The Widening Gyre: The GOP Follows the DNC with a Curious Choice for VP.

Sen. John McCain introduced the country to his choice for VP today and in doing so may have tossed a real wild card into the race for the White House. His pick: The 44-year-old Republican governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. That's right: For the first time in history, the GOP will run a woman on its Presidential ticket. It's actually the only time for either party other than Democrat Geraldine Ferraro's run for VP in 1984.

But who is Sarah Palin? Joining a candidate running on his experience, Palin served four years on city council and six years as mayor in her hometown of Wasilla (pop.<10,000) before winning Alaska's gubernatorial race in 2006. Previously, she earned a degree in journalism with a minor in politics from the Univ. of Idaho and subsequently worked as a sports reporter, co-owned a commercial fishing business with her husband and owned an all-terrain vehicle business before being appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which she chaired from 2003-4. And, yes, she was runner up for Miss Alaska in 1984.

She has presented herself as a reformer, having become embroiled early on in exposing alleged corruption even within her own party. She opposes abortion rights and supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

In her appearance today, Palin referenced Seneca Falls and paid homage to both Ferraro and Hillary Clinton for having paved the way for her own push to shatter the glass ceiling.

So, how will this effect the race? Will the pull for disgruntled Clinton supporters work coming from an anti-choice, anti-gay-rights, pro-drilling, fur-wearing, creationist Republican? Will Republicans want to get behind someone less experienced than Sen. Obama -- a woman who looked more like she might be McCain's daughter rather than his running mate? Or will they go for a pro-life, hunting, fishing, pretty mother of five, whose eldest has served in Iraq? Will she win over voters as a reformer and change candidate as she at least hinted at today?

Will the Democrats -- particularly Sen. Biden -- have to tread a lightly when talking about Gov. Palin to avoid claims of male chauvinism Republicans probably stand ready to hurl at them? Biden should be expected wipe the floor with Palin in debates, but will he have to watch coming off like a bully or risk a version of the "asshole" charges that Al Gore garnered when he ran for President?

Ultimately, everyone seems to be asking, is Sarah Palin the person this country wants next in line for the Presidency behind 72-year-old John McCain? (Happy birthday to him.)

Reactions from across the country included these from Palin's new opponents:

Democratic nominees Barack Obama and Joe Biden (joint statement): “We send our congratulations to Governor Palin and her family on her designation as the Republican nominee for vice president. Her selection is yet another encouraging sign that all barriers are falling in our politics and while we obviously have differences over how to best lead this country forward, Governor Palin is an admirable person and will add a compelling new voice to this campaign.”

They let others take up the first signs of attack:

Barack Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton: “Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies — that’s not the change we need, it’s just more of the same.”

Read more here.

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The Widening Gyre: In Which the Candidate Obamarocks the Coliseum (and the Commentators on MSNBC and PBS).

DNC Day 4:

Barack Obama sounded his trumpet tonight from a mountain in Colorado, and you'd think the walls of Jericho shook. The first African-American Presidential candidate from a major U.S. party accepted the Democratic nomination with an aggressive speech that sent the Convention crowd into a frenzy and kept it there for over an hour. Commentators on PBS (except for David Brooks who lauded the content of the speech but thought Obama underperformed in the delivery)and MSNBC (including Pat Buchanan) obviously and effusively thought the speech a wild success, maybe even historic. And most seemed impressed at how aggressively Obama spoke to and of Sen. John McCain.

For me, the speech was indeed arresting and grand, though the Senator did lose me a bit amidst the lists of 'ordinary Americans', which pushed the limits of credulity and patronization, and of all the things he has planned to accomplish once in office, in which he seemed to promise to make everyone happy, find a satisfying middle ground on just about every issue. He says he'll find a way to honor the alleged right to bear arms AND practice gun control. He gave a pretty brave mention of gay rights but still implied he supported only civil union benefits and not marriages.

