Wednesday, October 31, 2007

History lesson: Reebok CEO writing for WSJ, called for Burmese divestment in 2005

This article posted on Burmanet.

2005, June 7: Defeating apartheid would have been impossible without corporations world-wide mounting economic pressure to help release South Africa from the grip of a criminal regime.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading voice in that fight for freedom, declared, “Tough sanctions, not constructive engagement, finally brought the release of Nelson Mandela and the dawn of a new era in my country.” In 1993, when Archbishop Tutu looked to the brutality of the junta controlling Burma, he called it “the South Africa of the ’90s.” More than a decade has passed, but Western corporations are still playing key roles in boosting the Burmese economy that finances the junta’s rule.

In the past few months, a 23-year-old refugee from Burma has documented reports in horrifying detail that demand our attention. She described an incident in which 10 Burmese soldiers stormed a farm and raped a young woman in her hut for eight hours straight. The woman was seven months pregnant at the time. Her husband was tied to a nearby tree and forced to hear the entire assault. The soldiers then dragged him away, and the woman never saw him again. A few days later she gave birth alone in the jungle.

The most shocking thing about this story is how commonplace it has become in Burma. For years now Burmese soldiers have been attacking women and even children in fields as they plant sugar cane, on riverbanks as they wash clothes, along roadsides as they forage for wild vegetables. But these rapes are not random crimes. They are part of the Burmese military’s strategy to intimidate and control ethnic groups.

The brave young woman who reported these stories was Charm Tong, a refugee who works on the dangerous frontlines in the fight for the rights of oppressed Burmese nationalities. For exposing military violence against women and children and courageously advocating for their rights, Charm Tong received the Reebok Human Rights Award last month.

As I listened to Charm Tong’s stories, I felt reassured that Reebok’s 1996 decision to refuse to do business in Burma was the right one. But her reports of these recent atrocities are evidence that not enough companies have joined us in creating economic pressure to fight the systematic, deliberate cruelty of the junta. We need many more corporations around the world to join us in defending human rights in Burma.

Why focus on this regime? Despite a lack of enemies outside its borders, Burma has one of the largest armies in Asia. It spends nearly half its budget on the military. At the same time, the United Nations reports that Burma — once one of Asia’s healthiest economies — is now home to one of the world’s poorest populations. It has also become one of the worst providers of health care, with one in 10 children dying before turning five.

But the junta’s human-rights record provides an even more urgent reason. The regime has renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council in an attempt to mask its appalling record. That record includes the massacre of thousands of civilians, the widespread use of slave labor, the routine torture of 1,300 political prisoners, the forced removal of 1.5 million people from their homelands, and, as now documented, rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minority women and children.

It’s impossible to conduct business in Burma without supporting this regime. In fact, the junta’s core funding derives from foreign investment and trade. But foreign investment and aid yield little benefit to the nearly 50 million citizens who live under the military’s ruthless campaign of intimidation. Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader now under house arrest, has pleaded with the world to apply economic sanctions against Burma until democracy can free the country from the military’s brutal grip.

Over the years many foreign companies in a wide range of industries have responded to those pleas by withdrawing their business. These include adidas-Salomon, H&M, IKEA, Newmont and British Petroleum. But some of the regime’s principal business partners continue to be multinationals, many based in Europe. Those lifelines must be cut to weaken the regime’s hold on the people of Burma.

Governments can, and should, do much more to enact humane responses to this crisis. But the experience of apartheid demonstrates a powerful role for businesses to play. I urge corporations around the world to work together once more, this time to help restore human rights and democracy to Burma.

Mr. Fireman is chairman and CEO of Reebok International Ltd. The 16th Reebok Human Rights Awards were presented on May 11 in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Worshippers in hiding in Oklahoma

Carla Hinton, Religion Editor for NewsOK

Chapman said the archdiocese's council of priests placed its support behind a "pledge of resistance” as a way to civilly express opposition to the law. The pledge, written by Friend and the Rev. Lance Schmitz, minister of social justice at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, was presented to Gov. Brad Henry's office Friday on behalf of Archbishop Eusebius Beltran and the priests' council.
When the Rev. Leonel Blanco looks out into the pews of his south Oklahoma City church on Sundays, he sees only half the number of his predominantly Hispanic congregation.

Attendance at Blanco's Santa Maria Virgen, called the fastest-growing church in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, has dwindled sharply — a 50 percent decrease that Blanco blames on the Oklahoma immigration reform law that goes into effect Thursday. "Four months ago, this church was very full, but now the people are nervous. They don't like going out,” Blanco, a native of Guatemala, said in Spanish through an interpreter.

"I believe that the law should be there to protect and bring unity. Instead of getting us together, it's driving us apart.”

Blanco is not alone:

•More than 1,000 individually signed "Pledge of Resistance” letters from Sacred Heart Catholic Church members. The letters are expected to be presented to Gov. Brad Henry's office today. The pledge was drafted by a Quaker and Church of the Nazarene social justice leader as a faith response to HB 1804 and adopted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma. The letters from Sacred Heart support a copy of the pledge initially presented to the governor last week.

•An Interfaith Vigil of Prayer and Solidarity for Undocumented Persons has been planned for Thursday.

•A Catholic priest says the law is unjust and sinful while an Episcopal clergyman likened the law to the vigilante justice of the Ku Klux Klan.

But state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, stands by HB 1804, the reform law he authored that has drawn the clergy's ire.

House Bill 1804
What does it say? HB 1804 makes it criminal to transport, hire, harbor, house or conceal illegal immigrants. It also requires local law enforcement agencies to check immigration status. The law will effectively end state-sponsored benefits for those who can't prove they are legally in the U.S.

What's ahead? The law takes effect Thursday, but the legal fight continues. An Interfaith Vigil of Prayer and Solidarity for Undocumented Persons is planned for 6 to 6:45 p.m. Thursday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel

"I find it troubling that they would conveniently overlook the fact that providing services for undocumented persons with taxpayer funds is severely straining our social safety net for our own citizens. This is immoral,” he said.

The debate over the morality of the immigration reform law is picking up steam as its implementation date looms.

Religious leaders say immigrants have a right to migrate to improve their quality of life, but Terrill said it is not that simple.

‘A higher law' cited
The Rev. Anthony Taylor, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, said he considers the reform law to be sinful because it proposes to take away what he considers a God-given right of human dignity.

"People have a right to immigrate where circumstances so require. They do so as their God-given right,” he said.

Obeying the law is tantamount to sin, since "there's a higher law than civil law. We need to treat everyone with human dignity.”

The Rev. Michael Chapman, pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church, 317 N Blackwelder, expressed similar sentiments.

"Illegality is not as important as the dignity of that (immigrant) family — you have the right to migrate to feed your family,” he said.

Blanco said some Hispanic immigrants believe they are losing the right to move freely because of an increase in racial profiling by the police.

"They are not terrorists,” Blanco said. "This discriminates. It seems to me like it's bringing the Ku Klux Klan again.”

Blanco and Chapman said most undocumented immigrants are hardworking and don't deserve to be shoved out of Oklahoma. Many, they said, want to work to feed their families and often send money back to their native land to support relatives.

"You don't see Latinos on the streets asking for money. They are working,” said Blanco. "We are demonstrating that we have a lot of dignity.”

Rex Friend, a Quaker and immigration law attorney, said according to his religious doctrine, HB1804 represents "harsh and cruel punishment of our brothers who had the happenstance to be born somewhere else.”

Terrill said the religious leaders don't understand the law.

"They dangerously confuse the concept of personhood and citizenship,” he said.

"I'm a conservative pro-life Republican. I believe you are a person at conception. While personhood comes with basic rights — the biggest is right to life — I believe that is an entirely different concept than being a U.S. citizen which occurs when you are born in the U.S. and with that citizenship, comes certain rights. There is no constitutional right for an unlawfully present foreign national to receive anything at taxpayer expense.”

Obeying whose authority?
By the clergymen's interpretation of the law, they will run the risk of becoming felons should they come to the aid of an illegal immigrant. However, each of them said the legislation will not change the way they serve their congregations.

"There's a higher law than civil law,” said Taylor, who leads the largest predominantly Hispanic congregation in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese.

He said based on this divine premise, the law may be met with civil disobedience akin to the 1960s civil rights movement.

"When it's a matter of justice, there's no question about it,” he said. "We're solidly on the side of the people whose rights are being violated.”

Chapman said immigration reform is so emotionally charged that the priests who signed the pledge hoped it would cause everyone to consider all the law's implications.

"Making a statement at this time is a way for us to stand up and kind of like they are doing in California, putting water on the fire and calming people down,” he said.

Blanco, whose congregation at 2141 SW 25 has gone from about 300 to 125, said he has told immigrants not to leave the state out of fear. He said the doors of his church remain open and he will continue to help those in need.

