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« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

July 31, 2007

Hayden Pass

From Sunday's Jeep outing, presented without comment, except to note that it's still not to late to purchase late-summer plane tickets and hotel reservations. The pass is on a road from Villa Grove in the San Luis Valley to Coaldale, on US 50 along the Arkansas River.



Step Two of the Great House Project begins. Step Two has two substeps: a backsplash in the kitchen, and retiling the kitchen floor to match. (It actually has a third, but re-doing the countertops is a ways off.)

Here's the backsplash, courtesy of yours truly.


Seizures as Divine Wrath

The very first posting on the Denver Post forum on Chief Justice Roberts's seizure, from "justanicegirl1151" (sic):

I'm sorry to have to say this but Roberts is always doing something evil. He doesn't like Black people and has proven it many times. Perhaps somebody up there is trying to tell him he needs to change his ways. I sincerely hope he listens. Afterall, he is one of the people who make the "laws of the land", which the bible says we are to follow. He should conduct himself more responsibly.

Just to clarify: no you're not (sorry), no he isn't (doing), no he hasn't (proven), no they're not (trying), and no he isn't (making laws).

July 30, 2007

CFA Blog

I mean it this time. After a couple of fits and starts, I'm going to take the Level I exam in December, and I'm going to be blogging about the studying.

A few starter posts to get things going...

July 22, 2007

Barack The Line

From the AP this morning:

Democrat Barack Obama told union activists Saturday night that he would walk a picket line as president if organized labor helps elect him in 2008.

The Illinois senator also criticized President Bush's policies toward working people.

Gee, that must explain this:

Denver's lack of unionized hotels means that all the state delegations at the Democratic National Convention next year will have to be housed in nonunion venues.

The city's only union hotel is the Hyatt Regency, across from the Colorado Convention Center. Democratic officials have decided not to house any state delegations in the 1,100 room Hyatt, meaning the state delegations will be in other hotels around the city. The Hyatt will house national Democratic officials and party staff.

Then again, it's not the first time this has happened. From Election Day 2000:

But for those looking for the biggest bang for their buck -- or at least their parking meter -- LoDo was the place to be. Diana DeGette and Colorado Democratic Party (breaking away from its typical choice of union hotels) co-hosted a bash at the Soiled Dove...

Naturally, the AP buys into the notion that "workers" mean "union," and that workers' interests, even members' interests, are the same as the unions' interests. That must be why "union" increasingly means "government." It must also explain why every Democrat voted to eliminate the secret ballot for union certification. And why union bosses seem to have a hard time keeping their hands off their workers' money.

Well, no. This is why:

The San Francisco Chronicle reported: "California unions spent $88,000 (public employee unions' share was $68,000) in opposing Proposition 22, a 2000 ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman"; a Los Angeles Times exit poll found that 58 percent of union households had voted yes on the measure. The Chronicle added: "California unions spent $32.7 million (public employee unions' share was $25.7 million) to oppose the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, yet exit polls found half of union members voted for the recall and 56 percent voted for a Republican candidate to replace him—43 percent for Schwarzenegger and 13 percent for Tom McClintock."

According to the AP:

The union plays an important role in Iowa Democratic politics. Besides campaign money, an endorsement brings into play a legion of talented organizers throughout the state.

No doubt:

According to the court, the facts from Fort Collins show the teachers union crossed the legal line in its 2004 campaign activities.

On July 20, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and its local affiliate the Poudre Education Association (PEA) illegally helped state senate candidate Bob Bacon's campaign. The illegal assistance was crucial to Bacon's 2004 victory, which gave the Senate Democrats a one-seat majority.

In essence, Bacon skirted campaign finance restrictions by outsourcing the costly services of volunteer recruitment and literature distribution to CEA and PEA.

July 19, 2007

Cutting For Sign

I first heard of WIlliam Langewiesche when he appeared on "Fresh Air," discussing flight dynamics and piloting in the wake of JFK, Jr's poor judgment and ultimate death. The Atlantic republished his article, "The Turn." Recently, I remembered another book had of his, published in 1993, about the US-Mexican border, Cutting for Sign" target="_blank">Cutting For Sign. Things have gotten worse since then in some ways, but even then, only a few years after Simpson-Mizzoli, the signs were there.

Langewiesche raises questions that conservatives, like myself, who support a border fence, need to take seriously. The border is 1951 miles long, and we're talking about 800 miles of fencing. There is considerable commerce along the border from day shoppers. Much of the land, though, is remote, mountainous, or thick with brush, and therefore difficult to patrol. Other portions are dense with people, and therefore difficult to control.

The boundary runs just to the south along the crest of low hills. All day the crowds gather in increasing numbers at the fence. By late afternoon you see hundreds up there, dark lines of people waiting for the sun to set. Vendors sell drinks and tacos. Where the fence is torn, the immigrants swell through and stand inside the United States. Border guards square offagainst them in scattered trucks, radios crackling. They face a near riot, an aftermoon ritual. The fence marks the territory they intend to defend, but they keep a wary distance from it: it serves the unintended purpose of sheltering the Tijuana toughs who jeer and throw rocks. The irony is not lost on the guards. (P. 38-39)

Later on, he talks with a San Diegan disgusted at the damage and accidents caused by immigrants trying to run across the Interstate. "They ought to build a fence," he says. We had a fence, and still the Border Patrol was completely overwhelmed. If we're going to push for a fence, we need to know what technology exists that will make the next one more effective, or we're going to have to know how many men it will take to make it safe.

