Saturday, October 13, 2007

GOTCHA! How we get our military people...or ...slaves?

Foes say some grads may be forced to join
By Leslie Berestein

September 26, 2007

Legislation that could grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented high school graduates is creating a schism among Latino educators and others who have typically favored legalization efforts.

At issue is a component of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, a bill that could be voted on in the Senate by next week as an amendment to a Department of Defense authorization bill.

Union-Tribune reporter Leslie Berestein talks about the DREAM Act.

The proposed legislation, a version of which was first introduced in 2001, would make high school graduates who arrived in the United States illegally at 15 or younger and who have lived here at least five years, eligible for conditional legal status provided they attend two years of college or serve two years in the military. After six years, those who meet the conditions could obtain legal permanent resident status.

It is the military service component that has landed some Latino supporters of legalization measures on the same side of the proposal as the immigration restriction lobby, which decries the DREAM Act as amnesty.

Those uncomfortable with the military component see the measure as a devil's bargain: On one hand, it offers a shot at higher education and success to young people who might otherwise have to spend their lives in the shadows. On the other, they fear that those who can't afford college, or don't see it as a viable choice, might feel compelled to join the military not because they want to, but because they fear eventual deportation.

“This is very tricky, because undocumented students are desperate for some kind of legalization,” said Jorge Mariscal, director of the University of California San Diego's Chicano Studies program and a longtime critic of military recruiting within minority communities. “I'm completely conflicted.”

The DREAM Act has the support of mainstream Latino organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens, who praise it as a life-changing opportunity for students.

It has also been promoted by other supporters, including sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as a way to boost military recruiting at a time when the protracted Iraq war demands it. In a telephone news conference Monday, U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock called the measure “germane to the Department of Defense.”

“This is a way to maintain an all-volunteer force, and keep that force supplied with very high-quality people,” said Stock, an associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The U.S. Army fell short of its recruitment goals in June and July, said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, although he said goals were met in August. In fiscal year 2006, 12.6 percent of active Army recruits nationwide were Latino.

In San Diego, the nation's second-largest hub of military operations, there has been opposition to the bill from those who say that children of low-income immigrants already have a propensity to enlist in the military in exchange for the promise of a college education their parents can't afford, or because they simply can't envision college as an option.

College is an enlistment carrot for young U.S. citizens and legal residents, said Rick Jahnkow, coordinator of the Encinitas-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, which promotes alternatives to enlistment for those seeking education and job training. Legal immigrants were given added incentive to enlist in 2002, when President Bush signed an executive order expediting U.S. citizenship for foreign-born active-duty military personnel.

Supporters of the DREAM Act say high school graduates who stand to benefit have a choice between college or the military. But with the only other option to remain undocumented, Jahnkow said, some who can't see going the college route might be motivated to enlist not so much by what they might gain, but by fear of what they stand to lose.

“You might be deported if you don't make a move to take advantage of this,” he said. “It's more of an incentive than the general economic one. It's the threat of possibly being deported, on top of that, which is going to result in a much higher enlistment rate . . . I think some will want to join the military, but I think more will essentially be coerced into it.”

In San Diego and Los Angeles, a group of politically involved teachers known as the Association of Raza Educators has come out against the proposal, citing the same concerns.

“There is the carrot, and there is also the stick behind it,” said Miguel Zavala, a part-time teaching instructor at Cal State Los Angeles. “They have their hands tied behind their backs. It's not like they can just choose.”

The military has served as a stick to other generations, but in much different contexts. During the Vietnam War, for example, the draft persuaded many young men to remain in college and retain a draft deferment.

Judges have also tried to coerce enlistment as an alternative to jail: Last year, a New York judge gave this choice to a 20-year-old man whom the Army ultimately rejected, citing regulations that prevent people with pending charges from enlisting.

In spite of its military component, Latino educators who support the DREAM Act believe that the pros of the measure far outweigh the cons.

“The DREAM Act would open so many doors for so many deserving students who do not have proper documentation,” said Carmen Garcia, principal of Roosevelt Middle School near Balboa Park. “It is a seed of hope that so many students have been waiting for, that so many parents have been waiting for.”

The military component is “an added nuance,” Garcia said, “but it opens the door to other possibilities.”

The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that 360,000 undocumented high school graduates would immediately be eligible for conditional legal status under the measure, and that about 50,000 of them are enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.

Under the DREAM Act, college-bound students who receive conditional legal status could take advantage of federal student loans – though not grants – now unavailable to illegal immigrants. However, a provision that would have granted them in-state tuition fees was removed from the proposal.

Ten states, including California, allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, meaning that those opting for college in most states could still face financial hurdles.

Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579;

Why The Marines Want to Leave Iraq.....Blackwater?

Does Blackwater Play By Its Own Rules in Iraq?
An arrogant attitude only adds fuel to the criticism.
By Rod Nordland and Mark Hosenball

Oct. 15, 2007 issue - The colonel was furious. "Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers." He was describing a 2006 car accident, in which an SUV full of Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee on a street in Baghdad's Green Zone. The colonel, who was involved in a follow-up investigation and spoke on the condition he not be named, said the Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV. His account was confirmed by the head of another private security company. Asked to address this and other allegations in this story, Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrrell said, "This type of gossip has led to many soap operas in the press."

Whatever else Blackwater is or isn't guilty of—a topic of intense interest in Washington—it has a well-earned reputation in Iraq for arrogance and high-handedness. Iraqis naturally have the most serious complaints; dozens have been killed by Blackwater operatives since the beginning of the war. But many American civilian and military officials in Iraq also have little sympathy for the private security company and its highly paid employees. With an uproar growing in Congress over Blackwater's alleged excesses, the North Carolina-based company is finding few supporters.

Responsible for guarding top U.S. officials in Iraq, Blackwater operatives are often accused of playing by their own rules. Unlike nearly everyone else who enters the Green Zone, said an American soldier who guards a gate, Blackwater gunmen refuse to stop and clear their weapons of live ammunition once inside. One military contractor, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution in his industry, recounted the story of a Blackwater operative who answered a Marine officer's order to put his pistol on safety when entering a base post office by saying, "This is my safety," and wiggling his trigger finger in the air. "Their attitude was, 'We're f---ing security; we don't have to answer to anybody'."

Congress disagrees. Until now, private security contractors working for the State Department, as Blackwater does, have effectively not been covered by either U.S. or Iraqi law, or military regulations. A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House last week would close that loophole. But the law would also require the FBI to establish a large-scale presence in Iraq in order to investigate accusations against private contractors. Law-enforcement officials worry that this would draw valuable resources away from FBI efforts to combat terrorism in the United States. Also, whenever FBI agents venture into Iraq now they are guarded by ... Blackwater operatives. The bureau has sent a team to Baghdad to investigate the Sept. 16 shooting in Nasoor Square, in which Blackwater guards are accused of killing as many as 17 Iraqi civilians. In order to avoid "even the appearance of any conflict [of interest]," according to an FBI spokesman, the agents will be defended by U.S. government personnel.

It is not an idle concern. Blackwater's staunchest defenders tend to be found among those whom they guard. U.S. officials prefer Blackwater and other private security bodyguards because they regard them as more highly trained than military guards, who are often reservists from MP units. A U.S. Embassy staffer, who did not have permission to speak on the record, said, "It's a few bad eggs that seem to be spoiling the bunch." Late last week the State Department announced that it would increase oversight of Blackwater in particular, installing cameras in its vehicles and having a Diplomatic Security Service officer ride along on every convoy. But another State Department official, also speaking anonymously, says that DSS agents in Baghdad have not been eager to rein in the contractors in the past: "These guys tend to close ranks. It's like the blue wall."

Testifying before Congress last week, 38-year-old Blackwater chief Erik Prince vigorously defended his company's "dedicated security professionals" who "risk their lives to protect Americans in harm's way overseas." Prince probably had no reason to be as smug as he seemed to many observers. In deflecting questions about a drunken Blackwater operative who allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi in the Green Zone on Christmas Eve last year, Prince said that the employee, later identified as Andrew Moonen, had been fined and fired. But on Friday House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman released a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounting evidence that Moonen was able to return to Iraq and worked there for another company. Moonen's attorney, Stewart Riley, told NEWSWEEK his client denies wrongdoing and is not facing criminal charges. Blackwater is no doubt in for further fire fights.

With Larry Kaplow in Baghdad and Michael Hastings in Washington

MSN Privacy . Legal
© 2007

Inequality Reaches All-Time Highs...WSJ

Income-Inequality Gap Widens
Boom in Financial Markets
Parallels Rise in Share
For Wealthiest Americans
October 12, 2007; Page A2

The richest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and underlining the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers.

The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.

• Widening Gap: The wealthiest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and highlighting the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers.
• Behind the Numbers: Scholars attribute rising inequality to several factors, including technological change that favors those with more skills, and globalization and advances in communications that enlarge the rewards available to "superstar" performers whether in business, sports or entertainment.
• Political Fallout: The data pose a potential challenge for President Bush and the Republican presidential field. They have sought to play up the strength of the economy and low unemployment, and the role of Mr. Bush's tax cuts in both. Democrats may use the data to exploit middle-class angst about stagnant wages.
• See related IRS data1.The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000.

The IRS data, based on a large sample of tax returns, are for "adjusted gross income," which is income after some deductions, such as for alimony and contributions to individual retirement accounts. While dated, many scholars prefer it to timelier data from other agencies because it provides details of the very richest -- for example, the top 0.1% and the top 1%, not just the top 10% -- and includes capital gains, an important, though volatile, source of income for the affluent.

The IRS data go back only to 1986, but academic research suggests the rich last had this high a share of total income in the 1920s.

Scholars attribute rising inequality to several factors, including technological change that favors those with more skills, and globalization and advances in communications that enlarge the rewards available to "superstar" performers whether in business, sports or entertainment.

In an interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal, President Bush said, "First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century." (See article2.)

Jason Furman, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Democratic politicians, said: "We've had a 30-year trend of increasing inequality. There was an artificial reduction in that trend following the bursting of the stock-market bubble in 2000."

The IRS data don't identify the source of increased income for the affluent, but the boom on Wall Street has likely played a part, just as the last stock boom fueled the late-1990s surge. Until this summer, soaring stock prices and buoyant credit markets had produced spectacular payouts for private-equity and hedge-fund managers, and investment bankers.

One study by University of Chicago academics Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh concludes that in 2004 there were more than twice as many such Wall Street professionals in the top 0.5% of all earners as there are executives from nonfinancial companies.

Mr. Rauh said "it's hard to escape the notion" that the rising share of income going to the very richest is, in part, "a Wall Street, financial industry-based story." The study shows that the highest-earning hedge-fund manager earned double in 2005 what the top earner made in 2003, and top 25 hedge-fund managers earned more in 2004 than the chief executives of all the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, combined. It also shows profits per equity partner at the top 100 law firms doubling between 1994 and 2004, to over $1 million in 2004 dollars.

The data highlight the political challenge facing Mr. Bush and the Republican contenders for president. They have sought to play up the strength of the economy since 2003 and low unemployment, and the role of Mr. Bush's tax cuts in both. But many Americans think the economy is in or near a recession. The IRS data show that the median tax filer's income -- half earn less than the median, half earn more -- fell 2% between 2000 and 2005 when adjusted for inflation, to $30,881. At the same time, the income level for the tax filer just inside the top 1% grew 3%, to $364,657.

Democrats, on the other hand, have sought to exploit angst about stagnant middle-class wages and eroding benefits in showdowns with Mr. Bush over issues such as health insurance and trade.

Write to Greg Ip at greg.ip@wsj.com5

URL for this article:

Send Out the Marines...Out of Iraq

Dave Lindorff: The Few, The Proud (the Smart): Marines Figure it Out -- It's Time to Quit Iraq
Created 10/12/2007 - 3:41pm
Over the past year, Bush has pretty much lost his entire Coalition of the Unwilling, with the British, who have already pulled back from Basra into their fortified base, now intending to quit Iraq altogether early next year.

But before the Brits close the door behind them, someone else wants to leave too: the United States Marines, America's answer to ancient Greece's Spartan warriors.

According to a remarkable Wednesday article in The New York Times, the Marines have told the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that they'd much prefer to leave Iraq and go take over the fighting in Afghanistan from the U.S. Army, which has some 26,000 troops over there -- just about the same number as the 25,000 Marines currently mired in Iraq.

Very convenient. And very telling.

The Marines have clearly looked at Iraq and have seen it for the horrific, bloody, hopeless mess that it is. And with recruitment a growing challenge, and their reputation in tatters thanks to the baby murders in Haditha, and the massive slaughter of thousands in Fallujah, they want to go somewhere, anywhere else, where they can at least claim they're acting under UN or NATO authority, where they won't be seen as occupiers, and where at least some of the people in the host country will like them.

Let the U.S. Army deal with President Bush's Iraq mess. You can't really blame the Marines.

I spoke with one Marine, a young man just back from a second tour of Iraq, who had been part of the assault on Fallujah in late 2004. "It was horrible," he said. "We went in there with no rules of engagement at all. It was just kill anything that moved. We were using hyperbaric explosives that, when you threw them into a house, sucked the life out of every living thing in the building. Then you'd walk in and find old men and little boys."

He said the assault on the 300,000-population city Fallujah (the largest single battle the Marines fought in the war) was itself a war crime -- a collective punishment of a whole city for the butchering by insurgents based here of four American mercenaries earlier that year. Collective punishment -- a tactic routinely used by the Nazis in World War II -- was banned by the Nuremberg Charter, signed by the U.S., but was a stated reason for the leveling of Fallujah.

The UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and other laws aimed at making war less barbaric, mean nothing to this administration.

Such a war and such battle tactics are not what Marines, or what any decent human being, wants to be a part of. And yet, just looking at the death toll in Iraq -- over 1 million by one account, in a country of 24 million -- and a study by the Christian Science Monitor that showed the U.S. kill ratio, of enemy fighters to civilians to be 1:30, how can the Marines have avoided it?

Secretary Gates is trying to play down the Marines' proposal, but the very fact that it has been made should show how desperate the military in Iraq is becoming.

The war has ceased to be about anything now but saving Bush's and Cheney's twin asses. They want to engineer things -- and appear to be getting away with it thanks to the gutlessness and idiocy of the Democrats in Congress -- so they can leave office before they have to admit defeat and error and pull the troops out.

The Marines' leaders have obviously figured out what they are doing, and want to get out too before losing more men and women, and before they have to be part of the inevitable disgraced exodus that lies ahead.

It's not likely to happen though. Imagine what it would do to morale in the already crumbling U.S. Army if the soldiers in Iraq saw the Marines getting to leave. That would probably be the last straw for many.

Still, it's revealing to watch the Marines trying to join other Coalition forces in rushing the exits while they still can, even if it is just a jump out of the fire and into the frying pan of Afghanistan.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now in paperback. His work is available at