Monday, August 31, 2009

Portugal Accepts Two Gitmo Detainees

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that two Syrian nationals have been transferred from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the control of the government of Portugal. Here's the DOJ press release.

This news made me wonder whether the open-borders EU zone will permit those two lucky Syrians to freely travel to other EU states. So I checked the Portuguese Ministry of Interior website and found it's counterpart to the DOJ press release, which says that the answer is no.

Forgive the Google language tools translation from Portuguese, which ends up sounding like Lower Slobovian, but the meaning is clear enough:

The decision on the legal regime applicable to the entry into Portugal of these people followed the provisions of Article 68., Paragraph 1 and 2 of Law 23/2007 of 4 July. The above rules provide for humanitarian reasons recognized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a special visa that allows entry into and residence in the country of foreigners.

It should be noted that this scheme remains with the Portuguese state, those citizens in need of additional visas to travel to the territory of another Member State of the Union. This restriction stems from the common understanding adopted by the Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of the European Union, held on 4 and 5 June 2009 in Luxembourg.

Congratulations DOJ! You've had a little bit of progress since the last release of six detainees back in June. Two more down, and at least 226 still to go. At this rate - eight detainees released in three months - it will take seven years to empty Gitmo of its remaining detainees, so the administration had better hustle if it wants to meet its self-imposed deadline, which is only four months away.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evidence of a Monstrous Commie Plot

"Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face." - General Jack D. Ripper

Is there something in the water over in Russia that causes Western diplomats – the male ones, anyway – to shed IQ points? There simply has to be, since there is such a long history of this sort of thing happening. I’d ask “what were they thinking,” except that it’s so obvious they weren’t thinking at all.

My favorite part of the story is where the U.S. diplomat checked the hotel room for hidden cameras but didn’t find any. Hidden cameras in a Russian hotel room? What are the odds of that? Just take a quick look around and, if you don’t find any, feel free to go to town. Since no one that stupid gets hired as an FSO, the only explanation is that something happened to his mind after he got to Russia. It's looking like General Jack Ripper was right about that commie plot to sap our will with fluoridation.

Clearly, we need to find FSOs who, while not avoiding Russian women, will nevertheless deny them their essence. If we can't find enough male FSOs with General Ripper's level of self-discipline, then we should staff our Russian missions exclusively with female FSOs, who seem to be less severely afflicated by flouridation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Most E$tremely Qualified Would-Be Ambassador Yet

Hassan Nemazee, a mega-bucks Democratic political donor who was once nominated by President Clinton to be U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, was arrested yesterday on charges of financial fraud. He is accused of trying to defraud Citigroup out of $74 million.

The WaPo story on this today is quite brief, just a re-run from the Associated Press.

The Washington Times story is more informative. Among other things, it mentions that Nemazee's ambassadorial nomination was shot down by this 1999 Forbes article.

Some quotes from the WT:

One of the nation's top Democratic fundraisers, who helped bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Rodham Clinton and later Barack Obama, was arrested Tuesday on charges that he masterminded a $74 million fraud against giant lender Citigroup Inc.

-- snip --

Mr. Nemazee, 59, long has been a major figure in Democratic money circles, served as a co-chairman of Mrs. Clinton's presidential bid and was a central figure involved in efforts to help unify the party after the divisive 2008 primary season.

In earlier election cycles he headed up fundraising efforts for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

-- snip --

Questions about Mr. Nemazee's financial dealings more than a decade ago wound up scuttling his nomination by President Clinton to be ambassador to Argentina. In that case, the Senate sent back his nomination after a Forbes magazine article suggested that Mr. Nemazee had gained advantages by claiming a business venture he was involved with was "100 percent Hispanic-owned." In fact, the report said, Mr. Nemazee, an Iranian-American, owned 49 percent.

Regarding that "100 percent Hispanic" claim, the Forbes article says that "through a family connection with the wealthy Cisneros clan of Venezuela, Nemazee obtained a passport from Venezuela but lived there just a few months. That was evidently enough for him to call himself Hispanic." An Iranian-American multi-millionaire turned himself into a Hispanic in order to qualify for a U.S. government program intended to favor disadvantaged minorities? I call that imaginative and resourceful.

Nemazee was evidently public spirited, politically engaged, and a wildly successful CEO. And, of course, ethnically flexible. How did we ever let this nominee get away from us?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lockerbie Bomber Felt "Isolation" in Prison

The Smoking Gun has posted excerpts from the application for early release of the Lockerbie bomber, the ex-Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi.

It was reported by the medical officer who has been responsible for Al-Megrahi's treatment while in prison that the man who killed 270 people in an act of state-sponsored terrorism misses his elderly mother and also "reported a feeling of isolation--cultural, religious, social and language.”

Well, yes, I should hope so. He was in prison, after all, and one expects that separation from loved ones and isolation would be central to the prison experience. In fact, that's pretty much the whole purpose of prison.

Would it really have offended the sensitivities of the Scottish authorities to keep Al-Megrahi locked up a while longer until they could have returned him to his family in a box, the same way his 270 innocent victims were returned to theirs?

Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!

The Cato Institute has pointed out, with much indignation, that Federal Pay Continues its Rapid Ascent while private sector pay lags behind:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its annual data on compensation levels by industry (Tables 6.2D, 6.3D, and 6.6D here). The data show that the pay advantage enjoyed by federal civilian workers over private-sector workers continues to expand.

As much as I feel like lighting up a Cohiba after seeing the above chart, I realize that the public-private pay disparity can't really be quite that large. The Federal workforce is comparatively very small (about 1.9 million out of about 108 million employees in the private sector), and is heavily weighted toward professional jobs (since everything else is contracted out), therefore head-to-head comparisons tell us little.