Some analysts argue that the United States must let the border function as a pressure-relief valve, to give the Mexicans time to turn their economy around and to allow free trade an opportunity to work. They say Mexicans prefer Mexico and will stay there if their economy develops. It is a good theory, but there is evidence that Mexicans will not cooperate. To the extent that Mexico's economic growth is linked to the United States, it will continue to be concentrated along the border. As still greater numbers of workers are drawn to northern Mexico and their material expectations increase, the United States may continue to appear not less, but more desirable. The lesson of Tijuana is that the flow of immigrants may actually increase. Despite their denials, true free traders must in their hearts accept this possibility, the human exchange, as part of the package. (P. 53-54)

This was written 14 years ago. Attention Wall Street Journal editorial board, please pick up the white courtesy telephone. It's true now, even though US companies are building plants further and further away from the border, in Linares, for instance. to be the hottest town in the United States. Over the last five years its population has swelled from 1,900 to more than 3,800. The newcomers are Mexicans granted permanent residency under the immigration amnesty program. Most are not yet U.S. citizens and cannot vote. Still, their political weight is felt; by their numbers alone, they speak of the future and promise permanence to Latino power. (P. 165-166)

Which says all you need to know about the Democrats' position. Well, that and the fact that national security is a figment of their imaginations. The weak-kneed Republicans are another matter.

When Acosta (who ran the drug trade in the Mexican border town of Ojinaga -ed.) began to lose power, U.S. narcotics officers who were trying to work through him to get at his Colombian sources actually worried about his decline. In one of the more bizarre episodes, FBI agents fearfu of Libyan terrorists sneaking into the United States traveled to Ojinaga to ask Acosta if he knew of any. He did not, but volunteered to fight them for free if they showed up. He pointed out correctly that he owed his success to the United States.

Which is pretty much why Mexico helps us catch terrorists, too.

It's a good book, and most of it still seems to be true.

July 18, 2007

Cats and Dogs Living Together?

So Jonah Goldberg, as though he had nothing better to write about, decided to start the Dogs vs. Cats debate up again. Bill Bennett points out that while cats may be smarter, they're not, "on our side, like dogs are on our side."

From Temple Grandin's Animals In Translation (pp. 304-305):

If Dr. Wayne is right, wolves and people were togetherat the point when homo sapiens had just barely evolved from homo erectus...This means that when wolves and people first started keeping company there were on a lot more equal footing than dogs and people are today. Basically, two different species with complementary skills teamed up together, something that had never happened before and has really never happened since.


Fossil records show that whenever a species becomes domesticated its brain gets smaller. The horse's brain shrak by 16%; the pig's brain shrank by as much as 34%; and the dog's brain shrank 10-30%...Now archaeologists have discovered that 10,000 years ago, just at the point when humans began to give their dogs formal burials, the human brain brgan to shrink, too. It shrank by 10%, just like the dog's brain. And what's interesting is what part of the human brain humans it was the midbrain, which handles emotions and sensory data, and the olfactory bulbs, which handle smell, that got smaller, while the corpus collosum and the forebrain stayed pretty much the same...humans took over the planning and organizing tasks,and dogs took over the sensory tasks.

July 17, 2007

Iraqi Smuggling Ring Operating on US-Mexican Border?

Smuggling Iraqis, that is.

ABC News is reporting that the FBI is investigating a smuggling operation geared towards getting Iraqis across the US-Mexican border into the US:

The FBI is investigating an alleged human smuggling operation based in Chaparral, N.M., that agents say is bringing "Iraqis and other Middle Eastern" individuals across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

An FBI intelligence report distributed by the Washington, D.C. Joint Terrorism Task Force, obtained by the Blotter on, says the illegal ring has been bringing Iraqis across the border illegally for more than a year.

Some reporter should investigate this, or something.

Still, the way Bensman discusses this, it sounds as though we'd need regime change in most of Latin America to put a stop to it. The FBI will probably announce some high-profile arrests, or not, depending on how the political fallout vis-a-vis the war is calculated, and then others will rush in to provide this highly lucrative service.

July 16, 2007

A Stupefyingly Bad Idea

Under the "More Evidence that the Bush Administration Has Ended" file, we have this report from Beitbart/AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush on Monday announced an an international conference this fall to include Israel, the Palestinian authority and some of their Arab neighbors to help restart Mideast peace talks and review progress in building democratic institutions.

He said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would preside over the session. Bush said the conference would include representatives from Israel, the Palestinians "and their neighbors in the region" and said participants would include just those governments that support creation of a Palestinian state.

Bush also pledged increased U.S. aid to the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas and called for the convening of a meeting of "donor" nations to consider more international aid, including the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Bush said the past few years had see "some hopeful, some dispiriting" changes in the Middle East. And he called the present time "a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. And now comes a moment of choice."

