The Brave and the Bogus

The Christian Science Monitor is running a series by Jill Carroll that chronicles her time as a hostage of terrorists in Iraq. Carroll was pilloried by the usual suspects among the keyboard commando forces earlier this year for making a video critical of the occupation and praising her captors for their treatment of her (under duress while still held in captivity–by a group sympathetic to al Qaeda in Iraq that had already killed her Iraqi interpreter when abducting her). Of the many shameful episodes that our warbloggers will hopefully someday have to atone for, this outpouring of affected outrage stands out for its petty and senseless nature.
It was said that Carroll was critical of the war–God forbid–before her abduction; this, and the fact that she set out to get the story from the Iraqi point of view, were her true transgressions.
What this remarkably brave young woman did, after already serving as an embedded reporter with the Marines following them into what infantry grunts call the Shit, was leave the relative safety of that embed to witness more completely the war’s effect on Iraq (seeking the facts on the ground, or, to leaven the phrase with the disdain of quotation marks as none other than Norman Podhoretz has taken to: “the facts on the ground”). Reporting the story. Perhaps it’s also that her kidnapping illustrated dramatically just what a disaster the war is and how reporting on it is more dangerous than any other conflict in American history, contradicting the tired but persisting the-liberal-press-is-only-reporting-the-negative mythmeme, that galled them so.

I came to laying on my side on a concrete bench. My head was at such an extreme angle and my neck so stiffened by this unnatural position that I knew raising it would be a painful, if not impossible, affair; I opted to roll over onto my stomach and slowly push myself up into a sitting position while leaving my head, more or less, in its listing attitude. This too was no easy feat, accomplished by grunting, groaning effort. Laughter, accompanied by a lewdly malicious voice, attracted my attention from the other end of the cell. Two locals were sitting there watching me. He spoke again, the fat one with the leer in his voice and eyes, in a colloquial Spanish that I didn’t understand. I said nothing.
Looking down I noticed my pockets had been turned inside out; my shoes were gone. I did not yet know how I arrived there; I sensed a partially formed, vague memory lurking just below the surface of consciousness. I tried retracing my steps mentally: the girl in the bar, dancing, being led onto the beach, rolling around in the sand. So far so good; too bad there’s no way this one ends well. Sort of like a movie that reveals the hero’s death in the first frame. Closing my eyes I tried to pierce memory’s fog, at once afraid and enticed by what I might find there.
A dim scene played out: the girl was suddenly screaming at me; I was beseeching her to be quiet, asking in broken Spanish what was wrong: trying to say, ¿Cuál es la materia?, and just managing to stammer, qual estimer, qual estimer? At the same time thinking her hysteria seemed odd, acted. Get away, a foreign and sober impulse welled up into my sloshed mind, get away from her. Several missing frames later and I’m struggling in the deep, loose Baja sand; wheezing, stagger-running, covering as much distance from side to side as forward but making progress back toward the plaza, and the hotel. Memory submerged, and only briefly resurfaced to reveal a glimpse of being herded into the back of a Mexican police car by baton blows, kicks, and epithets.
I was now staring at the wall across from me; it was covered in a profusion of graffitti, mostly vulgarities in Spanish. I realized I had been staring at a word. It shimmied and danced as a pair that separated, nearly aligned, and separated again repeatedly as I fought my double vision. I tried closing one stinging eye; I couldn’t, like a very young child who can’t yet move his eyelids indepently. So I placed a hand, trembling slightly as if a small electric current was running through it, over one eye.
Slowly the word came into focus. No, I thought, no possible way. But there it was. Faint and weathered by countless years, crudely etched in jagged lines; I could just make out:

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A Soldier, and Brave

the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, an eight week college for the phony tough and the crazy brave.
–The Short Timers, Gustav Hasford

Behold a Marine, a mere shadow and reminiscience of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, buried under arms with funereal accompaniments…
–Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

I’ve just finished talking to a kid barely out of high school who’s joined the Marine Corps; Monday he’ll board a plane headed for boot camp. He wanted to ask me what it’s like; nerves. Though he wouldn’t let on. Funny how the hint of it in his voice and the bare trace of it in his manner could so quickly and thoroughly bring me back to a sensation experienced many years ago. A military van took me to the processing center in L.A. in the still-dark morning; I hadn’t managed to sleep the night before. I was leaving home to an uncertain future and in typical adolescent fashion only just realizing it; from a dark and windswept interstate I watched the only neighborhood I’d ever known drift into the past; as if the van wasn’t moving but the landscape was sliding by. I thought about my mother who had got up early to see me off; I confess I felt a lump in my throat. That was childhood passing.

I know exactly how the kid feels. Well, no, I don’t. There was no war on when I signed up, and frankly I didn’t give its possibility much thought.
The kid just needed some reassurance. Yet another absent father’s son. A scared boy, but brave too. Now the children put into empire’s mill are of my daughter’s generation. Having one of them stand before you, a stranger, implicitly seeking the small kindness of a word of reassurance, is also a “great clarifier”, a phrase Bush is fond of using for war or whatever particular chaos he proposes in lieu of studied and sober action.
Maybe my pacifism is merely a lack of will after all.

I thought my indignation toward the pseudo-warrior class couldn’t get any greater. But talking to this earnest and unwary adolescent, pretending that I know something as I assure him that he probably won’t go to Iraq, not mentioning any of the other wild possibilities that come to mind as I picture that recent, televised image of a faltering, possibly mad President Bush stammering something about Islamic fascism, I can’t help but grow depressed, and a little angry.
I remember being so very young; I remember that sense that things would work out because they must, because people in charge are there because they are capable, honest, trustworthy, and wise. Because pessimism and cynicism are betrayals of youth. Sending these boys into harm’s way out of anything but dire necessity is–calling it “a crime” simply fails.
How many has it been now? How many more will it be? For what?

Tora! Tora! Tyra!

My power of concentration makes a tempestuous and fickle concubine most days. I try to have a moment with her when I can, because I never know when she’ll be both present and yielding. She has been completely absent for the past few days in particular, like a cuckolding slut who’s gone missing. It’s off with that occasional but familiar Lothario, the bout of illness, and I’ll have to wait until he’s done with her.

Mexicans call the unwelcome male that entreats one’s wife in cuckoldry, Sancho. In the military he’s known as Jody. Part of the psychological burlesque of boot camp is (or was) the Jody cadence song, for marching or double-time:

Jody, Jody, six foot four
Jody’s at my girl’s backdoor
But when I get my ninety-six
Gonna put him in a fix

A “ninety-six” is ninety six hours of leave, or four days.

Anyway. When even the glare of the computer screen seems like the harsh light of day to my now sickly, mole-like eyes (funny how much they look mole-like as well in this state, peering weakly out from the sides of the nose their diminution makes larger) I’m self restricted to laying on the couch and listening to the television for my news. Soon this becomes a malady of its own, for it doesn’t take long before Anderson Cooper’s flak-jacketed, affected pose of profound concern (just slightly more than you would be able to muster, mister) as he more or less parrots the pro-Israel line over an endless loop of Lebanese rubble and broken bodies (as if testing our ability to sustain cognitive dissonance), and when CNN is interviewing doomsday prophets and asking them straight faced if it’s time to treat the book of Revelation as a weather report, and I give in to my base desire to indulge in mindless television.

Having watched the last episode of Deadwood three times already and very nearly resorting to watching for a second time the most recent of that Sex and the City for twenty-something males, Entourage, I venture out into the open waters of the channel stream.

How can I resist Tyra Banks? Is there any greater testament to the power of beauty to cloud judgment and confound reason than the Tyra Banks Show? Yes, they’ve given this woman a microphone, and however much I want to think they are winking at us behind her back, I glumly accept that it is all in earnest, and that this beautiful young thing with that rosebud pout turned insouciantly starboard—just so—really is being paid to commit the only sacrilege left in our times, that against beauty.
When the beautiful, the perpetually adolescent, when those possessed of an ideally formed and seemingly frozen in time youthful grace start carrying on and pretending to be adult, that is to say concerned and practical, all is lost. Beauty has only one duty, and that is to remain mute. This is the final vulgar transgression in our long slide into the hell of dissolute tedium, all these beautiful people pretending to be something else. Like exquisitely crafted funerary urns being used as inefficient beer pitchers, spilling forth their frothy mess.

But mute Tyra will never be. Oh my Lord, will she ever again be silent? She is so free with her copious thoughts and assertions; they are so important, so new and original and necessary every time they spring from those lips (my God, those lips!), and I can almost make myself forget the sounds. But this is how I know I am no longer young. I can’t ignore the significance of the sounds any more. I can’t pretend they are a siren’s song. Meaning keeps creeping in every few syllables, and it is the absolute enemy of beauty. The literal, because it directly relates to action and therefore to degradation, to time and mortality, is the antithesis of beauty. Beauty has to remain abstract, immobile, the illusion of eternity; even the sensual, physical beauty of a living human.