Terrill said he thinks the religious leaders are well-intentioned in their concerns. He said to break the law, a person would have to knowingly transport, hire, harbor, house or conceal illegal immigrants and demonstrate reckless disregard for the law with some underlying commercial or financial gain at stake.

"If there's something that is purely religious, educational, charitable in nature or other humanitarian purpose, then that would not be included.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Grande mocha half-something frappa-whatevers vs kids in the Sudan

US water resources badly managed

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- The tragedy of the California fires should remind us of the invaluable resource of water. It's a resource that we can't live without, that is vital to our existence in so many ways, from what we drink, to what we eat, to manufacturing, and sanitation.
Yet, water is growing scarcer with dramatic implications for the future.
Water systems in the U.S. are in dire need of repair and revamping -- billions of dollars worth. Reservoirs and aqueducts are in need of more efficiency, as are drainage and sewer systems. Municipal water systems are at emergency levels. Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake by surface area, (The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world), is at its lowest point in more than 80 years.
When is America going to wake up and address the commodity of freshwater?
Private and publicly traded water companies are stretched thin handling all the business that is afforded them. (Water as an investment has outperformed the S&P 500 for years.)
The scarcer supply and increased demand has caused water utility prices and rates to rise.
Water should be a bigger business proposition than it is today. It needs a market unto itself, and perhaps then, when private interests work the market, inefficiencies will winnow.
As it stands, water systems are all over the map. Here's why: There are individual municipal water systems that control supply for their consumers. There are regional water suppliers that control their outputs and allocations. There are private water suppliers. And there is federal oversight of water source supply and regulation.
But these principals are sometimes, if not often, at odds, forcing discrimination and inefficient methods of distribution between suppliers and consumers.
More private water companies should arise and force the market to decide who gets what. You can bet that there will be efficiency then. To be sure, there should be basic provisos for water access, etc. But there should be incentives to provide efficiencies that we can choose to tap as consumers.
For example, the average building in the average climate can meet its water needs -- its people's needs -- simply by capturing the rainwater from its roof. Meanwhile, municipalities let up to 70% of their freshwater supply run off and flow away, without recapture. Municipal systems allow water to recklessly flow to rivers and oceans because of poorly constructed drainage systems.
There is a need for basic water needs to be provided and water utilities to step up with more choices for consumers (sort of like a phone company with basic service).
It's time we focused on the water crisis this country faces, and focused on efficiencies rather than bureaucratic means to solve the problem.
Most experts say we have enough water in the country to meet our needs, but we are just doing a bad job of water management.
The fires raging in California, the water emergencies in Georgia, and the increased likelihood those circumstances will occur again because of global warming are tangible reason enough for us to take the current water crisis and the future water crises more seriously.
An important first step would be for Congress to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, sponsored by Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and James Oberstar, D-Minn.
October marks the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which was designed to clean up the nation's water supply and wetlands. The Clean Water Restoration Act modernizes that important piece of legislation to give us better mandates to clean up our water systems. A recent study, quoted by the congressmen, found that in 2005, 57% of all major U.S. industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into our waterways than allowed by law, and that the average facility exceeded its pollution permit limit by 263%, discharging close to four times the legal limit.
Cleaner water is more water.
And we are in desperate need of that.

Argentina: First Lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner likely to be elected Presidenta

I've received word that Argentine First Lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is likely to be elected President. Her husband, Nestor Kirchner, is not running due to term limits.

From CNN

She met her husband Nestor Kirchner when they were both law students in her hometown of La Plata in the 1970's. They married in 1975 and have two children. Kirchner served three terms as Santa Cruz governor, while Fernandez is a three-term senator now representing powerful Buenos Aires province.

Comparisons have been made between the Kirchners and the Clintons. Like Bill and Hillary, the couple are said to consult each other on everything, especially political matters, and Kirchner is his wife's cheerleader-in-chief, promising she'll be an even better president than him.

While economic and political stability may have been welcomed by many, some analysts are wary of the close relationship dominating Argentine politics.

"There is no political debate in this country right now," Walter Curia, an editor at the newspaper Clarín told The New York Times. "The only debate is within the walls of the Pink House."

As long as they keep trading places and winning elections, the couple could stay in the Casa Rosada indefinitely, sidestepping the constitutional limit of eight consecutive years in office.


Still, inflation is high, corruption scandals have tarnished Kirchner's government, and the opposition is trying to capitalize on fears the couple will become what rival campaigns call "una monarkia," spelling the word for monarchy with a K for Kirchner.

"There is a risk she will be so captivated by international politics and foreign relations that she will avoid the mounting problems in Argentina," Shifter told The New York Times.


As far back as 2003, she angrily pounded her Senate desk as she demanded the Supreme Court repeal amnesty for officials accused of crimes during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, when as many as 30,000 Argentines were kidnapped and killed, including some of the Kirchners' friends.

The high court listened, scrapped the amnesty, and "dirty war" trials resumed last year.


The good folks at Wall Street Journal, one of the paragons of journalistic objectivity, have accused Nestor Kirchner of being "anti-market". His Wikipedia article indicates that he is a critic of economic neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus, but doesn't consider himself anti-market per se. Kirchner is friends with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who is a bit of a maniac, but the former seems more a moderate. If he and his wife remain humble and don't centralize power too much, their country will do well, I think.

Gap sweatshop in India causes outcry; subcontractor was hired in violation of company labor policy

NEW DELHI (AP) -- The Indian children reportedly found making clothes for Gap should be reunited with their families and compensated by the government, activists said Monday amid a spreading scandal about the use of child labor by the international clothing chain.

The reported discovery of children as young as 10 sewing clothes for clothing retailer Gap (Charts, Fortune 500) in a New Delhi factory has renewed concerns about child labor in India, but government officials offered no comment Monday.

"The biggest responsibility here lies with the Indian government - they don't develop a way of monitoring" factories, said Bhuwan Ribhu, a lawyer who works with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the Save Childhood Movement.

"International companies hire subcontractors and then forget about it. There is no monitoring at all," Ribhu added. "Where the Gap is concerned, at least they've taken a good pro-active stand against the subcontractors."

Britain's Observer newspaper reported Sunday that it had found children making clothes with Gap labels in a squalid factory in New Delhi. It quoted the children as saying they were from poor parts of India and had been sold to the sweatshop by their impoverished families. Some said they were not paid for their work.

Gap responded quickly, saying the factory was being run by a subcontractor who was hired in violation of Gap's policies, and none of the products made there will be sold in its stores.

"We appreciate that the media identified this subcontractor, and we acted swiftly in this situation," Gap spokesman Bill Chandler told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments."
From Lands' End to Fair Trade

Child labor remains a widespread problem in India, despite the country's economic boom and its growing wealth.

The government has repeatedly tried to ban the use of child workers - in 1986 outlawing them from working in dangerous industries, such as glassmaking, and last year banning them being employed as domestic servants or in restaurants.

But the prohibitions have had only a minimal impact and children's rights activists estimate that 13 million children are still working in India, with many being used in labor-intensive businesses like carpet-weaving and in dangerous industries, such as making fire crackers.

Chandler said Gap requires its suppliers to guarantee that they will not use child labor to produce garments. Gap stopped working with 23 factories last year over violations uncovered by its inspectors.

The San Francisco-based company has 90 full-time inspectors who make unannounced visits around the world to ensure vendors are abiding by Gap's guidelines, he said.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ship of Fools Mystery Worshiper: 1 out of 10 for the sermon

Ship of Fools is a UK-based Christian website. They have a Mystery Worshiper program, sending folks out to worship in churches mainly in the US and UK.

Mainline Pilgrim visited a church in Indiana that he or she really didn't agree with, socially and theologically.

The building: The church is typical of the new churches in the new suburbs. A grass and asphalt campus surrounds a building that has absolutely no scruples about being plain, unobtrusive and cheap, with a fiberglas steeple stuck on top as an afterthought. The sanctuary is a windowless auditorium decorated with plastic plants. Out in the lobby can be found the Connection Cafe, featuring wi-fi connection points and serving cappuccino, latte and flavored coffee drinks. The cafe is painted a peculiar shade of red that makes the place seem about ten degrees warmer than it actually is.

The church: It's a good deal younger than churches a mainliner such as myself is used to. Their events calendar is full of fellowship dinners, pool parties, picnics, game nights and community barbecues. However, while there are programs designed to attract new members and get everyone acquainted with each other, as well as ministries for children, young adults, brides-to-be, mothers, those seeking spiritual growth, etc., it seemed to me that there was a conspicuous lack of outreaches to the poor, meek, or persecuted.

The neighborhood: Lafayette is a middle-sized blue-collar manufacturing city that sits on the east bank of the Wabash River about 65 miles northwest of Indianapolis. The suburb of West Lafayette lies across the river and is a college town, home to Purdue University. Calvary Baptist straddles the line where expensive, new housing developments collide with cornfields.

Our hero goes on to castigate the church further:

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – The pastor leaned on the podium casually the whole time in an apparent effort to seem personable and informal. His sermon was projected via Powerpoint, and he kept jabbing a laser pointer at it. It seemed to me that he had first written the sermon and then then tinkered with a computerized Bible search program to find passages to support his points. The passages came from many different parts of the Bible and weren't even all from the same translation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon had the rather gruesome title "How to Stay Clean in a Corrupt Society." How, precisely, society is corrupt was not clarified; therefore the nature of the church’s cleanliness remained a mystery. There were a few clues to the dreadfulness of this corrupt society, though – at one point he mentioned that the church needed a building permit for its new connection center and from this leapt to the conclusion that churches are illegal in some parts of the country! He assured us that no matter how many times we fall in with those corrupt sorts, we should try our best to stay clean because Jesus was perfect. I wondered whether white, suburban churchgoers really lacked influence on society to the degree he claimed. And all the talk about cleanliness reminded me of Acts 11:9: "What God hath cleansed, make not thou common."


How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – There is absolutely nothing that would draw me back to this church again. The service was unenlightening enough, but the dismal record of service to the poor and needy is a testament in and of itself. Barbecues and pool parties are nice, but the work of the gospel they are not.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I did not experience the gospel at that church as I understand it.

Well, these folks sure won't be passing through the eye of the needle if Mainline Pilgrim is right. Saint Andrew's and Saint Clare's in Ann Arbor, which are both Episcopal, large, and pretty rich, participate in outreach ministries. St A's hosts a breakfast program for all comers, all year round. Both churches participate in the rotating overflow shelter for the homeless. This is what the Gospel is: feed Jesus, clothe Jesus. Looks like some church in Indiana forgot.

5 worst excuses not to go green gives the 5 worst excuses for not going green. #1 is it's too expensive.

Some people think greening their home means installing "fancy-schmancy" things like solar panels, but it's simpler than that, says Jenny Powers, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For example, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs cost more upfront (an estimated $2 to $15, for specialty bulbs), but they last 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs, she notes. CFL bulbs use 75 percent less energy, resulting in savings of $30 or more in electricity costs during the life of each bulb, according to data from the federal government's Energy Star program.

"So you'll be paying a lot less on your energy bill, and over time you'll more than make up for your cost," Powers says.

Seeing the potential savings in the long run is a way to get beyond this excuse, says Edwin Stafford, associate professor of marketing at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, who studies green marketing.

Powers says you can look for products with the Energy Star seal because they are more energy-efficient and will result in savings on your electric bill.

"It doesn't mean switching to solar power or putting up a wind turbine in your yard," she says. "Those are great things to do, but it's not necessary."

Thomas Kostigen, co-author of "The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time," notes that even turning down the thermostat a degree lower for the heat and a degree higher for air conditioning can save approximately $100 a year on your utility bill.

Living simply can, in fact, be cheaper. Do check the other excuses out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bishop Katharine: Anglican Communion not falling apart, Episcopal Church has charism to stand up for LGBT rights

charisma (also charism): divinely conferred power or talent

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined us for dinner on day 1 of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan's Diocesan Convention. As you know, she is the first female archbishop in the Anglican Communion. She has personally been supportive of the LGBT community. She is also a strong proponent of the Millennium Development Goals; you can find more information at the link, and I will speak on the goals at a later date. As a public health professional, I completely support the MDGs. As an Episcopalian, having my church start to work on the goals is an excellent way to witness to the rest of the world.

Victor Juliet Mukasa is Ugandan and Anglican. She visited my church at one time, because she was dating an American woman (and may still be doing so). Victor identifies as transgender.


Human Rights Abuses and Violations
I can give specific examples :
• Raped to prove that you are really a woman
• At school: public assembly and humiliation: beaten
• Thrown out of family home
• Thrown out of subsequent homes by landlords
• Lose job because feel violated wearing a skirt
• Psychological Effects of Abuse: Depression, Anger, Drinking, Suicide
• Daily level: holding full bladder for 12-18 hours
• Being undressed and humiliated:
o By government: To get passport
o In church – I was once stripped naked as in naked!, in church, before a multitude of people. The pastor ‘saw’ a spirit of a young man inside me and they burnt my clothes and shoes in order to kill the male spirit.
o By Police: humiliation, mocking, mistreatment

I told Bishop Katharine that Victor had visited my church. I told her that I felt that during the recent Primates' Meeting, the Episcopal Church had been on the defensive, even as African countries persecuted their LGBT citizens, and their Anglican Primates either stood by or joined in. I told her that the Episcopal Church had to stand up for LGBT human rights.

And Bishop Katharine agreed. She feels the Episcopal Church's charism, or unique spiritual gift, may be to witness to the world on behalf of the LGBT community, and protecting their human rights is part of that. Many of my sisters and brothers have been hurt by the Episcopal Church's taking a pause or a step back from full inclusion of LGBT individuals. However, we are Anglicans. We are part of a global communion of churches. We must maintain our witness and move towards full inclusion ... and we must also be conscious of our voice as global citizens. Our actions can affect Christians across the globe. Perhaps we may have to lie to maintain our place. But Virginia Ramey Mollenkot, a feminist Baptist minister, once said that as Christians once lied to protect the Jews hiding in their basements from the Nazis, sometimes it's OK to lie.

I can only pray my LGBT brothers and sisters will forgive us, and that we will indeed work like hell for change, starting with the recognition of the human rights of the LGBT community round the world.

Court hear final arguments in iwi dispute on Hawaii

Both sides in the long-running dispute over how to handle native Hawaiian remains found at the Ward Village Shops redevelopment project are slated to wrap up their case today before state Circuit Judge Glenn Kim.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. is seeking a halt to construction and any further disinterments of the remains, or iwi, at the 6-acre site where General Growth Properties is building a $150 million mixed-use project that is to be anchored by a Whole Foods Market store.

Closing statements are being delivered this morning after two days of testimony, but Judge Kim said he won't likely render a decision until next week.

"We are asking the judge to stop the project now," said cultural descendant Paulette Kaleikini, the plaintiff in the case. "Instead of making decisions for 10 burials at time, they should have done a complete survey for the whole project area before starting any construction."

She fears that families that were buried together will be separated by removal -- and says that her fear that piles would be driven into some of the iwi has indeed materialized.

Most of the testimony yesterday pertained to the portion of the project where the Whole Foods store is being built, given that the state Historic Preservation Division recently authorized the removal of another 10 burials there. The current count of iwi discovered at the site is at 64.

Construction of Whole Foods store continued yesterday as the court hearings proceeded.

Witnesses have included Department of Land and Natural Resources director Laura Thielen, as well as Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology and Kaleikini.

Dye went on record stating that his professional estimate of the number of burials at the site was at 335, based on his review of documents.

That number should have been presented to the Oahu Island Burial Council last fall, he said in an earlier interview, rather than the tally of 11 actually presented before the council voted for removal and relocation.

All other burial discoveries have since fallen under the jurisdiction of the Historic Preservation Division, part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Vince Kanemoto, representing the state, cross-examined Dye with an exhaustive list of questions, ranging from SHA's opinion of Melanie Chinen, the preservation division's administrator, to his qualifications as an expert on historic preservation, the definitions of a burial site, a concentration and the methodology for determining the ethnicity of human remains.

John Yamano, attorney for General Growth, said there have been numerous delays in the project. The motion before the court is one of several that have sought to stop construction -- but to date none have been granted.

Whenever new sets of remains are discovered, developers are required by law to inform the state and await directions on what to do with them. But the state must respond within 24 to 48 hours.

"General Growth has complied with every rule, regulation and statue" he said. "We've worked very closely with SHPD as well as their descendants, including the plaintiff."

He said this included giving the state additional time to respond in regards to new discoveries.

"General Growth has tried to be very responsible with the iwi," he said.

He said that Dye admitted in testimony he has never set foot on the project, but made his analysis based on three reports.

Judge Kim had his own set of questions for Dye on the determination of a "burial site" and "concentration of burials" stating: "The definitions are troublesome in and of themselves, and they require interpretation."

A skeletal remain, for example, can include anything from the tip of a human finger to a complete, intact set of bones. Historic property means any area over 50 years old.

Kaleikini said her great-grandfather's cousin, Ka'aua, held the land grant for the property, and that she is one of several family members chosen to take care of the iwi kupuna.

She has long held the position that iwi should first and foremost be preserved in place, unless natural elements -- like erosion -- warrant relocation. Construction is not a natural cause for disinterment.

The disinterment of iwi at the site has caused harm to her and her family, she said.

Federal Reserve's libertarian orientation may have precipitated the subprime crisis

For those of you interested in finance, Marketwatch has this article, which argues that the US Federal Reserve had a strongly libertarian bent under Alan Greenspan. They may have had the authority to impose controls which would have ameliorated the lending situation in the US spinning out of control, but they instead chose to do nothing. This allowed sloppy lending practices. And by the way, this is a global issues, because buyers all over the world have purchased securities tied to US subprime loans.