If I had a dime for every time I heard some Administration official over the last 20 years talk about how it's time for the Palestinians to make a choice, I could retire and blog full time. The Palestinians have have decades to have a change of heart, and have consistently made the same choice - war by some means or another.

The only evidence that anything has changed is evidence that it's changed for the worse. Hamas has turned Gaza into an Iranian client and given al Qaeda a seaport. Hezbollah is eating out Lebanon from the inside. Abbas - whose doctoral thesis consists of Holocaust denial - is being promised more money to steal, the same program that gave Gaza to Hamas in the first place.

Some will see significance in the fact that this announcement was made at the beginning of the Nine Days, a heightened period of mourning over the loss of the two Temples and the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth by the Roman Empire. Others will just see a flight to fancy by the well-intentioned, and glee by the ill-intentioned.

Those with long memories will remember the Madrid Conference as the real beginning of the Oslo Process, bringer of death and destruction to Jews on a scale not seen since before there was an Israel. Now, we see the same self-deluding psychotic pattern, with concessions to murderers expected to produce - something. Since the criteria for participation isn't acceptance of Israel but rather acceptance of the Palestinians' desiderata, the Conference is clearly set up to repeat the pattern of pressuring Israel for actual concessions in return for more false promises from the Palestinians. The only question is what concessions will be expected to drain strength from one set of enemies, or to prop up another set of enemies.

Reiterating the Narrative

Media bias doesn't operate by outright lies (usually). Instead it operates by settling on and relentlessly repeating an overly-simple and therefore deceptive narrative. The Washington Post's article yesterday morning about how meaningful climate change legislation is being stifled (but only on this side of the Atlantic) by economic concerns ("Climate Change Debate Hinges on Economics"). There are those of us who are grateful for such concerns, but the Post seems disturbed by them. Naturally, the issue is cast as a morality play, with the selfless Europeans facing off against the narrow-minded Americans. The truth is, naturally, a little more, ah, nuanced.

The potential economic impact of meaningful climate legislation -- enough to reduce U.S. emissions by at least 60 percent -- is vast. Automobiles would have to get double their current miles to the gallon. Building codes would have to be tougher, requiring use of more energy-efficient materials. To stimulate and pay for new technologies, U.S. electricity bills could rise by 25 to 33 percent, some experts estimate; others say the increase could be greater.

Most of the technologies that could reduce greenhouse gases are not only expensive but would need to be embraced on a global scale, scientists say.

Nowhere does the article cite any basis for the claim that only reductions of 60% or more are, "meaningful." And since the US isn't the world's largest CO2 producer any more - China is - the Post is either admitting impotence or arguing for an even more aggressive extension of American sovereignty abroad.

In the Senate, five climate change bills have been introduced recently -- with sponsors from both parties. They do not tax carbon but use variations on Europe's cap-and-trade system. Europe modeled its system on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which the Senate rejected and President Bush later dismissed, saying it would cause the U.S. economy "serious harm."

The last sentence is deeply disingenuous, but the whole paragraph is misleading. In fact, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol but never submitted it to the Senate. The Senate later took a non-binding vote, unanimously rejecting the treaty because it didn't include the most-polluting, fastest-growing economies of India and China. The Senate never formally rejected the treaty. And President Bush has never pulled the US's signature from the document.

Deutch says that the technology, seen as a vital part of almost any strategy to slow global warming, won't be commercially viable until carbon dioxide reaches $30 a ton. That would translate into a 25 percent average increase in electric bills nationwide, Deutch said.

"It's certainly affordable for our economy and our society," Deutch said.

Deutch said, thus demonstrating the same incisive acumen that's made the CIA what it is today. Of course, the Post never actually does any analysis on this statement, preferring instead to paint US citizens as pampered children who just don't want to pay more. The Post gives no average energy bill for individuals, the number of people which such an increase might push from saving to spending each month, the institutional costs of such an increase, the jobs it might cost, or the effects of the price increases on consumers, or even the disproportionate effects on smaller and mid-size businesses. You know, the sort of analysis we got when every welfare recipient was on the verge of starvation from reform.

In Europe, there is a much greater sense of urgency about combating climate change, as Bush discovered at last month's meeting of the Group of Eight major industrial nations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Merkel is expected to push for big increases in power plant productivity and more renewable energy, although Germany is already the leading country in Europe for wind and solar power. Spain and Italy are offering incentives of about 40 cents a kilowatt hour for solar-power installations.

Actually, in Europe, there's a much greater sense of urgency about not allowing the US economy to continue to out-compete. The Europeans are terrific poseurs, talking a big game, but doing worse than the US since 2000 in reducing CO2 output, despite the fact that the US economy has grown faster than Europe's over that time. They, and their Democratic friends in Congress, draw the baseline at 1990 in order to capture one-time, non-repeatable events, that in any honest accounting would be thrown out. Despite that, they still have to keep raising the 1990 baseline in order to minimize the amount by which they fail to keep their promises.

