By Arun Kumar
Washington : For years, Uncle Sam has opened its doors a bit wider to "aliens of extraordinary abilities" – no, not visitors from Mars or Moon with a trick or two up their sleeves, but simply the best and the brightest from other parts of the world.
But would the next Albert Einstein or a new Hargobind Khorana, the Indian-born American biochemist who shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1968, find it a little bit harder to make America their new home under the new immigration bill?
Speculation is rife that if the Congress does away with the special "EB-1" preferred-status category, then the likes of Beatle John Lennon, his wife Yoko Ono, New York Yankee Bobby Abreu or for that matter a Khorana would have to get in line just like an engineer from India or a farm worker from Mexico.
They all would have to take their chances under a complex point system based on education level, English abilities and experience in the US. And "extraordinary or ordinary" ability in a specialised field would fetch no more than eight points – two less than a 2-year college degree.
Top universities, Fortune 500 companies, sports recruiters and cultural institutions may thus find it difficult to lure global leaders in their fields unless they run some crash courses in English and get them some paper qualifications, critics suggested.
Indian American CEO in a soup over Bill's bill
His huge donations to the Democratic party earned him a night's stay in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House when Bill Clinton was the president. But his continuing generosity towards the Clintons has landed Vinod Gupta in a lawsuit.
The Indian American CEO of $600 million technology firm InfoUSA signed a 3.3 million consulting deal with the former president. His corporate plane jetted the Clintons around to Switzerland, Hawaii, Jamaica and Mexico – a cool $900,000 worth of travel.
Gupta and his company donated at least $1 million to help a lavish millennium New Year's eve celebration at the White House and on the Washington Mall. Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock got a six figure gift. Another $200,000 was paid to deliver a speech to InfoUSA executives and $250,000 went to his global charity.
But a few shareholders consider hiring Clinton was a "waste of corporate assets". In a lawsuit filed in Delaware they have challenged the IIT, Kharagpur graduate's decision to pay the former president for the "extremely vague purpose" of providing his "strategic growth and business judgement".
Clintons have reimbursed Gupta for a portion of the costs for the flights Hillary Clinton took to political and other events as a presidential candidate, but not for Bill's travel. Even Hillary had to pay only the first class fare – just a fraction of the real cost – as required by the Federal Election Commission.
The Washington Post that broke the story recalled how in a 2000 interview Gupta described the thrill of crawling into the Lincoln Bedroom. He called his mother from there to tell her "I've come a long way". That dream stay could now well turn sour for Gupta!
Going by the book
Most states in America have done away with using holy books in courts, preferring a simple affirmation. But in North Carolina one of the seven states that still use them, a judge has ruled that witnesses may be sworn in "in a fashion that's most binding and obligatory upon the witness' conscience."
That means a Hindu may swear on the Bhagavad Gita, a Muslim on the Koran and a Jew on the Hebrew Scriptures instead of the Bible under the decision calling on the state to treat all religions equally.
The decision came in the case of a Muslim computer administrator who was not allowed to swear on the Koran in 2003 in a civil case. Her case was taken up by the American Union of Civil Liberties.
An attorney for the state had argued that interpreting the definition of "holy scriptures" to include sacred texts other than the Bible would entangle the courts in religious issues and require judges to rule on which sacred texts are appropriate.
The state can go in appeal but until then the religious minorities are celebrating what a professor of religion described as "the courts catching up to the emerging social reality".
Elementary, Mr. Reporter!
"Why is he still at large?" A reporter asked the president about Osama bin Laden as George W. Bush invoked his Al Qaeda terrorist group 19 times during a press conference in the Rose Garden the other day.
"Because we haven't got him yet. That's why," shot back Bush unmindful that a little bird had deposited a wet, white dropping on the upper left sleeve of his jacket between his 10th and 11th mentions of Al Qaeda, as a leading Washington daily diligently recorded.
"And he's hiding, and we're looking, and we will continue to look until we bring him to justice. We've brought a lot of his buddies to justice, but not him. That's why he's still at large.
But "he's not there out traipsing around. He is not leading many parades, however," added the president helpfully. "He's not out feeding the hungry."
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])