And he said this: "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers." A expectedly simplistic note to be sure -- and a reference to the dubious charge that "illegal workers" are part of the reason for the economic woes of 'ordinary Americans'; but not really enough to judge from. For a former civil-rights lawyer and professor of Constitutional law, I want him to come out stronger on immigration and other issues of justice.

With this list of compromises, he made me wonder if he really thinks he can do it all. Is it campaign bluster? Or is it entrenching himself in a truly centrist and not liberal position -- as the excited Buchanan said afterwards? Or could he actually make these compromises happen? These questions the campaign and, perhaps, his Presidency must bear out.

His style was commanding -- and more than several of his turns of phrase whip sharp. For example:

"But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time?"

He went after every charge against him specifically and with policy proposals and numbers and really worked to explain those specifics in his plans. Obama seemed to focus on economic issues for the working middle class and on the American spirit and fair treatment for veterans. About promise. And he rose to a preacher's intensity and cadence when he drew his speech through its crescendo. He did look strong and Presidential -- and in a way I've never seen before. At some points he sounded like he was about to challenge John McCain to a fist fight. I'm not sure I've heard a Democrat speak so strongly before.

The oration capped a well orchestrated evening that involved a great speech by Al Gore and -- perhaps the best of the night: Speeches from some of those oft-invoked 'ordinary Americans', including two life-long Republicans, who shared their stories of hardship and threw their support behind the Democratic ticket. Barney Smith's call for a President who "puts Barney Smith before Smith-Barney" was a lightning bolt of genius or luck for the Dems.

Sen. Obama made his full and total pitch for the Presidency between his aggressive and policy-driven speech and the personal, humanizing story told in the preceding film. The speech may well prove historic -- but my sense is it will prove historic more because of what it may come to represent than actually what it was.

Regardless, the Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet with their convention. Now eyes will turn to find out Sen. McCain's choice for his running mate and, starting Sept. 1, to Minnesota for the Republicans' rebuttal.

I end this post with the words with which the Democratic candidate for President left the stage tonight, phrases that brought him back from policies and campaign promises to his high-minded visions for the USA, visions that if he keeps them close at heart and alive in action could make him the improbable new leader we desperately need:

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

You can read and watch his speech here , among other places.

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The Widening Gyre: The DNC Does Its Business in the Hall (and One Protester Does His in a Bottle) While There's Some Heat in the Streets.

DNC Day 3:

Today's main protest action came after (who else?) Rage Against the Machine played in the Denver Coliseum, and some of the crowd -- thousands according to the AP; at least 3,000 by The Denver Post's count -- marched towards the convention hall behind a cadre of veterans against the war. The group hoped to get the nominee's response to a letter they'd delivered earlier, calling for "immediately removing U.S. troops from Iraq, providing full health-care benefits to returning veterans and paying reparations to Iraqis for the damage done during the war."

As the protest approached the convention center with no response from inside where Pres. Bill Clinton was speaking, tensions ratcheted outside as the police threatened the marchers with pepper spray and arrest. Then two Obama staffers emerged, met with representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War and apparently offered them a meeting with Obama's liaison for veterans' affairs. The crowd dispersed, seemingly content.

Earlier in the day, a Denver cop was reported to his superiors for violating departmental policy by having political bumper stickers on his police vehicle -- McCain stickers, by the way -- and for refusing to identify himself to a citizen who approached him about the stickers. And an ABC News producer was arrested while filming outside a hotel, "attempting to take pictures on a public sidewalk of Democratic senators and VIP donors leaving a private meeting", according to a statement released by the network. (They actually arrested him after telling him to stop blocking the sidewalk. Why can't cops do this to the goddamn tourists in Times Square?) And a UMass student was actually arrested for having feces in a bottle, which police say he was going to use as a weapon. The kid claims it was coffee with soy milk. I'm not sure which is worse.