As for solar, that's just a technology bet that Germany's made, and is now looking for the rest of the world to subsidize their market. Of all the countries in Europe, Germany's one of the worst for solar power, given its cloudy climate and northern latitude. Their leadership in solar isn't bootstrapped by any domestic demand, it's created by a goverment policy of picking winners.

Overpromising and misinvesting should be signs of deep unseriousness. Sadly, the Post mistakes them for "urgency."

July 13, 2007

Tood Bensman Radio Interview

I promised to link to the radio interview with Todd Bensman when it was up, and here it is. The first segment starts with John and me bantering for a few minutes about the failure of the immigration bill, and Todd joins us about 4 1/2 minutes through.

Segment I:

Segment II:


By the Council...

July 12, 2007

A Test On Immigration

Proponents of stricter enforcement of laws against hiring illegals often argue that this will result in "self-deportation." In other words, large numbers of illegals will pick themselves up and leave a place where things always get better to go back to a place where things never seem to.

Now, we may have a chance to put this to the test. The Wall Street Journal's Economics Blog reports that four researchers from Deutsche Bank believe that, a year and a half into the housing slump, builders have laid off as many as 500,000 illegal aliens.

The title of the post, "Report Illegal Hispanics Bear Housing Slump Brunt," recalls "World Ends, Women, Minorities Hardest Hit," but the point is clear. 500,000 jobs lost translates to just over a 4 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate for illegals, assuming 12 million illegals in the country. It's not 1930, but it's also not

Since we all believe that neither illegals nor their informal network are stupid, word should be getting around that it's not so easy to find work pounding shingles and hanging sheet rock right now. Despite the fact that we've seen about 40 feet of actual fencing built, we should still be seeing fewer people trying to sneak in. If we do, there may be some merit to the demand-side enforcement argument. If we don't, then the draw of the American idea remains stronger than any transient economics.

July 11, 2007

Democratic Immunity

Those of us warning of disaster should the US pack up and leave Iraq to Iran's devices have implicitly, although perhaps not explicitly, counting on the American public to hold the Democrats and weak-kneed Republicans accountable for such irresponsibility.

Don't hold your breath.

The American public won't know. And if it knows, it won't care.

Right now, today, as our soldiers fight, the AP reports massacres that didn't occur and fails to report those that do. When we've left, when our attention has turned to someplace else, someplace of critical national security importance like, say, Belize, the MSM simply won't be around to report on Iraq. In fact, they're not there to report on Iraq now, since Reuters and the AP rely almost exclusively on local Arab stringers for their writing.

With Iraq reduced to a bad memory, with Americns no longer dying in attacks, and with the Presidential election considered much more interesting (heck, with Congressional hearings into the Bush administration much more interesting), murders and massacres in Iraq will barely break the A section, much less the front page.

And when they do, the notion that an American presence might have prevented them will never be mentioned, except to chide the Administration for not getting it right from day one, by way of criticizing those who supported the war from the beginning. Even were Iraq to descend into Vietnam-like catastrophe, or Sudan-like genocide, the MSM will both blame the chaos on us and claim that there's nothing we can do to prevent it.

At least, not until Americans start dying again. Here.


If I say the S stands for "Scholars for," and the P stands for "Peace," you're probably thinking that the "ME" stands for "through Moral Equivalence."

You would be wrong.

I just wish there were more non-Jews signing this thing. Especially since you don't have to be an academic to sign.

July 10, 2007

Pennsylvania 6-5000

That's actually a real phone number, in this case, the Hotel Pennsylvania, just across 7th Avenue from Penn Station in Manhattan. It's the longest-serving phone number in New York, and it's about to be replaced. It was the home to a number of great swing bands in its day, and Glenn Miller, apparently hard up for inspiration, used the phone number.

Both the hotel and the original train station were built by the Pennsylvania Railroad. If you follow the link to destruction, they'll tell you it opened with 2200 rooms in 1919, and was designed by McKim, Mead, and White. It used to be one of the great New York hotels, being at one time or another part of the great Statler chain, eventually bought out by Hilton. After passing through bankruptcy, it later re-emerged as the Hotel Pennsylvania. It was one of the fine hotels just pre-Art Deco, but flexible enough to be deco-ed up by the chandelier and the artwork in the lobby. By the time I stayed there - twice - it was already fading, and now it's considered "discount," a dangerous status for a building with that kind of location. There's a plan to the lobby, but not to the main floor, and the shops are all different, crammed in like different tenants on a old strip mall. Each has its own flavor, but together they're a mishmosh.

I did stay there when I was in grade school and then again in high school. Each time it was for a school trip to the UN - once to the real thing, once to a convention dedicated to our recreating it to show how important and effective it was. Bleh. Now, what I remember most about the trip was a detour, courtesy of my Dad, to a deli near Lincoln Center where they loaded me up with the Dagwood Bumstead Special for about $1.50.

There's something seriously wrong with an educational system taht idolizes international bureaucrats and ignores great architecture.

July 8, 2007

Those Lovable Chavistas!

David Montgomery just loooooves those Chavistas ("What a Difference a Day Makes; Venezuela, Toasting Freedom on the Fifth"). Along with the typical Washington party stuff, he goes to great pains to explain how we're not so different, Chavez and us, eh? (You can almost hear Eli Wallach in the background: "If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.")