For another thing, the federal job market has a certain barrier to entry in the form of personnel security clearances. I'd love to see an economic study that quantified the monetary value of Top Secret clearances; when I was a contractor performing staff-like functions for the same office where I now work as a direct hire employee, we generally considered that a contractor job candidate who had a current, transferable, TS clearance was worth another $10,000 in annual salary. The need for many, possibly most, federal employees to have some level of security clearance certainly restricts the labor market, and that should result in somewhat higher salaries. The Cato Institute is a free-market economics kind of place, isn't it? Why don't they sponsor such an analysis?

p.s. - Regarding those Cohibas and other fine Cuban cigars that one often sees for sale while on TDY outside the United States, don't think of it as trading with the enemy, think of it as burning their crops!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Are the Wienies Hiding? Probably Very Little

A commenter on this post has a grievance with me and with the "history wienies at State." He makes a fair point, and I think it's worth replying to him here rather than in a comment to a comment.

"Anonymous" said:

So let me get this straight. First, under the "new, improved, Office of the Historian," the State Department fails to acknowledge the existence of a chapter on Uruguay. Then the "new, improved, Office of the Historian" changes its tune to lie about the existence of a chapter on Uruguay, lamely claiming that one was never done due to "space considerations." Then, the "new, improved, Office of the Historian," changes its tune yet again, but only after Steve Aftergood (author of the HNN piece) takes them to task over this issue.

The bottom line here is that after 8 years of progressively improving openness, the first public act by the "new, improved, Office of the Historian" is to lie to the American people and, by extension, violate the spirit and letter of the law. Acting General Editor Dr. William B. McAllister's terse reply to Aftergood's entreaties comes off like that of an irritated child who just got caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. This is a sign of "good management"??? What's next? More important, what else are the history wienies at State hiding?

To review the matter of the revised Preface to the new FRUS volume on Latin America during the Nixon years, here's the current, revised, text with my bolding:

This volume includes documentation on U.S. relations with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Coverage of El Salvador and Honduras is limited to a chapter on the U.S. response to the 1969 “Soccer War” between those two Central American countries. Chapters on Bolivia and Uruguay will be added once they have completed the declassification process. Due to space constraints, relations with Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the colonies and overseas territories of European powers are not covered here. Documentation on relations with Chile between 1969 and September 1973 will be published in a separate volume.

The "history wienies" (which, BTW, I think would look great on office coffee mugs) changed two things from the original version. First, a future chapter on Uruguay is now promised upon completion of the declassification process. And, indeed, the FRUS volume's index now has placeholders for both Bolivia and Uruguay, whereas the original version had one only for Bolivia. Secondly, the revised text mentions the Caribbean countries and overseas European territories that will not be covered due to space constraints. Evidently, there really are such things as space constraints in electronic publications, although I'm sure that wasn't the reason for omitting Uruguay in the original release of the volume.

The bottom line is that when the Office of the Historian (HO) was challenged about the absence of a Uruguay chapter, it said mea culpa and added a placeholder for it, just as it had already done for Bolivia. Why didn't the HO do that in the first place? I don't know, but I doubt it was because there was a conspiracy to lie about something. To believe that, I'd have to believe that there is something about U.S. foreign relations with Uruguay between 1969 and 1972 that's even more sensitive, more embarrassing, or more highly classified than there is in our relations with Chile or Bolivia during those same years. I'd also have to believe that those devious history wienies expected that critics like Anonymous just wouldn't notice the absence of any mention of Uruguay. That's too much for me to believe. I can more easily believe in bureaucratic oversights, slips, and screw-ups.

We're simply going to have to wait for the declassification process to run its course before we see all the FRUS material on Latin America in those years. It's no secret that the CIA is the main obstacle to the clearance of material in the FRUS series. You can read the arguments for and against CIA openness with the HO here. The policy conflicts between the CIA and the HO are regularly aired in public with each publication of the minutes of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation (like this one from last December). I'm sure the declassification process is much more frustrating for the wienies in the HO than it is for interested onlookers like Anonymous and me.

How interesting will that classified material be, once it is declassified and published? Maybe we'll all be absolutely blown away by earth-shaking revelations that change our current understanding of diplomatic history. Or maybe it will be nothing but a big yawn-fest over stuff that we've long known about from unofficial sources and memoirs. As it happens, I've read some of the CIA's internal and classified histories of key events in South and Central America, and they were, at best, only mildly interesting. Deep, dark, official secrets are always best when you don't know them and can still imagine that they must be something spectacular. Once you get access to them, well, my reaction has always been like that old Peggy Lee song, "is that all there is?"

DC Media Confused by Obama's Blaccent

The Washington media seems to be mystified as to the meaning of a slang term President Obama used yesterday.

Just as soon as President Barack Obama uttered the words Thursday afternoon, the reaction was nearly universal.

On Twitter, The Hill's Sam Youngman asked: "WTF does wee-weed up mean and how do you spell it?"

Real Clear Politics' Mike Memoli: "I don't know what that means."

In matters like this always check the Urban Dictionary, which will make the meaning clear.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Let a Hundred Buildings Grow, Let a Thousand Visa Applicants Contend"

I think that's how Chairman Mao put in in his Little Red Book. Or something close to that.

The State Department signed a deal with the People's Republic of China today, one that allows for the construction of a new U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations is scheduled to break ground on the new consulate complex a few months from now, and it goes without saying that the place will be all sensitive, welcoming, and culturally appropriate. If it's also a Fortress, well, it says in the press release that the new place will be a green and tastefully designed Fortress. China is the land that built the Great Wall, after all, and I doubt the typical Chinese visitor will be overawed by a measly perimeter fence.

Here's the press release, United States and People's Republic of China Officials Sign Conditions of Construction Agreement:

Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management, and Li Jinzhang, Vice Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs for the People’s Republic of China, today signed a Conditions of Construction Agreement (COCA) in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State.

The COCA will apply to new construction, expansion, renovation, and demolition undertaken by the United States and China of all or parts of their respective diplomatic sites in the United States and China. The agreement encompasses both embassies in Washington, D.C., and Beijing: the Chinese Mission to the United Nations and the five existing consulates in each country.

In China, the U.S. consulates covered under the agreement are located in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Chengdu and Wuhan. In the United States, the Chinese consulates are located in Houston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

U.S. Department of State and Chinese officials have been working on the provisions of the agreement for over two years.

The signed agreement will allow the Department of State to award a contract to construct a New Consulate Compound (NCC) in Guangzhou, China. The award of $164 million in contracts to construct the NCC will be to two companies: B.L. Harbert International, LLC of Birmingham, Alabama, will construct the main chancery and China Huashi Enterprises Company LTD, of Guangzhou, China will construct the public access buildings on the facility. The approximate cost of the entire project is $260 million. The compound was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LPP.

The state-of-the-art compound will consist of seven buildings including a main chancery building, a consular building, a warehouse with maintenance shops, a utility building, a Marine Security Guard quarters, and two compound access control facilities.

The centerpiece of the compound will be the four-story Consular office building featuring an interior “Great Hall” and 67 service windows for American citizen services, visa interviews and other applicants. The stone-clad building will be flooded with natural light and the Great Hall will feature natural wood wall and ceiling finishes as well as a Chinese granite floor.

The Guangzhou NCC will be arranged so that its seven buildings are separated from each other but tied together by gardens and courtyards demonstrating our commitment to green design and sustainability. Several of the buildings on the site will feature “green” roofs which with mitigate thermal loads by providing insulation, and will also minimize storm water run-off. Rooftops that are not green are covered in white stone to reflect heat and minimize heat gain.

The building facade and landscaped areas will be designed to integrate Chinese granite and other local stone with trees and other plantings from southern China.

The NCC will provide a secure, safe, and functional facility for approximately 300 employees who will work at the consulate. The 7.4 acre site is located at Tianhe District, Pearl River New Town development area in Guangzhou, China. The Groundbreaking will be in the fall of 2009 and the proposed completion date for the NCC is 2012-13.

The construction of a new consulate in Guangzhou reflects not only the importance of the United States-China bilateral relationship but also the breadth of issues in which our countries are engaged as this new century progresses.

"Making Progress" on Closing Gitmo

The WaPo wants you to know that the Obama administration is making progress on resettling Guantanamo detainees to someplace outside of the United States, even though only eleven of them have actually been released so far and 229 remain in U.S. custody at Gitmo.

The administration has been making steady progress on this matter ever since they got into office. It's just that, as Captain Ellerby explained on page 57 of the script of that fine movie The Departed, "making progress" is a slippery concept.


I'm not making enough progress with Costello?


"Progress" is hard to define. I make progress every day. In fact, I'm making progress now. There are guys in this department make excellent progress for twenty years without ever getting anything you could definitively call a result. It's like any American industry. Nobody minds if you don't succeed as long as you don't fuck up.

In that sense of the word, "progress" is definitely being made in the business of persuading European governments to take the better sort of Gitmo detainees off of our hands.

From the WaPo story:

Six European Union countries -- Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- have accepted or publicly agreed to take detainees. Four E.U. countries have privately told the administration that they are committed to resettling detainees, and five other E.U. nations are considering taking some, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

-- snip --

Even if the administration meets its most optimistic targets for transferring prisoners to other countries, it still faces major obstacles to closing Guantanamo Bay. Of the 229 detainees held there, the cases of nearly 120 have yet to be reviewed. Officials are still deciding how to handle detainees they want to hold for a prolonged period, as well as others they want to prosecute.

Moreover, the administration is trying to determine the fate of the 98 Yemenis held at Guantanamo. Officials, wary of repatriating them to a country U.S. officials view as ill-equipped to monitor their activities, say they are negotiating with Saudi Arabia to take them.

Of the detainees cleared for release so far, 11 have been transferred home or to third countries, including Bermuda, which accepted four Chinese Uighurs.

To recap the score, there are 229 detainees, 109 of whom have evidently had their cases reviewed, 80 of which were cleared for release. Another 120 detainees, most of whom are Yemenis and therefore among the hardest of the Gitmo detainees to release, are yet to have their cases reviewed. Let's guess that only half of the last 120 cases will be ruled releasable. That would result in about 140 releasables.

Will the releasable detainees ever be accepted in Europe? A recent article in The Atlanticist suggested that Europe might not be all that eager:

On Wednesday, Ireland's Justice Department announced its intention to resettle two detainees cleared of terrorist affiliation. Add to that figure France's symbolic transfer of one prisoner in May, and the official EU total of accepted foreign prisoners stands at three. The Czech Republic, Austria and Germany have so far refused to resettle any inmates; Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Spain have each pledged to accept several under strict conditions. A modest start, for sure, but notable given Europe's reticence to help clean what is arguably America's own dirty laundry.

"America created Guantanamo. It has to come up with the solution," quipped Austrian Interior Minister Maria Fekter. "None of these prisoners has anything whatsoever to do with Denmark," echoed Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller. "Why should they be taken in?"

-- snip --

Further complicating matters, the resettlement of prisoners in individual EU member states, in theory, affects all members of the 25-country Schengen zone. The open-border EU zone permits its citizens free movement without passport checks, leaving many Europeans worried as to whether a former detainee could relocate to another country. As such, the EU has recently agreed upon a framework whereby any individual country that decides to accept prisoners share dossier information with all others beforehand. Such coordination is a "must," noted EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot, which in turn leaves open the possibility for concerned member states to "impose movement restrictions" as they see fit.

As Europe sorts out its willingness to accept further prisoners, many are left wondering why the US has yet to resettle even one inmate. Initial attempts to do so in June ended in failure when the US Congress, afraid of public backlash, enacted a law to delay the transfer of citizens to American soil for at least another two months. In addition, they stripped $50 million worth of funding for the closing of Guantanamo until after the administration submitted a detailed plan for their approval.

"If none of the U.S. states are ready to take in Guantanamo inmates, then you will have to explain to the European public why the rules for Europe should be different from those in the US," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble presaged.