McClatchy: Another immigration measure goes nowhere

WASHINGTON — The Senate flinched again Wednesday on the potent issue of immigration, refusing to consider legislation that would've put thousands of undocumented immigrant students on paths to citizenship.

By 52-44 — eight short of the 60-vote majority needed under Senate rules — senators effectively killed the DREAM Act after the Bush administration announced its opposition to it. The bill's defeat came four months after the Senate rejected more comprehensive immigration legislation that the White House supported.

Known officially as ``the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,'' the bill would've allowed illegal immigrants' children who've grown up in the U.S. the opportunity to apply for citizenship if they graduate from high school and attend two years of college or serve in the military.

While far more limited than the bill that died in the Senate in late June, the measure nevertheless ignited the same divisions, with opponents denouncing it as amnesty that would pave the way to legalizing millions of illegal immigrants.

Tensions flared after Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a presidential candidate who's calling for restrictive immigration policies, sought unsuccessfully to obtain the arrests of several illegal immigrant students whom the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., invited to Washington to help lobby for the legislation.

``America is a better nation than what we hear from the likes of that congressman,'' Durbin said on the Senate floor before the vote. Tancredo later shot back in a news release that Durbin's bill was designed ``to do one thing — benefit illegal aliens.''

Durbin has sought for years to obtain passage of the measure to help illegal immigrant children, who he said are caught in legal limbo after they enter the United States with their parents. Many, he said, grow up in this country, attend school and become part of the American culture but are unable to become legal contributing citizens because of their undocumented status.

``These are kids without a country,'' he said.

As he argued on behalf of the bill, he stood beside an oversize photograph of Marie Gonzalez, 21, an undocumented student who came to the United States when she was 5 and is a political science major at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

Gonzalez, who was among several undocumented students watching the debate from the gallery, said she was scheduled to be deported next June 30, just 18 semester hours short of her graduation. ``It is a tragedy what is happening to these students,'' she said after the vote at an impromptu news conference in Durbin's office.

A surprisingly large contingent of 12 Republicans supported the motion to proceed on the bill after Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, secured Durbin's consent for a proposed compromise aimed at softening conservatives' objections. It would've allowed immigrant children to stay in the country and secure student and work visas but would've required them to get behind other applicants in applying for permanent legal status.

Hutchison described the potential beneficiaries of the bill as young people who were ``brought to this country not of their own doing.

``If we sent them home, there wouldn't be a home to go to.''

Although DREAM Act provisions were part of the failed comprehensive bill embraced by President Bush, the administration announced its opposition to Durbin's latest bill before the vote.

While expressing sympathy to young people who ``have come to know the United States as home,'' a statement by the Office of Management and Budget said the legislation would establish ``a preferential path to citizenship for a special class of illegal aliens'' and contained loopholes that could give legal status to criminals.

The statement warned of potential widespread document fraud and said beneficiaries of the bill would be eligible for welfare benefits in five years.

Durbin acknowledged after the vote that trying to pass immigration legislation near the presidential election season is "very difficult." Immigration, long one of the most divisive issues confronting Congress, is emerging as a hot-button topic in presidential politics.

The outcome on Durbin's bill also raised doubts about the prospects of other piecemeal immigration measures moving through Congress, including proposals to legalize immigrant farm workers and expand a visa program for high-tech workers.

Court orders Gernalow Wilson freed

Gernalow Wilson was earlier convicted of felony aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with a 15 year-old girl when he was 17. The prosecutor charged him under a legal loophole that made that conduct a felony, while sexual intercourse would have been a misdemeanor. An appeals judge ordered Wilson freed, but the prosecutor appealed.

Now, the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled, 4-3, that his sentence was indeed grossly disproportionate to the crime, and has ordered his immediate release. Wilson had already spent two years in prison. Had the crime been a misdemeanor from the start, he probably would only have been jailed for a short time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How's the genocide going, Warren? Another take on Buffett

David Weidner has another take on Warren Buffett. He is far more generous than the headline. And PS, I am exaggerating with the headlines.

"The Chinese government is the one that has a position in relation to the Sudan," Buffett said in an interview with Fox Business last week. "And they have it -- if you own any one of the 30 largest companies in publicly traded companies in China, you will have the Chinese government as your majority partner. And the question is, are you responsible for their actions?"

Human-rights groups said they were disappointed Darfur didn't figure into Buffett's decision.

Don't believe a word of it. Buffett is far too smart to believe his own lines. The state oil company, China National Petroleum, is the parent of PetroChina and a partner with Sudan for oil ventures there. Many top managers at PetroChina are executives of the state company, CNPC. Oil proceeds fund the Sudanese government's efforts there, along with the brutality, rape and torture.

If it were all about the profit, Buffett, by his own admission, left money on the table. "I still sold it way too soon," he said.

This doesn't sound like investing the Warren Buffett way.

Berkshire owned more than 11% of PetroChina when it bought its stake in 2006. So, with the stock rising, he sells all of it in a matter of months after an investor protest at the Berkshire annual meeting? Unlikely.

Warren Buffett was uncomfortable with this investment. And if he wasn't? Then he's as deluded as the sick people who are profiting from the suffering in Africa.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A very important letter from former Gov. James McGreevy of New Jersey

This letter was published in the Washington Post.

My gut wrenched when I read of Sen. Larry Craig's bathroom arrest. I remembered my own late-night encounter with the law at a Garden State Parkway rest stop following a political dinner in north Jersey.

I pulled into the rest stop, parked my car, flashed my headlights, which was "the signal," and waited. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw a state trooper approaching. I desperately tried to convince the trooper of my innocence, showing him my former prosecutor's badge, a gift from the office when I left. The trooper radioed his office and returned. "I never want to see you here again," he said. I survived for another day.

I was in my late 20s. It would be another 25 years before my parallel lives collided and I was coerced out of the "closet."

Why do grown men in their 20s, or their 60s, do such things? I can answer only for me.

As a child, recognizing my difference from other kids, I went to the local public library to try to better understand my reality. Back then, many library card catalogues didn't even list "homosexuality" as a topic. I had to go to "sexuality, deviant" to learn about myself, and the collected works were few and frightening: "Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases," "Homosexuality: Its Causes and Cure," "Sexual Deviance & Sexual Deviants."

If you haven't experienced it, it may be hard to understand the sinking feeling most every gay boy or girl of my generation experienced upon coming across that section of the library. All I could do was slam the drawer closed and leave, steeped in hopelessness.

No relief was forthcoming from my then-Catholic faith, which said the practice of homosexuality was a "mortal sin" subject to damnation.

In the way that teenagers do, I came to the conclusion that my only options were suicide, something for which I could never find the courage, or "closeting" my homosexuality. After all the whispering, fights, insults, reading of academic journals and lessons from the church, you simply say to yourself: This thing, being gay, can't be me. Everything and everyone told me it was wrong, evil, unnatural and shameful. You decide: I'll change it, I'll fight it, I'll control it, but, simply put, I'll never accept it. You then attempt to place "it" in a metaphorical closet, keep it separate from open daily life and indulge it only in dark, secret places.

The danger of this decision is the implicit shame it carries. I was convinced I was worth less than my straight peers. I was at best inauthentic, and the longer I went without amending that dishonesty, the more ashamed I felt. And the third shame, for me, was my behavior. From the time in high school when I made up my mind to behave in public as though I were straight, I nonetheless carried on sexually with men.

How do you live with this shame? How do you accommodate your own disappointments, your own revulsion with whom you have become? You do it by splitting in two. You rescue part of yourself, the half that stands for tradition, values and America, the part that looks like the family you came from, and you walk away from the other half the way you would abandon something spoiled, something disgusting. This is a false amputation, because the other half doesn't stop existing. When I decided to closet my desire, I also denied the possibility of life as a healthy, integrated gay.

But being in the closet uniquely assisted me in politics. From my first run for the state legislature until my election as governor, all too often I was not leading but following my best guess at public opinion. Politics was for me a way to secure the crowd's approbation while maintaining a busyness that obfuscated the desires of my heart. Despite being a moderately liberal governor, my stance on marriage was: "between a man and a woman." The position, in my mind, created a tension with the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community that affirmed my bona fides as a "straight." Only after the crisis that resulted in my resignation, when public opinion no longer mattered, did I realize the importance and legitimacy of same-sex marriage.

Ultimately, like Sen. Craig, I resigned for the perceived good of my family, state and political party. And in so doing, I at long last accepted a fundamental truth, namely, that I am a gay American. In my soul, I found peace. In my heart, I found love. In my psyche, I disassembled the twisted separate strands of my life to create a healthy integrated person. And with my God, I found purpose.

I can only pray that Larry Craig and his loving family come to peace with his truth, whatever that may be. To those who judge him harshly, I ask that they fill their hearts with compassion and equanimity. The senator did not have a lover on the payroll, as I did; nor did he engage in sexual relations for money or use his office for unethical professional or personal gain.

Is it possible that we hold him to a different standard because a same-sex entanglement is involved? If being gay is, as I believe, a natural gift of the creator, what choice does a gay person have in being gay? If we condemn sin in an equal manner, so be it. But what if our condemnation tells to members of the next generation that they are to be shamed, repudiated and vilified inequitably for being gay?

I pray that the tide of American history continues to sweep toward the inevitable expansion of freedom that recognizes the worth and dignity of every individual -- and that mine is the last generation that is required to choose between affairs of the heart and elected office.

The writer, a student at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York, resigned in 2004 after two years as governor of New Jersey.

New Mexican Catholic cardinal is a champion of the poor

The Vatican has named Archbishop Francisco Robles of Mexico as a cardinal. Abp. Robles is not a liberation theologian, but is associated with more progressive church sectors.

"Ill-gotten and ill-used riches close our heart," Robles said in a homily two Sundays ago. "We can pass our lives without even realizing the existence of the poor, the needy, the people who require our help."

Robles' ascension to cardinal comes at a crucial time for the Catholic church in Mexico. Millions of Mexicans have converted to Protestant faiths, and many of the remaining 85 million Catholics rarely attend Mass or receive sacraments.

While the Mexican senior clergy remains dominated by conservatives, many of its parish priests and nuns, especially those in impoverished communities, favor the so-called theology of liberation, which preaches a "preferential option for the poor."

However, the article also indicates that Benedict may have increased the number of Western European cardinals over cardinals from the rest of the world (including the rest of the West).

With the 23 new cardinals named this week, the pope seems to have bolstered the clergy in Europe over those in the Western Hemisphere and the developing world. Ten of the 18 new cardinals hail from Europe, and Europeans now make up half of the body that will vote for any future pope.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Going at it like a bunch of young gay rabbits?

Taoist homosexuals turn to the Rabbit God
The Rabbit Temple in Yonghe enshrines a deity based on an historical figure, which is believed to take care of homosexuals

BY Ho Yi
Sunday, Oct 21, 2007, Page 17

On an overcast weekday afternoon, two men in their 20s walked into an unassuming temple nestled in an apartment building in Yonghe City (永和市). "We've been here before. We know the way," they told the priest's assistant, and proceeded to the altar on the second floor. A few minutes later, another young man went downstairs to have his fortune told by Lu Wei-ming (盧威明), a Taoist priest, or fashi (法師). Lu established and tends this shrine, known as the Rabbit Temple (兔兒廟), which is devoted to the rabbit deity (兔兒神) - the patron god of homosexuals.

The god isn't very well known, nor commonly worshipped, but he is based on an historical figure. According to the Tale of the Rabbit God that appears in the Zibuyu (子不語), a collection of supernatural stories written by Qing Dynasty scholar and poet Yuan Mei (袁枚, 1716-1798), Hu Tianbao (�胡天保) was an official in 18th-century, Qing Dynasty China. He fell in love with a handsome young imperial inspector of Fujian Province, but because of the inspector's higher status, Hu was afraid to reveal his feelings. After Hu was caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, he confessed his admiration for the inspector, who had him beaten to death. One month after his passing, the story goes, Hu appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream, claiming that the king of the underworld had appointed him the Rabbit God. As such, his duty was to govern the affairs of men who desire men. In the dream, he asked the man to erect a shrine to him.

Taoist priest Lu Wei-ming at the shrine of the Rabbit God.
Photos: Ho Yi, Taipei Times
As a priest, Lu often heard complaints from homosexual Taoist adherents that there was no god to answer their prayers. Believing one of his missions is to tend to the needs of people alienated from mainstream society, he set out to revive the forgotten deity. As his research suggests, Hu was an upper class historical figure who lived in Fujian from the late Ming Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty. However, according to Michael Szonyi, associate professor of Chinese history at the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, the Rabbit God is a pure invention of Yuan, the poet, since the image of the rabbit deity doesn't appear in any other sources from Fujian.

While some aspects of the story may be fabrications, the existence of the cult of Hu Tianbao in Fujian in the 18th century is well documented in official Qing records.

Historical Roots

In his Cult of Hu Tianbao and the 18th-Century Discourse of Homosexuality, which was published in the journal Late Imperial China in 1998, Szonyi discusses the evidence used by the government in its campaign against religious sects. The evidence was given by Zhu Gui (朱珪, 1731-1807), a grain tax who described the iconology of the cult as "two men embracing one another; the face of one is somewhat hoary with age, the other tender and pale." He went on to say that adherents, "on seeing young men desire to have intercourse with them, prayed for assistance from the plaster idol … . Afterwards they plastered the idol's mouth with pork intestine and sugar in thanks."

Later official records suggest that the sect was active in the 19th century, but as Szonyi points out, the chief evidence comes from edicts of imperial officials who tried to suppress the practice, therefore it is impossible to ascertain how the god was perceived from its adherents' point of view.

Lu says that "The deity can be seen as an alternative to Yue Xia Lao Ren (月下老人) [the matchmaker god]. I usually advise gay temple-goers not to go to Yu Lao, [the nickname of the matchmaker god], since love affairs between men and women are believed to be his responsibility. He will be confused by homosexuals' prayers and probably say to himself: 'The prayer doesn't seem right. I'll match you with a woman instead.'"

The Rabbit God is perceived to be an affable deity, Lu said, who is willing to assist his followers in every aspect of life. Since he works for Cheng Huang (城隍), the City God, he has both the erudition and social network in the spiritual world to solve any problem mortals have, according to Lu.

Homosexuals may have an edge in the spiritual world because, "Hu Tianbao is rather self-abased both because of the way he died and the somewhat belittling title of rabbit. So if you are willing to believe in him, he will be much more grateful and work harder than other deities," Lu said.

There are several methods of worshipping, asking for and receiving answers from this divine being, but sincerity is what counts most, Lu said. For this reason, followers should address the god as Ta Yeh (大爺), or master, rather than Rabbit God. Then, those with needs can write down their names, addresses, birthdays and prayers on pieces of paper money and burn them to make sure the messages are sent to heaven.

In another form of worship, personal items can be brought before the alter for Ta Yeh's blessings. Some followers believe that blessed skin-care products are more effective and increase the likelihood of romance. Followers can also take fu (符), paper charms, from the temple, place them under a pillow and pray to the deity to fulfill their wishes before going to bed. To Lu, the praying is meant to encourage contemplation.

sacred to secular

That is the spiritual side of the sect, but Lu is also concerned about the status of homosexuals in society, and that is a major reason for establishing the temple. "Religions both in the West and the East have long pushed the homosexual community into the margin," he said. "But providence is benign, and love is given to all human beings as equals." He also added that the temple is not merely for gay men, but lesbians as well.

Lu is planning religious gay weddings. He wants to deliver a message that religion recognizes the union of homosexual couples, and there is no reason why the state shouldn't do the same.

To a 25-year-old adherent - who requested to be identified as Philippe since his colleagues don't know he is gay - the temple offers a source of comfort in time of trouble. Admitting that he imagined the shrine would be a bit gruesome before the visit, Philippe noted that the whole experience was similar as that of visiting any other temple.

"Although I had a secular upbringing, I still feel the need to seek out comfort in religious faith, to know there is hope I can hold on to, a true love that is not far off," said the young internist, who said he would return to the shrine and give thanks to Ta Yeh if the dinner date after the gay parade last Saturday developed into a long-yearned-for relationship.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Weiwen's World News

Dr James Watson, who co-discovered the double helix of DNA in 1962, recently made derogatory comments suggesting that people of African descent are less intelligent than Whites. Newspapers quoted him as saying, “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really." He then apologized, saying “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.” Neither he nor his publicist have said directly that he was misquoted. Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, which employs him, has suspended his administrative responsibilities.

President Bush has imposed new sanctions against the Burmese military junta, and ordered any US assets of Burmese high officials frozen. He also ordered more restrictions on high technology exports to Burma. These are an expansion of existing sanctions.

Bush acknowledged that the measures will be less effective without regional powers joining in. "I ask other countries to review their own laws and policies, especially Burma's closest neighbors, China, India and others in the region," Bush said. In the short term, he demanded that Burma provide the Red Cross access to political prisoners, permit opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to communicate with other detained dissidents and allow U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari into the country. Ultimately, Bush said, the junta must release all political prisoners and open negotiations for democratic changes.

Government workers are striking in France, in protest against reductions in benefits proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President. It should be noted that the benefits in question are typically not enjoyed by private sector workers. The privileges allow workers in the transport and utility sectors, as well as other government administrative employees, to retire at age 50 with full benefits. Currently, there is a shortfall of US$7 billion, that taxpayers will have to shoulder.

UAW members in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri have rejected a labor agreement with Chrysler brokered by UAW leaders, presumably on similar terms to the one with GM (UAW workers there have accepted). This isn't good news.

A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least 139 people and wounded at least 325. This attack comes as Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan to seek democratic reelection against Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup. He recently tried to sack the country's top judge. The high court is hearing a number of constitutional challenges to his government's authority.

