Monday, April 30, 2007

The American dream, Made in China: China's rise has cost South Carolina jobs but it's also saving consumers money

Kendall Harmon posted this article on his blog, which details the effects of China's rise on South Carolina's economy.

The Post and Courier
SHENZHEN, CHINA - Quoizel's light factory is off a six-lane road that's as straight as a steel girder, past giant new buildings clad in bamboo scaffolding. The sky is gray because a smothering blanket of smog blots out the mid-afternoon sun, though the entrance to the factory stands out, with guards in formal military-style uniforms saluting visitors as they pass through an ornate gate.

Tony Wu, manager of the Quoizel factory, introduces himself and says he's from a family of factory owners from Taiwan. He's a confident, tough man in his 40s with strong opinions about the environment ("The government knows about the smog and is doing something about it") and Taiwan's uneasy relationship with the mainland ("They will never fight; we all have yellow skin").

Tony says the factory has about 400 workers and could use more. It's a plain but tidy place with lamp parts stacked in piles. In some rooms, workers wear earplugs or masks as they bend steel and weld pieces together in flashes of sparks. In other rooms, workers move cardboard boxes bearing the company logo and headquarters address, "6 Corporate Parkway, Goose Creek, SC."

As Tony shows off one room after another, he answers questions about wages and working conditions without hesitation; but at one point he turns and asks, "Why go to a factory in China? You have a lot of manufacturing in the United States."

But this factory is part of China's manufacturing boom, which has caused a global wave of change.

In less than 30 years, the Shenzhen region in southern China has become the world's biggest manufacturing center, capturing countless jobs once held by workers in America, Europe, Japan and other countries with more mature economies. New manufacturing centers are going up elsewhere in China, all part of an economic surge that experts say will make China the world's dominant economic power by the middle of this century.

China's rise already triggered one of the greatest migrations in human history, with as many as 300 million people in the country's interior moving to Shenzhen and other industrial centers along the coast. It led to the construction of massive new cities with sparkling skyscraper skylines. It has rearranged the world's economy.

Because of this shift, more than 8,200 people in South Carolina lost jobs making textiles, electronics, chemical solutions and other items between 2000 and 2003, a federal study found. At the same time, China's rise saved people money by lowering or holding down prices on things like televisions and T-shirts.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, calculated that the typical American household saves $500 a year through the steady or decreased prices coming from China.

China's effects on American consumers are "as tangible as the change in one's pocket," Ted Fishman, a former commodities trader, wrote in his recent book, "China Inc."

China's boom hasn't been all bad news for workers in South Carolina. While more than 8,000 lost their jobs a few years ago, Haier, a Chinese appliance manufacturer, said last year it would hire 1,000 people to build refrigerators at a new factory in Camden.

Last year, South Carolina businesses exported a record $870 million in goods to China. Trade with China generates jobs for Charleston's truckers and port workers. In 2006, roughly one of every 10 containers that passed through Charleston's docks came from Hong Kong and China, more than 198,000 in all.

What's happening in China isn't a simple story of one country's gain and another's loss; it's about an unprecedented cultural and economic shift that is remaking the world's economy and environment.

Some South Carolina businesses understood this shift early on and adjusted their lives. Quoizel, pronounced "Kwoy-zell," is a good example. But even those who benefit from China's rise still view what's happening with a mixture of anxiety and awe.

'To get rich is glorious'

Quoizel's factory is one of more than 120,000 factories in Shenzhen, a place that's probably not on the tip of many Americans' tongues, though it may be soon enough.

Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a mere fishing village of about 75,000 people on the Pearl River Delta, located on the border of bustling Hong Kong. Now, Shenzhen (pronounced "Shen-jen") is home to roughly 12 million people, a higher population than in the city of New York.

Shenzhen was an experiment. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping assumed leadership of a country bursting with more than 1 billion people, 300 million of whom lived in abject poverty. Conditions in rural areas were especially dire; many people lived on less than a dollar a day.

With unusual speed, Deng reversed Mao Zedong's stifling social and economic policies, famously saying: "To get rich is glorious." Deng's government set aside a large area around Shenzhen as a special economic zone. The idea was to take advantage of Hong Kong's freewheeling capitalist know-how, and a steady pace of foreign investors soon marched in.

What happened to Hong Kong during this time is informative. Under British rule, Hong Kong grew into a manufacturing powerhouse and the "Made in Hong Kong" label became a symbol of Asia's economic awakening. But by 1997, when the British handed Hong Kong over to China, 90 percent of Hong Kong's factories had moved to Shenzhen and other parts of Asia. Hong Kong's factory workers survived this shift by becoming accountants, paralegals and brokers - helping businesses in the United States and elsewhere move to mainland China.

Today, Hong Kong remains a thriving skyscraper city, though Shenzhen is building a skyline to match, with towers that would impress even the most snobbish New Yorker.

Shenzhen's tallest building is 10 feet higher than the Empire State Building. The city's downtown streets are filled with buses, BMWs and Buicks - made in China, of course - not the rivers of bicycles so often seen just a few years ago. Shoppers dress in the latest fashions, chattering away on the latest model cell phones, swarming through Shenzhen's malls, which look like American malls, except with more people, more lights, and more music and noise.

Shenzhen's caffeinated brand of capitalism is a powerful draw to young Chinese who dream of better jobs and homes and money to spend at the city's sparkling new stores - the American dream, made in China.

Away from the skyscrapers are the factories. They stretch for miles, but it's difficult to actually see how far because the smog blocks your view. Most of the smog comes from China's many coal-fired power plants, which supply electricity to the factories. Sometimes the air is so thick you can feel it on your skin.

Scientists call it the "Asian Brown Haze" and say this toxic cloud has left one in three Chinese children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. The cloud stretches for hundreds of miles and disrupts rainfall patterns throughout the continent. Sometimes it rides jet streams across the Pacific and lands in Seattle or Santa Barbara, another thing made in China.

From Charleston to Dongguan

About an hour from Shenzhen is Dongguan, a city of 6 million or so and another manufacturing and business hot spot.

Quoizel's China headquarters is on a corner of a wide, busy street. Nearby is a sneaker manufacturing research center, a spectacular new museum, a private hospital the size of an airport terminal and a six-story library that's open 24 hours a day. Quoizel's offices are spacious and well-appointed with handsome wooden cubicles enclosing computer work stations with flat screen monitors.

On a recent Saturday morning, fresh from a brutal 15-hour flight, a group of Quoizel executives from Charleston walk into the office, greeting workers with hugs and smiles. "They spoil us," said Tim

Hensch, Quoizel's vice president of operations. "They're very bright and computer literate; they're all learning English."

Ann Zhang is one of 28 office employees. Like most in the office, she lives in a new high-rise apartment building a few miles away that's not too different than what you might see in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., minus the beach. Quoizel pays the rent for most of the workers. Ann liked the apartment so much that she bought one three years ago for about $44,000. Its value has since risen 50 percent, she says.

Jasper Zhao, another employee, says he and his colleagues ride the bus to work and that the company covers his meals. He writes the English installation instructions for the company's lamps. "If you have experience, it's easy to get a job," he said, later adding that someday he'd like to have "a house, a car and two children."

With Hensch this morning is Ira Phillips, the company's chairman of the board. Phillips is a bundle of New York energy, a high school dropout whose business tactics have been studied at Ivy League schools. "We've got a loyal work force here in China and we have a loyal workforce in South Carolina," he said. "We try to have a family culture. And the attitude you see here is the same as you'll see in Charleston. We know their families, we have scholarship programs for their children; we believe in sharing the wealth."

Phillips joined the company in 1964 with a bold pitch to the company's owners: Make him director and he would double their meager $250,000 in sales. He made good on his vow and by 1986 had bought out the entire company. Back then, Quoizel had a cumbersome three building complex in New York. The company decided to consolidate its operations in the South.

Charmed by Charleston and lured by South Carolina's industry tax breaks, Quoizel bought 63 acres in Goose Creek and built a $10 million plant. Quoizel flew its New York workers to Charleston, set them up with real estate agents and pleaded with them to stay, tossing in a free washer and dryer if they did. All told, they moved 125 families and Phillips found himself lauded in "Business Week" for the humane way he relocated his workforce.

At around the same time, the company began to buy more lighting parts in Taiwan, which they imported through the Port of Charleston and assembled in Goose Creek.

That all changed in 1992 when Deng visited the Shenzhen region and urged its leaders to "move more boldly" toward capitalism. With this green light, many Taiwanese manufacturers moved their operations to Shenzhen and other areas of China. Because of Quoizel's existing relationships with these Taiwanese factory owners, the company found it easy to jump to mainland China with them.

By now, Phillips and other Quoizel leaders felt the company's survival was at stake. If they kept their manufacturing plant in the United States, rivals with factories in China would price them out of the market. Not long after their move to Charleston, Quoizel's leaders decided to do most of their manufacturing and assembling in China and use the new factory and warehouse in South Carolina for storage and distribution.

In Goose Creek, they retrained more than half of their workers: An employee who specialized in repairing Tiffany-style lamps became a photographer and a woman who assembled lamps became an accountant. The company's sales grew, and some competitors who failed to move to China folded.

Today, Quoizel has roughly the same number of employees in the United States as it did before it moved its factory overseas. Its revenues have doubled, from about $50 million in the mid-'90s to nearly $100 million today.

Inside the factory

The company's factory in Shenzhen is about an hour from its office in Dongguan. It's a simple plant where workers make many of the parts by hand. The air is stale, but that's mainly because the windows are open for ventilation and that lets in the smog. You don't see children working or piles of trash.

As Tony, the factory manager, walks from room to room, he sounds like an American boss, talking about how the government has new work rules: 8 hours a day, time-and-a-half for overtime and three times pay if it's a holiday.

The workers are housed in apartments next door to the plant. A typical worker makes about $115 a month, though that pay is a little misleading considering a dollar may buy four or five times as much in China than in the U.S. Tony says it's getting more difficult to find workers because so many new factories are opening in China's interior.

"I think the Chinese are good workers," he said, comparing them with some in other parts in the world who he says complain too much and are prone to fits of anger. "Here they work hard, they train easily and they follow instructions." He wonders out loud whether it would be a good career move to work for Home Depot or some other big company. "But they are too cold and serious. They always wear poker faces when you talk to them. And here they talk to people like they are human beings," he said.

Back in South Carolina

Eight thousand miles away in Goose Creek, the company's president, Rick Seidman, tools around the warehouse in a golf cart, pointing machinery out along a wall.

"This was the paint line," he said, referring to equipment that gave lights a finished coating.

Seidman is 40, smart and, with his eager, rapid-fire New York accent, talks like someone competing for a job as Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." He says he's seen factories in China with terrible working conditions, places where he says he would never do business. Others treat their workers well. Sometimes, Seidman brings buyers to Charleston. Other times, he takes them to China and puts them on tour buses to visit the Great Wall and Shanghai.

He travels to China several times a year and each time he goes, it's asthough he's missed 10 minutes of a movie. Five years ago, bicycles were everywhere. On later trips, the bicycles were gone, replaced by scooters. Now, he sees more and more cars. Paved roads have replaced dirt roads and fancy hotels are springing up across the region. The sheer energy in China is both exhilarating and discomforting.

"If we didn't go to China, we would be out of business now," Seidman said, but when he comes back to the United States, "I do have a shallow feeling." He doesn't necessarily fear China's rise; indeed, he's profited from it. Still ...

"What's happening there is something unlike the world has ever seen, and I do wonder about it," he said. "I have two children, and I know that in 20 years China will be the biggest economic power in the world. And I don't know what that means."


Examples are everywhere

Manhole covers
China's demand for metals created a shortage, driving up international prices. One result: Thieves across the world began stealing manhole covers and selling them for scrap.

Between now and 2015, more than half the world's construction is expected to take place in China.

In some cities, it's four times worse than air in Los Angeles or New York and so widespread that it's modifying rainfall patterns in Asia and polluting the American West Coast.

China's growing appetite for meat is triggering a boom in demand for cattlefeed, driving up prices for corn and soybeans for American farmers.

Harry Potter
Within two weeks of its release, fake copies of ? Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince' flooded China's cities. Officials estimate these and other Chinese knockoffs cost legitimate businesses $50 billion a year.

On Feb. 27, Chinese stocks slid 9 percent, causing a global selloff. The next day, the Dow lost 416 points.

Sources: China Inc., The Associated Press, The New York Times-

Peter Akinola consecrating breakaway bishops in US

The Washington Post reports that Peter Akinola of Nigeria (and a previous recipient of the Millstone Award) is coming to the US to consecrate a missionary bishop for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, the breakaway faction associated with the Church of Nigeria. Traditionally, this would not be a done thing among Anglicans, who respect the territorial integrity of each Province. However, Akinola does not consider the Episcopal Church to be a valid expression of Christianity.

As, apparently, do the people in this church who are trying to break away from it. Kendall Harmon, in the last paragraph, tells us that some conservatives here want to "continue as some kind of catholic Christianity that has connection to the worldwide church". I'm not sure what his personal view is. But, the Episcopal Church is indeed connected to worldwide Christianity, even if there are some who deny it.

WASHINGTON, April 27 —The Anglican archbishop of Nigeria, a fierce critic of the Episcopal Church for its acceptance of homosexuality, is arriving next week to install a bishop to lead congregations around the country that want to break from it.

Episcopal leaders say the visit threatens to strain further the already fragile relations between their church and the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But Episcopal traditionalists say there is a growing desire among them to break away. A decision by the Episcopal Church in 2003 to consecrate an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as the bishop of New Hampshire profoundly alienated those theological traditionalists, and most of the Anglican Communion overseas, who contend that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

The Nigerian archbishop, Peter J. Akinola, will preside over a ceremony in Virginia on May 5 installing Martyn Minns, former rector of an Episcopal church there, as the bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, an offshoot of the Nigerian church.

The convocation was created in part to oversee congregations that no longer want to be in the Episcopal Church but would like to remain in the Anglican Communion.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement that Archbishop Akinola’s acceptance of “an invitation to episcopal ministry here without any notice or prior invitation” was not in keeping with “the ancient practice in most of the church” that bishops minister only within their own jurisdictions.

“This action would only serve to heighten current tensions,” the statement said, “and would be regrettable if it does indeed occur.”

Archbishop Akinola is the primate of the largest region, or province, in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion. He is also the leader of an increasingly successful alliance between theological conservatives in North America and those in the developing world that is pushing the Episcopal Church to renounce its acceptance of gay men and lesbians or face exclusion from the communion.

Archbishop Akinola’s office did not reply to an e-mail message seeking comment about his visit.

But Bishop Minns said the convocation that he is to lead was not interfering with the Episcopal Church.

“The reality is that there is a broken relationship between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the communion,” Bishop Minns said. “We want to give people a freedom of choice to remain Anglican but not under the Episcopal Church as it is currently led.”

Those loyal to the Episcopal Church said the visit provided yet another glimpse of the alienation that some in the communion feel toward them.

“The archbishop of Nigeria may think the Episcopal Church has acted wrongly, but that is quite different from using that as an excuse to cross boundaries and do things that violate longstanding practice,” said the Rev. Mark Harris, a member of the Executive Council, which governs the Episcopal Church between the conventions it holds every three years.

Mr. Harris, associate priest at St. Peter’s Church in Lewes, Del., said Archbishop Akinola “is making clear that he considers the church in Nigeria is not in communion with the Episcopal Church.”

But theological traditionalists like the Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, said there was mounting impatience among some conservatives with the Anglican leadership.

In March, Episcopal bishops rejected demands, put to them earlier in the year by Anglican primates meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that they create a parallel leadership to serve the conservative minority of Episcopalians who oppose their church’s stance on homosexuality.

The global primates at that meeting issued that demand as part of a broader ultimatum insisting that the Episcopal Church pledge not to consecrate partnered gay bishops and that it stop bishops and priests from authorizing blessings of same-sex couples.

Explaining the views of theological conservatives who may be drawn to joining Bishop Minns’s convocation, Dr. Harmon said, “The frustration is: We’ve been asking; we’ve been waiting. Where is the way for us to continue as some kind of catholic Christianity that has connection to the worldwide church?”

Friday, April 27, 2007

Justice Anthony Kennedy's misguided attempts to "protect" women

I commented earlier on how the Supreme Court of the US banned intact dilation and extraction, aka partial birth abortion. One of the reasons that Justice Anthony Kennedy gave in his majority opinion was that the State had the right to protect women from making an uninformed decision to undergo this procedure. He argued that they would experience regret.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, wrote that the answer to this concern was to give women more information. She also wrote:
"Instead, the court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice. . . . This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution -- ideas that have long since been discredited."

Indeed, the only reason to restrict this particular abortion procedure should be that, given the fetus' development at this stage of pregnancy, intact dilation and extraction is the same as murder (a contention which, by the way, I don't agree with). Here, it is not warranted for the State to protect people from themselves.

GM reduces executive pay, but it was a bit high to start with

Many of us, especially those of us from Michigan, are familiar with the struggles of General Motors, which was overtaken by Toyota as the number one US auto manufacturer. Many have lambasted GM and Ford for being far behind the curve on gas mileage and hybrids. Some stock analysts also criticize GM for being run for the benefit of the auto unions rather than shareholders. I have to admit, they do have a point; the UAW extracted far too many concessions to be sustainable.

However, GM is at least reducing executive pay to compensate for its mediocre performance. Rick Wagoner's base salary will be cut from $2.2 million to $1.65 million.

In comparison, James Sinegal, the CEO of Costco, was paid a base salary of $350,000 in 2006. His total compensation was $4 million, including what Forbes classifies as stock gains; these probably include capital gains and dividends from the Costco stock he owns. Costco is far better run and far more profitable than GM, and has good union relations. Waggoner made a total of $4.82 million in, I think, 2005.

GM's actions are in stark contrast to Northwest Airlines, which extracted hundreds of million dollars in wage cuts from its pilots, attendants, ground crews and staff, and paid hefty bonuses to its (obviously incompetent) executives to "retain" them. The same thing has happened at Delphi, the bankrupt auto parts supplier.

GM and Ford have a long way to go. They and the UAW have opposed stronger emissions and fuel efficiency standards, on the grounds that it would cost American workers their jobs and reduce car sales. Industries throughout history have made that argument, arguing that they will go bankrupt if forced to adopt stricter standards. They have for the most part been wrong.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Breakaway US priests removed for sexual impropriety

I hate to get catty ...

But the Rev Praveen Bunyan of St James Anglican Church in Newport Beach, California, resigned after he confessed to inappropriate conduct towards a female parishioner. St James broke away from the Episcopal Church because they disagreed with the church's acceptance of LGBTs. The article is dated April 24.

In February, Samuel Pascoe, rector of Grace Church in Florida was removed from his post, also for having an inappropriate relationship with a female member at the church. Grace Church has affiliated with the Church of Rwanda for the same reasons as St James.

I don't see anything systematic in this. This is something that could have happened to anyone, in any church, on any end of the theological spectrum. This does underscore the fact that humans are broken and in need of healing. One hopes that these priests will be disciplined as allowed by their church canons, and will enter a time of healing with their partners. One also hopes that these two, at least, will make no further pronouncements about how the Episcopal Church is moving away from traditional sexual morality.

Update: An article in the LA Times gives some detail about what happened with Rev Bunyan. He did not engage in an affair, but he give "unwanted" attention to a female parishioner. The Rev. David Anderson, temporarily in charge of the parish, said, "It wasn't sexual, but it clearly crossed the boundary. He confessed and asked for forgiveness."

Barrick Gold and the Western Shoshone: Millstone Award for April

Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining corporation, is conducting gold mining operations in Nevada. There is a problem: they are mining on the sacred lands of the Western Shoshone people, without their permission. In fact, they are also doing this in contravention of a recommendation by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), issued in early March.

An article posted on Oneworld reveals that CERD told the Canadian government to take "appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent the acts of transnational corporations on indigenous territories."

In addition,
The United States recognized Shoshone rights to their land under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the pact gave Washington trusteeship over tribal lands.

The federal government justified its position by saying that tribe members had abandoned traditional land tenure and practices and cited "gradual encroachment" by non-natives as evidence to claim much of the land as federal territory.

The Western Shoshone, in their petition to the UN panel, countered that "gradual encroachment" in fact took place as part of a U.S. policy to steal their lands, and that this constituted racism.

The Geneva-based panel agreed with the Shoshone by noting that Washington's claim to the land "did not comply with contemporary international human rights norms, principles, and standards that govern determination of indigenous property interests."

The Western Shoshone Defense Project posts an article discussing how Harry Reid and James Gibbons, both Nevadans, pushed the Western Shoshone Distribution Bill through the House on July 7, 2004. The Bill gave the Western Shoshone peoples $145 million in exchange for forcibly subsuming the rights to 24 million acres of land.

From Straightgoods, Canada's "leading independent online newsmagazine, "the US government has declared most of Shoshone territory to be federal public land open to resource extraction and other commercial activities. The treaty protecting the original Western Shoshone territory some 60 million acres from southern Idaho to California's Mojave Desert is still valid, but the government has gotten around the treaty by invoking a principle it calls "gradual encroachment." This legal tautology has been discredited by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but the United States has ignored those findings...."

Reid, a Democrat, and Gibbons, a Republican, have much to answer for, as do all their colleagues in Congress who passed this bill. Christians, especially, cannot allow indigenous peoples' rights to be trampled upon, and their land siezed. We claim spiritual relationship to the Jews, who were forcibly removed from their native lands to Egypt, and systematically exploited. Our missionaries to the Americas, Carribean, and the Pacific Islands have been especially complicit in allowing, or even facilitating, the exploitation of the native peoples of those regions. We have helped make them strangers in their own lands. We must never forget, we are the immigrants here. And the least we can do is to hold ourselves, our corporations, and our leaders responsible.

Oxfam America has a link where you can email Barrick Gold here. While you're at it, Oxfam is involved in relief in Darfur, and could use donations and prayers. Read about it here.

Meanwhile, I realize I've been behind in the Millstone awards. This month's award goes to Barrick Gold and all the other gold mining corporations involved in mining operations on stolen native lands, and to the governments who facilitate that theft (here, the US and Canadian governments).

American GIs used comfort women in Japanese occupation

JAPAN'S abhorrent practice of enslaving women for sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: a similar system for occupying US GIs.

After its surrender, with tacit approval by US occupation authorities, Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for the Americans.
Newly translated documents show US authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution.

The Americans by then had full knowledge of Japan's atrocious treatment of women across Asia.

Tens of thousands were employed to provide sex to US troops until March 1946, when Gen Douglas MacArthur ended it.

The documents show that the brothels were rushed into operation as US forces poured into Japan from August 1945.

"The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls," recounts the history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, northeast of Tokyo.

"The comfort women . . . had some resistance to selling themselves to men who just yesterday were the enemy, and . . . there were a great deal of apprehensions at first.

"But they were paid highly, and they gradually came to accept their work peacefully."

Police and Tokyo businessmen established a network of brothels.

On August 28, an advance wave of occupation troops arrived south of Tokyo. By nightfall, they'd found the first brothel.

"I was surprised to see 500 or 600 soldiers standing in line on the street," Seiichi Kaburagi, the chief of the association in charge of the brothels, wrote in a 1972 memoir.

The US occupation leadership provided the Japanese government with penicillin for comfort women servicing occupation troops and, initially, condoned it, according to documents discovered by Toshiyuki Tanaka, a history professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute.

He said they showed US forces were aware the comfort women were often coerced by financial difficulties or, in some rural areas, perhaps enslaved.

Mr Kaburagi said the sudden demand forced brothel operators to advertise for women who were not licensed prostitutes.

Natsue Takita, then 19, whose relatives had been killed in the war, responded to an ad seeking an office worker.

She was told that the only positions available were for comfort women and was persuaded to accept the offer.

According to Mr Kaburagi, she jumped in front of a train a few days after the brothel opened.

- AP

Jesus' family values, by Diedre Good

Modern families are being transformed: since 2005, statistics show that more women in America live by themselves and married couples now are in a minority. Our daughters, nieces and grandchildren are growing up into a world where being single will be normal at least for longer periods of time. The social and economic implications of this new situation include the reality that single women are heads of households.

Christian commentators who see a nuclear family as normative might want to describe this new reality as evidence of a further decline in family values. In fact, this new family configuration pries open a discussion of what family values were in Jesus' time. Paul's letters describe women like Phoebe as leaders of communities and heads of households. Households were not private and secluded as they might be today, but rather public and accessible to strangers. Heads of households, no matter how small, would have been responsible for slaves. Households then as now included relatives; in the gospels, Luke describes a household of five: father, son, mother, daughter, and mother-in-law. Modern households might include children and ageing parents, grandchildren and grandparents, and children alongside grandchildren. As for Jesus' own family of origin, gospel writers never speak of Joseph as Jesus' father. True, Jesus prohibited divorce but then Jesus wasn't married.

Jesus was ahead of the curve in regard to single women. They were disciples, followers, conversation partners and friends. Jesus treated mothers as heads of households, married women as independent from their marriage and as single people. Women disciples and followers of Jesus included Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Joanna, and many others who provided economic support for Jesus' ministry. Jesus’ conversation partners included single parents like the Canaanite woman whose daughter Jesus healed, and married women like the woman at the well with whom Jesus preferred to dialogue as if she were single: "You are right in saying 'I have no husband' for you have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband," Jesus tells her.

Jesus' itinerant ministry implies that female and male disciples must be willing and able to leave families of origin. Luke, the gospel writer who identifies wealthy and mobile female followers of Jesus, implies that Susanna was sufficiently affluent to make a financial contribution to the mission, sufficiently free of household responsibilities to accompany the mission and sufficiently healthy to serve.

Joanna is identified by her husband Chuza, a "steward" or a governor, overseer, or high-ranking administrator, with either economic or political authority in Herod's domain, attached to his private estate or appointed over a political district. Joanna is a continuing member of the mission, and is mentioned by name as a witness to the resurrection. Has she separated from Chuza? If Joanna follows the mission as a woman who has separated from her husband, then perhaps Luke is emphasizing the magnitude of personal sacrifice which disciples are willing to make; but then, where is Joanna getting the resources she is using to support the mission? Independently wealthy women did exist in Jesus' world, but one of the socio-economic reasons for opposition to divorce was the destitution it often imposed on a divorced woman. Perhaps Joanna has not, in fact, separated from her husband, but has gone on mission with Chuza's permission or perhaps even under his direction. Luke may be implying that Chuza the steward of Herod approves of the mission sufficiently to be willing to second his wife to it and undergo the consequent deprivation.

A resurrected Jesus first appeared to a single woman, Mary Magdalene, according to John's gospel. She is commissioned to tell the other disciples what she has seen and heard.

Family values are attributes and qualities affirmed socially and transmitted from one generation to another. Perhaps Jesus learned affirmation of women as independent followers, conversation partners, and friends from his mother. After all, she was an educated Jewish woman who almost became a single parent.

Deirdre Good, professor at the General Theological Seminary, is author most recently of Jesus' Family Values (2006). She keeps the blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Canuck Gitmo inmate, captured at age 15, faces murder charges

The US military is charging Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo inmate, with murder. This is a travesty of all that the law stands for. First, he was fighting on behalf of the Taliban; and killed one US soldier and injured another before he was captured. First, under the Geneva Conventions, enemy soldiers cannot be charged with murder for acts committed during combat. Our adminstration denies that the Guantanamo detainess are enemy combatants, but they are peverting the law to suit their own ends. Second, Khadr was fifteen at the time of the alleged crime.

If we want to charge this guy for crimes against the laws of war, we'd best immediately release all the Guantanamo detainees, unless we can prove that they are linked to al-Queda's upper echelons, or have committed serious crimes against humanity. We've imprisoned these guys for years, in degrading conditions, and in violation of any number of laws, and we still haven't been able to prove charges against most of them.

The Bush administration is twisting the law to suit its own ends. Such people must never be allowed to even get near any political office in the future, and the detainees must be released now.

The U.S. military filed murder charges Tuesday against Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan and sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002.

Khadr, now 20, also was charged with providing support to terrorism, attempted murder, conspiracy and spying. He faces a military trial at the prison in eastern Cuba under rules adopted last year and first used in March to try Australian detainee David Hicks.

Khadr is to be arraigned on the charges within 30 days at the U.S. military's courthouse in Guantanamo Bay, the military said. He faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Toronto-born Khadr, the son of an alleged al Qaeda financial leader, Ahmad Said al-Khadr, was captured in July 2002 after being badly wounded in a firefight near Khost, an al Qaeda hotbed in eastern Afghanistan.

He is charged with throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., and wounded Army Sgt. Layne Morris, of West Jordan, Utah.

The murder and attempted murder charges stipulate that the acts were carried out "in violation of the law of war."

The wounded soldier and Speer's widow filed a civil lawsuit against Khadr and his father, who authorities believe was killed in Pakistan. In February, a judge awarded them US$102.6 million (euro78.2 million).

The military alleges that Khadr also conducted surveillance of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and planted land mines targeting American convoys.

Khadr allegedly received a month of one-on-one basic training from an al Qaeda member in June 2002 that included use of rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, pistols and explosives, according to the charge sheet signed by Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions.

Khadr's Egyptian-born father, Ahmad Said al-Khadr, was killed in Pakistan in 2003 alongside some senior al Qaeda operatives and Canada is holding his brother Abdullah on a U.S. extradition warrant accusing him of supplying weapons to al Qaeda.

In a documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., another brother, Abdurahman, acknowledged their father and some of his brothers fought for al Qaeda and stayed with the terrorist group's mastermind, Osama bin Laden.

In March, the military tribunal at Guantanamo sentenced Hicks to nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism — the first conviction at a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II.

Under an agreement with the court, the confessed Taliban-allied gunman will be allowed to serve his sentence in an Australian prison, but must remain silent about any alleged abuse while in custody.

Prosecutors say they plan to charge as many as 80 of the 385 men now held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the previous military tribunal system at Guantanamo as unconstitutional. U.S. President George W. Bush subsequently signed into a law passed by Congress a new military tribunal system.

The high court is now considering a challenge to the revised tribunals. Some members of Congress have vowed to repeal the law that limits detainees' access to civilian courts.

Church of Scotland admits to 'historic intolerance' toward gay people

From a report prepared for their 2007 General Assembly

A working group of the Mission and Discipleship Council is set to present the General Assembly with an in-depth report on ‘same-sex partnerships as an issue in theology and human sexuality’ (Section 4).

The report, which is entitled A challenge to unity, takes as its starting point an acknowledgement of the strength of feeling that has already been expressed on the issue of same-sex relationships. However, the considerable body of work that is to go before May’s Assembly does not seek only to study the two sides of the debate – indeed, the idea that the debate has only two primary viewpoints is specifically rejected. A challenge to unity seeks to give a flavour of the wide range of views held within the church, and to identify areas of common ground around which the church might unite.

Whilst the Legal Questions Committee report to last year’s Assembly approached the question of same-sex partnership from a practical and legal perspective, this year’s report is closely focussed on theological perspectives. As such, the 2007 debate will build upon work arising from the General Assembly of 1994. In that year the former Board of Social Responsibility produced a report on human sexuality, while the then Panel on Doctrine reported on the theology of marriage. At that time, neither of these reports was specifically endorsed by the Assembly, although both were accepted as the basis for further debate. (Sections 4.3.2 – 4.3.8)

As a part of its remit, the working group that produced A challenge to unity listened to gay and lesbian Christians, including two Church of Scotland ministers who have entered into civil partnership with their same-sex partners. These respondents expressed a wide range of perspectives, and the working group has listened to testimonies which have led members to recognise pastorally insensitive – indeed, sinful – attitudes on the part of the Church towards gay people. (Section 4.5.2)

Naturally enough, a considerable part of the working group’s discussion focussed on interpretation of scripture. Some take the view that the only rightful place for human sexual activity is within the realm of heterosexual marriage. By this token, homosexual sexual activity, as well as sex between unmarried heterosexuals, can be seen as contrary to scriptural guidance. Perhaps it could be said that homosexual orientation is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but that homosexual acts should be resisted?

However, there are a number of alternatives to this approach. There are many who would see potential for a gay or lesbian’s sexual life being contained in a marriage-like relationship. Eugene Rogers’ book, Sexuality and the Christian Body, picks up from the note that marriage is a means of redemption: men and women are sanctified through marriage. Marriage is about transforming sexual love into Christian love: from falling in love to living with someone in increasing respect, tenderness and delight. On this basis, Rogers would extend its benefits to gays and lesbians, saying 'The trouble with most conservative accounts is not that in denying same-sex couples the rite of marriage they would deny them true self-satisfaction, although they might. The trouble is that in denying same-sex couples the rite of marriage they would deny them true self-denial.' (Section

The working group on human sexuality has identified a number of questions which the Kirk, and the Christian church as a whole, will have to address during the years ahead. For example, how is God’s creation and providence to be understood? To what extent should our understanding of humanity develop from thought about sinfulness or redemption? Are homosexual acts per se sinful? When is it legitimate to read certain scriptural texts as teaching one thing but to believe that the Holy Spirit is leading the church to set aside that reading? To what extent are faithful gay and lesbian relationships akin to marriages? Is conducting a liturgy for a couple following a civil partnership a matter on which ministers may act? (Section 4.17.6)

The 12 representatives on the working group come from a variety of theological backgrounds and, as a result of this, they have settled upon wide-ranging conclusions. The document set to be debated at May’s General Assembly says that where there is now a strong measure of agreement is on the question of homosexual orientation. Many people are both gay and Christian; having a homosexual orientation is not a matter for censure; having a homosexual orientation does not preclude service to Christ in the church and the world. A homosexual orientation should not be a barrier to any role in church and state, and the Church should oppose all forms of discrimination on these grounds, both in environments where the Church carries authority and in society at large. (Section 4.17.7)

However, there is a continuing difference of opinion on the matter of homosexual sexual activity: Many will respond that the distinction between homosexual orientation and activity is untenable and unfair. For them, traditional prohibitions on homosexual activity must be reconsidered, with a greater weight being given in scriptural interpretation and moral discernment to love, faithfulness, honesty, selflessness and other reflections of God’s incarnate love. But others hold that distinguishing between a morally neutral homosexual orientation and sinful homosexual activity is the scripturally-formed Christian approach to take to these matters. Likewise it would be an interpretation of love, faithfulness, honesty and selflessness. (Section 4.17.8)

In conclusion, the working group’s report upholds in the strongest possible terms the importance of exchange of views between different parties, of listening to the other, and of discerning what measure of unity still matters despite the seriously contentious questions being raised over issues of human sexuality. There is little to be gained, and rather much to be lost, by one set of views being stampeded over, and against the conscience of others.

And speaking of moral leadership: Mutual funds typically back away from climate-change resolutions

In a nutshell: if you have a pension, 401k, or IRA, you invest in one or more mutual funds. Mutual funds vote their shares on behalf of their own shareholders; despite evidence that most Americans are concerned, on some level, with climate change, they typically vote against shareholder resolutions asking companies to do such things as disclose risks related to climate change.

Even if they were only prepared to act out of self-interest, there's good reason to address climate change issues. The evidence surrounding global warming is very good. If the Earth warms significantly, the ability for any business, anywhere, to make money would be severely impaired.

Besides that, money is not an end in itself. It is time for Wall Street to realize that, and to take moral leadership on this issue.

Tim Paradis, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Investors pressing companies to say more about the possible financial effects of global warming haven't found an ally in large mutual funds.

While global climate change appears to be drawing more attention in the United States from lawmakers and businesses, no large mutual fund companies voted in 2006 to support shareholder resolutions seeking added disclosures about the possible financial effects of global warming.

The 28 investment houses that run the country's 100 largest mutual funds either abstained from or opposed the handful of resolutions that reached a vote last year, according to data compiled by Institutional Shareholder Services for Ceres, a Boston-based environmental investment group.

"Most mutual funds tend to wall off social and environmental resolutions as a separate category from governance resolutions. On the social and environmental side they tend to show more deference to management's actions and policies than they do on the governance side," said Doug Cogan, director of climate change research at ISS, a proxy adviser.

Cogan contends U.S. companies operating overseas and even those only in business domestically face increasing environmental regulation, such as caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Such changes could increase costs for power companies and automakers, for example. On the other hand, warmer weather could extend growing seasons for agricultural companies.

"It's truly a business issue that will have financial impacts," he said.

The study found investors filed 30 climate-related resolutions last year and that seven of those proceeded to shareholder votes.

On average, the resolutions put to a vote drew support from 17 percent of shareholders, the study found. In some instances, the "yes" votes were much higher; at home builder Standard Pacific Corp., 39 percent of shareholders voted for added disclosures.

Ceres spokesman Peyton Flemming said at companies such as Alliant Energy Corp. and Great Plains Energy Inc., shareholders last year withdrew resolutions after the companies agreed to disclose their potential financial exposure to climate change.

Cogan said about half of such shareholder resolutions are typically withdrawn before they come to a vote because companies agree to provide data investors are seeking, Cogan said.

Large mutual fund companies typically don't wade into environmental issues. It appears many would consider it, however, if it they determined such concerns would have a sizable effect on a company's business.

"Our mutual funds are managed with one overriding goal, which is to provide the greatest possible return to mutual fund shareholders," said Vin Loporchio, spokesman at Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest fund manger.

"If it is shown that an environmental risk poses a real and material risk to a company's future earnings, that could well be taken into account," he said.

Vanguard Group said in a statement that its funds "typically abstain from voting on proposals related to environmental issues unless they have a significant, tangible impact on the value of a fund's investment and management is not responsive to the matter."

Some groups, such as pension fund operators like the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which is known for its stance on environmental issues, have been voting their shares in favor of such resolutions.

"I think there has been a real increase in the legitimacy of these issues," said John Wilcox, senior vice president and head of corporate governance at financial services group TIAA-CREF, which has supported resolutions regarding future environmental costs to business.

"We don't want to assert a moral bias," he said, adding TIAA-CREF is hoping companies will examine environmental issues from a "strategic viewpoint."

Wilcox also said while companies should try to determine possible effects of climate change and resulting regulation, shareholders shouldn't saddle companies with unreasonable requests.

"They cannot demand the companies file detailed information that would be so burdensome to collect that it would tax the resources of the companies," Wilcox said.

Cogan said companies should start do develop some scenarios for what might happen amid a changing climate, even if not all the details are known about its effects and possible regulatory changes that could result.

"It is still speculative," he said of possible regulatory regimes that might arise. "This has given the companies a chance to say that until there is more certainty about how the phenomenon of global warming is going to be regulated they choose not to comment."

Rowan Williams gives the William Wilberforce lecture, tells MPs to discover their moral vision

Similar to Michael Nazir-Ali, whom I've now lambasted twice, Rowan Williams seems to be saying that the UK's leaders have lost their moral way. The article below is a report on the William Wilberforce lecture he gave; Wilberforce was an MP who is credited with being at the forefront of abolition of the slave trade.

Williams does perhaps raise an important point, that the pressure to reform Global South debt was started outside of government. However, elsewhere he has also blamed the "erosion of Christian values" for Parliament's lack of moral leadership. It's an interesting time for him to bring this up, given that he and Archbishop of York John Sentamu have both argued that religious organizations should be completely free to discriminate based on sexual orientation, even if providing public services or hiring for non-clergy posts.

Speaking of Rowan's model for moral leadership, Steven Tompkins, author of a biography on Wilberforce, says in this article that John Newton continued to trade slaves right after his famous conversion, that it took him 40 years to come out against slavery, and that it's questionable whether he was ever racked with the guilt he was portrayed as having in the film. Wilberforce, Newton's protegé, publicly opposing slavery was part of what pushed Newton over the edge.

My point here is that societies change slowly and equivocally. If Williams or anyone else is saying that only now are UK (and other) politicians lacking in moral leadership, they are mistaken. People in every era have been reluctant to change, and usually do so only out of self-interest at first. If Christian values are being eroded now, then they were also being eroded in Wilberforce's time.

Christopher Morgan for the Times
THE Archbishop of Canterbury is to criticise politicians for failing to give a moral lead, and urge them to emulate William Wilberforce to rebuild the battered reputation of parliament.

In a major speech this week Rowan Williams will argue that the MP behind the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago can serve as the model for restoring parliament as a moral forum for the nation.

The archbishop, giving the William Wilberforce lecture in Hull, is expected to deplore the reluctance of MPs to take up big moral causes, saying: “The old idea of political virtue is getting more and more remote.”

Speaking in the city that was once the constituency of Wilberforce, Williams will blame the “decayed liberal society” of today for the decline in idealistic campaigns and argue that politics is increasingly becoming “a form of management rather than an engine of positive and morally desirable change”.

Williams, who is due to take a two-month “study leave” this summer, partly at Georgetown University, Washington, makes a strong defence of religious representation in the House of Lords.

He says this is vital to provide a degree of “moral independence”.

The most recent vote in the Commons for a fully elected second chamber would remove the Church of England bishops who currently sit in the lords.

He will warn that the current proposals for reforming the lords will shut out voices that are “not constrained by electoral anxiety”.

In one recent success for the bishops in the Lords, Williams fronted opposition which led to the voting down of the government’s order allowing the opening of a “super-casino” in Manchester.

Williams believes that, in addition to politicians, citizens can draw lessons from Wilberforce’s moral campaigning. They should accept that they too bear some responsibility for government and that disagreement or the statement “not in my name” does not absolve them.

For this reason, he believes the citizen must where possible challenge the state on moral grounds.

“This challenging will be a matter of mobilising and motivating the public at large to bring pressure on public authority,” he will say.

He cites the success of the campaign to cancel Third World debt as proof that a direct campaign on moral grounds can succeed outside parliament. “It is significant that in the last few years, one of the most widely supported political campaigns was the movement for the remission of unpayable debt,” Williams will say.

“Outside the parliamentary process, many hundreds of thousands lobbied for a change. What is interesting is how it seemed to be assumed that parliamentary campaigning would not deliver the same results as a well-organised process of lobbying ministers directly.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How subprime bailouts would actually work

Lee Christie, a staff writer, reports how subprime bailouts would actually work. My summary: those subprime borrowers who can afford it and who have a decent credit score will be allowed to refinance into fixed-rate loans. The article uses Maryland as an example. MD's Department of Housing and Community Development works with approved private lenders. The lenders will administer the new loans. They will bundle up loans and sell them to the DHCD (banks usually do the same, except they sell their loans to government-sponsored agencies or on the open market). Maryland will issue municipal bonds, and use the cash to buy the loans. However, the goal is that the interest from the loans will pay for the interest Maryland is paying on the municipal bonds. If they pull it off, state taxpayers won't be on the hook for additional taxes.

And now, the actual article:
They got themselves into this mess and I don't want my tax dollars used to get them out of it." That's the attitude of many when it comes to bailing out subprime borrowers from bad loans.

Still, many programs to help those facing foreclosure are being launched, with the aim of moving borrowers out of high-interest, variable-rate loans and into lower-rate, fixed ones.

Maryland launched one of the first such plans, called Lifeline, a year ago.

Say you're a homeowner with a 2/28 hybrid ARM due to reset next month from the initial two-year 5.25 percent "teaser rate" to 8.25 percent. It will reset again every six months up to as much as 12 percent.

The difference in monthly payments between the initial rate on your $200,000 mortgage and the first reset is nearly $400 ($1,502 versus $1,104). That's bad enough but after another year or two, your mortgage payment could come to $2,057. You can't afford it.

You can go to one of the approved lenders on the Web site of Maryland's Department of Housing and Community Development and ask to refinance into a fixed rate loan with a permanent low rate. Your payments will not only be lower than the reset rates, they will stay the same the entire length of the loan.

Without Lifeline, many borrowers would not have been able to secure a new loan, at least not with attractive terms. In many cases their credit scores would not qualify them for the rates the state-backed program offers.

In addition, their old lenders may have insisted on enforcing the onerous terms of their original agreements, such as prepayment penalties. The state has more leverage with lenders to compel them to co-operate with the program.

After the approved private lender puts together the new loan, it bundles it with others and sells them to the agency, which uses cash from a bond issue to buy the bundled loans.

The goal is that state coffers would not be used - the state hopes to pay off those bonds with the interest it collects from borrowers. But if too many borrowers default on their loans, it could be hard for the state to break even on the program.

Even if there aren't a lot of defaults, raising money to fund the program isn't free because it diverts resources from other projects, such as construction of bridges or highways. "There's always an opportunity cost for the taxpayer," said Joseph Gyourko, an economics professor with the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Real Estate Center at The Wharton School.

Not every Maryland borrower is eligible for the program. You can't have household income of more than $126,420 and you can't borrow more than $525,000. These limits vary from county to county, with high-cost areas near Washington, D.C. having the highest maximums.

The loans have interest rates of 6.25 percent for a 40-year fixed and 6.5 percent for a 30-year. There are also interest-only loans available that carry a rate of 6.5 percent. Borrowers pay 2 points at closing for any of these products, which may be folded into the loan.

Maryland also requires that the home be a primary residence and that the loan not exceed 85 percent of the value of the property.

So far, just a handful of borrowers have signed up for the program, fewer than 10 but many more are expected as numerous hybrid ARMs taken out in 2005 and 2006 start to hit their first resets.

To avoid future crises, Maryland is also trying to discourage irresponsible or unscrupulous lending, according to Thomas Perez, secretary for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"I want to track loan originators who have disproportionate numbers of loans that go into foreclosure," said Perez. Too many dings on a mortgage broker's record, for example, could bring suspension or revocation of the broker's license.

Ohio, which is suffering from a great many job layoffs as manufacturing plants shut down, has a similar program it calls Opportunity Loan.

Mark Wiseman, who runs a foreclosure prevention program for Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland), said the state had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation by the end of 2006. There are 1,200 foreclosures a month in his area and forecasts are for 75,000 statewide this year.

On April 2, Ohio announced it would sell $100 million worth of bonds, which could go to $500 million eventually, to fund Opportunity Loan. Rita Parisi, of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, emphasizes that no taxpayer money is involved in the bailout. "We're selling taxable bonds to make new mortgage loans to homeowners," she says.

As in Maryland's Lifeline program, the bonds are paid off using interest paid by the borrowers.

The subprime mess will be no easy fix
Parisi says her agency works with Fannie Mae to obtain underwriting waivers, approvals for homeowners who are unable to refinance under traditional products, but who qualify for the Opportunity Loans.

Homeowners can go to the agency's Web site for a roster of approved lenders and start the process.

Other states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia, have started or are planning similar programs, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies. More states are mulling over these and other options, such as interest rate buy down plans and rescue funds.

Nationally, relief for troubled subprime borrowers is coming from Freddie Mac. It has earmarked $20 billion to buy refinanced loans targeting holders of exotic mortgages.

But it will not bailout every borrower. Borrowers must meet tightened credit standards and must be judged to be able to afford the new loan at its highest reset rate. Freddie Mac will limit use of low documented loans, so-called "liar loans," in which borrowers do not have to prove assets or income.

Lenders also must take into account (as they also must do in the state bailout programs) property taxes and insurance in judging the qualifications of an applicant and the agency recommends that taxes be collected in an escrow account.

The program is due to launch mid-summer. Information will come available on the Freddie Mac Web site.

Environmental criminals to face prison in Italy

Italy's centre-left government on Tuesday approved a draft law setting maximum prison sentences of 10 years and fines of up to €250,000 for crimes against the environment.

The provisions, approved at a cabinet meeting in Rome, were among the strictest environmental protection measures ever announced by an Italian government. They must receive parliamentary approval before they can take effect.

The government is also considering whether to declare a state of emergency because of a drought in the first four months of this year that some experts say risks causing power blackouts from June onwards. The cabinet decided on Tuesday to discuss this issue at another meeting on May 4.

The most serious crime singled out under the draft law is that of "causing an environmental disaster", for which the penalties will range from three to 10 years in prison as well as fines of €30,000 to €250,000.

The illegal waste disposal business, which has close connections with the mafia and organised crime, is targeted under a provision that foresees prison sentences of one to five years and fines of €10,000 to €30,000 for criminal trafficking in waste.

Trafficking in nuclear or radioactive waste, or abandoning this type of waste in the countryside, is to be punished by prison terms of two to six years and fines of €50,000 to €250,000.

The tough measures reflect a rising public awareness of the damage done in recent decades to the Italian environment, including its forests, mountains, coasts and water supplies, by an often reckless or criminally inspired approach to the construction of new buildings and the disposal of waste.

On the question of declaring a state of emergency to deal with the drought, expert opinion appears divided. Alfonso Pecararo Scanio, environment minister and leader of the Green party, said on Monday there was no time for delay.

Italy experienced its warmest winter this year for 200 years, and the Po river has fallen this week to 6.5 metres below its normal level in one part of northern Italy.

However, the consumer group Aduc said on Tuesday the government would be making a mistake if it asked consumers to cut back on water consumption, because agriculture accounted for 70 per cent of water use in Italy, industry 20 per cent and ordinary consumers only 10 per cent.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Actual text of the Zimbabwe letter - and I'll retract my last statement until further info

It was reported in an AP article that 14 Anglican bishops had issued a statement in support of Robert Mugabe. I said that I was going to have to take the side of the Roman Church against the Anglican Church in Central Africa. I'm going to have to take that back until I get further info. Below is the actual statement. As I said in my Easter reflection, two Church of England bishops were willing to attack Canon Jeffrey John when he criticized the docrtine of penal substition, without even reading what he wrote. We all must be careful not to do that.

The demands the bishops make here are not unreasonable. As far as I can tell, although tougher sanctions were being considered, American sanctions have so far only frozen the foreign assets of Zimbabwean officials and imposed travel restrictions on them. Now, this seems reasonable, but much of the business community in Zimbabwe may be controlled by Mugabe's cronies, who are the officials with the foreign bank accounts. Freezing his cronies' assets may have stopped the influx of foreign capital that Zimbabwe needs for development.

One of the named bishops is our old friend, Nolbert Kunonga, the crook in the purple shirt. The unscrupulous, like Kunonga, will spin this statement however they want. Certainly, the Anglican bishops should be actively opposing Mugabe's tyranny. However, here they request for Western nations to cease sanctions that are causing grievous harm to ordinary Zimbabweans, and they say that they will minister to those our sanctions have hurt. Perhaps that's a reasonable request. We imposed sanctions on Iraq after the Gulf War, but they did nothing to harm Saddam and they may very well have caused terrible harm to Iraqi citizens, especially children.

We the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, comprising Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, “called to share in Jesus’ work of sanctifying and shepherding his people and of speaking in God’s name[1]”. As shepherds of our people and out of compassion, feel the need to offer support to our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe going through unprecedented levels of suffering.

[1] An Anglican Prayer Book, , London: Collins Publishers, 1989, p597

Issues and Concerns

We the Bishops are concerned and pained at the distressing occurrences that have been taking place in Zimbabwe. The deteriorating economy has rendered the ordinary Zimbabwean unable to make ends meet. This we note has been exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries. These so called targeted sanctions aimed at the leadership of the country of Zimbabwe in reality have affected the poor Zimbabweans who have born the brunt of the sanctions. The result of which has been the displacement of thousands of Zimbabweans roaming the cities and rural areas of our region making it imperative that the Zimbabwean crisis be looked at as a regional crisis. As a church, the degrading environs that the Zimbabweans find themselves in as they seek survival both in Zimbabwe and the region, pose serious pastoral challenges to us as a church.

We therefore call upon the Western countries to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. We further call upon the British and American governments to honour their obligation of paying compensation to the white farmers.

We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to provide a framework for peace by creating a conducive environment for dialogue and tolerance.

As Bishops we denounce all forms of violence perpetrated by whatever source as a means of resolving conflict. As this is a degradation of those created in the image of God. We want to make it unequivocally clear to all of our people, that we do not condone what is happening in Zimbabwe.

We call upon the civil society in Zimbabwe to articulate and promote the practice and respect of human dignity by all social and political ways in the building of a culture of governance that respects the sanctity of life. So called targeted sanctions aimed at the leadership of the country of Zimbabwe in reality have affected the poor Zimbabweans who have born the brunt of the sanctions. The result of which has Furthermore, we urge the church in Zimbabwe to offer an effective pastoral ministry to the downtrodden, to rebuke and warn the nation especially those in positions of authority through a prophetic ministry by calling upon the nation to repentance and renewed relationship with God and our neighbours. Finally, in the wake of our Easter celebrations of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ we pray that the spirit of the Resurrection be shed in the hearts Zimbabweans to bring hope and renewed faith for a peaceful, just and prosperous Zimbabwe.

Issued by the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa

1. The Most Rev. Bernard Amos Malango – Archbishop of Central Africa and Bishop of Upper Shire
2. The Right Rev. Christopher J Boyle - Bishop of Northern Malawi
3. The Right Rev. Albert Chama - Bishop of Northern Zambia
4. The Right Rev. Elson Jakazi – Bishop of Manicaland
5. The Right Rev. Derek Kamukwamba- Bishop of Central Zambia
6. The Right Rev. Nolbert Kunonga - Bishop of Harare
1. The Right Rev. William Muchombo- Bishop of Eastern Zambia
2. The Right Rev. Ishmael Mukuwanda- Bishop of Central Zimbabwe
3. The Right Rev. Robert Mumbi – Bishop of Luapula
4. The Right Rev. Trevor Mwamba Bishop of Botswana
5. The Right Rev. David Njovu- Bishop of Lusaka6.
6. The Right Rev. Wilson Sitshebo - Bishop Matabeleland
7. The Right Rev. Godfrey Tawonezvi - Bishop of Masvingo
8. The Right Rev. James Tengatenga - Bishop of Southern Malawi
9. The Rev. Canon Michael Mkoko - Vicar General of the Diocese of Lake Malawi

St George

Ekklesia, a UK liberal Christian think-tank, gives us some reflections on St George, the patron saint of the UK.

By Garth Hewitt

The periodic debates about England's patron saint St George often serve only to heighten the element of confusion about him and some of the myths that surround him. Here I am not speaking so much about killing dragons, as about St George’s crusader image, and whether he is offensive to Muslims and other faith communities.

Having recently been made a Canon of the Cathedral of St George the Martyr in Jerusalem, I think it is incumbent on me to speak up in St George’s defence.

There is often a confusion as to exactly who is our patron saint. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir Ali, pointed out in a letter to The Guardian last year: "there is often a perpetuating of Edward Gibbon’s error of identifying the patron saint of England with the "grasping or violent" "George of Cappadocia" ...

"The patron saint of England, is, rather, George of Lydda in Palestine. This Palestinian is known in the Eastern Church as the Great Martyr and is also the patron saint of Christians in Syria, India and other places in the East. It seems appropriate, somehow, that such an international figure should be the patron saint of England.’"

In my searching for St George in the Holy Land, I have come to the same conclusion. Starting in Lydda (now known as Lod, not far from Tel Aviv) I went on a journey of discovery. I found three points of great significance:

1. The myth of the dragon. This has a common meaning for the people of the Holy land, particularly those from the Orthodox tradition. The Greek Melkite Archbishop of Galilee, the Most Rev Elias Chacour, said to me: "St George was an officer in the Roman army, originally from Lydda. He saw 40 Christians being killed and when they died, he saw 40 crowns coming from heaven, being put on their heads. It made such an impression on him that he said: 'If these people die for their own faith, their faith must be right', and he confessed Christ and went right away to the same torture — that’s why they present St George as the protector of the Church.

