Monthly Archives: February 2008

Testing Obama on Boeing’s Border Folly

How quick will it take the next administration to undo the doctrinaire free market ideology of Bush & Co.?
Under a McCain administration, it is likely to take 100 years, at least.

Under Obama? A good question. During last week’s debate in Austin, his responses (along with Clinton’s) to the immigration questions seemed unsettlingly sympathetic to using technology as a palliative for border control woes.

The problem is that border control technologies– such as the virtual fence–are a product of military contractors who are privatizing the border just as they have privatized war in iraq.

Further, a post by Jeremy Scahill in the Nation suggests Obama is not opposed to continuing the sort of private security force that Blackwater is angling to provide at the border, perhaps headquartered near San Diego.

And, today’s headline in the Washington Post about delaying the border’s “virtual fence,” provides an opportunity for Obama to think more about border contol issues.

The virtual fence folly is a prime example of free market ideology run amuck.

Today’s Washington Post reports that the “virtual fence” will be delayed 3 years because it “did not work as planned.” WaPo reports that DHS cites technical problems for its decision to remove control over Project 28 from Boeing, which requires the project to be redesigned.

Keeping in mind the corruption and fraud that has seeped into many privatized DHS projects lately, things must really be bad down there with Project 28, just south of Tucson, for DHS to reassert its control over Boeing.

For some background, consider a Wall Street Journal report last August:

Boeing Co. has changed the management of an electronic-surveillance project along the U.S.-Mexican border after falling more than two months behind schedule, marking the complications involved in setting up a new generation of border security.

The project, part of a larger Department of Homeland Security program called SBInet, is a critical link in the plan to use technology to monitor the borders for illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and possible terrorists. Towers set up along a stretch of the border near Nogales, Ariz., are supposed to use motion sensors, cameras and radar to keep track of wide areas. According to the government, Boeing has had trouble getting the different components to work together without glitches.

The government’s plans for monitoring as much as 6,000 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders hinge on towers such as these working properly. If they prove ineffective, officials could be forced to spend billions of dollars for more traditional security measures, such as fences and more officers. The Homeland Security Department currently estimates that the virtual fence will cost about $8 billion through 2013, although the agency’s inspector general wrote last November that the cost could balloon to $30 billion.

This is the second delay for a relatively new project (the first was announced last June), launched after Boeing was awarded the government contract, September 2006. To et the contract, Boeing was supposed to have answered questions about the very real problems it has faced since the day after the ontract was awarded.

Project 28 (the pilot project), now delayed 3 years, was initially supposed to have been completed by mid June ’07. A spring ’07 GAO report on the virtual fence predicted the delays, reporting both expected and unexpected problems with implementing the virtual fence. According to the GAO, “virtual fence” cameras can’t tell the difference between immigrants and the rain, and couldn’t detect anything more than 5 kms away, which violates the Boeing contract.

Problems for border security and the taxpayer, nonetheless amount to a boondoggle for Boeing, particularly given Boeing’s “indefinite delivery” contract. Tax revenues fuel an over-bloated DHS budget, which then outsources its government responsibilities for homeland security, to such military contractors as Boeing. Delays and (temporary) loss of control over Project 28 don’t interfere with the Boeing award.

No such thing as failure in this privatized system. Consider the following investigation by Joseph Richey of the Nation Institute,

Since Boeing won the contract last year, the estimated cost of securing the southwest border has gone from $2.5 billion to an estimated $8 billion just a few months later. When Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter asked SBInet Director Giddens for the real costs at a February 2007 hearing of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Giddens replied: “I wish I could answer that with greater clarity.”

At the same Congressional hearings, Boeing vice president and SBInet program manager, Jerry McElwee, took heat from Congressman William Lacy Clay who demanded information about the ballooning costs and the extension of the contract period. “You bid on these contracts and then you come back and say, ‘Oh we need more time. It costs more than twice as much.’ Are you gaming the taxpayers here? Or gaming DHS?” the Missouri Democrat asked.

DHS’s own inspector general, Richard Skinner, says that the Boeing contract is in the “high-risk” category for waste and abuse because of its scope, its dollar value, and “the vulnerabilities stemming from the lack of acquisition management capacity.”