Lastly, Turkey is asking the US to take action against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has made several attacks against Turkish troops, but Turkey is reluctant to send troops into Iraq for obvious reasons. The PKK is seeking an ethnic homeland in southern Turkey, and is accused of conducting terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, the US housing secretary, Alphonso Jackson, is facing investigations over cronyism and other questionable conduct.

Lastly, lower-income American families have a partial safety net in the form of privately-run food pantries that distribute donated food to those in need. Food pantries across the US seem to be reporting an increase in requests for aid, both from existing and new clients. For all the brouhaha over the subprime mortgage blowup, the economy as a whole is relatively healthy. Corporate profits are increasing at a decent, although not spectacular, pace. Surely rising interest rates have affected a number of Americans on adjustable-rate subprime mortgages, but I think that's not the sole cause of the increased requests for food pantry assistance. The wages for lower middle class and working class Americans have failed to increase with inflation (and previous articles have argued that the CPI understates inflation for the average person).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Warren "Sponsor of Genocide" Buffett: I sold Petrochina shares based on valuation

Warren Buffett did indeed sell his Petrochina shares because they were getting expensive, not because of the G-factor.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SCHIP veto override fails

The US House failed to override President Bush's veto of the expanded State Children's Health Plan bill.

President Bush had this to say, through a representative:
The White House said President Bush was pleased with today’s result. “As it is clear that this legislation lacks sufficient support to become law, now is the time for Congress to stop playing politics and to join the president in finding common ground to reauthorize this vital program,” said Dana Perino, Mr. Bush’s spokeswoman.

The bill in fact had sufficient support to become law. However, the President is either not at all concerned about the welfare of American children, or else he has been informed by members of his party acting in bad faith. For the sake of his soul, I hope it's the latter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

VOA News: Dalai Lama receives Congressional Gold Medal

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has received the highest civilian honor the U.S. Congress can bestow, despite strong protests from Beijing.

The 72-year-old Buddhist monk was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

In remarks to hundreds of people assembled there, he thanked Americans for their unwavering support for the Tibetan people. He said the congressional award will send a powerful message to those promoting peace, understanding and harmony.

China condemned the ceremony as a farce. In protest, it pulled out of U.S.-sponsored international talks this week on Iran's nuclear program.

In his remarks, the Dalai Lama reiterated his desire for the Tibetan people to have meaningful autonomy within China. He said he hopes the relationship between Tibet and Beijing will move beyond mistrust to one based on trust and common interests.

Before the presentation, President Bush, congressional leaders and fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel paid tribute to the Dalai Lama. Mr. Bush called him a man of peace and reconciliation [well, we can at least agree on one thing!], and urged Chinese leaders to welcome the Tibetan leader to Beijing.

The Dalai Lama met privately with President Bush at the White House Tuesday. In an interview with VOA Mandarin service, the Dalai Lama said he briefed the president about the situation in Tibet and thanked him for his concern and support.

Last month, Beijing canceled annual human rights talks with Germany that were to be held in December after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Dalai Lama.

Congress formally approved the Congressional Gold Medal for the Dalai Lama more a year ago, in recognition of what a resolution called his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding.

Successful people apologize more

Anne Fisher, writing for Fortune, says that (financially) successful people are more willing to apologize that those who are not (financially) successful, even if they weren't to blame. Apparently, it "builds solidarity with the troops." Perhaps national leaders should take notice.

(Fortune) -- Market research can be full of surprises. Sometimes, in seeking to find out one thing, researchers turn up a whole different set of unexpected conclusions. Consider: A few months ago, online pearl merchants The Pearl Outlet ( noticed that a growing number of customers, when asked the reason for their pearl purchases, replied that the baubles were given as an apology, usually to a wife or girlfriend. Intrigued, The Pearl Outlet hired pollsters Zogby International ( to find out more.

When Zogby's researchers queried 7,590 Americans, both male and female, they discovered that people who are more willing to say "I'm sorry" make more money than people who rarely or never apologize.

People earning over $100,000 a year are almost twice as likely to apologize after an argument or mistake as those earning $25,000 or less, the survey found. Respondents were asked to identify themselves as belonging to one of a set of income ranges. They were also asked whether they would apologize in three situations: when they felt they were entirely to blame for a problem; when they thought they were only partly at fault; and when they believed they were blameless.

In all three cases, "a person's willingness to apologize was an almost perfect predictor of their place on the income ladder," the study says.

More than nine out of ten (92%) of $100,000+ earners apologize when they believe they're to blame, compared to 89% of people earning between $75,000 and $100,000, 84% of those who make $50,000 to $75,000, 72% of those earning between $35,000 and $50,000, and 76% of people earning between $25,000 and $35,000. Among survey respondents who make $25,000 or less, just 52% say they usually apologize when they know they're at fault.

And think about this: Even when they believe themselves to be completely blameless, 22% of the highest earners say "I'm sorry," compared to just 13% of those in the lowest income group.

Any statistician will tell you that so direct and consistent a correlation between behavior and income is extremely rare, but what does it mean? Should you practice groveling if you want to make more money? Well, no.

But saying "Oops, I'm sorry" now and then is an indicator of strong people skills, essential for moving up in almost any organization. The link between income and willingness to apologize "shows that successful people are willing to learn from their mistakes and are keen on mending troubled relationships," says British business coach Peter Shaw.

Terry Shepherd, president of The Pearl Outlet, has his own theory: "Maybe high earners apologize more because, as someone once said, it's easier to apologize afterward than to ask permission beforehand - and high earners tend to ask permission less."

Still another possible explanation, according to Marty Nemko, Ph.D., author of Cool Careers for Dummies (For Dummies, $19.99): "High earners tend to be more secure" and less likely to go on the defensive when challenged or criticized. "They realize when they're wrong and know it won't hurt their career much to apologize."

Indeed, taking the high road - acknowledging one's share of blame, or even accepting some blame when it isn't justified - is a trait shared by many great leaders, because it tends to build solidarity with the troops.

Readers, what do you think? Has a well-timed apology at work (or the lack of one) ever had an impact on your career - or changed your opinion of a boss? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog.

Prozac: Hazard to your health insurance

Debora Vrana writes for MSN Money that having any sort of mental health diagnosis or prescription on your record in the US can adversely affect your chances of being able to get reasonable rates for insurance if you are buying your own. Non-Americans: yes, the US is a little quirky. It's a bit odd that if you want to do the American Dream thingy and start your own business, you now have to shop for your own health insurance, and because you are now not pooling risk, you usually pay quite a bit more. Mental health conditions are considered insurance risks because a) severe, persistent mental illness tends to be refractory to treatment, and can rack up immense bills, and b) these conditions are more vulnerable to moral hazard, an economics term meaning that use goes up considerably because you have insurance.

Concerned that ugly family fights were upsetting his young children, a Boston-area lawyer went to a therapist and let his health insurance pick up part of the tab. When the lawyer later decided to apply for more insurance, he was denied coverage specifically because he had the counseling visits on his record.

Sure, you can get the help you need to handle depression, anxiety or even something as common as hay fever. But should you ever need to buy an individual health policy, you're likely to find that insurers consider you high-risk or even untouchable. You're likely to pay more for a life or disability policy as well, and perhaps be denied a security clearance.

"To protect my patients' privacy, I no longer submit insurance claims for my services," said the man's therapist, Dr. Peter Gumpert, who now accepts only patients who can pay out of pocket.

"The moment I give them a label, it can follow them for their entire life. I really worry about that," he said. "This whole thing has a chilling effect on people getting the help they need."
Health insurance on your own
Based on your medical history, individual health insurers may deny you coverage -- or put you in such a high-risk category that it makes health coverage too expensive, according to Karen Pollitz, a Georgetown University researcher who co-authored a 2001 study on the individual health-insurance market for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In her study, Pollitz found that roughly 90% of applicants in less-than-perfect health were unable to buy individual policies at standard rates, while 37% were rejected outright.

"It's very, very hard to get coverage now" in the individual health-care market, said Pollitz, who said underwriting standards have only tightened since her study.

Even counseling for grief or a sleeping or eating disorder can make someone ineligible, she said. So can being on medications for hay fever or acne, because insurers consider you a high user of medications, she said.

"Allegra will get you every time," said Pollitz. "They may deny you; they may increase your deductible or give you a policy with no drug card."
It's all about risk -- theirs
Insurers make money by avoiding the risk of paying high claims. The sickest 1% of their policyholders can make up 40% or more of claims.

"Insurers will look at your past medical history, ongoing, any pre-existing medical conditions, all to determine a sense of what that consumer's future risk might be," said Larry Akey, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing most of the largest insurers.

Current medications and all health-care treatments are considered by the insurance industry, especially in the market for individual health care.

The majority of Americans get insurance through their employers, who pay a large portion of the monthly premium. Large groups of diverse workers help offset the risk for insurers.