An embassy official gives a ceremonial reading of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence. Alvarez declares, "Now, more than ever, Venezuela is struggling to assume a full independence" -- referring to the freedom to carry out the Chávez program without meddling by the United States, which now plays the part of Spain in the national drama.

Right. The freedom to carry out the Chavez program. That would include harboring the Buenos Aires JCC bombers, making nice with Iran, supporting FARC terrorists in neighboring Colombia (a real democracy, by the way), suspending Constitutional liberties, shooting down your opponents in the streets, stealing elections, and aiding and abetting Middle Easterners in getting into the US illegally. No reason for us to meddle at all. Of course, we play the part of Spain in Chavez's propaganda, not the actual national drama, and not, one suspects, in the minds of the mass of Venezuelans.

Chávez takes Bolívar as his revolutionary role model.

Chavez takes Castro as his revolutionary role model. He takes Bolivar for a ride.

Elected president in 1998, Chávez has wrought large changes, with popular support, extending access to health care, education and a political voice to the poor. But he has also taken greater control of the oil industry, obtained legislative permission to rule by decree and closed a television station. Critics in Washington say he's leading the country away from democracy.

"...Legislative permission to rule by decree." Oh, that. Gee. Why are you Americans always harping on that? I mean, it's not as though he's going to close opposition TV stations or anything like that....oh, wait...Well, I mean it's not as though he's going to close down something serious, like a newspaper. At least not, you know, our newspaper...

Again, never mind changing the Constitution so he can run for President for life every few years, or stealing the recall referendum a couple of years ago. It's what you don't say.

Alvarez bats away such cavils. Why, he asks, is Venezuela held to one standard of democracy when there is nationalized oil in Mexico and television stations are closed in other nations? "Do you think it is a democratic practice that if you want to be elected senator in this country, you need at least $20 million?"

Well, yes, actually, I do. He doesn't need that money personally - we've got three Senate candidates here in Colorado in the last four years to prove it. But yes, actually, the fact that he has to curry favor with actual constituents and actually raise money to run for office, yes, I do think that's democratic. Next false equivalency, please?

A table near the statue holds copies of Chávez speeches. One of them from January devotes a page-and-a-half to excoriating José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States: "He's a true idiot, from the 'i' to the 't,' " Chávez said.

But hey -- isn't that Insulza himself, here now, joining Alvarez in laying wreaths to Bolívar?

"I am not the first one or the last one to be treated that way by President Chávez," Insulza says later.

Change Chavez to Kim Jong Il, and Isulza to Hans Blix, and they could almost be puppets.

There is no Chávez in this vast, mythic rendering of Venezuelan history, as there might not be a President Bush in a July 4 recounting of the Story of America.

So there are, at the moment, limits to the cult of personality. Only remember, Chavez makes much of his mixed heritage. Does Mr. Montgomery actually know the traditional Venezuelan independence story well enough to know that it isn't being jiggered around for Chavez's benefit? I doubt it.

Then, this:

Shannon [assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs] says he has come out of "respect for the people of Venezuela, and a recognition that while in democracies governments may come and go, the ties and friendships between people will remain."

Nice. So tell me, Mr. Shannon, exactly when Chavez plans to give up power?

The left never really bought into the Cold War. Those who didn't openly sympathize never missed a chance to draw false similarities between us and our enemies.

Old habits die hard.

July 6, 2007

Interview With Todd Bensman

On Backbone Radio last week, John Andrews, Matt Dunn, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Bensman of the San Antonion Express-News about his four-part series, "Breaching America," that ran earlier in the year. The series followed an illegal immigrant and asylum-seeker from his homeland across the US-Mexican border, to his release by US authorities to join his family in the States.

His homeland: Iraq.

It turns out that there's a pipeline of illegals from "Countries of Special Interest" - mostly in the Middle East, almost all Muslim - that runs through Latin American into the United States.

The original series can be found here, here, here, and here.

After the interview, Todd graciously agreed to take follow-up questions for this blog by email. It took place in two parts, an initial round of questions and then a follow-up round. Except where noted below, the questions and answers are presented in order below.

1) What led you to do the series?

For the last several years, working as a reporter in Dallas, I'd occasionally heard through my ICE and FBI friends about Arabs being caught crossing the Mexican border. Not until I took a special projects reporting job closer to the border, with The San Antonio Express News, did it become feasible for me to think harder about substantiating these reports. At the same time, national immigration reform had been in the air for a couple of years - and was heating up - but none of the media reporting or political talk ever seemed to consider the primary underlying assumption for reform: is the border indeed vulnerable to terrorist infiltration? I decided the time was ripe for an American news reporter to finally step up and take a serious, considered look at the issue of Arab migrants jumping U.S. borders post-9-11.

2) Describe the role of Russia in this transit process?