I agree with Herr Minister Schaeuble. Were I a German, or an Austrian, or a Dane, I would see no compelling reason to take in any Gitmo detainee who wasn't a citizen of my country. And, as an American, I still say, let's have an orderly return of the Gitmo Gang back to their home countries, or to any other place that will accept them, whether they agree to go or not.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fifth Guilty Plea to Passport Peeping

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that a fifth person has plead guilty to illegally accessing confidential passport files:

WASHINGTON – A fifth individual pleaded guilty today to illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division announced. Kevin M. Young, 42, of Temple Hills, Md., pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in the District of Columbia to a one-count criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access. Young is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9, 2009.

According to court documents, Young has worked full-time for the State Department since February 1987. For the past eight years, Young has been a contact representative for the Passport Special Issuance Agency. In pleading guilty, Young admitted he had access to official State Department computer databases in the regular course of his employment, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994. The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain, among other things, a photograph of the passport applicant as well as certain personal information including the applicant’s full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse’s name and emergency contact information. These confidential files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties.

In pleading guilty, Young admitted that between March 11, 2003, and Dec. 21, 2005, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 125 celebrities, actors, comedians, professional athletes, musicians, models, a politician and other individuals identified in the press. Young admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.

Young is the fifth current or former State Department employee to plead guilty in this continuing investigation. On Sept. 22, 2008, Lawrence C. Yontz, a former Foreign Service Officer and intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 200 confidential passport files. Yontz was sentenced on Dec. 19, 2008, to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. On Jan. 14, 2009, Dwayne F. Cross, a former administrative assistant and contract specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 150 confidential passport files. On March 23, 2009, Cross was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. On Jan. 27, 2009, Gerald R. Lueders, a former Foreign Service Officer, watch officer and recruitment coordinator, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 50 confidential passport files. Lueders was sentenced on July 8, 2009, to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. On July 10, 2009, William A. Celey, a file assistant, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 75 confidential passport files. Celey is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23, 2009.

These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Armando O. Bonilla of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, headed by Section Chief William M. Welch II. The cases are being investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General.

Idle curiosity can have a high price.

So can credit card fraud, which seems to have been the motive behind some of last year's outbreak of passport peeping. A Washington DC resident who went by the name of "Lieutenant" Quarles Harris, Jr., was shot to death in August of 2008, five months after he was found in possession of eight U.S. passport application printouts that he had reportedly obtained from a conspirator who worked at the State Department, and which he was using to fraudulently obtain credit cards.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sentences Overturned in USAID Officer's Murder

The Washington Times reports today that the four men in Sudan who were convicted of killing USAID officer John Granville in January 2008 have had their sentences commuted.

According to the WT story (Diplomat's killers spared death penalty):

An appeals court commuted the death sentences for four men convicted of killing an American diplomat and his Sudanese driver after the driver's family decided to pardon the murderers, a news agency reported Thursday.

Sudanese law stipulates that if a victim's family chooses to pardon the murderer, the person cannot be sentenced to death and the prison term cannot exceed 10 years. The case will be referred back to the initial court for a new sentence, the Sudan Media Center said.

The three appeals court judges delivered their verdict Wednesday without considering the wishes of the family of diplomat, John Granville, who was killed by gunmen along with his driver as he was returning from a New Year's party in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, said the news agency, which has close links to the Sudanese government.

Mr. Granville, 33, of Buffalo, N.Y., worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The appeals court did not consider - and evidently did not even solicit - the wishes of the family of the U.S. citizen victim. And, as the result of its consideration of the wishes of the Sudanese victim's family, the four killers cannot receive a new sentence that exceeds ten years. Wow.

I would hope the USG can find some way to make the Sudanese government consider its wishes in this matter, and hand the four killers over to the U.S. justice system after Sudan finishes slapping their wrists.

In Defense of Sheila Jackson-Lee

My impression of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee is entirely negative, however, I must say she's getting a raw deal from the news media over her phone conversation during a town hall meeting, which has become the big media hoopla of the moment. Evidently the whole 'Congresswoman answers her cell phone while cancer-patient constituent tries to talk to her at a town hall meeting' story is just too good to spoil by listening to the Congresswoman's explanation. At 1 minute and 50 seconds into the above video clip, Sheila Jackson-Lee tries to tell CNN's Rick Sanchez that she was placing - not taking - the call, and that the call was to the health care Q&A center that the Democrats have set up in Congressman Steny Hoyer's office (see Democrat's health care war room) to help members sort through the legislative mess when they need to answer questions.

It's a perfectly credible explanation. By the way she handles the cell phone, it does indeed look like she's speaking keywords into an automated system. So she wasn't blowing off the woman at the town hall meeting, she was just ineptly handling the situation.

Rick Sanchez handled his interview with Jackson-Lee no better than she did her constituent's question. He and his audience would have been better served by more listening and less badgering.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What's a Little Lobbying Between Friends?

If you go to this website you can send the White House a statement of support that starts:

Dear Mr. President,

We strongly support your commitment to comprehensive health reform.

and finishes:

By signing this statement we affirm our commitment to work with you and our Congressional leaders to enact legislation this year which provides affordable, high quality coverage for all Americans.

It's your basic grassroots political activity, except that, as it states in a banner, "This is an official U.S. Government Web site managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services."

At what point does this sort of activity violate the Anti-Lobbying Act (U.S. Code Section 18)? The Act reads:

No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure, or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation; but this shall not prevent officers or employees of the United States or of its departments or agencies from communicating to any such Member or official, at his request, or to Congress or such official, through the proper official channels, requests for any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriations which they deem necessary for the efficient conduct of the public business, or from making any communication whose prohibition by this section might, in the opinion of the Attorney General, violate the Constitution or interfere with the conduct of foreign policy, counter-intelligence, intelligence, or national security activities. Violations of this section shall constitute violations of section 1352 (a) of title 31.

Does soliciting a commitment to "work with you and our Congressional leaders to enact legislation" cross the line into activity "intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress?"

