No ‘amnesty’ for Bush

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : The president wasn't amused. For once George W. Bush looked much less like the "What, me worry?" kid on the cover of Mad magazine to borrow a phrase from a Princeton scholar.

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He was rather hopping mad at the "grand collapse" of what was touted as a "grand bargain" of an immigration bill that promised a tortuous path to citizenship for some 12 million illegal foreigners including 300,000 Indians.

"It didn't work," he said simply as what avid Bush watchers described as an "uncharacteristically dejected" looking president doing something he almost never does. He admitted defeat.

The admission came as the US senate virtually killed what its bipartisan sponsors thought would be a please-all law that also promised a crackdown on employers hiring undocumented workers and tighter security at the Mexican border from where a majority sneak in.

In the end it didn't please anyone with critics tugging at whatever took their fancy like those in the "Blind men and the Elephant" fable. What really stymied the bill for which "the president worked hard", as the majority Democratic leader Harry Reid acknowledged, were two-thirds of his own Republicans crying hoarse over "amnesty" for lawbreakers.

But millions of undocumented workers unhappy and angry at the bill's failure aren't packing their bags yet. For them it appeared to be "business as usual" as they went about doing the jobs most Americans wouldn't do for such low wages, though a little bit more fearful of the long arm of law.

However, with his three other domestic priorities for his second term – reinvention of social security to allow investment, overhaul of tax code and curbs on excessive litigation – also having come to naught, Bush might have lost his last chance to score a domestic victory before he leaves White House in January 2009.

Bush once joked that he has no intention of becoming a lame duck president unless Dick Cheney shot him in the leg, a reference to his vice president accidentally shooting a friend during a quail hunt. His fellow Republicans seem to have done what his Cheney couldn't do!


A Rice dish for India

Lightning does not strike twice, they say. But apparently it did for Bush. He had hardly recovered from the jolt given by the fall of his immigration bill when his trusted Condi decided to give his other pet project – the nuclear deal with India – a little push.

The Indians, however, took it for a shove and came down like a ton of bricks on his professor turned Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for suggesting that they "move past old ways of thinking and old ways of acting" as non-alignment "has lost its meaning" in the post Cold War era.

And then just a couple of hours later at the very venue where Rice had served her NAM spiked luncheon address to an overflowing group of Indian and American businessmen, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab offered some bitter coffee.

An emerging economic giant like India should understand its responsibilities too and take a lead in pushing the Doha process forward, she lectured even as India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath struck a conciliatory note by suggesting "mutual respect for each other's sensitivities".

Conspiracy theorists saw red as hours after Kamal Nath flew home the next day, Schwab took gold jewellery and brass lamps from India and brakes and brake parts from Brazil off its duty free-list along with 17 other products from half a dozen countries. This they suggested was part of US arm-twisting for the two emerging economies for their failure to toe the US line on Doha.

They saw even more red as the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released its "Family Jewels" chronicling assassination plots, illegal wiretaps, hunts for spies at home and its communism watch. Among them a gem about how China duped Nehru for more than a decade in the run up to the 1962 war was seen as a bid to spoil New Delhi's growing ties with Beijing.

For all the troubles of all the president's people, Rice got a basketful of mangoes from Indian prime minister's media adviser Sanjaya Baru. It was one fruit that divided the Indians as they feuded over which one was its best variety. And it was one fruit that united all Indians as they all agreed that it was the king of fruits, he quipped.

It may well be true about the US of A too!


A grudging raise for the lawmakers

It's a game plan tailor made for lawmakers around the world to have their cake and eat it too!

Democrats who now control the US Congress have been privately fretting over whether to accept an automatic 2.5 percent pay raise as they had made a big issue of it in the November 2006 elections.

But last week the House lumped it by simply rejecting a bid to block the automatic cost of living raise of about $4,400 in a member's $165,200 per annum salary by 244-181 vote after Democrats quickly pushed through the first federal minimum wage increase in a decade.

Automatic cost of living hikes for Congress have been included in the fine print of an appropriations bill together with several other heads. Members must actively vote to stop it if they don't want it!


When the boss is not right!

Known for his Bushisms, the president made another gaffe as he sought to defend his now failed immigration bill.

"I've heard all the rhetoric – you've heard it too – about how this is amnesty. Amnesty means that you've got to pay a price for having been here illegally, and this bill does that," said he.

No one took notice at first until it hit the blogosphere where it was taken as an admission that Bush was actually offering amnesty. It then fell to the lot of the White House press secretary Tony Snow to correct his boss.

"President Bush misspoke," he stated plainly. "His statement has been construed as an assertion that comprehensive immigration reform legislation before the Senate offers amnesty to immigrants who came here illegally. That is the exact opposite of the president's long-held and often-stated position."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])