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Fall of Bush bill: Is it good news or bad news for Indians?

By Arun Kumar


Washington : It was hailed as a "grand bargain", a please all panacea, before it came unstuck at the first hurdle. But what hit President George W. Bush's wonder immigration bill wasn't the amnesty bugaboo, but a new animal called 'cloture'.

For the uninitiated, 'cloture' is a device to overcome a filibuster with a three-fifths majority in the 100-member Senate, where a member can speak as long as he wishes to on any subject relevant or not. But here opponents used it to snub Bush without criticising him by refusing to accept cloture not once but twice.

If passed by the Congress, the bill would have offered America's 12 million gatecrashers, including some 300,000 Indians, a chance to become honest citizens. To die-hard purists it promised tougher border security and a crackdown on undocumented workers to beat back another immigrant invasion.

To Bush himself, it looked like a golden opportunity to notch a major domestic policy achievement that would perhaps overshadow his failure in Iraq. But that was not to be. He had won over opposition Democrats who now controlled the Congress, but he found his own Republicans a harder nut to crack.

Even all the party's presidential candidates bar one chose to take pot shots at the compromise legislation hammered out by a bipartisan group with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani dubbing it "a typical Washington mess".

Everyone had a beef with the bill and as the legislation stalled, they all debated how it affected them. Translated simply it would have made it easier for an Indian engineer and more difficult for a Hispanic worker, said some. Others countered it would have made it harder to get enough techies from India.

Unmindful of the fact that 14 Democrats had also voted against cloture, Senate majority leader Harry Reid laid the blame squarely at Bush's door. If the president has any clout at all with his own Republican senators, shouldn't he be pushing what he called "his bill"?

Nursing a little stomach bug at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Bush made a last ditch bid to resurrect the bill admitting it was "not perfect" but said was the best solution to repair the country's broken down immigration system.

What he left unsaid was that it also offered him one last chance to check his slide into a lame duck presidency!


Real cool politics!

When a popular black Democrat lawmaker was caught in 2005 with $90,000 in cold cash stuffed in his freezer, the question raised was how much time would he have to spend in the cooler!

It could be as much as 235 years! The answer came last week as an embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' Justice department announced the indictment of William Jefferson, who was re-elected to the House last November with a big margin amid all the corruption charges

Apparently to escape the image of politicisation in the wake of a months-long scandal over Gonzales's hiring and firing of prosecutors, a dozen professional "career attorneys" crowded the dais as officials took pains to explain that a "thoroughly professional investigation" had been conducted by "career prosecutors".

But for the flap over firing some in favour of "loyal Bushies", it might have been an open and shut case as Jafferson was videotaped receiving $100,000 in marked notes from an FBI informant ostensibly to bribe the Nigerian vice president.

Yet an unfazed Jefferson vowed to "sell every stick of furniture in our home and anything else we may own to" fight what his lawyer called the "creative indictment" of his client even as a judge froze his assets to let the law "take its own course" as an Indian politician would have said!


'Don't ask, don't tell,' just shoot straight

President Bill Clinton devised the "don't ask, don't tell" policy as a compromise back in 1993 after his attempt to lift the ban on gay men and lesbians in the military provoked fierce fight between his liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Recruiters don't ask one's sexual orientation, and if they don't tell, they are hired. But the policy also makes it mandatory to sack a soldier if he or she is found out! In the last 14 years, among others as many as 58 Arab linguists have been fired under this provision.

In the midst of the Iraq war, this has revived a debate whether the policy should now be repealed and homosexuals allowed to serve openly in the military. Now, like back then, the two sides are divided along party lines.

In back-to-back debates in New Hampshire this week, every Democratic candidate favoured its repeal, while all the Republicans opposed the idea.

Several Republicans said the current policy was working well with leading candidate Rudy Giuliani arguing that, "at a time of war, you don't make fundamental changes like this."

Former first lady Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, described her husband's compromise as "a transition policy" that was no longer "the best way for us as a nation to proceed". She also cited Barry Goldwater, saying, "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight!"


American hack for hire to Desis!

If a California publisher can do it, why can't a newspaper in Chennai do it too, asked an American humorist as he set out to strike a "blow for multicultural literacy".

"Why should outsourcing of journalism be a one way street?" asked Gene Weingarten in his column in the Washington Post Magazine in reaction to an American online newspaper's stalled bid to hire two reporters in India to cover the Pasadena city council.

As a sample, he offered to sell his account of a recent meeting of the Tamilnadu legislature based on a webcast to "India's 50,000 newspapers at the surprisingly affordable price of Rs.80, or about two bucks, apiece."

"CHENNAI, INDIA-A man whose name is, I swear, "Somnath Chatterjee," addressed the state legislature here today. Mr. Chatterjee was introduced as the leader of the "Lok Sabha", which is evidently some sort of important national lawmaking body about which few details are available at this time…"

So went his report as he offered to do a piece on an agricultural report in China next week for a "fee negotiable in US dollars or yuan."

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