The individual market is much more risky for insurers, however, because the individual pays the premium and there is not a diverse pool of people. The market for non-group insurance (those not covered by an employer or the government) is a small one in the U.S., with roughly 7% of the population under 65 covered by such a policy.

But a lot of very ordinary circumstances can force someone into this market, including:

* Becoming self-employed.

* No longer qualifying as a dependent on a parent's plan.

* Getting a job that doesn't offer health insurance.

* Coming to the end of your health benefits under COBRA, the federal health-insurance safety net for someone leaving a job.

Who needs help?
A 2005 Harvard survey found that most Americans have the symptoms for one or more mental-health disorders at some time in their life, but most cases are mild. The findings:

* Anxiety disorders, experienced by nearly 29% of Americans during their lifetime, are the most-prevalent class of mental illness.

* Mood disorders are experienced by 20.8% of Americans.

* Impulse-control disorders are experienced by 24.8% of Americans.

* Substance disorders are seen in 14.6% of Americans.

Only 41% of patients with disorders lasting 12 months sought treatment, the study found.

In 2005, 357 million new prescriptions were written for psychotherapeutic drugs such as Ativan, Klonipin, Paxil, Prozac, Serzone, Zoloft, Xanax and Wellbutrin, a major increase from the 168.4 million new prescriptions that were written just three years earlier, according to Wolters Kluwer Health, a New Jersey data company.

In addition, more and more children are taking such medication, according to a 2006 study in the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics. In 1995, of children younger than 13, only 8.6 of 1,000 were on anti-psychotic drugs. By 2002, it had risen to 40 out of 1,000.

Among the public, the stigma about seeking therapy has lessened, said Carolyn Rabinowitz, president of the American Psychiatric Association, in part because of the willingness of famous actors, celebrities and athletes to publicly admit they have been treated for depression, postpartum depression or anxiety. Also, more and more people know someone treated for a mental-health disorder who got well or improved, she said.

That hasn't made getting an individual insurance policy any easier, though.

"Anything they can do to exclude payment, they do. Their business is to not pay money," said Rabinowitz.

"It's gotten worse, and it's a real problem for people," agreed Bill MacGillivray, president of the National Coalition of Mental Health Professionals and Consumers. "If you seek care, you are seen as damaged by the insurance industry."
There's nowhere to go
In the arcane market for individual coverage, very few consumers seeking such insurance have protection under federal law.

In roughly a dozen states, including Arizona, California and Delaware, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires insurers to sell you a health-insurance policy without coverage limits, if you have had at least 18 months of continuous coverage and are moving from a group policy to an individual policy. However, HIPPA does not limit what can be charged.

Premiums can jump double, triple or even 10 times higher than the average amount, said Pollitz.

Insurers do not disclose their underwriting guidelines, and insurers interpret diagnoses in different ways.

For the most part, there is little rate regulation, with only five states -- Vermont, New York, Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey -- guaranteeing access to the individual market at community-rated premiums not based on health status.

Protecting privacy
A survey on medical privacy, released in November 2005 by the California Healthcare Foundation, found that 13% of American adults say they have done something "to protect the privacy" of their medical history. Younger respondents, those under 45, were more likely to have engaged in privacy-protective behaviors. Those include:

* Paying out-of-pocket to avoid submitting a claim.

* Not seeking care, such as diagnostic tests, to avoid disclosure.

* Asking their doctor not to write down a health problem or to record a less-serious condition.

* Giving inaccurate or incomplete information on a medical form.

* Asking therapists not to take notes or to see a patient under an assumed name.

"People should not have to sacrifice their health in order to shield themselves from job discrimination and loss of health benefits," said Janlori Goldman, a researcher at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. Still, many people are "fearful that their medical information will be used against them," she said.

There's good reason for such fears. Insurers share information through organizations such as MIB, a Massachusetts association of insurers that gathers health and other information on consumers, almost like a credit report.

MIB gathers information on those who have applied for insurance in the individual market, such as for life, disability or health coverage. That information is coded and shared with member insurance groups who receive new applications. A consumer is notified about MIB on the application. (Consumers can request their free report on the MIB site.)

"An insurer's goal is to understand the consumer they are underwriting and properly gauge the risk. Otherwise, they would be insolvent," said David Aronson, spokesman for MIB, a not-for-profit group.

If you are looking for coverage in the individual market, be prepared for scrutiny. Health-care applicants are asked to fill out detailed, multipage questionnaires about their health care. One of the first questions is usually whether you have diabetes, Pollitz said.

After they receive the application, insurers turn to information gatherers such as MIB and other sources to double-check what an applicant has disclosed.
So now you need insurance
Lying on your health-insurance application form is never a good idea. Considered insurance fraud, the insurer can cancel your policy (just when you might need it) if you are caught. As more and more data is warehoused electronically, it is easier for insurers to share information about you. What you can do:

* Answer the question to the best of your ability and be truthful.

* Hire an experienced health-insurance broker who knows the underwriting criteria of several individual insurers.

* After an appointment with a therapist, look at the number on the claim form you receive from the therapist. Ask what your diagnosis is, so you can best know how to proceed.

* If you are denied, ask your doctor to write a letter supporting your re-application, especially if you are no longer in counseling or no longer taking a prescription drug that got you denied.

To learn more about protections for individual health insurance offered by your state, go to Georgetown University's Health Privacy Project.

May 30: US Supreme Court's pay decision ignores real world

[In another split decision on May 30, 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that employees have only 180 days to make a pay discrimination complaint against their employers. The timer starts from the time of the employer's offense. This overly business-friendly decision allows employers to continue to exploit their asymmetry of information against their employees - i.e., employees have less knowledge of appropriate compensation than their employers, and that disparity in knowledge allows employers to get the minimum possible wage. Unions do a lot of questionable things too, but they can at least ameliorate the information asymmetry.]

(Fortune) -- How long have you been in your current job? Six months? Less than six months? How about six years, or 16? It hardly matters: In any case, you probably have only the foggiest notion (if any) of what your colleagues earn, or how big their last raise was.

If you're a woman, it's unlikely you know for sure whether your pay is commensurate with male peers in the same job. Employers encourage a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to the subject that usually prevents people from guessing - let alone being able to prove with hard evidence - if they're being fairly compensated. And new employees in particular are often so relieved to have been hired that they're the last ones who are going to ask awkward questions.

So how much sense does it make to decide, as the U.S. Supreme Court did Tuesday in a 5-4 ruling, that employees who want to take legal action against a discriminatory employer must file a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days of that employer's explicit offense (i.e. either hiring a woman for less pay than a man or giving her a smaller raise because she's female)? In too many instances, it takes far longer than that for an employee to realize what's going on.

That was what happened to Lilly Ledbetter, on whose case the highest U.S. court ruled yesterday. Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., and the only woman among 17 managers at the same level. Although she was hired at the same pay as her peers, she received smaller raises than theirs over a 20-year period. By the time she realized it, in 1998, her salary fell short of male supervisors' by 40%. She was earning $3,727 a month, while the lowest-paid man in her position made $4,286.

Under the Supreme Court's new ruling, systematically paying someone less on the basis of sex would be perfectly fine under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - as long as she doesn't figure it out within six months. After that, she can't sue on that basis. (Although she might be able to file under the Equal Pay Act, which doesn't have the 180-day deadline, that law has other requirements and doesn't allow punitive damages.) This is just dandy for employers who make a habit of paying women less than men in the same job, but it's an interpretation that surely undermines the spirit of Title VII if not its letter.

Worse, it ignores workplace reality. The majority opinion "overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination," Ruth Bader Ginsburg - the court's only woman - wrote in her dissent, which she read from the bench. A single pay raise that is smaller than colleagues get, even if a woman knows it's smaller, may not seem worth "making waves" over, particularly if the woman - or, for that matter, member of a racial minority - is "trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment."

But, Justice Ginsburg noted, over the course of a whole career, even a small disparity in pay "will expand exponentially...if raises are set as a percent of prior pay." That robs women, or anyone else who is systematically and deliberately paid less for the same work, not just of many thousands of dollars in direct earnings, but of benefits like pensions that are linked to pay as well.

In her opinion, Ginsburg called on Congress to step up and overturn the Supreme Court's decision, as it did in the early '90s with a series of the court's rulings on civil rights. Hillary Clinton, perhaps hoping to win women voters' support, has said she'll lead the fight. Here's hoping that's more than just a campaign promise.

What do you think of the Supreme Court ruling? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This tax law change could affect you

Rich Smith, writing for The Motley Fool, talks about a US tax law change proposed by Rep John Dingell. Rich's is writing for investors, warning them to watch out if you own companies affected by housing (homebuilders, and the banks which finance mortgages). That's not so interesting. See my commentary at the end.

Fear members of Congress with good intentions. According to Saturday's Washington Post, there's a movement afoot on Capitol Hill to cut a sizeable stake from that most sacred of America's sacred cows -- the home mortgage interest deduction.

Good intentions
Before I begin to criticize the effort, let's first give it some props: Its intentions are good. In an effort to fight global warming, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) aims to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by at least 60% by 2050. His plan would attack the problem in several ways -- all of which raise taxes. (This is Congress, after all.) First, there would be a new $0.50-per-gallon tax on gasoline purchases. Second, new taxes would be placed on oil, natural gas, and coal production. Third, and most controversially, the home mortgage interest deduction would be reduced.

According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, home mortgage interest deductions cost the U.S. Treasury about $80 billion in tax revenue each year -- enough to make it the fourth largest category of tax loophole in the Infernal Revenue Code. Dingell's plan would leave the loophole intact for homes of 3,000 square feet and less, but it would slice off 15% of the deduction as homes grow toward 3,200 square feet, 60% as they balloon to 3,800 square feet, and 90% as they rise up to 4,200 sq.ft. As for homes measuring 4,200 square feet and up -- well, their sacred cows would be taken out back and shot.

The unintended consequences of the law
So why target big houses? Dingell will tell you it's because they have a larger carbon footprint. Bigger houses require more fuel to heat, and since they tend to crop up in suburbs that are distant from jobs, they also cause more gasoline to get burned, as the homeowner needs to get to the place where he earns a living to pay the mortgage. Both of these factors put more global-warming gases in the atmosphere.

But there's an ulterior motive to taxing homes more heavily. Originally designed to encourage homeownership, the sheer lucrativeness of the mortgage interest deduction has morphed it into a subsidy for McMansion ownership. Simply put, the more house you buy, the bigger your deduction. Ergo, the tax break gives taxpayers an incentive to buy bigger houses.

Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em. And little fleas ...
Of course, for a bigger house to be bought, someone must first build it. And someone else must finance first the construction, and then the purchase, of the home. Thus, even though it was first intended to subsidize homeownership, the tax break also acts to support homebuilders such as Centex (NYSE: CTX), D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI), and Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL). On the other side of the equation, it generates business for construction companies, as well as home-loan business for bankers such as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Countrywide (NYSE: CFC), and Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM).

None of these companies will welcome a curtailment of the tax break that fills their revenue streams to brimming.

That's an awful lot of Indians, General Custer
But it gets worse. Some 68% of Americans own their own homes. That's a sizeable interest group that's likely to oppose Dingell's plan. These people bought homes they could afford -- whatever the size -- in the expectation that they could count on the interest deduction to help pay the mortgage bill. Repeal the deduction, and a lot of homeowners could face sudden and severe cash-flow problems -- and maybe even foreclosure.

From worse to worst
Of course, what really gets people nervous, when they hear that the mortgage interest deduction is in peril, is the potential for declining home values. Take away the deduction, and you lower the amount that people can pay for a house. Lower the ability to pay, and you reduce the price that homeowners can charge to unload their domicile. In other words, Dingell's plan will almost certainly add fuel to the fire that's burning up home equity across the country.

According to the National Association of Realtors (warning: bias alert), every 1% decline in the nation's median house price gives rise to about 70,000 foreclosures. Unsurprisingly, the NAR also opposes Dingell's plan. It argues that since houses larger than 3,000 square feet make up 15% of the housing stock in the U.S. -- more than 10 million homes -- limiting mortgage interest deductions could depress home values by 4% nationwide.

That's more than a quarter of a million potential foreclosures, folks. And Dingell's floating this plan in an election year? Good luck.

Foolish takeaway
Considering the array of interest groups that Dingell's plan would offend, and the presidential and Congressional elections on the horizon, I'd say there is a very slim chance that this deduction curtailment will pass. That said, Al Gore did just win a Nobel Prize for his fight against global warming. That could help Dingell's cause. But time will tell.

Foolish investors should watch this legislation closely. The closer it gets to passing, the more you should be watching your homebuilding and banking stocks.

[Dingell has stonewalled us on vehicle fuel economy standards. I'm therefore deeply suspicious of his attempts to target housing. He does likely want to draw attention away from his ties to the auto industry.

However, he does have a point. American houses are rather large, with proportionate energy costs. Additionally, the fact that mortgage interest is deductible is a bigger benefit for the rich than for the middle or working classes. We need to start providing incentives for people to build smaller houses.]

UN Human Rights Council facing test in Myanmar/Burma

Nick Cumming-Bruce reports for IHT on the UN's Human Rights Council. PS, Burma is the 'old' name for the country. The military junta (aka the State Law and Order Restoration Council) changed the name to Myanmar in 1989, and this is recognized widely but not universally (the US and UK use Burma, the EU uses Myanmar/Burma). Democracy activists deny that the junta has the right to rename the country, and still refer to it as Burma.

GENEVA: Eighteen months after the United Nations jettisoned its Human Rights Commission, human rights activists say the crisis in Myanmar is testing whether the institution that replaced it, the Human Rights Council, can emerge as a force for promoting human rights or will degenerate into a talk shop.

Eighteen months after the United Nations jettisoned its Human Rights Commission as a liability to its credibility, rights activists say the crisis in Myanmar is testing whether the institution that replaced it can emerge as a force for promoting human rights or will degenerate into a talk shop.

The successor organization, the Human Rights Council, is hoping to dispatch its own investigator even as Myanmar's military junta responded last weekend to calls for restraint and dialogue by arresting even more student protest leaders.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the council's special rapporteur, is assembling a team to visit Myanmar to assess the state of human rights for a report to the Security Council. His first hurdle will be getting there.

Pinheiro held the same post on the disbanded commission, and Myanmar's generals have not let him into the country for four years. The council is under no illusion that a regime that this year shut down operations of the International Red Cross will warm to independent scrutiny of its policies. At the same time, Pinheiro is clear this is not so much a problem for him as for the credibility of the council.

His mandate comes from a resolution passed unanimously by a special session of the council on Oct. 2. "Myanmar has to pay a price if it does not cooperate with me," Pinheiro said by telephone. "If the council is not able to deal with this, its recognition will be affected."

It would also reinforce concerns among some human rights organizations that the council, far from developing a new resolve and culture needed to fulfill its mandate of protecting human rights, will succumb to politicking, often by states with poor human rights records, which discredited its predecessor.

Diplomats applaud the council's willingness to convene a special session on Myanmar and its ability to achieve consensus on a resolution passed with the support of India and China, key influences on Myanmar but with their own strategic and commercial interests in Myanmar. The special session and the resolution emerging from it, Pinheiro said, represented "an extraordinary demonstration of maturity."

The Myanmar meeting brought to five the number of special sessions the council has held in 15 months, the same as the number held by the commission in 60 years, said Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and president of the council in its first year. "It doesn't mean the council is perfect, far from it," he said, "but it shows it has the potential to become much more fair and efficient and much quicker in its reactions than the commission."

Human rights groups are less impressed. Even the old commission had little difficulty achieving consensus on Myanmar, analysts monitoring the United Nations said. The council, to achieve unanimity on its resolution, watered down the text to "deplore" the junta's crackdown, a far weaker formulation than the "revulsion" expressed on Sept. 27 by foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Moreover, the resolution did not press for any action beyond the special rapporteur's visit. "Without action, they are just a talk shop, and what's the point," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "There's a lot going on at the council, but if you stand back, it isn't amounting to anything."

A similar chasm divides views of the council's operating mechanisms that were the main focus of discussions in its first year. Unlike the commission, in which members decided which countries' human rights performance to study, the council has adopted a review process to look at the human rights records of all countries, including the United States, Russia and China, which previously deflected scrutiny.

That should help to address criticisms of the commission that it was selective and thus ensure equal treatment of all states. "We have started to do things that were not done before and that is a good sign," said the council president, Doru-Romulus Costea. "There is nothing like this in the rest of the UN."

The universal reviews have good potential, human rights activists said, but come as part of a package of measures that make the deliberations of the council increasingly state-centered.

"Member states were told by the General Assembly to improve on the commission, but there have been no significant improvements. We either have had regression or an architecture which could still turn out to be ineffective," said Nick Howen, president of the International Commission of Jurists.

"What we've seen in the council is a continuing attempt to whittle down the standing of international experts so that the work of the council becomes increasingly politicized."

The record of the first year adds to concerns of where that will lead a council with a powerful bloc of African and Islamic countries. Three of the council's five special sessions and nine of its 12 country-specific resolutions have targeted Israel, according to UN Watch, while human rights violations in such countries as Iran, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe have gone without comment.

Costea is hopeful that cracks have begun to appear in the bloc culture that discredited the commission. "Some delegations seem more prepared to assume the responsibilities of this body," he said.

The council's critics - the United States among them - remain skeptical. At last month's opening of the UN General Assembly, President George W. Bush accused the council of anti-Israeli bias.

The fear among some rights organizations is that critics will use the council's flaws as a pretext for inaction. "The council could do so much more, we've got perhaps 10 percent of the way," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "But what will make or break the council is the commitment of individual states."