Russia seems to figure in only one or two popular routes that move people from the Middle East to South- or Central America, and then over the U.S. border. It's mainly a transit country that U.S.-bound immigrants from places like Syria, a so-called State Sponsor of Terror, use to fly to Cuba and then on to, say, Guatemala. There's a larger unaddressed issue here: Russia is one of many, what I call, "stepping stone" countries because it is generally hostile to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and indifferent enough to American security concerns to not ask many questions about its Iraqi or Syrian friends who are on their way to the Western Hemisphere.

3) Describe the consulates that the central and South American counties keep in Syria and Jordan?

Middle Eastern immigrants bound for the U.S. border wouldn't be able to get within reach without tourist visas issued by Latin American countries like Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Peru and the like. All of the countries I just named, and more, have embassies or consulate offices that issue travel visas to locals in Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; Beirut, Lebanon; and elsewhere. Of course, Latin America has every right to keep diplomatic presences in the Middle East, to serve large populations in their own territories of Middle Eastern settlers who have legitimate reasons to move back and forth. A perceived U.S. national security problem here, however, is that theseconsulate offices routinely hand out visas to Middle Easternerswithout thoroughly checking who they are or their stated travelpurposes, several consuls in Syria and Jordan told me. In addition, at least one convicted Hezbollah terrorist crossed the Mexico/U.S. border in 2001 after bribing Mexican consulate office in Beirut. That means, bribery is likely playing out elsewhere.

4) Would more concerted operations in those countries make a difference?

Probably in some but not in others. Venezuela, for instance, is openly hostile to the U.S. and is establishing many kinds of ties to countries like Iran. The Chavez government is not likely to allow U.S. law enforcement in, while its opening the continent's first airline routes to Iran. The same can be said of Cuba, which happily supplies transit visas to Middle Easterners on their way to Mexico, no questions asked. Corruption and weak central governments elsewhere would make U.S. efforts to interdict this human traffic difficult, in places like Ecuador and Guatemala. Some large smuggling operations have been brought down in Guatemala since 9-11, but they've been quickly replaced.

5) Describe the growing Arab and Muslim populations in those countries, and the role they play in smuggling? While the people you followed were Christian, I seem to remember reading about a growing Muslim population in the tri-border region (Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela) in South America. How could a hostile Venezuelan government, working with Iran, make use of these groups?

Hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners (fleeing various wars and disturbances over the past 70 years) have resettled in places you'd least expect, opening legal and illegal businesses and becoming Latin American citizens. Among these countries are Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and even Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have settled over the years. An examination of about a dozen U.S. prosecutions of smuggling organizations shows that a number of major ringleaders turned out to be Middle Easterners with dual citizenship in places like Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador. The court cases also show that these ringleaders made much use of local citizenry of Middle East descent to provide safe haven, transportation and staging services for "clients" on their way to the U.S. I found a number of situations where Iraqis found work and smuggling connections in Guatemala, for instance, by making their way to the capitol's Zone One marketplace, where thousands of Arab merchants make their livings. This makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. There's a shared language and a sympathy.

6) It sounds as though increased border security would have the perverse effect of depriving the Mexican government of its incentive to cooperate, but would also reduce the traffic from the Guatemala and other transit states (by raising the price, but drastically reducing the actual number of migrants)?

Mexico makes no bones about wanting a liberal border policy allowing its millions of workers to send home billions a year in remittances. This money quite literally keeps the Mexican economy afloat. But I found in my reporting that the Mexican government has no tolerance for one group of illegal migrant: those from Arab countries. The idea is if one gets through Mexico to bomb an American target, the U.S. will promptly militarize the border for all of the Mexican, remittance-sending laborers. At least according to Mexico's new ambassador. So a top Mexican national security policy tracks quite well with the American one: stop the Arab migration. The Mexican government has been extremely aggressive in doing so. It's locking up Arab migrants in droves, and goes so far as to allow American intelligence and FBI officials inside its detention centers to do interrogations, a program that has remained secret until the Breaching America series. The Mexicans also have aggressively prosecuted smugglers of Middle Easterners, while going easy on other kinds of smugglers.

6) (Follow-up:) I guess what I'm asking here is if you think that increasing border security, say, by building a fence, will remove the Mexican government's incentive for cooperating. After all, if we're stopping the illegals as best as we can at the Rio Grande, that will by definition cut down on the remittances...

That's an interesting supposition. I think a fence would indeed reduce Mexico's incentive to interdict special interest migrants from the Middle East - but only if the fence is pretty effective at slowing and rerouting illegals. And if the fence is effective, the need for Mexican interdiction should diminish also, no? Middle Eastern immigrants are attracted to the U.S. border because it's always been so easy to sneak over.

I'd base my own supposition on what the Mexican reaction to the fence has been all along: stiff, heated, unremitting opposition at every level. Opponents of the fence always give great ode to the idea that the fence wouldn't be very effective keeping determined Mexicanworkers out, so why bother? Yet the Mexican government's persistent opposition to it shows, at least to me, that THEY believe it will be highly effective and constitutes a grave threat to the remittance money flow. You have to give the Mexican government credit for one thing: consistency; it wants those remittances flowing back. If the Mexican government is working so hard at both stopping the fence and capturing Islamic migrants, it's for the same reason, that $25 billion in annual remittances. I'd argue that an EFFECTIVE fence would reduce Mexico's incentive in rough proportion to the special interest migrants' willingness to bother breaching it.

