Mojo - June 2007

While You Were Away...

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 7:29 PM EDT

The surge is failing, but the government's focus, such as it is, is on Iraq. Yet the whole Middle East is a tinderbox, and while the United States flexes its military and diplomatic muscles in Iraq, the rest of the region is lapsing into chaos. The notoriously volatile Palestinian refugee camp Ain al Hilweh is caught in a battle between Islamic militants and the Lebanese army. Four have died. Meanwhile, in a televised speech to commemorate the Six-Day War, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians were "on the verge of civil war." Things in Gaza have gotten so bad that some Palestinian journalists have conjectured that many residents would prefer the Israeli occupation to the hunger and joblessness that have resulted from Israeli and U.S. sanctions. Lost ground in these difficult and longstanding conflicts means long-term problems. These, too, are partially attributable to the United States' catastrophic occupation of Iraq.

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KEEP IT DOWN: Special for the Cranky Noise Police

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:22 PM EDT

All these years, the cranks among us complaining about other people's blaring music, endless car alarms and stupid, stupid leaf blowers have been right. The noises of modernity really are sending human civilization—and individuals' health—down the toilet. Read more on The Blue Marble.

Libby Sentenced to 30 Months

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:40 PM EDT

Just a few minutes ago, Scooter Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. More from CNN, which says Libby will appeal.

Also, prominent figures across Washington -- Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Peter Pace, James Carville -- wrote to the judge on behalf of Libby. The results are good fun.

Time Wonders if Maybe All Those Terrorism Arrests Weren't Legit

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

Looks like even the mainstream media is growing skeptical of the government's terrorism arrests. Time speculates that the JFK plot was overhyped, listing eight reasons why the prosecutor and the folks above her were willing to scare Americans with outrageous statements like the one where she said the plot "could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction." Clearly nonsense, and I'm glad Time is catching on. As for Mother Jones, we reached this point years ago. Jose Padilla and the Lackawanna Six were enough.

Immigration Bill Point System: More Indian Engineers, Fewer Hispanic Families

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 12:24 PM EDT

The new immigration bill currently being hammered out by Congress has a point system to determine which potential immigrants get visas. The system awards points, which increase an applicant's chances of being let into the country, for being English proficient, having a college or graduate degree, and having a job in science, technology, or health. The plan drastically rewrites immigration policy in the United States, and if left in its current form, will fundamentally change the makeup of the country.

The first consequence of the point system is that the primary criteria for being offered a visa changes from family to profession, awarding points not for being related to a current resident of the U.S. but for having a highly skilled job. Individuals trying to bring their adult children, siblings, or parents to America will have a much harder time (spouses and minor children will still be allowed in without being subject to the point system), while engineers and scientists trying to be the first from their family to come to the States will have a much easier time. Dems are saying this breaks up families and contains an inherent class bias. Says Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, "The point system would have prevented my own parents, a carpenter and a seamstress, from coming to this country." (Note: If anti-immigration forces currently claim immigrants steal low-wage jobs from Americans, how long under the new plan until they start crying about the plight of the replaced American doctor of physicist?)

The second ramification is the corruption of the free market. Previously, companies decided what sort of employees they needed, found them from abroad or in American universities, and sponsored them for work visas, creating a perfect match between skills and available work. But the point system makes this sorting and decision-making the responsibility of the federal government. Naturally, big business hates the idea. Democrat Zoe Lofgren represents Silicon Valley, where, she says, no one is in favor. "The government is saying, in effect, 'We have a five-year plan for the economy, and we will decide with this point system what mix of skills is needed,'" she told the New York Times. "That is not the way a market-based capitalist economy works best."

The third problem is that the bill locks in the criteria for the point system for 14 years. The economy may not need engineers, mathematicians, and doctors in 14 years -- it might need unskilled labor or skilled labor of an entirely different kind.

Another effect -- and this one is neither good nor bad, I think -- is the changing racial demographics of the United States. The point system will reward characteristics already found in immigrants from Asia -- in the last 15 years, over 75 percent of immigrants from India, and over 50 percent of those from China, have had some form of college degree. And the English proficiency of immigrants from across Asia is usually high.

Indians in particular will do quite well under the point system, and immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico will do quite poorly. Currently over 40 percent of Indian immigrants are in science, technology, engineering, or health. That compares to less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Over 40 percent of Indian immigrants come with a master's degree or higher. That compares with less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Almost 70 percent of Indian immigrants come speaking English fluently or "very well." That compares to 20 percent of Mexican immigrants.

So in addition to looking at the immigration plan's plethora of other problems, senators need to take a long hard look at the point system. It has some problems, but more than that, it will have a tremendous impact on the composition of our country -- is that something they want to engineer? -- and deserves the utmost care.

Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department are out, and the two biggest baddies are Texas and coal, who have an interesting history together. Read more at MoJo's environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

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GSA Chief Points Finger at Rove and Company

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 10:45 AM EDT

When the Office of Special Counsel -- in charge of preventing the politicization of federal offices and protecting whistleblowers -- slammed Laurita Doan, the chief of the General Services Administration, for allowing her staff to sit down for an overtly political presentation orchestrated by Karl Rove, I speculated that Doan's alleged guilt would also indicate wrongdoing on the part of the Rove and company.

And today, Doan made the same argument. In her official response to the OSC report, Doan argued through her lawyers that it was the briefing itself that constituted an improper politicization of the GSA -- and thus a violation of federal law under the Hatch Act -- and not her willingness to organize the presentation, nor the fact that she presided over it, nor her apparent enthusiasm for its content. (Doan asked after the presentation how the staff of the GSA could help "our candidates.")

That's probably not going to fly, Doanie. I'm guessing any clear eyed investigator at the OSC knows that you're guilty and the Rove deputy who made the presentation is too. But you're low-hanging fruit, and Rove is about as well-protected as anyone can be by this administration. You're going to lose your job long before Bush's Brain.

Obama and Romney: Twins Separated at Birth?

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 6:08 PM EDT

Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post today charts out some startling similarities between leftie pinup model Barack Obama and the right's black sheep, Mitt Romney. More disturbingly perhaps, both candidates articulate foreign policy agendas that are not so different from Bush's, which has, hello!, proven to be about as unsuccessful as a foreign policy could be.

Obama talks a big line about withdrawal from Iraq, but his policy paper paints a different picture, calling for leaving enough troops there "to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda." Even the troops we have there now aren't up to these tasks. (Romney, like the rest of the Republicans, is stumbling all over himself to say neither "bring them home" nor "stay the course.")

Both Romney and Obama want to expand the armed forces and to continue in the "We rule the world" vein that has earned the United States intense foreign animosity since 2000. "We are a unique nation, and there is no substitute for our leadership," says Romney. Right on, says Obama: "We can be this America again. . . . [A]n America that battles immediate evils, promotes an ultimate good, and leads the world once more.'"

Both are jumping on the terrorism bandwagon. Calling it the biggest threat to the United States might be true, at least in the post-Iraq world, but should candidates be promising another Cold War? (I was pretty young at the time, but I don't remember fears of nuclear war being much fun.) Romney says "the jihadist threat is the defining challenge of our generation," comparing it to Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, and he promises a powerful response. Obama agrees: "To defeat al Qaeda, I will build a twenty-first-century military and twenty-first-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the Cold War to stay on the offense everywhere from Djibouti to Kandahar."

Despite my personal disgust for Romney based on his frantic attempts to out anti-gay the Christian right, it may be better to share common ground with him than with, say, Rudy Giuliani. But similarities with the Bush agenda are a serious red flag in my book. Obama-ites: Care to defend your candidate in the comments section?

William Jefferson Indicted in Bribery Case

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Everyone knew this was coming, but William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat, was just indicted on a slew of federal charges (16 of them, in an indictment that ran 94 pages), including money laundering, racketeering, and soliciting bribes. Jefferson has maintained his innocence, but has yet to explain, why, if this is so, the FBI found $90K in bribe money in his freezer.

Update: Read the indictment here.

Bush's GOP Base Finally Deserting Him -- Over Immigration of All Things

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Turns out you can screw up a foreign country as badly as you want and no one in the Republican Party will care all that much. But you promise some migrant workers who fought hell and high water to get to America a path to citizenship and you're basically toast.

That's what new poll numbers are telling President Bush, anyway. Now, admittedly, President Bush has a position on immigration that is out-of-step with many in the GOP and he has treated his critics on the right harshly, but this is still kind of stunning. After all, it's not like the guy wants a super liberal solution to the immigration mess. He's kind of middle of the road. But on this issue, middle of the road is driving people insane.

Fewer than half of Republicans, 45 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, now approve of how Bush is handling immigration, down from 61 percent in April — that's a 16-point drop in six weeks.

Doesn't sound so bad, you say? Well, ABC News and the WaPo have asked Republicans the same question about Iraq, and the president has never dipped below 62 percent approval rating. Think about that! The war is an unmitigated disaster with the chance of disrupting peace in the Middle East for decades to come, but almost two-thirds of self-identified Republicans still believe George Bush is doing a good job.

But on immigration? Christ, some on the right are even calling for Bush's impeachment over this. Want proof? Read the comments section here. Jeepers.

Spotted on AMERICAblog.