wages, with decent benefits, or invest in machinery that would do the job more safely and efficiently, so yep, those illegals are a God send. By artificially, i.e. by not making appropriate technology investments and otherwise not paying a livable wage and benefits, holding down their costs they also help to kid the American people into believing that they shouldn't have to pay prices commensurate with supporting a livable wage because look how the value of dollar has gone up, in terms of what it can buy anyway, over time, especially when it's due to being dumped on the backs of immigrants willing to work for substandard wages.

And Mr. Heller thinks the government should be verifying documents. I'd guess that Mr. Heller is otherwise from the school of thought that the government should be as small as possible and he should pay as little tax, if not flat out no taxes at all, so kicking this responsibility over to the government is a sure way of sending it to a place where it'd never be properly overseen if the Heller's of the world (ok, I'm being a bit presumptuous here, but it's not so much Heller as the many who disenguously espouse this "dump it on the government" credo) had their way. One day to check documents really isn't a hell of a lot out of the number otherwise worked so forgive me for not quite appreciating the problem here. I mean I have to have police checks out the tail end to get a teacher's job, and many jobs come with some sort of rudimentary background check, and the cost is folded into the cost of doing business. I guess if you're a contractor hiring illegals or a farmer doing the same, you don't want that added expense for what's otherwise standard operating procedure anywhere else.

I don't know, maybe I'm just not getting it, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for 12 million people who are here who shouldn't be because they weren't invited in by the government (not that I'm a big lover of government invitations, but something has to be in charge here) nor did they become citizens during their time here. I appreciate that citizenship for these people isn't an easy thing, but then it's that way to help control immigration and indeed to make it reasonably difficult to become an American citizen. I also don't have any sympathy for those who employ illegals - yes, it keeps the prices down, and I'm sure I've been the beneficiary of this at some time in my life, but it's wrong and such employers should indeed be taken to task for their aiding illegals. I'm also not a fan of amnesties which seem to happen every 20 years or so - let's secure the border, hold Mexico to task for making it more attractive for illegals to come here than staying at home, and take anyone to task who assists the process on this end. That'd be a start, and we can see where we need to go from there.

Thursday, April 20, 2006



There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You’ve stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
Participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see again how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

--- Louise Glück

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Courtesy of this week's U.S. News & World Report

Monday, April 17, 2006

Thoughts on a Possible American Misadventure

From the Asia Times

“Spain at that time was far behind all the other countries in Europe. Napoleon considered the Iberian Peninsula another world - with people from the Dark Ages - dominated by clergy, according to Napoleon, who were illiterate, ignorant, and fanatical. He thought that there would be no resistance whatsoever. Napoleon didn’t take the trouble to study the country he was going to invade. He didn’t think the Spanish people had the will to hold on to their independence.” (Nicole Gottieri, Chief Curator, National Archives, France)

In 1808 Napoleon entered Spain expecting to be proclaimed a liberator of the oppressed
Spanish people. Instead he found himself embroiled in a six-year counterinsurgency effort which tied up 118,000 French troops, that in the end exhibited levels of barbarism on both sides which were unseen in Europe up to then (thanks to LCOL Peter Ahern’s article, Cultural Understanding: The Essential Ingredient for Developing War Time Intelligence.) Historical lessons for what we’re now engaging in Iraq seem to have been either unknown, ignored, or misunderstood at the Pentagon. When it comes to winning the war and then having to stand one’s ground in the conquered country to affect “regime change”, or “bringing democracy to the people”, it’s a matter of understanding the culture, not the terrain that will sway matters of life and death, and success or failure.

Iran and Iraq are vastly different countries. For any invading army the terrain of Iran is difficult and hazardous, and militarily so would be the people. Unlike the Iraqis the Iranians share a cohesive culture and history that stretches back for thousands of years. Unlike the Iraqis the people of Iran are responsible for putting in place the current leadership; there was no coup d’etat as there was in Iraq, the 1979 Islamic Revolution was a people’s movement. That said, it’d be reasonable to assume that many Iranians don’t care for the current intersection of religion, politics, and governance, and very likely they will one day change what they live under, but for now enough are happy under the government to assure its stability, and it’s a sure bet it would be supported if ever there was military action taken against the country.

For however much there is talk about the current Iranian president Mahmoud
being “Hitleresque or a demagogue, he was elected by the people in an election first against 7 candidates, one of whom was a reformist like the previous and largely ineffectual president Khatami, and then in a runoff election against Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a previous president who wasn’t nearly as “hard line” as Ahmadinejad, though shrouded in a cloud of corruption and cronyism which increased the appeal of his opponent. The democracy of Iran may be tainted with theocratic heavy handedness, but the presidential election was considered fair and representative of what the people of Iran wanted. The reasons for this are complicated but however one looks at it Ahmadinejad was elected by the people, not the clerics. There are many good reasons to want to see Ahmadinejad not re-elected, and one would hope this will be the case, but as we first saw in Iran, and as we’re seeing in other parts of the world, the machinery of democracy does not always spit out what American policy would like to see or live with.

Militarily the Iranians would be fierce fighters and unlikely to evaporate when confronted with an imposing American military. Iran fought off the Iraqis during the 1980 – 1988 Iran-Iraq war in spite of a larger, better equipped and trained Iraqi military, which was also receiving intelligence help from the U.S. (Pre-revolution Iran was arguably militarily better than that of the Iraqis, but post-revolution purges of the military decimated the Iranian army and air force, which was largely what prompted Sadaam Hussein to invade Iran.) By any measure Iraq should have vanquished the then disorganized Iranians and, at a minimum, annexed a large chunk of southern Iran. The ferocity and fanaticism of the Iranian defenders, and the professionalism of those Iranian Air Force pilots not killed in the initial revolutionary purges, threw back the Iraqi invaders early in the war, resulting in a stalemate that lasted for nearly six years and no Iraqi gains. Any foreign army entering Iran today would find a vastly better organized military than that in 1980, and would be up against Iranians who while otherwise positively inclined towards the U.S. would not tolerate a U.S. invasion.

There are those in Washington who cling to the notion that the Iraqi people will overthrow the Ayatollahs and the hard line conservatives if only we provide them a pretext around which to do so. Iranians living in the U.S. who advise that the Iranian people are simply waiting to be mobilized to throw off their government should be given as much merit as anyone in retrospect would their Iraqi predecessors. Unfortunately the administration seems to buy their urgings as it recently won congressional approval to spend $75 million to fund “Iranian Opposition Groups”; one can certainly be forgiven a certain sense of déjà vu.

In Iraq many of our problems are laid to misunderstanding the consequences of our actions, woefully misunderstanding the Iraqis themselves, and inadequately training and sensitizing our military to the socio-cultural environments in which they were to be thrown into. We will never cause regime change with laser-guided bombs, cruise missiles, techno-centric and highly mobile ground forces, and certainly this will never happen with a military ill-suited to serve in the role of occupiers and counterinsurgency operatives. Weapon systems don’t win hearts and minds; well-intended, well-trained, and honorable people who are sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people they’re interacting with might, but even with the utmost best of intentions American steel or boots on the ground in Iran will come at a terrible cost (to get a good sense of how much of a cost I recommend reading Richard Clarke’s and Steven Simon’s article in the Sunday NY Times, Bombs That Would Backfire) and never be accepted by the vast majority of the Iranian people, and the people in the surrounding region.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Alternative Minimum Tax: Watch Out!


If a few of you may have a sense of deja vu with the title of this post, you're right, I've been here before, specifically The Alternative Minimum Tax: Be Afraid, VERY Afraid. way back in December of last year. Another recent article in the NY Times has brought this to the fore again, with Tax Break Expired, Middle Class Faces a Greater Burden for 2006 and this has but again gotten me a bit riled up.

The Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT for short, was put in place back in 1969 to catch taxpayers who were making what today would be over $1 million dollars in income, at that time it was $200,000, and who were otherwise managing to legally avoid paying federal income tax. The problem with the AMT took some time to rear its ugly head and we're now to the point where it's making a full frontal display unless congress does something about it. The fact is that the AMT is not indexed to inflation, so while the original intent of the tax was to snare the richest taxpayers who were avoiding taxes, it's now creeping down into the pockets of upper-middle to middle class families who are making what would be deemed a "comfortable", but hardly "rich" wage. From the Times article:

Unless Congress takes action, one in four families with children — up from one in 22 last year — will owe up to $3,640 in additional federal income tax come next April.

Few of them realize that their taxes have increased, because Congress has not voted to raise taxes. Instead, Congress let a tax break expire. That break limited the alternative minimum tax, which takes back part of the tax cuts sponsored by President Bush.

To put this in a starker light:

The A.M.T. will cost Americans who earn $50,000 to $200,000 nearly $13 billion more next April. That is about how much people who earn more than $1 million will save because of the break on investment income like dividends and capital gains.

So what this means is that while the rest of us in the middle class get to pay more tax via the AMT, the rich get that money back through the tax break that Bush wants to extend for dividend, i.e. UNEARNED, income. Let me clarify, "earned" income is what you make when you are paid for your skills, labor, talent, or the simple sweat from your brow that you exert to obtain a wage. Unearned income is what you get from your bank account interest or the investments you make that provide a return for your money, but that return has nothing to do with anything you do other than how wisely you chose your investments. In this country, or at least with this administration, it's considered fairer that one should be taxed higher for their earned income over their unearned income, mostly because it's expected that the rich, by and large the largest beneficiaries of this largess, will take that money and plow it back into the economy and create more jobs. Alas, it's not very clear where good jobs are going to these days, and if one were to look at where a good number of new jobs are created it's not here but somewhere in Asia, so there's a huge question as to whether the American taxpayer is getting much benefit out of this tax break for the rich, or nearly the benefit that this administration would like one to believe is the result.

With the AMT deductions such as for children and paying state and local taxes evaporate. If you fall within the window of the AMT you have to figure your taxes out using both a standard and an AMT basis and if the AMT number works out higher than the "standard" one, you're hit for the AMT tax. That the AMT was never meant for the vast majority of those within the zone of it matters not at all, and unless an another exemption is put in place, or better yet some sort of indexing to inflation that would keep the AMT as a tool against the well-to-do vice the middle class, then the average taxpayer who's making a decent wage can potentially find themselves a victim of the it.

I urge any reader potentially to be affected by the AMT to get in touch with your congressional representatives ASAP and let them know you want the thing done away with, or at a minimum indexed for inflation such that it remains in place to go after the audience it was intended for. That Bush wants to pass an AMT break extension is not to be trusted: he also wants to continue the dividend tax break for the rich and there's only but so much tax that can be cut and with the way things are looking now the difference in revenues in and out is being put on the middle class vice instilling a fair and equitable tax, for as much as this current system ever allows for one, for the rich.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bomb Iran, or Worse? Gawwwwwwd ...

Oh yeah, righto, just like we did in Iraq!

Ok, this clearly isn't the first time I've addressed this issue (see Regime Change: Here We Go Again), and now this is in the news but again. Seymour Hersh, on the staff of The New Yorker, wrote The Iran Plans in this week's issue of the magazine, and he was on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, 'New Yorker's' Hersh on Iran to discuss his piece which, on the whole, has caused quite a bit of stir in the media and, apparently, elsewhere.

One of the points Hersh makes and one which I think bears keeping in mind, is that the administration, in the form of the president, vice-president, and the secretary of state, is making a case for going into Iran very similar to the one made before we jumped off into Iraq. The administration is talking about how they're trying to work through a diplomatic solution, yet at the same time doing very little to facilitate diplomacy. In fact, again as Hersh points out, the bellicosity of this administration to Iran has done little to make the Iranians think that there's any reason they shouldn't keep moving forward with acquiring nuclear weapons inasmuch as there's every reason to believe that the U.S. is going to attack the country.