Indeed, nothing could be better for business at Boeing than a 3 year delay. More government revenues and profits, rather than more oversight and accountability. And as Richey, shows, Congress, sadly, was aware of and did nothing about the fleecing, which goes to show how privatization ideologies are shared by Democrats as well as Republicans.

So, the question for Obama, assuming he becomes the nominee, regarding his commitment to deprivatize America, is whether he would terminate the Boeing contract, and other similar ones that now frame immigration control policy. Further, as president, would he overhaul the hollowed out DHS that seems to favor tis way of conducting business?

“Yes We Can” presumes the unprivatizing of America, which ought to start at our borders with the virtual fence.

Washington Post, “Virtual Fence’ Along Border To Be Delayed”


Koulflo interview with the Pakistani Spectator

Please read my 2/25 interview with the Pakistani Spectator, which is a project of Global Voices.

C’mon Nader, Not Now!

Nadar’s just announced plans for the presidency are just plain nuts. The annoucement was self-indulgent and arrogant, which is sad to see.

On the issues, Ralph Nader is as solid and on target as ever. His January 14, ’08 article “What the Candidates Avoid,” accurately sums up the limitations of even such progressive democratic candidates like Obama and Edwards (in January). Nader reminds us about the limitations of the two party system, corporate crime, and structural inequality. He reminds us that corporations have gained an unfair advantage not only over citizens but also over the government itself. He is right.

I was also pleased to see Nader support Edwards earlier this year. Reinforced my own support for Edwards.

I voted for Nader in 2000 from the safe haven of Massachusetts, and when the Supreme Court gave the election to Bush, I didn’t blame Nader for taking votes in Florida. It was clear that Gore had waged a lousy campaign, but had I been living in Florida in 2000, I would have voted for Gore. Sorry, Florida voters who voted for Nader in 2000, you blew it. You served up conditions for a coup that Jeb and his crew just couldn’t ignore.

Nader himself recently said he believed Gore won the election but that it had been “stolen from him… by the (Florida) Secretary of State and Jeb Bush.”

Even in 2000, it was clear that the Bush alternative was dangerous. And seven years later, it is clear we weren’t scared enough. Permanent war, recession, hallowed out government… The constitution is in shambles and corporations are running amuck with what’s left in a way that Naomi Klein captures well in Shock Doctrine.

Here’s the nugget. Politics is as much about judgment as about principle. Nader is great on principle, but lousy lousy on political judgment.

Ralph’s political judgment has always been impeded by righteousness, but his Meet the Press announcement Sunday was too much. Times are unimaginably different now than in 2000, making it plain to see the real difference and distinction between democrats and republicans. Abu Grahb, Gitmo, extraordinary renditions, the Patriot Act, Valerie Plame-gate, telecom immunity, all of which should be sufficient to make the point, but with the incumbent just scrapes the surface.

Now imagine Nader confusing Barack Obama with John McCain, who favors a hundred year war in Iraq, makes deranged Beach Boy jokes about bombing Iran, and has a well documented commitment to deregulation and penchant for corporate lobbyists.

Does he also confuse the incredible difference between having a possible Justice Laurence Tribe in an Obama Administration or a possible Justice Theodore Olsen in a McCain Administration. Stevens is 87, Kennedy is 71 and Ginsburg is 74. The new president will have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the court or reinforce the current conservative trend. How many more deregulators does Nader want to see appointed to the Court over the next 4-8 years?

Hey Ralph, What’s up? Exactly how bad do things need to get?

Why not join progressive minded voters in holding Obama’s feet to the fire (he’ll need pressure from the left to force him to do many things he might otherwise not want to do), but join us!

McCain’s “straight talk” drives off the road again (2000), and again (2008)

When (not if) John McCain apologizes for having misled the public about his relationship with such lobbyists as Vicki Iseman, he will be repeating a pattern that has been evident to the public since he was caught aiding Charles Keating, Chairman of the failed Savings and Loan Association in 1989/1990.

Back then, the allegation was that five senators– McCain included– gave favorable treatment to Keating after he contributed large amounts of money to their campaigns and lavished them with gifts. McCain intervened on Keating’s behalf after his campaign was given about $112,000. Keating was later convicted of racketeering and fraud after the collapse of his Lincoln Saving and Loan Association.

According to press accounts, McCain then went through a period of deep introspection, only to reinvigorate his commitment to political ethics by embracing campaign reform and other “maverick” issues.

A decade later, McCain’s “straight talk express” was perhaps heading to the Republican nomination when his campaign push-polled voters in Michigan, reminding them of George Bush’s appearance with Bob Jones, someone known to have made several anti-Catholic comments.

At about the same time, McCain, campaigning in South Carolina, refused to take a stand against the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol building.

So what’s the connection, you say? old news? Well, with the Michigan incident, it is important to remember that McCain was no innocent victim when Bush/Rove nastily counterattacked in South Carolina. Certainly no defense of Bush/Rove, but McCain’s people attacked first. Rick Davis, manager of McCain’s 2000 bid, admitted as much to the NYT Feb 23, 2000.

Moreover, the posturing over the confederate flag is important for what McCain did about 6 weeks after the SC primary. He returned to South Carolina (May 2000), and, as he did following the Keating Five, he apologized for his ethical lapse (a politically expedient rather than principled position on the confederate flag), underwent some introspection and then recommitted himself as the “straight talker.”

Here is what he said when he returned to SC six weeks after the SC primary,

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.” — Sen. John McCain.

Keep this quote in mind now that the NYT has documented a new series of ethical lapses with lobbyists, which McCain has rejected as lies. First, McCain has also already been caught in the lie raised by the NYT story that he lobbied the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications, a client of Vicki Iseman. In a 2002 deposition, McCain said he was contacted by Paxson (and spoke to Paxson), and lobbied the FCC on Paxson’s behalf.

Further, McCain’s insistence that he is not in bed with lobbyists simply doesn’t ring true. Robert Greenwald’s team at BraveNew Films have documented that McCain has “59 lobbyists raising money for your campaign,” which flies in the face of McCain’s statement, “I’m the only one the lobbyists don’t give any money to.”

It’s only a matter of time, perhaps December 2008, that McCain will come clean, again. Hopefully he will not be president-elect when this occurs. Plenty of time to restart the straight talk express. He’ll only be 80 in 2016.

Obama, Clinton last night on immigration.

Not much separates Obama and Clinton on the issues, including immigration, though, once again, there is a significant difference in emphasis.

Obama’s emphasis is immigrant rights, which includes his defense of the Dream Act as a policy he would vigorously pursue as president. It is worth noting that just yesterday, the Maryland state senate in Annapolis held hearings on SB 591 that would afford in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant high school graduates. Ten other states have enacted similar policies, but the Dream Act would establish a federal mandate and include financial aid.

Obama’s emphasis on rights is important because democrats haven’t emphasized immigrant rights issues for more than 20 years (not really since Mondale). It is important to reclaim this way of framing the issue on moral and political grounds as well as tactically for the fall campaign. By framing immigration within a constitutional rights context, an attack line against McCain emerges: Bush threw away the constitution post 911, McCain would leave it in the trash, but Obama would retrieve it, dust it off and return it to its revered place…

Clinton, on the other hand, emphasized the virtual fence, which she described as a friendly/ compassionate alternative to the bricks and mortar fences being constructed along the US-Mexico border.  So on the one hand, Clinton seeks a less punitive immigration enforcement policy than Bush/McCain, but it is important to see that her emphasis remains on enforcement rather than services or rights.

In addition, the virtual fence opens a Pandora’s box into a surveillance society that would intrude on everyone’s rights, immigrants and citizens. The virtual fence is part of a larger immigration control complex that includes SBInet, US-Visit and Real ID. These acronyms describe a fully integrative project that will endeavor to monitor and control immigrants, and in the case of Real ID– all drivers– throughout the country. I would wish each candidate spoke to this component of the issue.

To her credit, Clinton spoke about the need for the federal government to compensate states and local governments for immigrant services they provide. An important point because were this to happen, there would be less support for local anti-immigrant ordinances.

Both Clinton and Obama favored comprehensive reform, but Obama suggested there are different kinds of comprehensive reform. This attempt to go beneath the “comprehensive reform” buzzword shows his attention to policy details.

Both candidates also spoke to the need to help Mexico with its own economy. Once again there are different approaches here. Although the candidates didn’t make the linkages to free trade, they are evident; Hopefully, Obama would follow through on fair-trade substitutes for NAFTA, which would provide greater incentive for Mexican workers to stay in Mexican jobs, rather than crossing the border without papers in search of jobs in the States.