Speaking of shit-slinging, inside the convention hall Dems further whipped themselves into a frenzy, most noticeably with speeches from Fmr. Pres. Bill Clinton, the official nomination of and acceptance by Sen. Joe Biden to run for VP -- and a "surprise" appearance by the O-man himself, who had just arrived in town. Biden's son Beau, Delaware's Attorney General and a Captain in the the state's Army National Guard who will soon return to Iraq, introduced his father in a pretty touching speech. Their family's story is such a compelling one -- the first Mrs. Biden and their baby daughter's being killed in a car crash; Joe's raising the two boys by himself until he and the boys -- as they say -- married the second Mrs. Biden, the Senator's commuting from D.C. to Delaware every day to work and be with them. The newest VP candidate gave an effectively rousing address to the convention (except for that hackneyed call-and-response business that they tried again).

And I have to say that the speeches from the two Bidens really won me over to the oldest and whitest guy the Party is putting forth this year. If you'll allow me to put down my professional cynicism for a moment, Biden certainly seems like a strong, upright, intelligent and experienced politician and dedicated family man -- just what the Dems want of him. They're peddling love and family and hope. I'm excited to see what the GOP pushes. I have trouble imagining they'll be the same things.

I'll file an update on today's immigrants' rights march in Denver -- which organizers are calling March Against Borders: No One is Illegal -- when I get the info. It's supposed to start at 10:30am MDT/12:30pm EDT. For more frequent and on-the-ground updates for that and all convention news check out the Colorado Indymedia Center and The Denver Post.

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The Widening Gyre: It's official.

For the first time in the 232-year history of the United States of America, a major political party has nominated an African-American as its candidate for President.

As one-by-one the state delegations lauded themselves and then announced their votes for the nomination, some maneuvering took place, so that New York could be the state to make official the nomination of Sen. Obama. Illinois, Obama's state, got to speak but then passed on declaring its votes. The convention center went wild as Sens. Clinton and Schumer and Gov. Patterson of New York made their way through the throngs to join their delegation.

Sen. Clinton then took the microphone and moved that "the convention suspend the procedural rules and suspend the further conduct of the role-call vote...and I move Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois be selected by this convention by acclamation as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States."

Chants of "HILL-a-RY! HILL-a-RY!" erupted. Party chair Nancy Pelosi took a vocal, all-at-once, yea-no vote -- well, really a yea vote since she didn't let the nos respond, but it was just a formality anyway -- and the Democrats made their choice.

The scene was impressive, even for this here cynic of a writer. Whether you trust a single politician or put any stock in the effectiveness of our republican democracy, considering the failings of our two-party system, and even with questionable behaviors out in the streets of our nation, still, something changed today, something way too long in coming. I contend it still means something that today a woman claimed the Presidential nomination for an African-American. Let's see if we can make it really mean something. Let's make good on all this 'promise' they keep talking about.

The Widening Gyre: In Which We Look Outside the Walls and Start to Ask Real Questions.

DNC Day 2:

To begin, I didn't watch all the hubbub last night in Denver. I was, well, hell, I'm not sure. Just not planted in front of the TV. When they start paying me for this, then they can have me on the job 24/7. I did watch all of Hillary Clinton's speech off the magical Interweb this morning. Looks like she did a bang-up job for what the Dems expected of her. It was a good, strong speech, and she hit all the expected points and hit them well: uniting behind Obama, the middle class, families, health care, women's rights, slammed McCain adeptly. And she really engaged the crowd, eventually sending them into a frenzy with her invocation of Harriet Tubman's instructions to her charges on the Underground Railroad to "keep going" no matter what to reach freedom. This seems to be the pushing point of the Dems: the hopeful struggle towards the future, achieving the promise of America for everyone, children.

She also swept through a litany of cliches in the midst of it all. Not unsurprising, but still a bit unpalatable. And of course she harped on rights for everyone. I'm all behind that. But it's a bit tough to listen to that while knowing that outside the hall where Mrs. Clinton spoke protesters were having showdowns with riot squads. Mainstream media has touched little on this -- except for FOX's rather hilariously screwing with the "leftist" protesters, as they called them. It looked like a Daily Show piece. Sadly, people out there will see it as real news.

It started Monday when, according to Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, police sprayed marchers with pepper spray and arrested 91. She quoted this witness:

"I’m Steve Nash with Denver CopWatch. We’re a police accountability group that observes the police, and tonight we watched protesters block the street about a block from here. It’s about fifty protesters in the street. The police came at them in riot gear from both sides and hemmed them in. Then they refused to let anybody out, including people who were just on the sidewalk in the group, who were not actually trying to block the street. I saw one older legal observer who begged for the police to let him out, and they refused. They pushed him back into the crowd. Then they donned their gas masks and began pushing the media and legal observers and the public a block away in each direction and in a very aggressive manner."

Goodman's report added that many of the police involved were not wearing visible identification as required by law. For an invocation from Bob Dylan (that should please the protesters): "The executioner's face is always well hid."

Tuesday apparently saw far fewer arrests, though The Denver Post reports -- with video evidence -- that a policeman knocked to the ground one woman who was asking him a question as he told her to "Back it up, bitch."

Of those swept up Monday, The Post writes,

"More than 100 people were arrested at Civic Center in a clash with police that began after officers entered the park and confronted demonstrators.

"Of those, 54 made bond, 13 pleaded guilty in return for a sentence of time served, nine pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay a fine, and 28 were dismissed by the court, said Lt. Ron Saunier, a Denver Police Department spokesman.

"The four remaining behind bars had warrants against them from various jurisdictions."

The protesters seem to be a motley mix of groups -- many of them anti-war and pro-democracy. But they seem to be operating under an umbrella organizaiton called DNC Disruption '08.

According to the group's website, this looks like a decently organized week of protest actions. (You can read the schedule on their site.)

Tomorrow, they plan to have an immigrants' rights march -- which I imagine will be the only mention for this issue beyond the typical, hokey -- and minimal -- lip service from inside the convention hall. HRC did mutter in her speech that we are a "nation of immigrants and of laws." That portends no sign of the change the Dems keep promising, just more of the middle-of-the-road pandering to the enforcement heads.

Obviously, immigration is a touchy subject to bring up in this election -- particularly confusing now because Obama and McCain have not really distinguished themselves on it recently. McCain of course co-sponsored with Sen. Kennedy one of the immigration bills that almost passed last year -- but that contained the infamous 'path to citizenship' that infuriates conservatives, so be sure he won't mention it.

But nor would it be advantageous for Obama to bring it up since he's made no strides on the issue in any noticeable way in either direction. But with the Dems continuing to spew rhetoric about loving the working class, that the American dream is for all of us not just the privileged few, that, as HRC said, there are "no limits to what is possible in America" -- and that the Dems believe in everyone's rights, as they keep reminding us with repeated history lessons on Civil and Women's Rights, I want to hear something about this issue. Yes, it would take some bravery, but that's what they keep telling us they have now, these people of the Democratic Party. And that's what they keep asking of the public.

They laud the promise of America but emphasize the need for increased border security. They say they champion civil rights but do not even mention the flabbergasting abuses of civil rights going on pretty much every day all over the country in the form of raids on suspected and unsuspected "fugitive" immigrants, abusive detentions, the militarization of the border. They use rhetoric about the immigrant history of our country and its marvelous diversity to inflame their supporters; they tell us to be brave, to "keep going" in electing their candidate, but don't seem brave enough to risk votes by adhering to the principles they espouse and give voice to the plight of millions of people -- documented and un- -- living in our country.

They want civil rights? Here:

"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."

That's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We'll do a more in-depth look at immigration as a campaign issue later. That's it for now.

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The Widening Gyre: We Fall in Love with Michelle Obama (and Remember Why We Always Wanted to Shake Nancy Pelosi).

Since I figure I should back my belief that immigration issues do not stand alone but rather tie in with so many other concerns, we'll be widening the scope a bit as to the stories we cover here at Open Veins -- particularly during this campaign season. We'll start with remote coverage of the conventions.