"There is a young lady behind him, representing the Church, which he is protecting. The dragon is the pagan power, the Roman Empire — you find it in the Apocalypse, in Revelation."

Susan Barhoum, an Arab Palestinian and Israeli citizen, told me: "My father was born in Lydda ... My father’s family can be traced back to the fourth century, when the church in Lydda was built; the church is St George’s, and it was built by St Helena, who was the mother of Constantine. That was when records started, and they started recording births, priests and so on; my father’s family were some of the first few priests in the church in the fourth century.

"The tomb of St George is there . . . he’s the patron saint of most Orthodox churches in the country . . . he is very revered." She also talked of the myth of the dragon — how the empire of evil (the dragon) is being killed. Her husband, the Revd Samuel Barhoum, who is the Vicar of Holy Family Church in Reineh, Galilee, said that St George was a saint, not only for Christians in the Holy Land but also for Muslims and Jews as well.

2. A figure of unity. That he is not only a saint for Christians is very crucial — if you go to Al-Khader (near Bethlehem), you will find a church and monastery of St George, which is predominantly visited by Muslims. Also in Lod it is not only the church that is dedicated to St George but also the Mosque next door, Jamia al-Omar, one of the oldest mosques in the region. To Muslims he is very holy and Al-Khader, or the "green one", is the name they use for St George.

In the indigenous community of Palestine, through the years whether they were Christian, Muslim or Jew, they all respected St George, partly because there seems to be a close identification or even merging of three figures: St George, Al-Khader, and Elias or Elijah. Somehow people saw them as linked and consequently St George is a figure of unity for people of different faiths.

3. The Green one. The third important point is that Al-Khader, or "the green one", reminds us that St George has a particular ecological commitment. He was known as "the protector of the trees" as well as "the healer". He is seen as protector of the environment — so the green link gives St George a particular relevance in our time as we face the challenge of global warming.

So with St George we can address the issues of the "dragon" or "empire" within our own time, he is the protector of the environment and the "green one", he has an interfaith relevance, he is healer of the community and a very prophetic and hopeful patron saint.

St George’s day is also an important time to remember the church in Palestine and Israel and to focus on learning more about this church, to forge stronger links, and to pray for peace and justice in the Holy Land.

We now have an amazing amount of material for our services on 23 April, and we can be thoroughly proud of our patron saint.

Jingo Jangle - Christian Tribalism is a Renunciation of God's Kingdom

This article comes to us courtesy of Brian Kaylor's blog. It was posted on Christianity Today, which is an evangelical magazine. They do criticize the Episcopal Church, as well as the Southern Baptists. I don't know how familiar they are with traditional Anglican polity, in which each Province is independent. However, the article raises a very good point - if we're not careful with how we handle the situation in the Anglican Communion, the rest of the world is going to see us as a bunch of nationalists, and we can't allow that.

That said, if the Communion were to demand that liberals in Asia and Africa were to be allowed oversight by Western bishops, their leaders would cry colonialism, and they would be right.

When conservative Southern Baptist leaders recommended in late 2003 that the convention pull out of the Baptist World Alliance, they cited, among other concerns, "a decided anti-American tone [that] has emerged in recent years."

Recently, after the leaders of the Anglican Communion told the Episcopal Church it was violating both Scripture and Anglican doctrine, liberals in that denomination screamed a red-white-and-blue streak.

"In the 18th century, our country in turn fought a revolution to free ourselves from British rule," the bishop of Arizona told his diocese. "Why would we want to turn over our independence to a small group of foreign prelates who we did not elect and who have no legal authority over us?"

The bishops of Connecticut likewise wrote, "We, your bishops, will resist every attempt to allow authority to be placed in the hands of foreign primates."

The rector and senior warden of Pittsburgh's Calvary Church really wrapped themselves in the flag. "From its origin immediately following the American Revolution until this date, the heart and soul of this church is that it is an American church based upon democratic self-determination, American morality, and not subject to foreign domination," they wrote to Episcopalian leaders. "Since the 1780s, our church has been predicated upon American values and American morality."
Churches, in fact, can breed far more jingoism than the place you might most expect it: Christian political organizations lobbying Washington. Despite the nearly universal stars-and-stripes motif on these groups' websites, a Republican-led amendment to ban flag "desecration" (that is, violating or removing the flag's holy character) got at best tepid support from Religious Right groups. While you'll find a fair number of references to "American values" on both the Right and the Left (it's actually the name of Gary Bauer's organization), most Christian organizations see these values as lost relics to be reclaimed. Jim Wallis sounds like Jim Dobson: "American morality has been destroyed. … " Tony Campolo sounds like Tony Perkins: "I don't know about America any longer. I see us going down the tubes." Evangelical Left and Right organizations are in perennial jeremiad mode, railing against American leaders, policies, and excesses.

While their views of international diplomacy differ strongly, these organizations share a common desire to be globally minded. Unfortunately, they can be tribal and insular when critiquing each other. "People on Christian radio … describe gay people as fungus on society that must be exterminated," one evangelical leader told The New York Times. When I later pressed him to name these people, he admitted that while he had heard gays described as promiscuous, pedophilic, and abominations in the eyes of God, "What I was actually referring to … was what a sensitive Christian gay guy [I know] believed and felt the evangelical community regarded him."

Another prominent Christian leader responded to Wallis's December speech on the Democrats' weekly radio address by saying, "Wallis loves to call himself an evangelical. But don't be misled. Wallis is a leftleaning socialist. … " The same leader at the 2004 Republican convention handed out fortune cookies with the message: "Number 1 Reason to Ban Human Cloning: Hillary Clinton."

When we think of checking our national citizenship against our kingdom citizenship, we often think of some possible day when imperial storm troopers will tell us to renounce Christ or die. We tell ourselves that at that moment, we'll answer with Peter and the apostles: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

But it rarely comes down to that. Being people of the kingdom of God is not a whatif question about choosing sides some day. It's something we do every day. And when we denigrate the image of God by bearing false witness or making ad hominem attacks—or by saying to other members of Christ's body, "I have no need of you"—we renounce and deny our true citizenship. We side with the wrong kingdom.

Anglican letter supports Mugabe, following calls by Catholics for him to step down

Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe: African Anglican bishops have issued a message to Zimbabweans that was broadly supportive of the government, sharply contrasting with an earlier call from Catholic leaders on President Robert Mugabe to step down.

An Anglican pastoral letter released to coincide with this week's independence celebrations acknowledged Zimbabwe's economic crisis "rendered the ordinary Zimbabwean unable to make ends meet."

The 14 Anglican bishops said the worsening plight of poor Zimbabweans stemmed largely from Western economic sanctions.

"So-called targeted sanctions aimed at the leadership of the country have affected the poor Zimbabweans who have borne the brunt of sanctions," the bishops said after a meeting the central African Episcopal Synod.

Western governments dispute that claim, arguing targeted sanctions on Zimbabwean assets abroad and travel restrictions protesting Mugabe's rights record only affect rulers and policymakers.

Investment and foreign loans to Zimbabwe have dried up in six years of political and economic turmoil following the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began in 2000.

The European Union and the United States are still among the nation's top five trading partners.

Zimbabwe's nine Catholic bishops marked Easter with an unprecedented call on Mugabe to end oppression and leave office through democratic reform or face a mass revolt.

Their pastoral letter, titled "God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed", accused the ruling elite of racism and corruption and fomenting lawlessness and violence to cling to power and wealth, factors they said led to the economic meltdown. The letter decried state-orchestrated intimidation, beatings and torture and, predicting further bloodshed, said the country had reached a flash point.

The Anglican church has been traditionally muted in its criticism of the government, with its leaders generally toeing the ruling party line.

Prominent among the signatories to Friday's Anglican letter was Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, frequently praised in the state media for what is called his "progressive sentiment." Kunonga has denounced some black clergy as "Uncle Toms" and puppets of whites and Britain and the United States for their criticism of Mugabe.

Kunonga blessed celebrations marking Zimbabwe's 27th anniversary of independence on Wednesday with prayers and a rallying address echoing Mugabe's frequent speeches blaming sanctions and drought for the country's economic woes and accusing Britain and the United States of backing opposition efforts to oust him and bankrolling an alleged terror campaign by the opposition.

The opposition has denied government charges it mounted a campaign of violence, alleging eight petrol bombings since early March were stage-managed by state security agents, possibly using disgruntled opposition youths.

Demonstrations and a national strike in the past month have been thwarted largely by the heavy deployment of police and troops. Police crushed a prayer meeting March 11 the government said was a political protest banned under sweeping security laws. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other leading pro-democracy activists were hospitalized after being assaulted by police while under arrest.

[I'm going to have to take the side of the Romans against my own church on this one. Credit to Madpriest for the article.]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Modern theological finance: Usury, Jubliee, and CEO pay

We all know that CEO salaries in the US are absolutely out of control, even more so than health care and higher education costs. In 2005, by the Economic Policy Institute's calculations, CEOs made 265 times the average worker. They earned about 25 times the average in 1965, which does seem reasonable. EPI includes all stock-based compensation in CEO pay, but there are some pay factors that aren't transparent to the public, such as executive pensions. For workers, they considered production and non-supervisory workers. CEO pay in 2005 was over 800 times minimum wage, and if minimum wage grew as fast as CEO pay, minimum wage earners would be making at least $15 an hour.

Today, there are some exceptions: Whole Foods executives are capped at 19 times their workers' average salaries. The CEO of Bridgeway, a small mutual fund company, caps himself at 6 times the average salary of his firm, and he also donates half the firm's profits to charity. The CEOs of Costco and Berkshire Hathaway are also very modestly remunerated. However, these exceptions prove the rule.

Christians have theological reasons to care about this. The Bible prohibits usury - lending money at interest. Not just lending at unreasonable interest, the Bible charges us not to take interest at all. Now, these days, we consider money to have time value - a dollar next year is worth less than a dollar this year, even ignoring inflation. We could invest that dollar this year and earn interest on it. That's what enables us to buy a house with a mortgage: I don't have $300,000 in the bank, but I do have 10% of that, and the bank will lend me the rest. The loan is secured with real property, which the bank could repossess and sell if I defaulted. The bank makes money off my loan. My wealth grows in the long run, as property values appreciate and I pay off my loan, bit by bit. This transaction would qualify as usury to the ancient Hebrews, but there is nothing unfair about this one (assuming no predatory lending).

However, if the interest rate is unreasonably high, I'll pay a larger percentage of my current income every month to the bank. That extra income could have been invested in other projects, or in retirement savings. I lose the compounded value of that wealth over time. I am a lot less wealthy than I would be if the bank charged me a reasonable interest rate. This is the problem that Grameen Bank was founded to solve: people being stuck in poverty because they had borrowed money at usurious (the modern definition) rates from moneylenders. They were barely able to repay the loans with the money from their businesses or jobs, and were stuck paying interest for long periods. I assume this is why the Israelites forbade usury. This is also part of the Year of Jubilee: every 50 years, slaves were freed and debts were forgiven.

Muslims today still generally forbid charging interest. Islamic scholars and banks are working to offer workaround products that will enable Muslims to access credit - which, if used properly, can build wealth and make people better off.

We should all look to apply ancient concepts of financial fairness in modern times. When financial systems benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, we need to be concerned. I've already covered microcredit institutions, and I've covered subprime lending. The latter, I have to admit, isn't as much a case of the rich getting wealthier at the expense of the poor, because one major subprime lender is in bankruptcy, and the industry in general is in severe difficulty. But it is a case of the financial system not working to help the poor.

And so, we come to CEO pay. On one hand, even the $200-ish million that Robert Nardelli of Home Depot received was quite little compared to total profit. The stock price had declined the last few years before his ouster, and there were operating problems. Nardelli's compensation was generally considered to be egregious, but made over $90 billion in sales last year. Surely CEO pay is and should be commensurate with their heavy responsibilities?

Charles O'Reilley of the Stanford Graduate School of Business finds that excessive CEO pay is usually not limited to the CEO, it extends to other upper-level managers as well, which costs shareholders, and that excessive pay leads to employee dissatisfaction and increased turnover. The costs of turnover to a company should not be understated - it takes years to develop the experience necessary to perform at an optimum level. When individuals feel that they are being unfairly treated, they will lower their performance.

O'Reilly's analysis did not go into this, but this decrease in morale costs us all. It costs the workers, who could be earning more if they performed better, and who lose seniority and pay if they leave for another organization. And they end up paying less in taxes, which (we hope) society could use to fund worthwhile programs. Rising societal inequality may result in increased crime rates, and it certainly results in large-scale dissatisfaction. And many of us are indirect shareholders in many companies, if we have any sort of personal investments (IRAs and 401ks) or a pension fund. Generally, mutual fund managers vote the shares on our behalf, and they generally go with what management recommends, but we should have some say too. Americans do depend on large corporations to produce wealth that benefits all of us. It should not be that upper managers enrich themselves while laying off employees, as was the case at Delphi.

And so, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts sponsored a "say on pay" bill in the US House of Representatives, which would give all shareholders nonbinding advisory votes on CEO pay yearly. The bill passed the House with more than two thirds of the vote. However, it has to be introduced in the Senate and passed. If it passes by less than two thirds, the President will veto it, and he has indicated his opposition.

Critics argue that the law increases unnecessary oversight, provides an opportunity to blackmail companies by threatening to convince other shareholders to vote no on pay in exchange for something else, and that corporate boards are a better mechanism to determine pay. First, the UK already does this, and they don't seem to have problems with abuse. Second, it takes a lot of effort to convince over 50% of shareholders to vote no on something, and if I want to blackmail a company there are better ways. Third, board members typically have close relationships with the executives they oversee, creating a conflict of interest when determining pay.

Another article on the subject can be found here. Pray this passes.

Friday, April 20, 2007

France's glorious ambitions - not all that different from America's

When you get down to it, the French may not be all that different from the Americans. Note France's longing to return to glory.


By Catherine Field

Pride fuelled the French train that this month reached a world record speed of 574.8km/h. Photo / Reuters
In March, the French nation breathed a little easier. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) delivered some unexpectedly good news: the number of French speakers in the world was now more than 200 million, the first time this symbolic threshold had ever been crossed.

The OIF, which has a budget of €22 million ($40.25 million), issues this bean-counting assessment every two years - and the report is picked over by French policymakers, the media and much of the public like Roman soothsayers poring over the entrails of a chicken.

The reason: Use of the French language is considered a vital barometer of France's standing in the world. Status is an issue that has become a national obsession and it courses river-like through the country's presidential election campaign. The first round of voting for the five-year term as head of state takes place on Sunday, with a runoff two weeks later.

That there should be such worry about national standing may come as a surprise to the rest of the world, which has become accustomed to hearing of the "French exception," that France is a country with a unique status, standing tall and self-confidently asserting its interests.

After all, France has an independent nuclear arsenal. It has overseas territories that stretch from the northwest Atlantic and South America to Antarctica and Polynesia. Its military has boots on the ground in former colonies in Africa. It is a founder member of the European Union and a driver of European integration. It is the main force behind Europe's space programme and the world's biggest airliner and makes record-breaking passenger trains. French haute couture, perfumes and cosmetics rule the world and French cuisine is a global benchmark of culinary taste.

Then there was that moment when France refused to back the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, wielding the threat of a veto at the UN Security Council.

And yet: more and more French people see their country in decline, and less and less capable of dealing with external challenges. A monthly poll of 1000 respondents by TNS-Sofres routinely suggests that two-thirds of the public believe France's role in the world is weakening. And heading the list of demons is globalisation, deemed a threat to jobs, businesses, traditions and the welfare system. According to a survey last year by the EU's opinion-poll unit Eurobarometer, 64 per cent of the French - the highest percentage in Europe - consider globalisation to be negative.

"In France, there is a particular strain of melancholy," said philosopher Chantal Delsol. "The British tell themselves,'We are no longer a great power, so we will live as a middle one.' But the French don't say that. They say: 'We are intrinsically a great power, so why isn't it working in reality?' For a while we try to shut our eyes, but that doesn't work for long. When reality truly dawns, then the first phase is extreme sadness, and that is the phase we are in now."

The malaise has percolated through the campaign of all 12 men and women bidding for the Elysee Palace. On the far right, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen appeals strongly to poor whites nostalgic for past glory and economic growth. He is making a pitch on rolling back European integration, dumping the euro and stopping immigration.

His campaign has prompted the likely leader in the first voting round, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, to play the patriotic card, vowing to set up a "ministry of immigration and national identity. "Sarkozy talks of a "France that is suffering" but insists the country "is never more ready to deliver a surprise than when one believes it is in decline."

On the left, the Socialists' candidate, Segolene Royal, has wrapped herself, almost literally, in the tricolore. She has called for every home to have a national flag and leads her supporters at rallies in singing the Marseillaise. She wants any companies which outsource jobs and receive state aid to reimburse those subsidies. With candidates to Royal's left, the pitch is not on patriotism but on beefing up handouts and passing laws to protect against "delocalisation," as job outsourcing is called.

In their quest for the nationalist vote, candidates have notably refused to speak up for Europe, as their predecessors have done for the last half century. A proposed EU constitution was emphatically ditched by French voters in a 2005 referendum, and many French people appear to feel that the EU's "Big Bang" enlargement from 15 to 27 countries has left their country less capable of policing its borders against poor or illegal immigrants or criminals.

To a large degree, whoever takes France's helm next month will find limited room to manoeuvre. Assuming 78-year-old Le Pen is not elected, the next president will be the first who will not have experienced World War II, and will inherit a country with less sovereignty than at any time in its unoccupied history.

In return for the benefits of closer European integration, France - like the other members of the EU - has had to transfer swathes of national authority to Brussels. It also has to deal with the power of the global market, with its tides of investment flows that can make or break economic reforms. In addition, parliamentary elections are due to take place in June, and the outcome of this may further crimp the future president's clout.

Despite all this, the next president can be expected to vigorously fight France's corner. France will continue to use its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its influence within the EU to punch above its weight. It will continue to deploy its military in pursuit of national or allied interests. It will continue to subsidise the overseas terroritories and fund the OIF, the news channel France 24 and other organisations that promote francophone culture. It will continue to have rows with the European Commission about its aid for national champions.

And no-one should underestimate France's potential for a rebound: it is the world's fifth biggest economy, the second biggest source of foreign direct investment and the fourth largest exporter of goods. It has a varied economy, excellent infrastructure, highly trained workforce and a landscape and climate that truly makes it the land of plenty. The "French exception" will remain: you can bet on it.