In sum, a different narrative is at work in the two campaigns. Obama’s narrative more closely adheres to the story of American democracy adhering to constitutional rights. Obama here shows how language really does make a difference. By emphasizing the need to stop demonizing immigrants, he makes this compelling foundation for comprehensive immigration reform.

Clinton’s narrative is more a patchwork of micro policy, like a series of short stories, with allusions to personal anecdotes patched together in wonk-like fashion. It may come together but you don’t lose yourself in it.  Clearly, Clinton’s immigration policy would benefit from being more integrative and with a stronger master narrative.

Once people lose themselves in Obama’s words, he’s got their vote.

obama-clinton debate observations, first hour

On the eve of what might be Hillary’s last stand in Texas; the media focus tonight is on John McCain. Perhaps McCain’s reported indiscretion will preserve Clinton’s political future by shifting attention away from the debate…?

Another note. With Lou Dobbs on air leading in to the debate, i’m expecting a focus on immigration/ NAFTA superhighway debate, as well as seeing both candidates are, well, evil.

OK, here it is.

8pm: Clinton starts out by talking about her first experiences in Austin 36 years ago doing voter registration. She mentions Barbara Jordan, Anne Richards, Texas icons, and doesn’t mention George McGovern, whose campaign was the reason she was there. Mentions need for sense of humor. If only she was serious about this point.

Obama appears presidential, very gracious, hits issues from Iraq to special interests, which is subtle shot at McCain, then also ends with Barbara Jordon quote. Jordan was big voice in Texas politics, on race, integrity and immigration.

Jorge Ramos (JR). First question on Cuba to HC
HC: chance for Raul Castro to change direction: release p prisoners, open press restrictions, open economy; she would wait and watch for changes.
Will you meet w/ him?
HC: not til evidence of change
CB: obama same Q
BO: would meet with raul. Chance to change relationship w/o preconditions, though yes preparations, w/ agenda that incl HR, press, … important to talk to enemies as well as friends; loosening restrictions on travel; won’t normalize til see changes, but sees normalization as goal, to happen in steps. JFK quote: “never fear to negotiate”
HC agrees, need to open diplomatic process; notes difference w/ BO: should pres. meet with leaders.
HC says not at beginning; also references JFK

Only a subtle, soft shot at BO here. HC being kind and positive. Cuba issue shows some real differences between the two in foreign policy

BO: of course, preparation needed; but bush is so bad, we need to undo damage, so pres needs to take extra step at this point in history.
BO gets last word here.

JK: how BO different from HC on economy?

BO: tax breaks companies investing in us; end tax cuts for wealthy; give them to mid class 75K or less tax cut. Close loopholes; on trade, trade should be “fair” trade; Green economy;
Obama noting democratic consensus on these issues and then emphasizes his ability to build coalitions and overcome special interests.

HC: agrees with BO on dem agenda;
Nice point: wealthy and well connected have had a pres for past 7 years; it’s time for the rest of you to have a president; calls for a trade prosecutor; tougher standards; (Clinton goes into more detail than BO); example mortgage crisis: moratorium on home foreclosures; freeze int rates years (real solid answer here); need to rebuild America (infrastructure) end bush’s war on science…
(HC trying to be “the happy warrior here)

Immigration Q:
Would u stop removal of parent in mixed status family?
HC: would consider it, need comprehensive reform;
Legalization; help Mexican economy; feds to help locals on health care…

BO: mostly agrees; immig being used as political football; need to tone down rhetoric; need to reconcile nation of laws and nation of immigs; safeguards for people with sp. surnames.. (1st time I have heard a rights based argument this year); should stop discriminatory feeds; and improve relationship w/ Mexico so mx is producing jobs in mx;

Border Fence (ut oh!):
HC and BO voted for construction of fence in 06;
HC: UT-Brownsville would have part of its campus cut off; says bush built a dumb fence; HC wants a smart fence (does she mean this? smart= virtual fence); bush plan is counter productive; need to listen to people along the border; they have answers; yep, she shifts to technology and smart fencing (SBInet?); eminent domain actions against landowners and municipalities;

BO we almost entirely agree: key is consult w/ local communities. Bush admn not real good at listening;
BP, surveillance and technology the better approach!!!! (See my earlier posts on this blog on privatization of border); must deal w/ constant influx; need comprehensive reform; immediately, pass the Dream Act (wow!, see my earlier post on in-state tuition on this blog); in my book, both candidates lose on virtual fence issue; neither see real dangers w/ privacy and social control.