Hersh makes clear that at this point the Pentagon appears to have taken planning for operations against Iraq from just the planning stage to the point where people are actually out there, in- country no less, scoping out what would be needed to be done to cripple Iran's nuclear weapons program, and, since we'd be there anyway, take out a whole lot else, too, just to make sure the Iranians know who's boss. What's truly amazing is that there are people in DC who believe that once we did this that there's a contingent of Iranians in Iran who'd go up against the government and instigate regime change. In fact the administration, in what would appear to be another bout of wishful thinking reminiscent of Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Conference, has recently obtained approval from congress to spend some $75 million to support/fund Iranian opposition groups; does anyone but me have this odd sense of deja vu here?

In Iraq many of our problems are laid to misunderstanding the consequences of our actions, woefully misunderstanding the Iraqis themselves, and inadequately training and sensitizing our military to the socio-cultural environments in which they were to be thrown into. We will never cause regime change with laser-guided bombs, cruise missiles, techno-centric and highly mobile ground forces, and certainly this will never happen with a military ill-suited to serve in the role of occupiers and counterinsurgency operatives. Weapon systems don’t win hearts and minds, well-intended, well-trained, and honorable people who are sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people they’re interacting with do, but even with the utmost best of intentions American steel or boots on the ground in Iran will come at a terrible cost, and never be accepted by the Iranian people.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006



I don't think any conscious American could have missed the flail over immigration that's been going on over the last few weeks. Conscious I may have been, but particularly thoughtful about it I haven't. Here in Rhode Island, as near as I can tell anyway, there's not much of a hotbed of illegal immigrants and, consequently, this issue hasn't seemed to have hit as many buttons here as it has in many other places. But Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes had a recent blog on the issue and I found myself reading and nodding my head - so I figured I'd join the discussion.

My wife's an immigrant. She came here a little over three years ago and I managed to somehow get her to fall in love with me (how I did this will forever remain a mystery to me, and I'll be happy with just counting myself VERY lucky), and we married two years ago. At this point she has her green card, an interesting trick given the time it took to get it (all together about 18 months), but I'm guessing it had something to do with the fact that she's a researcher at a fairly prestigious university and I'm an ex-military officer and otherwise all-round nice guy, factors that I'd hazard to guess tend to push the "Let's let her in" button a bit quicker. So she's legal, she didn't come here to escape oppression or to find a better life, in fact she had a position waiting for her when she went back home and God knows that's where the family she adores is, but she managed to meet me and, well, there you have it. It turns out that she was also taking a job that has been hard of late to find Americans willing to take, with American PhDs being on the decline over the years, but in this case that, too, likely worked in her favor vice against it.

Ok, we're talking about "illegal" immigrants. Now there's a distinction between legal and illegal, regardless of what some would like to otherwise make a case for. Let's go back to the start here in the U.S., with the Pilgrims who, a few would make a case for, were the first undocumented aliens. In fact the Pilgrims were not "illegal". In fact they were British citizens entering into what at the time was claimed to be British territory, with the permission of the British government, ergo by any standard of "legality" at the time they were quite legal. Now of course there were inhabitants here when they arrived who, in a manner of speaking, had first dibs and who took exception with the new arrivals, but back then "might made right" and they lost. After a government was set up here in the U.S., and territorial boundaries established, we gradually began to regulate who came into the country and got to stay. If you got in and you weren't vetted and given permission to remain, you were illegal, and that's what I'm talking about here, illegals.

I've had to wonder why Bush and company have been so big on this issue. Of course Oliphant in his cartoon above makes a good point - heck, 10 million illegals who are suddenly given amnesty make for a fair number of votes, no question about it. And then there's the business interests. The illegals work for a pittance, and they work hard for what little they get so they're just the sort of employees WalMart and anyone else supporting a business on the backs of its employees is just happy as a pig in manure to see. Such businesses get to keep the cost of employment low, and in turn the cost of what we pay equally low. Overall we benefit from this indirectly by paying less for what we buy, though as with many cases of paying too little for something the residual and largely hidden costs, or in the case of California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Arizona he "not so hidden costs" build up on the side and we pay for them through our taxes. But businesses love immigrants, and guest workers or illegal immigrants allow prices to be kept low, and money to flow into the pockets of the employer - how much more Republican can this get?