He's Not the SECSTATE

Rasmussen Reports has good news for Bill Clinton, and not so good news for Hillary Clinton. See here and here. The bottom line is that:

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of all voters have at least a somewhat favorable view of [Bill] Clinton, while only Fifty-three percent (53%) of voters have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

If Hillary ends her African tour right now, maybe she'll keep her favorables above 50%.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Diplomatic History: In Decline, Or On a Roll?

Since I'm in a Diplo-history mood, here are links to two recent posts on the History News Network:

What's Wrong with the New History: An Interview with David Kaiser, which is an interview "prompted by a discussion on H-Diplo about the decline of diplomatic history," and, in counterpoint, Diplomatic History Isn't in Decline.

Three More E$tremely Qualified Ambassadors

Open Secrets reports that the Obama administration has named three more bundlers & big donors in latest Ambassador picks:

President Barack Obama has picked three big bundlers and donors to fill diplomatic posts to Spain, Norway and the European Union.

[TSB Note: why is it always Europe, and the nicer parts of Europe, at that? Aren't there any money bundlers who prefer the more exotic lands of Africa, the Near East, or Latin America? I can't relate. Hell, I won't even do a TDY to a diplomatic post unless it has at least a High terrorism threat level.]

The three new ambassadors bundled more than $1 million combined toward Obama's election efforts. Overall, they -- along with their immediate family members -- have contributed nearly $2 million to federal candidates since 1989.

Specifically, philanthropist, nursing home industry entrepreneur and former lobbyist Alan D. Solomont is slated to become the newest U.S. ambassador to Spain. Barry B. White, a partner at the law firm Foley Hoag, will be the new ambassador to Norway. And Carlyle Group executive and former Federal Communications Commission chairman William E. Kennard is Obama's choice to be U.S. representative to the European Union, a position that carries the rank of ambassador.

Solomont and Kennard each bundled more than half a million dollars to Obama's presidential campaign. For his part, White bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. The exact amounts are unknown because the presidential campaigns provided only broad ranges when they disclosed information about their bundlers.

Solomont has been a long-time money-raising force in Democratic circles. He headed Obama's fundraising efforts in the Northeast. Additionally, he has been a prolific contributor to federal candidates and committees. Along with his wife, Susan, and children, he has donated about $1.8 million since 1989, all of which has gone to Democrats.

This ranks Solomont as the largest personal contributor among Obama's ambassador picks to date, edging out donor and ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy by more than a quarter-million dollars.

This amount includes roughly $13,500 each to Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who now serves as secretary of state. It also includes about $770,000 to the Democratic National Committee, $237,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $148,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $26,750 to the Democratic Party of Massachusetts -- his home state.

Over the years, he has also contributed large amounts to the campaign committees and leadership PACs of his home-state senators: $41,550 to John Kerry and $28,000 to Edward Kennedy.

While less prolific than Solomont, Barry White has also donated large sums to federal candidates, parties and committees. Along with his wife, Eleanor, he has contributed about $103,000 since 1989, of which 98 percent has gone toward Democrats.

Included in this sum: $10,200 in contributions to Obama and $2,000 to Clinton. Since 1993, he has also given $12,900 to the DNC. And since 1990, he's given $16,000 to Kerry's committees.

Kennard has also donated generously to candidates and committees over the years. Along with his wife, Deborah, he has contributed about $67,400 to Democrats since 1989 -- including $6,900 to Obama during his presidential run last cycle.

I'm Putting Everything Into Gold

Watching the U.S. Debt Clock is making me dizzy.

State's Office of the Historian Corrects an Omission

The History News Network (HNN) has a nice item about the State Department's Office of the Historian and a revision the HO has agreed to make to its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The HNN item is partly based on a July article in Secrecy News, which, incidentally, includes two long and interesting comments by "Former Archivist" concerning the historical value of Nixon Administration telephone recordings in the possession of the National Archives.

According to HNN:

In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration plotted to interfere in Uruguay’s presidential elections in order to block the rise of the leftist Frente Amplio coalition. But when the State Department published its official history of U.S. relations with Latin America during the Nixon era last month, there was no mention of any such activities. Instead, the State Department Office of the Historian said that Uruguay-related records could not be posted on the Department website because of “space constraints.” Following repeated inquiries, however, the Historian’s Office revised its position last week and said it would include Uruguay-related records in its Nixon history after all.

But none of this concern over Uruguay could be discerned from the State Department’s official history of U.S. policy towards the region. A July 10, 2009 State Department press release announcing the publication of the latest online volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) on American Republics, 1969-1972, mentioned almost every Latin American country except for Uruguay. [TSB Note: see it here] The original Preface of the new FRUS volume (pdf) made the peculiar assertion that: “Due to space constraints, relations with… Uruguay… are not covered here.” This assertion is doubly strange since the new FRUS volume was only published online, not in hardcopy, so that “space constraints” are hardly a factor.

-- snip --

But in a brief email message on July 30, FRUS Acting General Editor Dr. William B. McAllister wrote: “We have revised the Preface. This should clarify the situation.” The revised Preface to the new FRUS volume now states that a chapter on Uruguay “will be added” following completion of the declassification process. The newly revised Table of Contents includes a placeholder listing for Uruguay. There is no indication of what records may be declassified, or when they might become available.

All in all, this seems like a sign of good management at the new, improved, Office of the Historian.

Immigration Law Firm Charged with Visa Fraud and Alien Smuggling

Here's the press release from the U.S. Attorney, and here's another from the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

According to the State Department, Eight Individuals, Law Firm, Property Company Face Federal Charges Alleging Alien Smuggling, Visa Fraud:

A federal indictment unsealed this morning in Salt Lake City charges a law firm, a property management company, and eight individuals with conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud, encouraging and inducing illegal aliens to come to, enter, or remain in the United States, and visa fraud.

Included in the defendants is a Salt Lake City law firm, an individual who worked as a United States border patrol agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service prior to joining the law firm, and an individual who worked for the United States government as a visa assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, before going to work for the law firm.

Charged in the indictment are the Alcala Law Firm, which practices immigration law and is located at 1380 West Indiana Avenue in Salt Lake City; Westside Property Management, a Salt Lake County company; James Hector Alcala, age 41, of Salt Lake City; Carlos Manuel Vorher, age 43, of Salt Lake City; Carlos Enrique Gomez-Alvarez, age 41, formerly of Salt Lake City now living in Houston; Daniel Trigo Villavicencio, age 30, of Orem; Gustavo Ballesteros-Munoz, age 45, of West Jordan; Andres Lorenzo Acosta Parra, age 31, of Salt Lake City; Florentino Jose Ayala Villarreal, age 39, of Mexico; and Olga Adriana Garza Muniz, age 47, of Mexico.

The investigation of the case, which started about 18 months ago, has been conducted by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; ICE, the U.S. Department of Labor; the Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Inspection Services; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The charges in this indictment allege that attorneys and others who worked at the law firm, who have a position of trust in our community, circumvented the law to obtain visas for employers and the foreign national workers they were employing in Utah,” U.S. Attorney Brett L. Tolman said today. “The laws that govern the issuance of visas are there to make the practice fair for everyone. When fraud is used in an attempt to get a visa, other workers, including foreign nationals and U.S. workers and employers, who have played by the rules, get hurt.”

“The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service is resolutely committed to investigate any and all allegations of passport and visa fraud, and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Ed Moreno, Assistant Director for Domestic Operations for the Diplomatic Security Service, whose office conducted the joint investigation of the case.

“ICE’s message is simple - America's legal immigration system is not for sale and we will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system simply to enrich themselves,” said Paul Maldonado, deputy special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations that oversees the agency’s investigative activities in Utah. “Not only did the defendants in this case allegedly use fraudulent information to obtain employment visas for hundreds of people who weren’t authorized to work, regrettably we believe this scheme also led to untold numbers of U.S. citizens and legal workers being refused jobs or discouraged from applying at all.”

Daniel R. Petrole, Acting Inspector General, U. S. Department of Labor, stated, “Today’s indictments serve as a stern warning to those who would fraudulently abuse the foreign labor certification program for their personal gain. Facilitating the entry of workers into this nation under false pretenses corrupts a program designed to ensure the lawful admission of foreign labor under very specific conditions. Our agency remains committed with its law enforcement partners to investigate fraud committed against these Department of Labor programs."

"It is through our due diligence and the great partnerships with law enforcement agencies that we are able to detect and curtail fraud within our immigration system," said Robert Mather, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Denver District Director.

The 17-count indictment alleges that the object of the conspiracy was to profit financially by assisting Utah employers in obtaining H-2B visas for their foreign-national workers by fraudulently representing to the DOL, USCIS, and DOS that the foreign nationals were eligible for the visas when, in fact, they were not. Investigators believe more than 5,000 visas were issued based on more than 700 petitions filed. Although some of the visas may have not have been obtained fraudulently, investigators believe the majority of them were.

The H-2B visa program allows United States companies to hire foreign nationals to fill employee vacancies that the company, for one reason or another, cannot fill with U.S. citizens. The visa program is not intended for permanent work. It is designed to help U.S. businesses that have temporary, seasonal, peak load or intermittent needs. Several federal agencies are involved in what is a fairly complicated application process. The number of H-2B visas that are issued each year is capped at 66,000, according to the indictment.

For a foreign-national worker to be eligible for the visa, employers must demonstrate that there are not enough United States citizens who are able, willing, qualified, and available to fill the employment vacancies. If the foreign-national worker is in the United States at the time the petition is filed, the employer must include the date the foreign-national worker originally arrived in the United States and must demonstrate that the worker is in the United States legally. If the employer does not document that the worker is in the United States, the worker is presumed to be outside the United States. Those who are not present in the United States at the time the petition is filed are required to have resided and been physically outside of the United States for six months immediately prior to receiving the H-2B visa.

The indictment alleges the defendants charged in this case would meet with the employers and the foreign national workers to discuss methods the law firm could utilize to help the workers obtain lawful status using the H-2B visa program. During these discussions, employers would inform the defendants that their employees were not in the country legally. Notwithstanding this fact, the defendants would instruct the employers and foreign-national workers about how to use the H-2B visa program, including encouraging the employers to petition for more H-2B visas than the employer actually needed so conspirators would be able to unlawfully “swap” foreign-national workers from one employer to the next based on who ultimately obtained visas. Although the employers often had already filled the positions, the defendants prepared and submitted newspaper advertisements making it appear like the employers were looking to hire new workers. Additionally, according to the indictment, the advertisements often would advertise the pay at a much lower rate than the foreign-national workers were actually receiving.

The indictment also alleges that as a part of the conspiracy, the defendants prepared forms and submitted them indicating that employers were looking for “new” employees who were not in the United States when, in truth, the employers were hoping to obtain visas for their current workforce. Once visas were approved, conspirators would, at times, “pool” the visas it obtained on behalf of all of its clients.

According to the indictment, defendants held meetings in the United States to provide instructions to foreign-national workers. As a part of these meetings, conspirators told the foreign national workers that they had to return to Mexico and not tell the consular officer during the interview that they had just come from the United States.

Employee clients of the Alcala Law Firm, according to the indictment included two landscaping companies and a steel company in Utah County and a construction company, landscaping company, a painting company, a roofing and general construction company, a roofing company, and a property maintenance company, all based in Salt Lake County.

The indictment alleges several overt acts were committed by defendants in furtherance of the conspiracy. For example, in October 2006, a company met with Alcala at the law firm and told the law firm his employees were illegally in the country and he wanted to make them legal. Alcala explained the H-2B visa program and said the foreign-national workers had to return to Mexico to obtain the visa but could then come back and continue to work for the company. The firm advised that if the company needed more workers than those requested in the petition they could be moved from another company. Employees were instructed to travel to Monterrey, Mexico, to meet with the “Mexican Division of the Alcala Law Firm,” prior to the interview at the consulate. One of the employees purchased a plane ticket to Mexico but was instructed not to fly to Mexico because it would create a record of his presence in the United States.

The indictment also alleges Ayala used “white-out” to change a document showing one of the workers had previously been caught crossing the border and told them they had to lie and tell the interviewers that they had never been in the United States. In April 2007, three of the employees obtained H-2B visas, however, these visas were given on behalf of a different company.

Westside Property Management, also named in the indictment, was a Salt Lake County company that owned, leased, developed and managed property. Janet Alcala, James Alcala’s wife, was listed as the managing member of this business.

The company is charged with visa fraud in a count alleging the company petitioned for visas and falsely indicated in its petition that the workers would be employed at Westside Property Management when they knew that the foreign-national employees were going to work for a different Utah company.

The potential penalty for conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud is up to five years in prison. Encouraging and inducing illegal aliens to come to, enter or remain in the United States and visa fraud carry maximum potential penalties of up to 10 years in prison per count. The potential maximum fine for each count of the indictment is $250,000.

Defendants charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.

The web site of the law firm that got busted is named, simply, "www.visausa", which I'd say is a very succinct advertising slogan.

The big surprise - to me, anyway - is that the Alcala law firm was turned in by another lawyer, a former employee, who was informally asked to review two fraudulent applications that had been kicked back to Alcala. Since that lawyer had reason to believe the applications contained forged documents, he believed he was ethically obligated to blow the whistle. What do you know, an honest lawyer!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Virtual Memories of a Simulated War

I'm experiencing a kind of virtual nostalgia this morning after seeing an article about Cold War tourism at the Fulda Gap. The Gap is the spot in West Germany where, from 1951 to the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces guarded the strategically important lowland corridor that runs between the Hohe Rhön and Knüllgebirge mountains and which was presumed to be the most likely route for an invasion by the Soviet Union.

I was never there. But in an odd way I feel like I was there, since back in my callow youth I was trained in how to call for artillery fire using a computerized training simulator - one that was awesomely state-of-the-art for the late 1970s, which means it had about 1/10 the capability of the first Atari video games that came out in the early 1980s - that placed the trainee in a virtual observation post overlooking the Gap. I got pretty familiar with the local terrain as I called down simulated barrages on simulated Red Army troops, tanks, and helicopters.

As I look at photos of that same terrain today, I keep hearing in my mind: "shot, over ... shot, out."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Af/Pak: They Don't Call It "The Long War" For Nothing

We seem to have had a tactical success in Waziristan yesterday, but let's not forget that one of our coalition partners was conducting punitive actions in those same hills more than 100 years ago to no lasting effect. The firepower gets better over time, but does anything else change?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Accidental Guerrilla Reviewed

The Complex Terrain Laboratory website has has a good review of David Kilcullen's new book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

I've been reading Kilcullen's book since last week, when he addressed a class I was attending at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center. Based on that brief exposure to him, I believe the CTLAB reviewer nails this small but important element of Kilcullen's appeal to Washington circles:

As an Australian in D.C., he cuts an almost exotic swath: appealing, no doubt, to a distinctly American appreciation of rugged individualism ...

Indeed. I was delighted to see that Kilcullen was wearing jeans when he gave his presentation to our class - the only man so dressed on the entire campus, I'm sure. He was also the only presenter we had who did not use PowerPoint slides or any other visual aid. He just talked to us and answered questions, seminar-style. A total relief from the usual government official briefing. Kilcullen may be from out of town, but he looks and sounds and acts just like Americans used to (and still do in places less stuffy than Washington).

New Link: Making Sense of Jihad

I've added a link to Marisa Urgo's blog, Making Sense of Jihad, which has a lot of content that I like. For example, her posts on the curious case of Daniel Boyd.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bermuda's Newest Proletariat

Two former Guantanamo Bay detainees, Salahidin Abdulahat and Helil Manuit, tooling around Port Royal Golf Course. (Bermuda Royal Gazette photo)

The four Chinese Uighurs who were released from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay and accepted by Bermuda back in June have found a little temporary work doing landscaping, according to the Bermuda Royal Gazette (Uighur men working at Port Royal Golf Course):

Mr. Brown [chairman of the board of trustees for the golf course] told The Royal Gazette: "They have been offered a temporary position at Port Royal until the Grand Slam [golf tournament]. They are doing projects to clean up areas. We wanted to try to make the course as pretty as possible so there are projects they can do. All four of them have been given a job there. It's on a temporary basis."

Seems OK. However, the Uighurs are about to be taught a lesson in the ways of the West.

But Attorney General Kim Wilson told this newspaper last month that the men did not yet appear to have the right to get jobs, though she said they could live indefinitely here with the Immigration Minister's permission.

Senator Wilson said at first glance it was unclear how they could be granted work permits under the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956.

"It would seem they are precluded from working," said the Justice Minister, adding that she would need to study the legislation in more depth to determine if it did give the Minister discretion to allow them to work.

Mr. Brown said yesterday: "I know that the administration at Port Royal worked with the Immigration Department to sort it out. I know there wasn't a formal application."

He said the trustees agreed that the Uighurs could replace five Filipinos who were doing the same jobs, after the workers decided to return to the Philippines.

"We actually needed somebody anyway," said Mr. Brown. "The Filipinos had committed to stay to October. Then in July they all gave their notice so it was almost opportune."

Labour and Immigration permanent secretary Derrick Binns said: "I can confirm that the Department of Immigration has granted the four men permission to work in Bermuda under provisions of Part V of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956."

He did not answer questions about whether the jobs were advertised and, if so, whether any locals applied.

The Island's strict immigration rules usually require employers to ensure that no qualified Bermudian is available to fill a post before a non-Bermudian can be considered.

"This Ministry is not able to speak on behalf of the trustees of the golf courses with regard to the application process or the conditions of employment," said Dr. Binns.

Well, well, well. So the capitalist class in Bermuda was already exploiting the surplus labor value of imported Asian peasants - those five Filipinos who fled - when the Uighurs so opportunely came along and became the golf club's newest wage slaves. I'm surprised the Uighurs didn't learn about this sort of thing while growing up in the People's Republic of China, but I guess they were too busy making bombs when they should have been studying Marx.

And speaking of wages, I assume the Royal Bermudian Inland Revenue Service, or whatever they call the tax police, will be having a little chat with the Port Royal Golf Club's board of trustees, and that will cost the Uighurs. By the time capitalism is done with them, the Uighurs might end up wondering why they ever left Guantanamo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another Good Beverage Name

Forget Mad Bitch beer, Dana Milbank ought to get some class and try Big Ass wines. I like them, especially the Big Ass Cab, and my wife thinks the labels are hilarious.

Gratuitious Video Link

This ungentlemanly remark by the WaPo's Dana Milbank gives me all the excuse I need to link to this excellent beer commercial, which I understand was never aired.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hillary's Asian Remarks Get "Clarified"

Hillary Clinton is starting to get a reputation for ad-libbing during her foreign visits, as Nicholas Kralev reports in the Washington Times, Clinton goes off-script, 'clarifications' follow:

Compared with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former first lady and senator from New York has committed only minor diplomatic gaffes. Still, twice during her trip to Asia last month, Mrs. Clinton made comments in which the accuracy was questioned by specialists and later had to be "clarified" by the State Department.

At a press conference in New Delhi on July 20, she was asked by an Indian reporter whether the United States opposed the transfer of sensitive reprocessing and enrichment nuclear technology from India to other countries.

"Well, clearly, we don't," she said. "We have just completed a civil nuclear deal with India. So if it's done within the appropriate channels and carefully safeguarded, as it is in the case of India, then that is appropriate."

-- snip --

A diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi immediately noticed the discrepancy and alerted the State Department, which speedily compiled "press guidance," anticipating questions from reporters about the secretary's remark.

"U.S. policy on restricting transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology, equipment and facilities has not changed," the guidance said. "Efforts… to restrict transfers of [such] technology are not aimed at India, or any other country, but reflect our global nonproliferation efforts."

The department tried to explain the confusion by saying that Mrs. Clinton "was referring to the fact that the United States has granted India advance consent to reprocess U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel."

-- snip --

Later that week, during a visit to Thailand, Mrs. Clinton said in a BBC interview that the United States has "no relations" with Myanmar, a longtime U.S. adversary also known as Burma. She was describing efforts by U.S. allies in Southeast Asia to get the country's ruling military regime to allow at least some political openness.

"We are not involved in it — we don't have relations with Burma — but that's the kind of activity that's going on," she said.

In fact, unlike the situation with Iran and North Korea, there is a U.S. Embassy in Myanmar. Despite the strained relations between the two countries, they have maintained formal diplomatic ties. State Department officials said Mrs. Clinton meant they do not have "full" diplomatic relations, meaning that the embassy is headed not by an ambassador, but a lower ranking charge d'affaires.

Former Ambassador Pickering has a theory about why she departs from the script:

Thomas R. Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration and a retired career diplomat, said that the desire described by Mrs. Clinton's aides [to provide full answers to questions, rather than sticking to her talking points] sometimes clashes with her limited diplomatic experience in previous jobs.

"Her talking points might have assumed she knew more than she did, and she added on to buttress her credentials," Mr. Pickering said.

In other words, Hillary is still in politician mode when she addresses foreign audiences as the SecState, and she can't resist the temptation to embroider a bit. OK. At least she isn't in the same league with the gaffetastic Joe Biden, which is good, since one of him is enough.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Obama's Aunt Zeituni is Back in Boston

Ms. Zeituni Onyango, the Kenyan Aunt of the President of the United States (KAOPOTUS) and our nation's foremost immigration scofflaw, is back in Boston and living in public housing again while preparing for her next deportation hearing, the Boston Globe reports:

President Obama's aunt, a Kenyan immigrant who ignited controversy last year for living in the United States illegally, has returned to her quiet apartment in a Boston public housing complex to prepare for an April 1 deportation hearing.

When her case emerged in the waning days of the presidential race last year, Zeituni Onyango, a tall, frail-looking woman in her late 50s who walks with a cane, fled the media attention to stay with relatives in Cleveland.

She attended Obama's inauguration in January and, according to neighbors, returned to Boston a few weeks ago for her third attempt to fight removal from the United States. She had been living in the country illegally since she was ordered deported in 2004.

-- snip --

Onyango's fate will play out behind closed doors before veteran immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro in Boston. Onyango's lawyer Margaret Wong of Ohio successfully argued to reopen her case in December and have the proceedings closed to the public, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

Based on this and previous Boston Globe reporting, Aunt Zeituni has been living illegally in the U.S. for about ten years. In 2001, she fraudulently obtained a U.S. Social Security card. In 2002, she applied for asylum and was denied, appealed the denial, and lost. In 2004, she was ordered deported, but she ignored the order and stayed in her South Boston apartment. The immigration authorities ignored her in return, it seems, since, although she made no secret of her whereabouts after 2004, no immigration agent ever served a Habius Grabus on her. Although technically a fugitive, she has been living openly, applying for and receiving public assistance, donating money to Obama's campaign in 2008, and even attending an inaugural ball when Obama was sworn in. She was granted a stay of the long-ignored deportation order last December (not that anyone in the USG was going to slap handcuffs on her after she became our KAOPOTUS but, hey, just in case) and was given a leisurely eighteen months in which to prepare for yet another asylum hearing.

Appropriately enough, her next hearing is scheduled for April Fools Day. If an immigration judge rewards her decade of law-breaking with a grant of asylum, I don't know who will be the bigger fools: the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or the millions of immigrants who went to the trouble of complying with U.S. laws over the past ten years.