DNC Day 1:

The Democratic Party launched its 2008 convention last night but did it backwards. They started with a whimper -- but they did end with a bang. Maybe they just don't have that much ammo, but this election's 'change' party seems to be saving the best for last or pacing themselves or bid(en)ing (sorry) their time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- whom I certainly admire (I guess) for her achievements as both the first woman Speaker and first Italian-American Speaker -- drifted out of the gate with a fumbling, spacey address during which she repeatedly led the mildly interested delegates in a chorus of "John...McCain...is wrong." It felt like an episode of Romper Room -- if the hostess had been popping Valiums. I think she talked about issues, but she turned me off so much that I tuned out. It gave me flashbacks to her and Harry Reid's trying to respond to one of Bush's State of the Union addresses.

The highlights of the night for the Democrats were Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Ma.) and Michelle Obama. Jackson, Jr., delivered a spine-tingling speech, proving himself a very effective orator both in terms of style and content. He argued a strong and specific case for the candidacy of his party's presumptive nominee, which, I suppose, is the reason our two political parties hold these tacky, bloated self-love fests every four years.

The nostalgia vote of the night goes, unsurprisingly, to Sen. Kennedy who, despite a recent diagnosis of cancer in the brain -- and apparently against doctors' orders, not only made an appearance but gave a rather rousing speech -- and a good one, talking some issues and not just rhetoric and fluff. The Ken Burns-made film introducing him was solid, particularly in its historical scope, though I'm not sure all the shots of the Kennedys on their sailboat and commentary from Sen. John Kerry, forever the Flip-Flop King, were really the best choices politically. As if the Democrats needed to foster any more charges of East Coast elitism. But Teddy did give a helluva speech.

And then She appeared. Can I write in Michelle Obama instead of her husband in November? Perhaps that takes it a tad too far. But watching her last night I left asking myself why they've hidden Mrs. Obama from us all this time. The pundits (at least on PBS) said that having her speak was an attempt to put a real face on her husband, to let the American public get to know him better. And I think it did to some degree. The stories of their courtship were humanizing, and her admiration of him is clear. But I think it's all the more clear because we now know her better. Her family's story is compelling, and she-- look, I really have nothing against Laura Bush. Or against librarians. She's spent her life educating children, nothing to scoff at (though her marital choices...) But Mrs. Obama proved herself so damn impressive in her own right as a professional and as a family woman. Plus, she is a compelling speaker. Seemingly completely at ease, totally natural, she really did hold the crowd of delegates in rapture.

As for the PBS coverage, I really do appreciate Jim Lehrer and his team (like poor Judy Woodruff trying to find delegates in the crowd who could put a sentence together). Frankly, I'm not sure I could watch any of the other networks for that long. And it is nice that they have academicians as commentators. But I'm looking forward to see how they cover the Republicans -- and if they use the same experts as last nights' historians who were so excited over the Democrats that I'm guessing they had to change their pants when the cameras were off of them. Yes, I welcomed their historical and substantive insights -- not one comment about any of the speakers' outfits -- but settle down, boys. Flex those critical-thinking muscles, so I don't feel like an ass for believing you.

Also, did you not feel like mentioning the Nazis who may have been planning to try to assassinate Sen. Obama? I know this campaign is all about unification, and I realize these guys who were arrested are probably just some ineffectual little junkies -- but it's taken only one ineffectual little junkie in the past. And it's the truth. Besides this is the fun stuff conventions are made of.

As a final note on night 1 in Denver, I'm guessing they let the Party regulars handle the music for the big night; but, dear god, you're nominating a man whose campaign is supposedly run by a whole mess of scruffy 20-somethings. Please, for the rest of the week let one of those hip grass-rooters plug in his/her iPod and bring the event into the modern era -- or at least an eon with decent musical taste. I totally blank on what your speakers have said when I have to choke down vomit because you're playing songs I hear only at bad bar mitzvah parties. I thought you were running on the 'change' ticket.

Overall, the Democrats better shore up the production value of their convention and give the people more moments like Jackson's, Kennedy's and Obama's speeches and no more like Pelosi's, if they don't want to increase the already existing risk of blowing an election a lot of otherwise-reasonable people have called a sure thing.