The last time we had a major to do over immigrants and granting an amnesty was some 20 years ago, and of course that was supposed to be the last time we were going to do such a thing. As with most such proclamations it was a smoke screen as those who could be expected to profit from it did, and the basic cracks in the system that allowed the illegals in to begin with never got the attention it deserved to fix the problem(s). So now it's 20 years later, and some 10 million or so illegal souls more, and we're talking about amnesty and then setting up a guest worker program, but then on the whole doing very little to fix the faults that create the problem of the influx of illegals. So what should we expect to have to do in another 20 or so years?

Part of the problem is our being able to manage our borders, and that's a real problem. I listened to an immigration activist go on about how none of the 9/11 terrorists had Hispanic last names, but there were many Hispanic last names amongst the American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's great, but the point isn't that there have been Hispanic terrorists coming across our southern border, it's that if an uneducated Mexican can manage getting in how would a well-educated terrorist, of whatever ethnicity, fair?

Here's an interesting chart from USA Today, courtesy of the Pew Hispanic Center:


Of course there's the fact that Mexico has been such an economic basket case for so long that its people want to come here. When is that going to change, and why isn't more being done to help facilitate the change? I'm no expert, and maybe there's a lot being done, but this has been going on for a long time and things just don't seem to be getting better, and somehow those of
us who feel we shouldn't be absorbing everyone's displaced workers at the tune of about some 500,000 per year are told that there's something wrong with us, that we're not open enough, or generous enough, or kind enough, or ... well, you get the trend. This is, of course, a complicated aspect of this entire problem when one factors in globalization and all that, but somehow Canada manages to keep most of its people happy enough such that they're not making a routine run on our border, what exactly is Mexico not doing to cause this problem to be what it now is?

So maybe it's not nice of me, but this has to change, and we can't be encouraging illegal immigration by deciding every 20 years to say, "Hey, it's ok, you're here now, and the construction guy you're working for would be REALLY put out if we deported you, so you get to stay." I think we should also be doing more to stem the tide on our borders not because the tide is by and large Hispanic, but because we can't be sure what the tide is. And lastly, we should be doing more to address the problem at the root. I well understand that desperate people will do whatever they can for themselves and their loved ones, and we need to be doing more to help alleviate that desperation, but not by opening our doors wide every 20 years, and not by playing footsie with guest workers who really should be working at home and not giving business excuses for not paying decent wages and benefits, and better utilizing technology to address their needs --- but of course that doesn't garner 10 million potential votes, and would tend to piss off some big-money campaign donors.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rumsfeld Needs to Go


There’s a growing chorus of retired military officers of flag rank (i.e. in this case generals, moreover by and large, though not exclusively, Marine generals) calling for the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. This morning’s Times ran the following article, Third Retired General Wants Rumsfeld Out. The general in question in this article is retired LGen Gregory Newbold, who has joined the company of retired Generals Anthony Zinni, Bernard Trainor, both Marines, and Major General Paul Eaton (Army).

Newbold says things that anyone who has given thought to what’s been going on in Iraq since this country invaded it and has done any reading about it (I strongly recommend George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq, and Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War) has to have concluded for quite some time: Rumsfeld has fouled this whole thing up from start to now, and if anyone’s to be held accountable for this debacle it’s him.

I won’t get into the merits or lack thereof for our being in Iraq to start with. Let’s assume we should have been there, that it was the right thing to do (this, for anyone not sure, is decidedly not what I believe). What was Rumsfeld responsible for that earns his being taken to task for our results in Iraq so far? Let me count the ways:

1. He didn’t listen to his senior military advisors, to wit General Eric Shenseki, the then Army Chief of Staff, who believed, based on his extensive experience, that the number of troops that would be necessary to first win the war and then secure the peace was on the order of 300 to 400,000, which was not the sort of numbers Rumsfeld wanted to hear. Shenseki was effectively forced to retire and, in a manner of speaking, pissed on by Rumsfeld on the way out.

2. Rumsfeld gave little to no consideration to what would be done after the war was won, a result no one seriously questioned. Not being in the “nation building” business at the time he apparently didn’t feel it was worth his bother to consider what would happen after the Iraqi government and its institutions were destroyed, and the results have spoken for themselves ever since. Initially Rumsfeld wrote this the initial chaos after the war was over to “Democracy is messy”, or words to that effect – little did he know we’d be stepping in that mess for a long time afterwards.

3. Really an addendum to #3, Rumsfeld did everything he could to prevent knowledgeable experts who could at least prognosticate what we’d get ourselves into after the way was over from participating in any part of the planning process. He and his folks were more interested in listening to the likes of people like Ahmed Chalabi, an exiled Iraqi looking for a way back in to a position of power, who predicted we’d be greeted with flowers and kisses and all would be wonderful, especially if we put Chalabi in power; of course what the Iraqi people might have to say about Chalabi and company, and much of anything else, wasn’t given much consideration.

In addition it was Rumsfeld’s main assistant at the time, Paul Wolfowitz, who told Congress that not only would we be greeted as liberators, but soon thereafter the Iraqis would be paying for our adventure in pre-emption with their oil. Now nearly $500 billion dollars later
we still have a large bill to pay ahead of us.

4. By not adequately planning for our role in Iraq we sent over soldiers and Marines who were inadequately prepared for what they found themselves eventually having to deal with: insurgents, sectarian violence, death squads, and IEDs. The equipping of our personnel on the ground was inadequate, and we’re still trying to make up for this today, but Rummy had the nerve to stand up in front of a group of service men and tell them, “We go to war with the Army that we have, not the one that we want.” Well damn – if Rummy knew what he was doing to begin with maybe what we had to go to war with would have been more clearly elucidated such that what we went to war with was really wanted.

Of course the training of our personnel was just as inadequate – not for the war, that they did wonderfully, but for the peace. Abu Ghraib likely wouldn’t have happened had we sent an adequate number of personnel over to begin with, specifically personnel properly trained to handle what was thrust on them. It’s interesting to note that only a reservist brigadier general
and a number of enlisted personnel have been hung out to dry over Abu Ghraib and you really, really have to wonder why the buck stops there. We also likely wouldn’t have pissed off a huge number of people had we taken the time for cultural training and inculcating some basic respect for a culture and way of life that, by and large, is totally unfamiliar to the average American.

The problem with the cartoon above is that it shouldn't be showing just democrats trying to take "Rummy" out; any reasonable thinking Republican has to by this time appreciate that Rumsfeld is an unmitigated disaster who needs to be booted out. My main problem with having Rumsfeld leave now is that given this administration's past proclivities the man will be awarded a presidential medal of freedom as soon as he's out the door, or right before he's out the door. Actually I guess I shouldn't be too upset with this given how the Bush administration has abused the thing. Ostensibly the highest award that the American government can give to a civilian, sort of, but not quite, tantamount to the military's Medal of Honor, it's described as follows:

The nation's highest civilian honor award given to citizens who have enriched our nation through their achievements and service. It was established in 1963 and replaced the Medal of Freedom.

In 2004 it was given to Paul Bremer, late the lead honcho for the Iraqi CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) who fired all the Baathists and the entire Iraqi military, and what better job can an ex-Baahtist/Army type have than insurgent, right?; George Tenet, late of the CIA and the man who proclaimed the justification for going into Iraq, i.e. weapons of mass
destruction, a "slam dunk"; and last but not least, retired Army general Tommy Franks, who conquered Iraq and let the place go to hell in a hand basket immediately thereafter because he never had a plan to do otherwise. Hell, with that kind of company Rumsfeld is certainly a shoo-in for the thing.