7) Why do you think the rest of the mainstream media has been so reluctant to pick up on the story?

I sort of consider myself mainstream media, but I know what you mean...This lapse by major American news organizations like The New York Times is a very happy mystery to me, especially given all the nonstop political talk about terrorist infiltration over the borders since 9-11. But it's also a lapse for which I'm eternally grateful. I don't like competition for great stories, and I don't do them if someone else already has. So from my perspective, I can only hope they keep that attitude and stay the hell away!

8) What reason does the FBI give for being so poorly staffed for interrogating illegals from States of Interest, and in your opinion, is this valid, or is there an actual reluctance to confront the problem?

I think the FBI's failure to properly staff its border offices - and most especially its Mexico station - for the purpose of conducting threat assessments and interrogations is a product of the absence of media attention. That will change the day someone gets over the border and commits a terrorist act - and FBI supervisors are standing before congressional committees explaining what went wrong in Mexico.

9) In your report, you quote a number of foreign nationals poo-poohing the idea of terrorists transiting the border this way. Yet the Millenium Bomber, the Fort Dix Six, and others have crossed borders, or attempted to, illegally. Clearly other sheiks and hostile clerics have gotten in this way. To what other uses could a hostile terrorist organization put a porous border?

Last year, General Accounting Office investigators went undercover in Mexico. They mail-ordered enough radioactive material for two "dirty bombs," and drove several different loads of it in passenger cars over the U.S. borders to see if they'd get caught. They were stopped, in one case, in Texas but were allowed to pass after presenting a bogus cover story. The GAO report is available on their web site.

Follow-up questions:

New: is there any evidence of coordination between Muslim groups here in the US, like CAIR and the Muslim American Society (which is the group that the > Muslim Brotherhood operates under here), and the Muslim communities in Latin America?

Not that I'm aware of, but I believe U.S. intelligence agencies know a lot more than what's been publicly released. They firmly believe that Hezbollah and other designated terrorist groups have found firm footing throughout South America, particularly in the lawless "Tri-border" region where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet. In December, the U.S. Treasury Department, for instance, released a "fact sheet" naming specific individuals and organizations from the border region who are tied to terrorist organizations and are wanted for material support activities ranging from gun-running to money-laundering. But as far as direct links to U.S.-based organizations, I'm pretty sure any evidence of that remains secret.

New: Are you aware of any intellingence or law enforcement activities directed at those communities, as opposed to the smuggling rings, which are probably dominated by native Guatemalans, Hondurans, etc.

No, I am not, though top American intelligence officials have publicly warned they have seen intelligence about Islamic extremists recruiting poor native Latin American Muslim converts, who would easily pass for an illegal laborer, and because these converts would be "clean" they'd never show on a terror watch list screening if caught on this side.

New: Are there any other countries: Ecudaor, Costa Rica, El Salvador, who are more friendly, whom we could also be using as stoppers? Since the land corridor is usually one country wide, this would seem to be a way of limiting the problem geographically.

Past U.S. prosecutions of human smugglers specializing in Middle Easterners shows that all of these friendly countries have been used as stepping stones for a northward journey. Most of their borders are lawless, vast and unpatrollable. Ecuador, one of the busiest of these stop-over countries, has cooperated with U.S. authorities to penetrate Middle East smuggling rings but the sense I get from some of those who were involved is that these made hardly a dent in the trade. Enforcement activities by us in these countries can't be episodic; there has to be a sustained activity with local authorities who have been vetted for corruption, which is another problem that has to be tackled separately.

July 5, 2007

Northeast Corridor Pastimes

I'm writing this from the train, between New York & Philadephia, from the much-coveted Dining Car (excuse me, "Food Service Car"), Now With 120V Outlets!. I had forgotten just how industrial and, worse, post-industrial the landscape is on the Northeast Corridor. Seriously, if half of what remains of the buildings weren't covered in bright, fresh-looking graffiti, the company on the train would be welcome reassurance that you weren't living through "Miri," which was bad enough as a third-season episode.

Still, it's fun to look for company names on bombed-out buildings and Google them. For instance, the long-forgotten Blumenthal Brothers Chocolate and Cocoa Company yields this, from March 1929:

Blumenthals. Famed among cocoa makers are the Hershey Chocolate Co., the Walter Baker Co. (Postum subsidiary) and the Blumenthal Bros. There are five Blumenthals, Joseph, Meyer, Aaron, M. I., and Jacob; but Joseph, the president, is more potent than his brethren. Last week he bustled busily over the Exchange. He is a small, thin man (hardly five feet tall) with a brown suit which he has worn so consistently that it is indelibly associated with him. Of German descent, he is an Orthodox Jew, and rarely visits the Exchange on Saturdays except when there is a very threatening bear market. The main plant is in Philadelphia; the New York office, at No. 16 Exchange Place, is small as to staff and scarce as to furniture. On the walls hang many photographs of family Blumenthal groups—the various Blumenthals with their wives and children and an old group picture of the five brothers. The Blumenthals are best known through their Raisinettes, a specialty consisting of a chocolate-embedded raisin. Another good Blumenthal seller is a peanut coated with chocolate. All the Blumenthals are excellent pinochle players.