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Politicized Postings Prove Problematic

Asylum seekers have found themselves disproportionately rejected by immigration judges who Bush administration officials illegally vetted for political affiliations during hiring. The New York Times reports on a Justice Department study that examined the denial rates of 16 of the 31 judges whose politics were checked ahead of time and compared them to the denial rates of other judges who had not passed through the illegal political review process. Each of the 16 examined had decided at least 100 cases; nine of them rejected asylum claims at rates significantly higher than their peers; three at lower rates; four remained in line with local averages.

The administration apparently used the posts as rewards for political service. The Times writes:

"Among the judges selected were a member of the 2000 Bush-Cheney Florida recount team, people who worked for Republican lawmakers and a former Republican state official in Illinois backed by Karl Rove, at the time the White House political adviser."

The administration contends that the improper hiring methods don't negate the judges' qualifications. And it seems it will prove difficult, if not impossible, to actually do anything about these judges. The political vetting apparently stopped in 2007, and there may not be a way to remove the judges or a will to reassign them. Their jobs are protected by the very statues that were broken in their hiring.

In fact, one of the judges, Garry Malphrus, has since been appointed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) -- the body that previously reversed at least one of his asylum denials. (In that case, regarding a Somali woman, he refused to acknowledge the persecutory nature of female genital mutilation even though DHS counsel had agreed to it and the U.S. State Dept. determined that it is practiced on 98 percent of Somali women.) Before that appointment, Malphrus, reports The Times, "denied asylum 66.9 percent of the time, compared with an average denial rate of 58.3 percent among other judges at his court in Arlington, Va. [and is] a former associate director of the White House Domestic Policy Council."

But the problems of justice in the immigration courts extend beyond these hiring improprieties and their ripple effects. TRAC (a data resource project at Syracuse Univ.) previously reported great inconsistencies in asylum approval rates not only from region to region but from judge to judge. Certainly, jurisprudence relies on the subjectivity of the person on the bench, but our legal system is of course required to be standardized enough to ensure equality under it. This doesn't seem to be the case with the immigration courts.

Asylum seekers are not generally the immigrants we discuss during our national debates. Some people who apply for asylum do it with meager if not meritless claims as attempts to gain legal status; but so many of them legitimately meet our standards for political asylum -- based in a fear of persecution in their home countries. Often this persecution could take the form of imprisonment, assault, torture and/or execution of the asylee or his/her family. These are not simply people looking for a better economy to feed their families, send their kids to school or follow the American Dream. Asylees just want to stay alive -- and to exercise the basic rights we in our country hold dear, like the freedom of speech, religion, and political affiliation, without a fear of persecution.

That these 16 particular judges deny asylum more often than their peers makes them only more egregious in a departmental trend of denial. The Times says that 60 percent of asylum claims are denied overall while these 16 judges had an average denial rate of 66.3 percent. Injustice in the immigration courts has been so flagrant in the recent past that even Alberto Gonzalez, then the Attorney General, who since left the post amid a sandstorm of improprieties in politicized hirings, once described some immigration judges whose conduct "can aptly be described as intemperate or even abusive and whose work must improve."

Consider the case of Milton Teahjay who had been appointed to a government post in his native Liberia under the dictator Charles Taylor. When he began to voice opposition to some of Taylor's activities, Teahjay had to flee the country. Newspaper articles in and outside of Liberia and U.S. State Dept. reports substantiated Teahjay's claim that his life would be in severe peril if he returned to Liberia -- explicitly because he had publicly opposed a murderous dictator (whom even the USA didn't like). (There are of course questions as to Teahjay's role in the oppressive government.) This unusually sterling claim for asylum was originally denied by a judge because Teahjay arrived 15 minutes late for a hearing due to traffic on the roads -- though he'd been on time for all of his previous appointments with the immigration service. I don't think it a stretch to say one instance of tardiness should not condemn a man to death.

There has also been a trend of the BIA's rejecting or refusing to rule on appeals without giving substantive reasoning as required by law.

These difficulties in the system should not cause concern among bleeding hearts only. When the system for legal immigration -- particularly for people who face possible imprisonment and/or death in their homelands -- suffers from such deep flaws, surely would-be asylees have a greater propensity to duck the system entirely and join the shadowy masses of the undocumented.

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The Squeeze Is On: Mayberry on Lockdown

It looks like Border Patrol has realized we have a northern border as well as a southern one. The Washington Post reports that Homeland Security has beefed up operations on the Vermont/Canada border – even inside towns that straddle what until recently was an invisible line. Local residents interviewed for the article seem sadly resigned and accepting of the increased enforcement presence and the barricades being erected through their lives – even down the middle of residential streets – dividing neighbors and families who until now had lived without regard for the international boundary and, somehow, survived.

On the one hand, the vengeful one, it's about time that the failings and humiliations of border militarization reached our boundary with Canada. Since DHS has regularly used the specter of terrorism to drum up support for border enforcement, it seems just that the northern border finally has to deal with the militarization and disruption that the southern border has contended with for years: After all, the north provides much more convenient access to potential terror targets (think how far terrorists would have to travel to find something worth blowing up if they crossed into Arizona) and lies much closer to places where terrorist activity has actually been discovered in the USA (Detroit, Buffalo, etc).

On the other hand, increased enforcement in the north is nearly as ridiculous as it is in the south. Do they really expect to shut down 4,000 miles of border? And for what? In a connection I still can't quite understand though I've heard it so many times now, DHS uses rhetoric about increased danger since 9/11/01 – the threat of terrorism – to justify attempts to stop drugs and 'illegals'. (Who knew that Vermonters imported drugs?)

That alone contains a strange gap in reasoning; but, according to the Border Patrol itself, the Vermonters/Canadians interviewed by The Post didn't even know they were under threat from drugs and 'illegals' until the Border Patrol showed up and told them so: "They never considered themselves in danger," says agent Fernando Beltran. In fact, unsurprisingly, violence arrived with the BP.

As The Post says,

"[W]ith the increased Border Patrol presence, the North is starting to look more like what border residents of Texas, California and Arizona have been seeing for years.

"As that presence has increased, so has the risk of violence."

The article quotes another local BP agent, Norman Lague: "There's a lot of violence on the southern border, so some of that's going to transfer up here."

Measures DHS claims will make U.S. citizens safer actually increase the rate of violent incidents? Go figure.

But I'm still hung up on the short-sighted view of history under which we operate – our refusal to learn from the past that eases our acceptance of today's idiocies. In what sounds to me like a way of justifying border enforcement in the south by claiming it's natural, agent Lague says that "there's a delineated line with Mexico. . . . Here, if you were to walk around this town, you would probably walk into Canada and not even know it."

Contrary to the ideas of agent Lague -- who spent five years working the USA-Mexico border -- there are many places along our southern boundary without delineation. And the reason there's any delineation at all there is that we created it.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 settled the Mexican-American War (during which the U.S. Marines invaded and occupied Mexico City) and ceded to the USA Mexican territory that now makes up all of California, Nevada, and Utah, most of Arizona and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. The Gadsden Purchase in 1853 established today's southern border of Arizona (and part of New Mexico) – currently the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings into the USA.

So, to say migrants who cross that border now are invading our land seems just a bit reactionary. We didn't even start enforcing the border -- and disrupting hundreds if not thousands of years of local life -- until much later. So, when people are dying in the wilderness, trying to enter the USA from Canada, maybe I'll have a touch more sympathy for people for whom home "may have been Mayberry before, but it's not anymore," according to BP agent Fernando Beltran.

All this is to say that, as absurd as this increased border enforcement in the north is (and it certainly is), sympathy for these Vermonters really seems even more absurd in comparison, especially looking at how easily they've acquiesced. What have we become that locals in one of the now-divided towns say: "We living in a different world now. It's too bad." and "We understand that Border Patrol and Homeland Security have a job to do. . . . The general public doesn't understand what's crossing that border, whether it's drugs or illegals." (Wait. I thought the whole thing was about terrorism.)

Vermont BP agent Mark Henry sums up the whole sad mess, as he justifies the surge in enforcement:

"It was freer before, but we live in a different world now."

We'll have to change "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- though I'm not sure we want to kick off the Super Bowl with "the laa-and of the people who used to be more freee-EEEEEE." But, judging from the recent past, we'd just get used to it.

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Americans Detained in China

My friend Michael Liss is one of several Tibetan-freedom activists/journalists detained by the Chinese government since Tuesday. The six Americans are being held because of public protest actions they took during the Olympics in Beijing.

Mike has been a passionate supporter of and activist for Tibetan freedom for many years now. Having traveled in the region several times before -- and because of his long-standing involvement -- he knew full well the risks he was taking in China. But he saw them as worthwhile risks, considering the cause.

International pressure on the Chinese government will help bring these folks home (so that Mike can regale us ad nauseum with his tales of international freedom-fighting). Several major publications have finally taken notice -- The Washington Post and The New York Times.

International pressure will also further illuminate the predatory and abusive nature of the Chinese regime, behavior our government pays little more than lip service. The Times also reports:

"Two photographers for The Associated Press were also roughed and taken into custody, according to news agency reports and press freedom advocates. The police questioned them for 30 to 40 minutes and took the memory cards from their cameras.

"The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has received dozens of complains from foreign journalists who have been detained, trailed or had equipment damaged by the police."

Of course this is not an immigration issue; but, when free speech and press freedoms are curtailed anywhere, it's a cause of concern for all of us. Plus, lest you think this has nothing to do with you: abusive Chinese government + inaction = continued Chinese migration to the USA.

You can find out more about Mike and his fellow detainees here.


Back on the Scene

With just more than two months until the USA chooses its next President, the nation's focus seems to lie squarely on John McCain and Barack Obama (and sometimes Paris Hilton). Though immigration issues seem, as yet, to have little if any share of the spotlight on the campaign trail, things on the ground are perhaps hotter than ever.

We've witnessed more actions and counter-actions on the local level. The largest workplace raids in history have paired with continuing pre-dawn raids on individuals' homes -- both of which sometimes sweep up U.S. citizens, legal residents and other non-removable individuals with what many allege to be an appalling disregard for human rights. In one instance, legal advocates have filed a complaint on behalf of a group of individuals against ICE and some of its employees for alleged civil rights violations. There are further allegations of ICE's abusing detainees while in custody, like this story about a man whose cancer and broken spine went untreated until his death while in the hands of ICE. And DHS now seems to enjoy using small and often long-ago criminal infractions (like stealing a pen) as grounds for deporting documented immigrants.

Yet, pro-enforcement advocates say, for perhaps the first time, that enforcement of immigration laws is happening -- and helping. They cite the Census Bureau's report of sinking numbers of less-educated Hispanic migrants as a sign that enforcement is working, that the undocumented population is declining; although, they acknowledge that our floundering economy probably has an effect on migration, as well.

This all leaves me with a lot of questions. With public attention turned largely towards how many houses McCain owns (7) and whether Obama wears a flag pin in his lapel (he does now) -- and whether Paris is really going to run -- has ICE been left to its own devices? And has it overstepped its bounds? What happened to all the blustering and attempted legislation on Capitol Hill that we saw so much of in the recent past? With so many of us scrambling to put food on the table and casting wary eyes towards winter heat prices, have immigration concerns taken a necessary back seat? Or do the battles now take place more on local levels, as the national political scene remains embroiled in other crises and trends? Do our economic woes push us further into scapegoating the foreign-born? Or are undocumented immigrants adding to the economic woes? Is enforcement effectively reducing the undocumented population? If so, is it doing it in a way we can live with?

Now that we've returned from our hiatus, Open Veins will delve into these and other questions, particularly during the crescendo of the election cycle. We'll also bring you the exclusive story of a Salvadoran man recently wrongly arrested and detained by ICE who claims that -- on top of his wrongful arrest and attempted removal from the country -- he suffered humiliation and civil rights violations at the hands of our Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Stay tuned. And welcome back.

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