But of course I’ve purposely inverted things here; there are so many countless others who have so much more to say than beautiful young Tyra, and they will never be heard. Isn’t this the real sin? That we’re humoring this beautiful, dare I say it, idiot? Worse, that we are so charmed by physical beauty that we don’t even realize any more that we humor it? That we defer to it absently, as if in a trance?
No; this is nothing compared to the defilement of the noble ideal of beauty. That seems like the murder of youth; like the trampling of innocence itself, even if the object and subject of this defilement are the same entity. Beauty devouring itself! Only in our debased times. Anyway.

But what a treat I would get on this day! Not since the intrepid Ms. Banks donned a fat suit and discovered to her dismay (and let’s pretend to ours, lest a furrow, heart rending in its charm though it may be, should come to that flawless brow) that obesity is unattractive. But wait—there’s more. This unattractiveness yields a significantly degraded level of treatment from the opposite sex. Yes, it’s true! Men.

Today Tyra would bravely delve further into the brute madness that is masculinity. She would go undercover applying for a job as a stripper. Under about a quarter inch of make-up that would make her no longer beautiful but merely hot. Yes, just like a potential stripper who looks like Tyra Banks.

The first revelation was that Tyra found the inside of the strip club creepy. It was almost endearing how, in our debauched era when young women (perhaps Tyra is dating herself a bit here) are expected to engage in stripper-like behavior as a rite of awareness, she was shocked to witness lap dancing. Of course she quickly became inured to it. It almost seemed, normal. And this troubled her. This poignant observation and we’d only just gotten underway. I almost forgot about the Apocalypse.
It was on to the interview. Skillfully Tyra drew from her interviewer the investigative coup-de-grace: undoubtedly after much edited out baiting, near the end of the interview she learns that there are certain “types” of women (how debasing!) that suit particular customers’ preferences (men!); she asks what “type” is she, and—ready yourself—learns that she is an–exotic. Zoom in and freeze on our undercover beauty—minor key shift in the soundtrack; just in case anyone missed it. Break for commercial. Whew!
Not since Gloria Steinem learned the bunny dip. It could only have been better if he had leered at her and used the phrase “brown sugar.”

He may have. I didn’t make it to the other end of the commercial break. Like I said, tempestuous and fickle most days, absent currently. Anyway, I think I hear her key in the lock. I’m going to make like I never noticed she was gone.

The Blood is the Life, The Oil is the Strife

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Talking Heads

Our friend Ziel over at Lying Eyes has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging those of us who have asserted that the war in Iraq is more about oil than preemption or Wilsonian ambition to put up or shut up. The point Ziel makes is that if oil is behind our war in Iraq, why then are we massing support for a war against Iran when we could just normalize relations (or could have done so with Iraq, for that matter) and buy the damned oil, after all. In fact, one could point out that the standing Executive Order prohibiting trade with Iran proves that we are less concerned with oil than with human rights and the security of Israel. One could further draw our attention to the fact that we only import some thirty percent of our oil from the Middle East, after all. A person could structure a pretty sound argument out of all of this, asserting that we have in fact foregone energy expedience in our quest to liberate the world.

But he would still be wrong. Shorn of the rhetoric about freedom and liberation that always accompanies military adventurism, and the mistaking of means for ends, Iraq is most assuredly about the oil, as is Iran. There is a temptation to chalk it up to a confluence of forces: 9/11, oil, Iraqi and Iranian belligerence, neoconservatism. I think this is wrong; it not only is possible to discern a single, clear factor that originates this policy while imbuing the other concurrent forces about it with power they wouldn’t have otherwise, it is necessary and vital that we do so.

The problems begin with the earnest nature of the democracy promotion angle; unlike the specter of an imminent threat from Iraq requiring preemption, this is not a fabrication; but it is a strategy for effecting a durable Middle East hegemony that wouldn’t be pursued in the first place if not for one overwhelming geopolitical consideration that can be summed up in one word: oil.

People point out that we haven’t simply seized the oil, but we could never get away with that (though some have suggested we try; as far back as 1975 Henry Kissinger was planting stories in magazines under a psuedonym arguing that we should appropriate the oil fields of the Middle East; this may be where it all began, from a man many neocons love to portray as a defeatist “realist”).