"A peanut coated with chocolate." They also invented these.

July 3, 2007

Michael Hirsh, Hearing Impaired

From the people who brought you detente, Glasnost, and the two-state solution, we now get, Iran Has a Message, Are We Listening? Iran has a message all right, but it's not the one Hirsh thinks he's hearing.

Hirsh was invited to receive an unofficial message from Iran's government, supposedly eager to reach a modus vivendi with the United States. The "message" is thoroughly unconvincing to the critical ear, both on its own terms and in light of the regime's complete history.

Hirsh claims that "Iran has grown weary of its economic and political isolation..." But later, we are told:

Stores are well stocked, the streets are thronged with shoppers, and flower stores and luxury goods abound, indicating that people in this oil-rich economy still have plenty of disposable income. The U.N. sanctions and the quiet pressure on international banks to cut off business with Iran inflict some pain, but they are generally nuisances and not deal-breakers. And the sanctions are shot full of holes: European businesses do vibrant trade with Iranian counterparts, and Iranians have just shifted their business dealings from dollars to Euros.

Iran doesn't sound either weary or economically isolated.

The Iranians ostensibly want to make this about the nuclear program, but then bring up the rest of their catspaws in the region:

My conversations with hard-liners and reformers inside Tehran also suggested something deeper: that under the right circumstances, Iran may still be willing to stop short of building a bomb. "Iran would like to have the technology, and that is enough for deterrence," says S.M.H. Adeli, Iran's moderate, urbane former ambassador to London.

... even as the administration continues to accuse Iran of delivering sophisticated makeshift bombs to Iraqi militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government "is of strategic importance to us," Rezai said. "We want this government to stay in power. Rival Sunni countries oppose Maliki. We haven't." It also stands to reason that in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the new "Hamastan" in Gaza -- all places where Tehran wields enormous influence -- an Iran that is encouraged to play a broader regional security role could become more cooperative.

Hirsh's "delivering sophisticated makeshift bombs" barely scratches the surface of Iran's involvement in Iraq. Hezbollah now appears to be taking part in the attacks directly. Iran trained the groups that ambushed and killed 5 US soldiers in January. In the south, Iranian-trained and supported death squads have been preparing the ground for the eventual British withdrawal. When Mookie Al-Sadr fled Iraq in advance of the Surge, he fled to Iran.

Hirsh claims that, "...several Iranian officials hinted that Ahmadinejad crossed a red line in Iranian politics when he pushed his rhetoric beyond the official hope that Israel would one day disappear to suggest that Tehran might help that process along. A new Iranian president would rebalance that position, they indicated." Rebalance it to what? Hirsh's host may well be the man responsible for the 1994 bombing of the JCC in Buenos Aires. The men who actually carried out the bombing live under the protection of the Venzuelan government. It's good to know that Iran will retreat from Armaggeddon back to the routine murder of Jews around the world.

Yes, Iran aided the new government in Afghanistan - because the US victory was so overwhelmingly decisive that aid was the only way for Iran to stay in the game.

Only someone as blinkered as Hirsh could possibly interpret this as a peace overture. Iran believes that the United States is so hobbled by internal divisions that the administraion will seek any face-saving measure it can come up with. This "peace overture" consists entirely of forebearance on the part of Iran - for now. Iran will neither disband nor disown Hezbollah, ensuring that Tehran's domination of southern Lebanon. It will neither disband nor disown Hamas. It hopes to eat out the government of Iraq from within. It will stop just short of actually building a bomb, refraining from crossing the line while reaping all the benefits of having done so.

The real message here is, "Just give us what we want, and nobody gets hurt. For now. Until the next time." Only Hirsh is too deaf to hear it.

July 1, 2007

Nobody Really Ever Does Learn Anything

So you think engineering isn't a craft, it's just a science, building on ever-accumulating knowledge that people can just look up? Guess again.

This is the second History Channel special on Alaska I've sat through today. The first featured a segment on the AlCan highway, built in 1942, during WWII. At first, the engineers simply cut through the forest. This exposed the permafrost to the sun, which promptly melted it, turning the road into mud. They solved the problem by putting down a mat of gravel and composite to shield the permafrost.

The second discussed the first attempt to build a road from Fairbanks to the North Slope, in 1969. At first, the engineers simply cut through the forest. This exposed the permafrost to the sun, which promptly melted it, turning the road into mud.

There's a reason governments like post-WWI Germany and Saddam's Iraq pay big bucks to keep their inactive weapons research teams together, even when they can't build the weapons. And there's a reason we'd be morons to accept Iran's unofficial suggestion that we let them get just to the brink of building a bomb.

Das Lawn Tags

Or, A Dingo Ate My Lawn

Finally. Drought, dogs, and distraction turned what had been a gorgeous patch of green into a wilderness, inhabited by weeds big and nasty enough to peek in through open windows and demand after-dinner table scraps. Or the dog gets it.

So, in comes the Surge. Time to raze (or DIngo) the thing to the ground and start over.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud