Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Anti-illegal Great Wall a Big Bust

Friday, April 25, 2008

Two months after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff approved a $20 million virtual fence along a 28-mile stretch in Arizona, the fence was scrapped as unworkable.

Chertoff accepted the Boeing Company’s “Project 28” on Feb. 22, not long before the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress that the virtual fence project could not work and would not be used in the future.

Although the $20 million will never be recovered, Chertoff is determined to continue building real and virtual fence segments along the international border with Mexico.

The border fence idea is a fool’s errand.

The United States and coalition forces cannot seal the borders in Iraq and Afghanistan where wars are ongoing. It is foolish to think that U.S. borders can be sealed with fences and walls during peacetime.

The Great Wall of China, visible from outer space, failed to prevent foreign intruders. Walls and fences are more of a statement than an impediment. If a giant wall wouldn’t work 2,200 years ago, it won’t work today.

Rather than tackle the reason that illegal immigrants come to the United States, Congress chose to spend $1.2 billion on a border enforcement bill that called for the construction of 670 miles of real and virtual fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

El Paso’s experience

El Paso, which is the largest city directly on the border, has years of experience with a border fence that runs along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.

Every day Border Patrol welding teams go out to fix holes cut in the fence the night before by illegal immigrants. This is a small stretch of fence that separates El Paso, with a population of more than 600,000, from Ciudad Juarez.

The population of the Greater El Paso-Ciudad Juarez Metropolitan Area is nearly 2.5 million.

If U.S. authorities cannot prevent people from climbing over and cutting through a short stretch of fence in the middle of a downtown metropolitan area, it is completely unrealistic to think that they can stop the same activity out in remote areas of the border.

As proof, one of the new fence segments erected 10 months ago 80 miles west of El Paso in New Mexico has been easily breached by illegal immigrants using a variety of methods.

According to an April 12 news story by Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell, illegal immigrants “armed with torches, hacksaws, ladders and even bungee cords are making it around a section of the border fence hailed as the most efficient way to stop them.”

It’s nearly as though illegal immigrants have used as many creative ways as possible just to mock the idea that a segment of fence, no matter how expensive, can stop them. Except for the entertainment value of going over or through the fence, people could always choose to simply walk around it.

There are areas along the shared border that are so far removed from cities or towns that they must be beyond the imagination of members of Congress and other fence advocates.

In a Feb. 21 New York Times piece by Lawrence Downes, the editorial writer told how he had lunch with CNN host Lou Dobbs at the world-famous Four Seasons restaurant.

Dobbs, who has manufactured a career boost by bashing the illegal immigration drum on cable television, had cranberry juice and seltzer with his Dover sole while emphasizing that the border must first be sealed before other immigration reforms are attempted.

Among those people in Congress who support sealing the border with fences, high-tech gadgets and law enforcement, it’s likely that few have ever visited the border in person. Of those who have actually set foot on the border, it’s likely that not one of them has visited the remote sections away from the few authorized international crossing points.

It’s in those remote areas, as the saying goes, where the rubber meets the road.

Also, a prima facie case can be made that anyone who lunches at the Four Seasons is incapable of understanding the vast remote areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rowland Nethaway’s column appears Wednes- day and Friday. E-mail: RNethaway@wacotrib .com

OPS dress code opinions still clash

April 29, 2008


It's too early to tell if shopping for school clothes will be a drastically different experience for Omaha Public Schools students this fall. But school board members agreed Monday to keep talking about a dress code makeover.

In the meantime, the board asked for more information from district administrators as they prepare for further discussion.

If OPS required uniforms, would Nebraska law require OPS to pay for them? Do uniforms improve student behavior or achievement? What about policies for teacher dress codes?

"Are we as a district successfully enforcing the dress code?" asked board member Mark Martinez, who first suggested last month that uniforms could benefit students. "Are our students dressing the way we expect for a positive learning environment?"

No timeline for a decision was set.

The topic of school uniforms comes up periodically. The OPS board last voted on uniforms in 1996, when it allowed parents to vote on uniforms at their schools.

After board discussion last month, district officials sought input from the superintendents' Citizens Advisory Committee. About 40 parents on that committee told officials last week that they were most concerned about boys wearing sagging pants and girls wearing tank tops, low-cut tops and midriff-baring tops. Wearing pajamas to school also was highlighted as disruptive.

Many parents also said schools need to provide clear and consistent guidelines about appropriate grooming. Nearly all parents at the meeting indicated that they thought the current dress code should be better enforced and that teachers must set a clear example of appropriate attire. Discussion among board members Monday was similar.

Mona McGregor, a longtime board member who holds a college degree in fashion design, said the district would be taking away students' freedom of expression if it instituted a uniform policy. And, she said, uniforms won't erase fashion trends.

"You're not going to change that with uniforms," she said of things like sagging pants or short skirts. "It's just clothes. Pick your battles."

Dress codes have changed over time. In 1943, for example, John Hiffernan was threatened with expulsion from Omaha Central for wearing blue jeans.

"We had to wear slacks and a good shirt," Hiffernan said of his high school days. He said he knew what was expected but didn't recall ever seeing a written policy. During his senior year, the four-sport athlete and about a dozen friends decided to wear denim. As Hiffernan recalled, the principal threatened to kick all of the boys out of school for the offense. "The principal made the rules."

Hiffernan, who wasn't at the meeting, said today's students need role models who dress as the school expects them to and who send a message stronger than what students get from celebrities who "wear junk."

Board members said the same during their lengthy discussion. Dress code rules for teachers will be discussed at length at a coming meeting. The current teacher contract only says "cooperation and good judgment" help to send the right message for students and the visiting public.

McGregor said the whole dress code discussion began because of concerns over the work attire of some school staff.

"Staff needs to look professional," she said.

China's powerful weakness

Beijing's reach isn't big enough to stop local governments from abusing the rights of ordinary citizens.

By Francis Fukuyama
April 29, 2008
The fiasco of the Olympic torch relay has focused attention on human rights in China. What is the source of human rights abuses in that country today?

Many people assume the problem is that China remains a communist dictatorship and that abuses occur because a strong, centralized state ignores the rights of its citizens. With regard to Tibet and the suppression of the religious movement Falun Gong, this may be right. But the larger problem in today's China arises out of the fact that the central Chinese state is in certain ways too weak to defend the rights of its people.

The vast majority of abuses against the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens -- peasants who have their land taken away without just compensation, workers forced to labor under sweatshop conditions or villagers poisoned by illegal dumping of pollutants -- occur at a level far below that of the government in Beijing.

China's peculiar road toward modernization after 1978 was powered by "township and village enterprises" -- local government bodies given the freedom to establish businesses and enter into the emerging market economy. These entities were enormously successful, and many have become extraordinarily rich and powerful. In cahoots with private developers and companies, it is they that are producing conditions resembling the satanic mills of early industrial England.

The central government, by all accounts, would like to crack down on these local government bodies but is unable to do so. It both lacks the capacity to do this and depends on local governments and the private sector to produce jobs and revenue.

The Chinese Communist Party understands that it is riding a tiger. Each year, there are several thousand violent incidents of social protest, each one contained and suppressed by state authorities, who nevertheless cannot seem to get at the underlying source of the unrest.

Americans traditionally distrust strong central government and champion a federalism that distributes powers to state and local governments. The logic of wanting to move government closer to the people is strong, but we often forget that tyranny can be imposed by local oligarchies as much as by centralized ones. In the history of the Anglophone world, it is not the ability of local authorities to check the central government but rather a balance of power between local authorities and a strong central government that is the true cradle of liberty.

The 19th century British legal scholar Sir Henry Sumner Maine, in his book "Early Law and Custom," pointed to this very fact in a fine essay titled "France and England." He notes that the single most widespread complaint written in the cahiers produced on the eve of the French Revolution were complaints by peasants over encroachments of their property rights by seigneurial courts. According to Maine, judicial power in France was decentralized and under the control of the local aristocracy.

By contrast, from the time of the Norman conquest, the English monarchy had succeeded in establishing a strong, uniform and centralized system of justice. It was the king's courts that protected non-elite groups from depredations by the local aristocracy. The failure of the French monarchy to impose similar constraints on local elites was one of the reasons the peasants who sacked manor houses during the revolution went straight to the room containing the titres to property that they felt had been stolen from them.

State weakness can hurt the cause of liberty. The Polish and Hungarian aristocracies were able to impose their equivalents of the Magna Carta on their monarchs; those countries' central governments, unlike their English counterpart, remained far too weak in subsequent generations to protect the peasantry from the local lords, not to speak of protecting their countries as a whole from outside invasion.

The same was true in the United States. "States' rights" and federalism were the banner under which local elites in the South could oppress African Americans, both before and after the Civil War. American liberty is the product of decentralized government balanced by a strong central state -- one that is capable, when necessary, of sending the National Guard to Little Rock to protect the right of black children to attend school.

It is hard to know if and when freedom will emerge in 21st century China. It may be the first country where demand for accountable government is driven primarily by concern over a poisoned environment. But it will come about only when popular demand for some form of downward accountability on the part of local governments and businesses is supported by a central government strong enough to force local elites to obey the country's rules.

Francis Fukuyama is the author of "The End of History and the Last Man."

Demography Is King

Published: April 29, 2008

Fifty-five years ago, 80 percent of American television viewers, young and old, tuned in to see Milton Berle on Tuesday nights. Tens of millions, rich and poor, worked together at Elks Lodges and Rotary Clubs. Millions more, rural and urban, read general-interest magazines like Look and Life. In those days, the owner of the local bank lived in the same town as the grocery clerk, and their boys might play on the same basketball team. Only 7 percent of adult Americans had a college degree.

But that’s all changed. In the decades since, some social divides, mostly involving ethnicity, have narrowed. But others, mostly involving education, have widened. Today there is a mass educated class. The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.

Retailers, home builders and TV executives identify and reinforce these lifestyle clusters. There are more niche offerings and fewer common experiences.

The ensuing segmentation has reshaped politics. We’re used to the ideological divide between Red and Blue America. This year’s election has revealed a deep cultural gap within the Democratic Party, separating what Stuart Rothenberg calls the two Democratic parties.

In state after state (Wisconsin being the outlier), Barack Obama has won densely populated, well-educated areas. Hillary Clinton has won less-populated, less-educated areas. For example, Obama has won roughly 70 percent of the most-educated counties in the primary states. Clinton has won 90 percent of the least-educated counties. In state after state, Obama has won a few urban and inner-ring suburban counties. Clinton has won nearly everywhere else.

This social divide has overshadowed regional differences. Sixty-year-old, working-class Catholics vote the same, whether they live in Fresno, Scranton, Nashua or Orlando.

The divide has even overshadowed campaigning. Surely the most interesting feature of the Democratic race is how unimportant political events are. The candidates can spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, but they are not able to sway their opponent’s voters to their side. They can win a stunning victory, but the momentum doesn’t carry over from state to state. They can make horrific gaffes, deliver brilliant speeches, turn in good or bad debate performances, but these things do not alter the race.

In Pennsylvania, Obama did everything conceivable to win over Clinton’s working-class voters. The effort was a failure. The great uniter failed to unite. In this election, persuasion isn’t important. Social identity is everything. Demography is king.

Over the years, different theories have emerged to describe the educated/less-educated divide. Conservatives have gravitated toward the culture war narrative, dividing the country between the wholesome masses and the decadent cultural elites. Some liberals believe income inequality drives everything. They wait for an uprising of economic populism. Other liberals divide the country morally, between the enlightened urbanites and the racist rednecks who will never vote for a black man.

None of these theories really fit the facts. It’s more accurate to say that the country has simply drifted apart into different subcultures. There’s no great hostility between the cultures. Americans have a fuzzy sense of where the boundaries lie. But people in different niches have developed different unconscious maps of reality. They have developed different communal understandings of what constitutes a good leader, of what sort of world they live in. They have developed different communal definitions, which they can’t even articulate, of what they mean by liberty, security and virtue. Demographic groups have begun to function like tribes or cultures.

We can all play the parlor game of trying to figure out why Obama, a Harvard Law grad, resonates with the more educated while Clinton, a Yale Law grad, resonates with the less educated. I’d throw in that Obama’s offer of a secular crusade hits a nerve among his fellow bobos, while Clinton’s talk of fighting and resilience plays well down market.

But these theories only scratch the surface. The mental maps people in different cultures form are infinitely complex and poorly understood even by those who hold them. People pick up millions of subtle signals from body language, word choice, facial expressions, policy positions and biographical details. Efforts to rebrand a candidate to appeal to down-market voters are inevitably crude and counterproductive.

The core message is that even if you take away the ideological differences between the parties, you are still left with profound social gulfs within the parties. There’s poignancy to that. The upscale liberals who revere Obama have spent their lives championing equality and opposing privilege. But they’ve smashed the old WASP social hierarchy only to create a new educational one.

Obama in MS

Wright on Obama's criticism: He only did it to get elected

Rating Candidate Characteristics


McCain vs. McCain on Permanent Occupation of Iraq Part 2

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

3-on-3 with Barack Obama

Maybe I will vote for Obama! Hoops for President!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The future President at Idol Gives Back

Bush Job Approval Hits Administration Low

Part 6 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

The vast resources of Russia are discussed in this clip.

Part 5 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

AIDS Epidemic in Russia? I have heard of the problem in Africa, but in Russia? This is a very interesting clip.

Part 4 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

Some more language in this clip, but this shows some of what we were talking about in class about the discrimination and ethnonationalism in Russia. Kind of Scary.

Part 3 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

Part 2 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

One bad word in subscript. I still think it is worth it to show for educational purposes.

Part 1 (of 6) Death of a Nation - Russia

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nigeria poll: A monitor's view

Election monitors from Nigeria and abroad have condemned last Saturday's presidential election as a "charade". Here, Emma Ezeazu from the Alliance for Credible Elections recounts his experience.
I was one of the roving monitors from the Transition Monitoring Group that observed elections in Nassarawa State (central Nigeria) during the governorship elections and in Kaduna State (north-western Nigeria) during the presidential and National Assembly elections.

In places where the PDP wasn't in control, voting was delayed.

I heard about the violence in Nassarawa State. But our team had left before the violence actually started.

But while I was there, from early in the day, it was quite disappointing because hundreds and hundreds of people were already standing in long queues in Maraba and Keffi by 1000 [local time] but Inec [election commission] officials had yet to arrive.

Quite a number of those in the queue told us they weren't going anywhere until they voted.

We noticed that ballot papers were available in [ruling People's Democratic Party] PDP strongholds in the state and voting started in those areas on time.

But in places where the PDP wasn't in control, voting was delayed. That was our experience in Nassarawa State.


We also saw poor policing during the polls.

In one polling station in Keffi we saw a son of a particular chief harassing and intimidating voters using thugs to cause confusion on the queues.

He was trying to frighten people so they would leave the voting area so he could tamper with the result of the voting.

We also saw PDP agents virtually manning the polling bags.

The polls were "a charade" said many groups of observers

I mean, people were forced to thumb-print in front of the PDP agents and then they took the ballot and put it in the ballot box. We found this very terrifying.

We also saw a group of under-aged voters who were being paid 50 naira [40 US cents] notes to vote for a particular party.

In this polling station, a primary school in Keffi, the PDP won. The children were happy with the 50 naira and were jumping and jubilant.

I didn't witness any ballot box-snatching or stuffing because I was a roving monitor.

Only my colleagues who were stationed in particular polling stations reported cases of ballot box-snatching and stuffing.


When we were going round for the presidential elections, we saw Inec officials without transport.

Inec officials were trekking long distances with ballot papers and ballot bags without any security at all to get to their assigned polling stations.

I thought this was instructive.

Here we were; a group of civil society monitors, we had our cars, we had our lunch packs, we had biscuits, we had water and we were comfortable.

But here are electoral officers, who are doing the real job of the election, and they had no transport, no food, no security, nothing.

I looked at the electoral officials and I laughed because I knew there was no way workers who are so poorly motivated could produce any credible outputs.

They never had any breaks in the course of the work. There was no system at all available at all in terms of logistics.

We have reports of how our monitors were chased away from polling stations and how one of them was arrested and thrown into a police cell.

But I didn't have any such experience.

What made me to smile during the exercise was seeing so many ordinary Nigerians patiently queuing up in the sun, waiting for a chance to vote.

It made me smile because it made me hopeful that my country will be out of the woods eventually.

Can Nigerian leader get on with his job?

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Abuja

Mr Yar'Adua has vowed to carry out reforms

The tribunal ruling upholding last year's Nigerian presidential election seems to allow Umaru Yar'Adua to get on with his job.

But the issues he will have to tackle to be a successful president will be made more difficult by the "forces of conservatism" that levered him into power, observers say.

The ruling may turn out to be a victory for stability and conservatism, rather than reform.

President Yar'Adua has vowed to reform the electoral system, the electricity grid and the oil industry.

A serious and earnest man, he no doubt means to make these changes.

But some observers told the BBC President Yar'Adua would have a tough time reforming government because those who got him into power would now expect repayment.

Flawed election

Umar Yar'Adua was a little-known governor from Katsina state when he was handed the nomination of his party in December 2006.

The night before the primary all the other major contenders were forced to step down by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Yar'Adua is not any less beholden to the people who rigged him into power

'Embarrassing' power cuts

This gave rise to the observation among journalists in Nigeria he would be "selected not elected".

"Yar'Adua is not any less beholden to the people who rigged him into power," said Chris Albin Lackey, of Human Rights Watch, who was in Katsina during the April polls.

The election was marred by violence and poor regulation by the Independent National Election Commission (Inec).

Across the country people who queued for hours at polling stations could not vote on the day because ballots had not arrived, according to international observers.

In several states polling stations were broken up by youths carrying machetes.

In the past gangs of thugs have been paid by local politicians to deliver the election for the government.

Serial numbers were not printed on the ballots, making it easy for anyone to manipulate the result.

The 2007 election was marred by violence

In Abuja the result was announced before all the states had reported their counts, opposition party agents claimed.

The tribunal recognised that many aspects of the election broke the law.

"But the petitioners did not bring anything of substance to show that these breaches of the electoral act substantially altered the outcome of the election," Judge Abdulkadir Abubakar Jega said.

President Yar'Adua won the election by a massive margin.

He took 70% of the vote compared to 18% for Muhammadu Buhari and 7% for Atiku Abubakar.

The ruling has raised questions about how exactly they could have provided more evidence.

"How can you prove it affected the result of the election when you don't have the evidence that an election took place?" Mr Albin Lackey said.


Lawyers acting for President Yar'Adua said the ruling should put the flawed election out of the way and allow him to get on with his job.

The election tribunal has done a wonderful job, you really can't fault it legally speaking

Prof Awalu Yadudu
Some observers agree.

"The law is supposed to balance society, not plunge it into chaos," Usman Mohammed, a lecturer in international relations, said.

"It will strengthen the government and sharpen the opposition."

Prof Awalu Yadudu, a constitutional lawyer said he sympathised with people who did not believe the ruling reflected what really happened during the election.

"People will feel despondent and disappointed," he said. "But the election tribunal has done a wonderful job, you really can't fault it legally speaking."

Elections may turn out to be better next time, if the lessons are learned, he said


Another area President Yar'Adua may really be judged is not in his election, but in the reform of the oil sector, particularly the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

He has stated he wants to make it into a functioning industry that will deliver increased revenue - and development - for Nigeria.

But a source in the oil industry who did not want to be named, said: "I just cannot see how he is going to reform the sector, because those who put him there will want to get valuable contracts. It's like the forces of conservatism have won."

Most Nigerians have already put the election behind them.

Some have warmed to their new president, but whether he will have a lasting effect on improving their lives will be his true test.