We seek to dominate the Middle East not simply to get at the oil but to ensure that we are the preeminent power dictating policy to a world growing more energy dependent on the Middle East every day; a world that is now multi-polar, with various nations colluding to balance American power. We have traded the Soviet threat for a hydra-headed beast that is not yet as formidable but may still prove to be the check on American power that the Soviets couldn’t maintain.
We are fighting also to maintain dollar hegemony in the oil industry; as long as oil is traded in dollars, dollars will be the world’s reserve currency. This becomes ever more important as the Euro gains strength, and with Europe buying more Middle East oil than us while managing not to bomb anyone there, the challenge from the Continent grows. This might explain a bit the neocon vituperativeness for continental Europe. We also see how badly the Bush gang has misplayed their gambit in Iraq, with oil prices rising and the dollar falling. If this was a case of marital infidelity appropriate would be the old cliche, “it’s not the cheating, it’s the lying.” Since this is geopolitical infidelity perhaps we should say, “it’s not the lying, it’s the incompetence.” Not only was Bush unable to keep it in his pants, once he got it out he had no idea what to do with it.
Take away the oil and there is no Iraq War I, no sanctions regime, no Iraq War II, no plans to attack Iran, no ill-advised, destabilizing push to democratize the region as a whole. Evil isn’t achieved by men rubbing their hands together, twirling their handlebar moustaches and issuing sinister laughs (well, maybe Cheney) as they revel in the damage they cause. It’s achieved by those emboldened by power and hubris who aspire to remake the world, yet fail to see that greed is what motivates the powers that sustain them. Fools, in other words.

After all, to believe that the current war in Iraq has little or nothing to do with oil is to believe that somehow the post-Cold War, post-9/11 reality has rendered meaningless what has been the most exigent feature of our dealings with the Middle East in general and with Iraq in particular since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. One has to ask, why would the importance of oil be any less; Islamic fundamentalist plans to vanquish the West and restore the Caliphate confound and complicate the same old interests. You see, even if you view the war in Iraq as a struggle between the West and radical Islam, it’s still ultimately about oil. I would like to let our leaders off at that but, alas, that wouldn’t be fair. There remains an uncounted toll of dead, the dream of realizing our great republic perhaps finally destroyed, and an American Century scuttled. I therefore propose we bring this thing full into the light, and commence kicking ass and taking names, as they say.

We should judge our leaders by their actions, not their words. If the Iraq debacle has taught us anything, it is that. Let’s retrace our steps (and missteps):
The stirrings of our commitment to use military power to maintain a free and favorable flow of oil begin with the Carter Doctrine (for simplicity’s sake we can start here, though we could certainly go back farther). In response to the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Carter declared, with an honesty now quaint, that the U.S. would view any attempt by another power to control the flow of oil as a hostile act threatening the U.S.

The Carter Doctrine was directed primarily at Iran, and would influence our policy of complicity with Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship just when he was committing many of the atrocities we would later cite as cause for regime change. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait would change all of that, and while his naked aggression toward a neighbor country would leaven the call to war with the language of liberation, there was still enough honesty left in our leadership that one had to be very naïve indeed not to understand that we were denying Saddam his annexation of Kuwait because it would have made him more powerful than we were willing to allow any regional player to become.

While George Bush the elder may have demonstrated sensible restraint in not invading Iraq the first time, he was far too successful in rallying support for the war with tales of Saddam’s brutality and the lofty language of liberation. Saddam became, in the mind of the public, the second coming of Hitler. This is how his surviving Gulf War I became a failure in the eyes of some; as if by design this would be instrumental in whipping up support for the invasion of 2003. Even now, it is taken for granted that we are all better of without Saddam in power. Says who, I say.

Having made our intentions impressively known to the world with Gulf War I, we then initiated a sanctions regime that managed to keep competing nations out of the bidding for Iraqi oil contracts.
This was the situation when we recieved Paul Wolfowitz’s infamous Defense Policy Guidance of 1992 (enthusiastically taken up by then defense secretary Dick Cheney), wherein he lays out plainly our goal of boxing out any attempt by rivals to challenge U.S. dominance over the resource rich Middle East:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.

Also we have to place the second Iraq War in its proper perspective, as the culmination of hostilities that began with the first Gulf War, entered a low level phase during the period of sanctions, and was presaged long before 9/11 by the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. We have been telegraphing this war for over a decade. That it has coalesced with the new Wilsonianism of Wolfowitz et al. that 9/11 set loose shouldn’t distract us.