Q: 30 million in US speak Spanish; any downside to a bilingual nation?
HC: English remain common unifying language; not official language; yes bilingual.
BO: important learn English, binding ourselves as a nation; and important to learn a 2nd language;

So little difference between BO and HC on issues thus far. BO close enough to HC on details, though she wins on micro-analysis by a little; so why, if things continue this evening along these lines, will this debate ostensibly cement the nomination for Obama?

I think, what it comes down to is narrative; BO has one; HC doesn’t. The BO story is the subtext in every answer he gives; BO embeds emotive and visionary language even in policy responses; she doesn’t; for BO– a little less detail; but more narrative; see. language does count! more comprehensive in the respect that each response is a thread in a large quilt that BO is weaving during the campaign; one response connects to the next to tell the story; his responses are more vital; compare this w/ HC’s technocratic responses; He really is the Kennedy to her Humphrey this eve.

Is BO all hat–no cattle? (Wow, see my previous blog on Hillary and barack!)

BO: gives details on legislation he has helped pass; not talk but action;

Ok, now they are beginning to have at it.

BOshe is suggesting all my supporters and editorial bds have been duped….
He ju-jitsu’s HC’s attacks before she has time to develop them. Very clever response;

Reporters trying to strike up some blood.

BO slams down the plagiarism line; “silly season in politics.” people want to know about jobs, health care…
BO gives specifics…

HC digs into the mud on plagiarism issue; campaign by Xerox; here it comes, and my guess here is that she has made a fundamental mistake here, unless she baits him to lose his cool…; her choice was to stay positive and go out in style, or just go.

I think BO just knocked out HC on her turf–health care

End of the hour.

i missed some of HC’s final statement; came in at end; from what i heard, it sounded like a graceful concession (but then everybody stood up?). why does she get human only when she senses her own political demise?

Avi Lewis and me

a crazy good week so far. I just learned that two law review articles I wrote last fall will be published this spring, one on Bono, cause-marketing and the First Amendment to be published by Pepperdine Law School; and the second on Blackwater and immigration privatization will be published by the St. Thomas Law Review (spring ’08), as part of the LatCrit XII symposium.

Funny thing is five minutes before the email binged with the news from St. Thomas Law Review, i got off the phone with Jeremy Young who told me he and Avi Lewis (Canadian documentarian and political reporter) saw the article on the internet (thanks expressO), liked it, and wanted to talk to me for a segment they are putting together for the new news magazine show, “Frontline-USA” for the Al-Jazeera network (yep). Freaked steph and me out, must say.

Even though I have seen and read about the independent and high level political reporting of Al-Jazeera over the years (I taught about al-jazeera for an international communications class), tough to deny the emotional response coming from America’s post-911 corporate media culture. Sure had a funny feeling hearing that al-jazeera wants to talk to me.

At first i thought th initial email from jeremy young could have been spam; i emailed it to steph at her office and she wrote back “what da *;^*”

but we decided I should do it because their story idea about Blackwater and privatization of the border is important and coincides with my own research on the privatization of immigration control. So we figured that millions of people around the planet might see it (yikes, but at least our friends in Hungary and London could see it), except everyone in the US, of course, where it al-jazeera is nowhere to be found on cable.

come on first amendment people, time to get on this!

To see the segment, you’ll have to go to the al-jazeera-english web site. the show airs, beginning this Friday at 8pm (i think).

Next, we did some digging on Avi Lewis, who anchors the show. Avi is a celebrated left-documentarian, reporter and producer from Canada, having done some fantastic work, including a documentary “The Take” on the recovered factory movement in Argentina, with his wife, Naomi Klein (a book hero of mine since No Logo).

Quickly, trepidation turned to excitement. “Avi gonna be in da house.” what a kick.

Avi’s grandfather, Moshe Lewis (Losz), was a leading member of the Jewish Bund, who left Poland for Montreal in the early 1920s. So hey, my granfather fled the pogroms in Russia, went to Paris to paint and then NYC. close enough. If Avi could do Al-Jazeera, so could I.

(more later…)
PS although i ended up on the cutting room floor for this piece it was still a grand experience. More important, the frontline usa segment on the border (3/16) turned out to be a strong piece on privatization of border control. check it out on You-Tube.