Sometimes bad things do get fixed. As part of a quick round-up at the old optimism corral, let's look at the current state of immigration law, which was plunged into disastrous cruelty by the Gingrich Congress in 1996.

It was a classic example of Mean Politics, nativist hysteria fanned by wildly exaggerated tales of illegal immigrants coming here to live on Easy Street on our generous American welfare payments, etc. Ever since then, civil libertarians who tried desperately to stop the bill at the time have had the sour satisfaction of saying, "We told you so -- we told you so."

The amount of human misery caused by a stupid and brutal law and its stupid, brutal enforcement by the Immigration and Naturalization Service is beyond accounting. Anthony Lewis, the New York Times columnist and civil liberties specialist, has made a crusade out of telling the pathetic stories of families ripped apart, responsible fathers who've been supporting their young children being deported for petty brushes with the law that took place decades ago, young people adopted and raised in this country suddenly being sent back to a place of which they have no memory, no understanding, no language.

One young woman who was adopted by a military couple at 3 months is about to be deported to Ethiopia for voting, which she had been raised to think was her civic duty. Cuban kids like Elian Gonzalez are the only exception to the INS practice of promptly deporting children who arrive here illegally; this gross inequity has produced understandable resentment. It's not only cruel -- it's nuts.

It may be no consolation to those families already so disastrously affected, but the sheer volume of suffering has finally reached a level where even the original sponsors of the bill are talking about changing it. "We have a responsibility to go in and do a little tweaking," said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif.

One thing you'll want to watch for as we go through the tedious process of fixing this mess is the sight of Congress -- which created the mess in the first place -- sternly holding hearings to demand why the INS is doing these awful things.

Because Congress told it to, of course. I love these deals where politicians sternly call in bureaucrats from the IRS or the Education Department or some other agency to demand why they are doing awful things -- when it was Congress that told them to do them in the first place.

The welfare reform bill of 1997 was similarly pocked with stupid and cruel provisions, like taking food stamps away from legal immigrants and kicking handicapped kids off Supplemental Security Income. Some of these provisions were later quietly fixed by Congress and even more quietly fixed by the Clinton administration.

I point out, again, that the suffering caused by these laws was easily foreseeable. Congress was warned again and again what the consequences would be, but it was in the grip of ideological fervor and Republican hubris, and could not be bothered to listen to any "bleeding hearts." It is now in the grip of plain old election-year politics, so we can expect many goodies.

Even international bodies do sometimes fix things that are patently wrong in response to public pressure. For reasons unclear to me, the mainstream media seem to have decided that anyone who questions any aspect of globalization is an extremist nut, despite the rather obvious fact that global poverty is growing under the kind auspices of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

But you may have noticed that the World Bank, in response to pressure from all those nutty, tree-hugging, whale-saving protesters -- like the AFL-CIO -- has just agreed to commit "unlimited money" to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. More than 50 million Africans are infected by AIDS, and it is spreading fastest in Africa, India, China and the Caribbean.

Furthermore, the World Bank is accelerating debt relief for the developing world in response to a growing movement demanding debt forgiveness for the poorest nations. Much of that debt is owed on the infamous "inappropriate technology" efforts of the '70s, in which gigantic, expensive projects were favored over simple, inexpensive measures to provide real help in poor villages.

Since the World Bank folks are now committed to helping fight AIDS, perhaps they can help convince the pharmaceutical companies to provide cheap AIDS drugs in Third World countries. Even easily affordable antibiotics would make a tremendous difference. The drug companies are naturally fighting such efforts because they want to hang on to their profitable patents.

"The new commitment on AIDS came as finance officials sought to show they were at least as focused on helping people and nations that have not benefited as much from globalization as they are on speeding the international march of capitalism," reported The New York Times. See? Raising Cain works.

Here in Texas, where we specialize in passing dumb laws made worse by dumb bureaucrats, we are about to enjoy the effects of the Ogden Amendment.

This started with a terrible amendment by state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth in 1997 that would have required anyone with knowledge of sexual activity by a minor to report it as a case of sexual abuse to a law-enforcement agency -- including doctors, nurses, attorneys, clergymen, social workers, mental health workers and workers at family planning clinics. This would quite naturally have the effect of keeping sexually active teen-agers from seeking help with birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, emotional and psychological problems, etc.

The Texas Medical Association hopped right on that one and got much more moderate language introduced in the '97 bill. But in 1999, State Sen. Steve Ogden came back with a rider removing the more moderate language and enjoining the Texas Department of Health from providing funds to any group that does not comply with child-abuse reporting guidelines.

The department has now drawn up guidelines almost as bad as the original Wohlgemuth amendment. Among other gems, teen-agers seeking any kind of help or care will be asked to provide the names, ages and gender of any and all of their sex partners.

Great -- in order to get birth control, you have to name the boy you're in love with and get him labeled a "sex offender." This is going to be great for the teen pregnancy rate, already sky-high in this state.

Sigh. Guess we'll have to keep raising Cain.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.