Of course we never intended to seize the oil, and it isn’t enough that it keeps flowing; we’re willing to pay for it, but at favorable rates and from the preferred position that comes with our military supremacy. Shortly after the invasion of Iraq we set about working hard to lock in favorable contracts to Iraq’s oil (a process that was likely in the planning stages well before the public knew we were going to war) and establish a permanent military presence in Iraq.

Our now long history of military engagement with Iraq has also been a process by which we’ve increased our military presence in the region from little more than a small base on the tiny and remote island of Diego Garcia (the bane of many a sailor in the eighties, I can attest) and the maintenance of a carrier group in the Indian Ocean (another legendary sailor’s lament, the dreaded “IO” cruise) to what we have now; a massive and impressive array of military installations throughout the region. Consider these in conjunction with our growing military presence in Central Asia, clustering forces around sources of natural gas previously locked up by the Soviet Union, and one sees the pattern: energy determines interests, interests that are ensured by military power. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was…

It’s not the post 9/11 reality so much as it’s the post-cold war reality that’s relevant here. In the absence of the old order, U.S. and Soviet power more or less at a standstill, the U.S. has to make a choice: either dominate the region by filling the void left by the Soviet withdrawal, or voluntarily stand down and allow ourselves to become as one among many nations, vying for influence and favor among a new, multipolar international struggle. Remember, it isn’t just the jihadis we have to concern ourselves with, but the EU, China, India, and now a resurgent Russia all clamoring for a seat at the table in the form of favorable contracts to develop and draw from still undeveloped fields in Iraq and Iran. We like being the big hog at the trough. I would find it all much more palatable if our leaders were honest with us.

It’s not enough to point out that we haven’t directly seized the oil fields of Iraq, or that we’ve been content to maintain sanctions on both Iraq and Iran. As Robert Dreyfus points out in this article:

“Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel,” saysMichael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. “Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It’s having our hand on the spigot.”

Current policy in the Middle East is determined more by the absence of the Soviet Union, that once acted as a sort of back-pressure to keep us from overextending ourselves, than by post-9/11 realities.

We are victims of our own power. We don’t know how to stand down. It would take a considerable effort to turn policy around, 9/11 or no; especially considering the size and influence of our military and its momentum, created by by the exertions of the Cold War. I submit that there is probably no nation that would voluntarily turn back from the global preeminence we have found thrust upon us; but we should. Our foreign policy should be guided by a respect for the sovereignty of other nations and a healthy commitment to non-intervention. War as a last resort.

We’ll survive our new multi-polar world; we’ll even thrive in it, if we don’t bankrupt ourselves seeking to dominate it at all costs. Coalitions will inevitably form against us; they already have. The more we throw our weight around, the more resistance will be created by alliances opposed to us. We can’t expect to remain a colossus forever; nor should we want to. Why have we not asked ourselves: why should we want this? Military might isn’t what made us great. Commerce, democracy, individual liberty, industriousness, creativity; these things made us great.

Some suggested reading:

Leon Hadar’s Sandstorm: Foreign Policy Failure in the Middle East. Dr. Hadar (find his blog on my links sidebar) makes a case for disengagement from the Middle East. It’s amazing that, somehow, this sensible position has been shouldered out of the mainstream debate entirely.

Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism, How Americans are Seduced by War details the growth of our military culture and its now tragically outsized influence on policy.

American Petrocracy, by Kevin Phillips, in the current issue of The American Conservative.

The Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson.

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin.

Three days. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s only been three days since Mac died, the last of a crew of seven which once seemed so few; now an unbearable weight of responsibility, a psychic pain to accompany the physical pain in your belly which is killing you. The ice has built up overnight again, heavier this time, cancelling any hope you had that the weather might turn warmer. You try to muster some grim amusement at the knowledge that you, the captain that managed to get his crew lost and icebound aboard a rust bucket you knew to be unseaworthy, would be the one who would fade out last; alone, starving and freezing in a slowly constricting cell of ice on a point of the earth no man has any right to expect better from. No, you only find yourself thinking over and over, as if to transmit your thoughts across the mortal divide to the dead men bundled below deck, I’m sorry.
Not having the strength or will left to chip away pointlessly at the ice as you have been in an attempt to keep warm and sane, you go below deck to try sleeping again. You’ve been huddled under a pile of blankets for what could have been hours or minutes, you’ve lost the ability to tell; in your blank state you only slowly recognize the tapping sound you’ve been hearing this whole time is patterned.
It’s Morse code. You’re on your feet before the realization settles. Removing and turning over the drawers of the radio cabinet you find your code translation book. You can barely hold it open with stiff, frostbitten fingers as you decipher the message.
One word, repeated over and over, making no sense, damn it; it reads:


The Baja 500

Supporting unprecedented increases in immigration levels, as those who have taken up arms against the House’s “enforcement only” bill in favor of the Senate approach do, strikes me as a clever way to support laissez-faire economics while posturing as a high minded liberal—and the highest minded of the piously liberal at that, the egalitarian anti-racist.

Nowhere is that more in evidence than in the text of the “Open Letter on Immigration” offered by Greg Mankiw (I’m not sure if he originated it or is just a signatory, but he seems like a nice enough, if fatally mistaken, fellow to link to), and boasting of five hundred signatures from economists around the country. Here it comes to the fore, flexing the puffed up gym muscles of its moral superiority while proudly flaunting its sock-stuffed-in-the-crotch endowment of five hundred eminent signatures. Probably many of these signatories are more simply liberal individuals than libertarian economists. So it’s hard to imagine that if they were relieved of the considerable pressure to appear sublimely egalitarian they would sign off on something that proposes dispensing with the concerns of the poorest Americans because their concentrated pain is spread out to the benefit of their mostly better off fellow citizens in the form of lower consumer prices:

In recent decades, immigration of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to have been small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.
While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

Perhaps one has to be an economist to understand how something that costs so little in the form of lower wages at one end (maybe nothing at all; it’s the rebirth of Bush Sr’s “voodoo economics”), brings significant benefits to the whole of the gargantuan American economy at the other end in the form of lower consumer prices. I was under the impression that all the well documented expenses from the public purse emanating from low-skilled immigration amounted to a subsidy of those lower prices, and then some.

Of course, one of the “restrictionist” points of view on immigration is that we should allow ourself the right, and more importantly the self-preservative concern, to place a premium on skills and education; hence the need for border security and a re-evaluation of immigration levels, as well as educational and skill levels of immigrants. Saying “many immigrants bring skills, capital, and entrepreneurship to the American economy,” is not just making things more vague by lumping all immigration into one mass, it is an obfuscation of just what the debate is. By all means let’s talk about skills and entrepreneurship, but let’s be frank about it; some immigrants bring these things, many more don’t. Why on earth wouldn’t we allow ourselves the right to, brace yourself now, discriminate on the basis of these things? Perhaps the author doesn’t understand that’s what he is in fact arguing against. As for immigrants bringing significant capital with them, it’s been a long time since Ferdinand Marcos touched down in Hawaii.

The author blunders through a couple of fatal fallacies here, not the least of which is that labor–human beings–can be viewed as not vastly different from “goods and services.” Here is yet another instance of ideology running aground on the shoals of human nature. Of course, the captain is telling us that as soon as the tide turns and the children of all these unskilled laborers that are flooding the holds below suddenly reverse the trends of the past two generations and all become Silicon Valley entrepreneurs we’ll be okay. Meanwhile, us rabble in the crew are bailing water like mad. Time to mutiny.

As is so often the case, the most egregious elitist callousness is lurking behind the facade of liberal concern, “a small percentage of native born” will be harmed; “vastly more” will benefit. The “benefit” claimed has never been coherently proven, other than in the form of lower consumer prices. Some would hold our civilization hostage to the price of lettuce.
In the totemic hierarchy of psuedo-liberal ritual, the poorer, the more foreign, and the less white one is, the higher the position. Dirt poor Latin American mestizo trumps native born working class every time. And pay no attention to the decidedly un-proletarian appearance of the priesthood, as they count their tithes in units of money and political power.
The author would have you believe that the costs are isolated and nearly insignificant but the benefits are spread out and magnified. Unless the nation really is struggling with a significant labor shortage, this is bunkum. Notice that the open borders argument takes for granted industry claims to this effect, despite long standing stagnation in wages in the industries that rely heavily on unrestricted immigration. Many who wouldn’t dream of, say, taking General Motors at their word if they complain about the effects of CAFE standards (and I don’t know anything about those claims; my point here is to illustrate the hypocrisy of certain otherwise reasonable people when it comes to this highly loaded issue), are now looking off and away, blithely whistling like a bribed umpire while certain industries are allowed to call their own strikes.

I suspect it’s clearer if you’re one who stands to gain more directly; if you’re Big Agriculture, the fast food industry, a major political party (that somehow both think they’re going to ensure their dominance well into mid-century by a sort of reverse gerrymandering of the electorate as a whole), or an economist ensuring his well feathered place in respectable punditry (now there’s a positively affected income).
They just keep laying it on thicker and thicker:

Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system, that enable Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.

This is a rhetorical head fake, albeit not a very good one. We’ve been grappling with disturbing trends in education for a couple of decades now. We might want to be a bit more prudent, and not sell ourselves on policy that confounds the situation further by promising we’ll get around to doing something about it later. Saying we should do something about education means absolutely nothing in this context, unless you are addressing the effect of broad, low skilled immigration upon it. And we know that education is adversely affected by massive inflows of poorly educated, foreign language immigrants. The author would have you leap from a plane, promising he’ll throw a parachute down after you. Come to think of it, it takes a lot of nerve to offer then we’ll just have to do something about education as a sort of throw-away line. Bravo.

Of course the costs of illegal immigration on education are one of many issues left unaddressed in the letter. Since the letter makes only a few general assertions (perhaps that’s how you get five hundred signatures) I’m assuming that this is an appeal for the Senate’s mass amnesty combined with a doubling or trebling of legal immigration, as proposed in their bill.
Now someone tell me if I’m crazy, or ill-informed, or just plain mean, but this next line might be the silliest thing produced by the beneficiary of an Ivy League education (or this guy is just reaching way out of the strike zone):

We must not forget that the gains to immigrants coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid.

When coming upon a lunatic thought like this, I advise sneaking up behind it. That’s why we’ll start at the ugly rear of the thing, the least of it yes but this thing is a doozy so let’s be careful; “a truly form of effective foreign aid” he says. Is it? Would we consider direct payments to individual citizens in impoverished nations “effective”? Would anyone ever propose such a thing? I’m assuming of course that we’re still talking about the best policy for this nation.

If the writer were really so convinced of the entrepreneurial nature of all of these immigrants then he would be, in his oh-so-global concern, fretting about our continually draining our fellow nations of their human capital, and its hobbling effect on their perpetually underperforming economies. Of course, no such thing is happening. Mexico doesn’t spend money printing out handbooks on how to sneak into the U.S., nor does it send its president on tours of apple orchards in Washington State, because skills and entrepreneurialism are migrating here. If one considers Latin American migration into the U.S. clearly, it soon becomes apparent that countries like Mexico export their least employable to the United States. They recieve back remittances and net savings on social programs. Perhaps most importantly, they export potential political strife.
This silly argument reminds me of a guy I once heard describing his educational grant as an effective form of economic stimulus, because he was going to go out and spend the money after all.

Remittances (and I think we see where much of that “0-8%” in lost wages is going) represent capital flowing out of the economy. As in not spent here. It’s nice that this money ends up in the hands of the needy, after all, but if one is concerned with preserving this remarkable economy that is such a “beacon”, then it helps to understand that this money going abroad is no different, really, from capital lost to trade deficits. Or to increased spending on schools. Or on crime prevention, or on uninsured health care, or on welfare benefits, or on environmental costs…

Spin Cycle

Indulge me a moment.

Images merge and blend in the memory; things once seen in stark daylight or secondhand in snapshots, melding with television programs and picture shows, coalescing around imagination and vanity, clouded by dreams; the real, the transferred, the imagined and the wished intermingle, separate, and intermingle endlessly. All these charged electrons ricocheting around in my head, sometimes colliding and transferring particles, sometimes one capturing another and becoming something new.

All I know is the sum of my experiences, a collage spinning too fast to make out its parts until one slows and stands out momentarily: an old photo of a child—I know him—astride a bicycle, a Schwinn Sting Ray. This evokes a few more memories, hits showing up like the proverbial flashes in the gold pan; memories not only of images, some faint and some clear, but of sensations, some that feel like a fist in your chest, a vise grip on your heart that demands your attention.

The scent of seasonal change in the place you grew up, the smell of its dirt, home, girls—then women and maturation crowding all these out. Nothing will hold still. I didn’t even know how much I cherished these things, some of them mundane and treated with the contempt of familiarity, now viewed by a man weakened by sentiment and regret. Look around you now, yes even this will be mourned.

A boy on a Sting Ray; a white banana seat with a half sissy-bar, sometimes we’d ride two on the seat and one on the handle bars, he has a crew cut grown out, bristly and sun bleached a grizzly-bear tan color, giving him an oversized head. His smile is hardly guileless, but blameless nonetheless. This image evokes another; riding the bicycle for the first time unassisted, surrounded by other kids, one shouting approval; and now it is the motion itself experienced in that moment that is remembered clearly. A memory so near the beginning of memory it always aches slightly of melancholic ecstasy to come upon it yet again, to indulge oneself and to hold it up to the light and peer into its cloudy, transparent core one more time. Almost afraid to look too closely or directly at it lest it vanish, like trying to observe a mote in the corner of your eye. This too will be lost.

She took me out into the middle of a field at night. This is the field I ran across when I escaped the man who put a knife to my throat. Sex and violence. Two children, furtively stealing out into the center of a shadow, dropping a bucket down into a forbidden well in the black of night. I don’t remember her face. I don’t remember her name. I remember the damp grass, the cool air on us, the scent, her; like one multi-dimensional sensation. I remember the field seemed like a mile wide expanse. I remember walking home.

The collage turns; a globe shaped mass of a million distinct, twirling particles spinning around an axis, some larger, some smaller, some surfacing in a split second to pause and reveal themselves and then submerging in the whirling mass. Here’s a girl’s face and in an instant faster than the speed of desire the heart quickens just as it did before, and this moment is now that moment of years ago, separated by a trillion moments between but connected nonetheless, and the sensation somehow travels along this chain like electrons through a wire to reach you now in an instant. The image of the face isn’t clear, it won’t stay put for examination, like a light smudge on your eye it skitters off to the side when you try to look directly at it, but the memory triggers a complex of emotion and desire that is real right now, even if the girl is gone forever.
But we know that electrons in a wire are lined up and waiting; flick a switch at one end and at the other one is pushed out. Instant light. Moments only line up in the imagination; in reality there is only one moment, this one.
It is bliss and heartache at once; damn, how I’ll miss this life.

Okay, I’m over it now. Back to work.

Iran, I Ran So Far Away

I have an idea on how George Bush can weaken Iran’s hand in the Middle East.
An immediate, precipitous pull-out from Iraq. The inevitable civil war is the last thing the Iranians want. Of course full scale civil war may be inevitable anyway. Our continuing presence there is buying Iran more time to determine which mad mullah will prove out, al-Sadr or al-Hakim (or whoever else has surfaced). Our troops are presently Iran’s bulwark against regional instability. Of course, Cheney and Rumsfeld are still holding out hope for a permanent military presence in Iraq; watch how they lower their expectations of democracization long before they give up those military bases and oil contracts.

Asia Times Online’s Spengler pointed out here that Iran, whatever it may say, has a vested interest in the U.S. succeeding in its nation building enterprise, leaving Shi’ites dominant and presumably open to Iranian influence.
Ahmadinejad’s high profile, anti-Semitic bluster has been in no small part an attempt to place Iran (and himself, perhaps to the dismay of the ruling clerics who reserve international policy for themselves) at the apex of a newly revolutionary and anti-Western ummah. He has made remarkable headway among the mostly Sunni populations of the region for his fiery bombast. He threatens to unite Shia and Sunni in an new Islamic revolution. I don’t think it’s likely; these guys take their sectarian differences a little more seriously than that.

Forcing Iran to either enter the civil war on behalf of a Shia faction and become natio non grata with its Sunni neighbors (or worse), or try its hand at occupation, or sit still and watch its influence dwindle away in the chaos ensures a weakened Iranian state, already under pressure from within.
The situation as it is may not be the boon to Iran that it should be after all; it seems the Shi’ites are already starting to break up into factions as they anticipate an American withdrawal, from The Australian:

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has given a gloomy assessment of the situation.
“The British used to make a big deal of walking around in their berets in the south,” he said. “Now they won’t even go to the latrines without their helmets. The south has got much rougher, it’s mainly Shia on Shia violence.”

Of course, the increased bloodshed that almost certainly will follow our departure is still on our hands. We set this all in motion through classic imperial overreach. Something to remember when someone says time to get out and leave this mess to the Iraqis. The tragedy is that we will almost certainly have to do just that, after it becomes clear that our remaining is the greater evil. That clariy is just about upon us.

Leon Hadar has been arguing for a while now that we need to sit down with Iran for comprehensive negotiations beyond the nuclear issue. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to leave Iraq be and sit down with Iran when they were reaching out previous to the Iraq war? (sullen leadership responds with dirty look) Just asking.