Monday, March 31, 2008

Dith Pran, Cambodian photojournalist and survivor of the Killing Fields, dies at 65 on Mar 30

A NY Times article profiles Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who profiled and survived the Cambodian genocide.

Dith Pran, a photojournalist for The New York Times whose gruesome ordeal in the killing fields of Cambodia was re-created in a 1984 movie that gave him an eminence he tenaciously used to press for his people’s rights, died on Sunday at a hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 65 and lived in Woodbridge, N.J.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, which had spread, said his friend Sydney H. Schanberg.

Mr. Dith saw his country descend into a living hell as he scraped and scrambled to survive the barbarous revolutionary regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when as many as two million Cambodians — a third of the population — were killed, experts estimate. Mr. Dith survived through nimbleness, guile and sheer desperation. His credo: Make no move unless there was a 50-50 chance of not being killed.

He had been a journalistic partner of Mr. Schanberg, a Times correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia. He translated, took notes and pictures, and helped Mr. Schanberg maneuver in a fast-changing milieu. With the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Mr. Schanberg was forced from the country, and Mr. Dith became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists.

Mr. Schanberg wrote about Mr. Dith in newspaper articles and in The New York Times Magazine, in a 1980 cover article titled “The Death and Life of Dith Pran.” (A book by the same title appeared in 1985.) The story became the basis of the movie “The Killing Fields.”


He had an emotional reunion with his wife, Ser Moeun Dith, and four children in San Francisco. Though he and his wife later divorced, she was by his bedside in his last weeks, bringing him rice noodles.

Mr. Dith was divorced from his second wife, Kim DePaul.

Mr. Dith is survived by his companion, Bette Parslow; his daughter, Hemkarey; his sons, Titony, Titonath and Titonel; a sister, Samproeuth; six grandchildren; and two stepgrandchildren.

Ms. DePaul now runs the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, which spreads word about the Cambodian genocide. At his death, Mr. Dith was working to establish another, still-unnamed organization to help Cambodia. In 1997, he published a book of essays by Cambodians who had witnessed the years of terror as children.

Dr. Ngor, the physician turned actor who had himself survived the killing fields, had joined with Mr. Dith in their fight for justice. He was shot to death in 1996 in Los Angeles by a teenage gang member.

“It seems like I lost one hand,” Mr. Dith said of Dr. Ngor’s death.

Mr. Dith nonetheless pushed ahead in his campaign against genocide everywhere.

“One time is too many,” he said in an interview in his last weeks, expressing hope that others would continue his work. “If they can do that for me,” he said, “my spirit will be happy.”

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Can the world afford a middle class?

Posted on Foreign Policy Magazine. The answer is, yes, but it will be expensive.

The middle class in poor countries is the fastest-growing segment of the world’s population. While the total population of the planet will increase by about 1 billion people in the next 12 years, the ranks of the middle class will swell by as many as 1.8 billion. Of these new members of the middle class, 600 million will be in China. Homi Kharas, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, estimates that by 2020 the world’s middle class will grow to include a staggering 52 percent of the global population, up from 30 percent now. The middle class will almost double in the poor countries where sustained economic growth is lifting people above the poverty line fast. For example, by 2025, China will have the world’s largest middle class, while India’s will be 10 times larger than it is today.

While this is, of course, good news, it also means humanity will have to adjust to unprecedented pressures. The rise of a new global middle class is already having repercussions. Last January, 10,000 people took to the streets in Jakarta to protest skyrocketing soybean prices. And Indonesians were not the only people angry about the rising cost of food. In 2007, higher pasta prices sparked street protests in Milan. Mexicans marched against the price of tortillas. Senegalese protested the price of rice, and Indians took up banners against the price of onions. Many governments, including those in Argentina, China, Egypt, and Russia, have imposed controls on food prices in an attempt to contain a public backlash.

These protesters are the most vociferous manifestations of a global trend: We are all paying more for bread, milk, and chocolate, to name just a few items. The new consumers of the emerging global middle class are driving up food prices everywhere. The food-price index compiled by The Economist since 1845 is now at an all-time high; it increased 30 percent in 2007 alone. Milk prices were up more than 29 percent last year, while wheat and soybeans increased by almost 80 and 90 percent, respectively. Many other grains, like rice and maize, reached record highs. Prices are soaring not because there is less food (in 2007, the world produced more grains than ever before), but because some grains are now being used as fuel and because more people can afford to eat more. The average consumption of meat in China, for example, has more than doubled since the mid-1980s.
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The impact of a fast-growing middle class will soon be felt in the price of other resources. After all, members of the middle class not only consume more meat and grains, but they also buy more clothes, refrigerators, toys, medicines, and, eventually, cars and homes. China and India, with 40 percent of the world’s population, most of it still very poor, already consume more than half of the global supply of coal, iron ore, and steel. Thanks to their growing prosperity and that of other countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and Vietnam, the demand for these products is booming. Not surprisingly, in the past two years, the world price of tin, nickel, and zinc have roughly doubled, while aluminum is up 39 percent and plywood is now 27 percent more expensive. Moreover, a middle-class lifestyle in these developing countries, even if more frugal than what is common in rich nations, is more energy intensive. In 2005, China added as much electricity generation as Britain produces in a year. In 2006, it added as much as France’s total supply. Yet, millions in China still lack reliable access to electricity; in India, more than 400 million don’t have power. The demand in India will grow fivefold in the next 25 years.

And you know what happened to oil prices. Again, oil reached its all-time high of $100 per barrel not because of supply constraints but because of unprecedented growth in consumption in poor countries with rising middle classes. China alone accounts for one third of the growth in the world’s oil consumption in recent years. The middle class also likes to travel: The World Tourism Organization estimates that outbound tourists will grow from today’s 846 million a year to 1.6 billion in 2020. Venice and Paris will be even more expensive—and crowded—to visit.

The public debate about the consequences of this global consumption boom has focused on what it means for the environment. Yet, its economic and political effects will be significant, too. The lifestyle of the existing middle class will probably have to change as the new middle class emerges. The consumption patterns that an American, French, or Swedish family took for granted will inevitably become more expensive. Some, like driving your car anywhere at any time, may even become prohibitively so. That may not be all bad. It may mean that the price of some resources, like water or oil, may more accurately reflect its true costs.

But other dislocations will be more painful and difficult to predict. Changes in migration, urbanization, and income distribution will be widespread. And expect growing demands for better housing, healthcare, education, and, inevitably, political participation. The unanticipated effects of the new global middle class will become part of our daily news.

The debate about the Earth’s “limits to growth” is as old as Thomas Malthus’s alarm about a world where the population outstrips its ability to feed itself. In the past, pessimists have been proven wrong. Higher prices and new technologies, like the green revolution, always came to the rescue, boosting supplies and allowing the world to continue to grow. That may happen again. But the adjustment to a middle class greater than what the world has ever known is just beginning. As the Indonesian and Mexican protesters can attest, it won’t be cheap. And it won’t be quiet.

Moisés Naím is editor in chief of Foreign Policy.

From a company of scholars to a line at customs: foreign citizens face precarious prospects for the post-graduation job search

From Yale Herald

Applying for jobs is indisputably the most daunting task that any college senior faces. Students have to make time in their schedules for endless information sessions at UCS, interviews, job fairs, and the looming prospect of post-graduation unemployment and moving back home. The process is, however, much more harrowing for international students, whose visa restrictions mean that staying in the U.S. post-graduation is uncertain at best.

In the fall of 2007, international students represented 16 percent of Yale’s population, the largest percentage in Yale’s history. Most international students in the U.S. hold F-1 or J-1 student visas, which allow them to remain in the country for the duration of their academic careers. F-1 students are allotted 12 months of employment in the U.S. known as the Optional Practical Training period (OPT), which can be applied during the summer or after graduation. Time spent working as an intern in the U.S. counts as part of the 12 months. In order to remain in the U.S. after the OPT, foreign citizens must apply for an H-1B Temporary Worker Status visa.

Unfortunately, merely attaining eligibility to apply for an H1-B visa can be a major difficulty for international students. The deadline for the H1-B application this year is Tues., Apr. 1, and applicants must have completed their graduation requirements by that date. However, the vast majority of universities’ terms end at least a month later. Usman Humayan, BR ’08, recalls that two of his friends actually graduated in December 2007 instead of May 2008 in order to avoid that problem—but they must now begin their OPT earlier and leave the country earlier if their H1-B application is denied.

Yet even those who complete the H1-B application face a long and nerve-wracking wait. In October 2003, the U.S. government, citing security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001, decreased the number of available H1-B visas from 195,000 to 65,000, its 1998 level. Demand for the visas, however, continues to skyrocket, and a lottery currently decides which applications will even be reviewed. Humayan, who is from Pakistan, plans to use his OPT after graduating while applying for an H1-B. “If I do go home after my OPT it will be because of difficulty in getting an H1-B visa,” he said. “You do not even have the cushion of having the OPT anymore if your visa application is denied.”

Some have gone to extreme lengths to remain in America while waiting for the State Department. Estonia native Kristina Mois, PC ’08, explained that her sister, a Stanford graduate, agreed to work for her employer without pay until she got her visa. “This was stressful by itself,” said Mois, “but it also prevented her from fully settling in—i.e. you can’t invest in a car or make a long-term rent contract, 2-year cell phone plan, or health insurance, if you don’t know [if and] when you will be kicked out of the country.”

The wait and costs associated with the application have also caused American employers to look twice at job applications from international students, according to some recently-graduated international students. “After several months of applying to jobs here, I did get the impression that my visa status was a problem,” said Kaja Wilmanska, ES ’08, who is from Poland. “In general, I felt that internationals had to be truly exceptional to get an offer from one of the coveted investment banks or consulting firms.” Ultimately, Wilmanska’s efforts to obtain a job in the U.S. fell through, and she will attend the London School of Economics next fall. “The $340 fee and paperwork [required to procure my OPT] was not worth the effort since I had no job offer.”

SOME STUDENTS DO GET LUCKY. RAHUL KRISHNnan, a Columbia senior from India, has 8 months left of OPT after he graduates, and said that his workplace is “ready and willing to sponsor my visa.” If he doesn’t get the visa, it is standard procedure for the firm to move him to a foreign office. But with inklings of an economic crisis ahead, said Krishnan, “Many firms are using these visa issues as grounds for firing people when their OPT runs out. Even if I am moved to the London office, my odds of getting the H-1B don’t improve.”

The H1-B application hassle isn’t the only reason for employers’ current circumspection. An international employee can remain on H1-B status for a maximum of six years. After that, employers must sponsor their employees’ green cards if they are to stay in the country. Yet the Department of Labor can take years to process the applications. As a result, many employers only consider job applicants who are permanent U.S. residents. That’s one reason Mois also plans to continue her education in England: Her immigrant status didn’t allow her to apply for the engineering jobs in the U.S. that interested her. “In short, Merck, Pfizer, and many other big U.S. firms do not even want to see your resume unless you are a U.S. citizen or a green card holder,” she said.

Those lucky enough to obtain H1-B status encounter another set of difficulties. H1-B holders traveling outside the U.S. for the first time since getting their visa are not allowed back into the country without a visa stamp from the appropriate U.S. consulate abroad. A visit to the embassy is not a quick trip, said a 2003 Yale graduate from Western Europe who requested not to be named. “They give the same appointment time to 20 people,” the student said. “We waited outside in the cold for an hour, and waited inside for another hour after that.” Many of the student’s friends with H1-B status may not see their families at home for years for fear that they will not get their visa stamp and will be refused re-entry to the U.S.

This 2003 graduate was another lucky student. After leaving Yale, she found work at a university, and universities are exempt from the government’s cap on available visas. Yet higher education jobs are the exception to the rule.

For the unlucky ones forced to leave the country, finding jobs overseas may be as difficult as the search in America. “I suspect that the graduates of a typical European state technical university have taken many more engineering courses than I have, and at this point make stronger candidates than me,” said Mois. Wilmanska agreed, “The liberal arts education is much better understood by employers in the U.S. than in Europe,” she said.

DESPITE THE POSSIBILITY OF RECEIVING A LIBERAL education only to be forced to return to a home where specialized training may have been more valuable, neither Mois and Wilmanska think that international students will ultimately be discouraged from applying to American universities. However, Krishnan said that, had he known about the difficulties of working in the U.S. before applying to school, he and many of his friends may have decided to attend college elsewhere. “I know I gave up good opportunities at Cambridge and the London School of Economics in favor of coming to New York,” he said. “After going through the most expensive education system in the world, being told that I cannot stay and work is a real kick in the face.”

The value of an Ivy League education will likely continue to attract students from all over the world. However, bureaucratic hurdles seem to be discouraging increasing numbers of international students from even considering remaining in the U.S. post-graduation. While the 2003 graduate said that visa concerns did not dissuade most of her friends from pursuing work in the U.S., more recent graduates and current seniors tell a different story. “I personally did not go through the entire process just because I didn’t want to deal with it,” said Imane El Andaloussi, SY ’07, who plans to return home after completing her OPT. Mois also noted that her sister’s experiences discouraged her from enduring the same hurdles. But Humayan pointed out that many international students have no plans to remain here after graduating. “A lot of them are just happy to get some work experience and then go work in the fast growing economies of Middle East or Southeast Asia,” he said.

But there is no doubt that America is losing a crucial pool of talent. Mois will be attending college in England to get an M.S. While she is happy with the program in which she will matriculate and wants to work in Europe after graduation, she said, “If a green card was handed to me tomorrow, I might change my mind about staying.” But as the demand for the H1-B continues to climb while the resident alien cap remains the same, more and more students may echo Mois’ words: “Well, screw you, America—I’ll just take my IQ and my Yale education to a society who wants it.”

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Starbucks, after losing a lawsuit against tip-sharing, acts like it's above the law

From Businessweek.

Starbucks Corp. plans to appeal a San Diego Superior Court ruling last week that ordered the coffee chain to compensate California baristas for tips they shared with shift supervisors.

"The ruling would take away the right of shift supervisors to receive the tips they earn for providing superior customer service," said Chief Executive Howard Schultz, in a voicemail message to employees Wednesday night. "I want you to know that we strongly believe that this ruling is extremely unfair and beyond reason."

In the message, a transcript of which was released by Starbucks, Schultz said the media "grossly mischaracterized" the coffee chain's standard practice of allowing shift supervisors to share in tips left for baristas.

"We would never condone any type of behavior that would lead anyone to conclude that we would take money from our people," he said.

Schultz vowed that the company would appeal the ruling and defend itself against two similar lawsuits filed this week in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

In a separate statement Thursday, Starbucks said there is no money to be "refunded or returned from Starbucks."

The California lawsuit was filed in 2004, and was granted class-action status in 2006. Last week, San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett ordered Starbucks to pay baristas more than $100 million in back tips and interest, saying state law prohibits managers and supervisors from taking a cut from the tip jar. A hearing is set for May 1 before Cowett on how the California tip money should be distributed.

Starbucks responded in the statement that "shift supervisors are not managers and have no managerial authority," and customers don't differentiate between the supervisors and baristas when they tip.

Cowett also issued an injunction preventing Starbucks' shift supervisors from sharing in future tips, but Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie O'Neil said it would not comply with that order while it appeals the court decision.

Shares of Starbucks fell 57 cents, or 3.2 percent, to close at $17.05.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Some perspectives on Rev. Jeremiah Wright

1 If a man divorces his wife
and she goes from him
and becomes another man’s wife,
will he return to her?
Would not such a land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
and would you return to me?

says the Lord.

2 Look up to the bare heights, and see!
Where have you not been lain with?
By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers,
like a nomad in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
with your whoring and wickedness.

3 Therefore the showers have been withheld,
and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore,
you refuse to be ashamed.

4 Have you not just now called to me,
‘My Father, you are the friend of my youth—

5 will he be angry for ever,
will he be indignant to the end?’
This is how you have spoken,
but you have done all the evil that you could

Jeremiah 3:1-5

Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, did not mince words. In the above, he references OT-era Israel, and compares his country to a commercial sex worker.

Jeremiah Wright, the UCC pastor formerly associated with Barack Obama's campaign, didn't mince words, either. He condemned the United States for various injustices, as Tim Wise, writing for Counterpunch points out.

Wright said not that the attacks of September 11th were justified, but that they were, in effect, predictable. Deploying the imagery of chickens coming home to roost is not to give thanks for the return of the poultry or to endorse such feathered homecoming as a positive good; rather, it is merely to note two things: first, that what goes around, indeed, comes around--a notion with longstanding theological grounding--and secondly, that the U.S. has indeed engaged in more than enough violence against innocent people to make it just a tad bit hypocritical for us to then evince shock and outrage about an attack on ourselves, as if the latter were unprecedented.

He noted that we killed far more people, far more innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki than were killed on 9/11 and "never batted an eye." That this statement is true is inarguable, at least amongst sane people. He is correct on the math, he is correct on the innocence of the dead (neither city was a military target), and he is most definitely correct on the lack of remorse or even self-doubt about the act: sixty-plus years later most Americans still believe those attacks were justified, that they were needed to end the war and "save American lives."

But not only does such a calculus suggest that American lives are inherently worth more than the lives of Japanese civilians (or, one supposes, Vietnamese, Iraqi or Afghan civilians too), but it also ignores the long-declassified documents, and President Truman's own war diaries, all of which indicate clearly that Japan had already signaled its desire to end the war, and that we knew they were going to surrender, even without the dropping of atomic weapons. The conclusion to which these truths then attest is simple, both in its basic veracity and it monstrousness: namely, that in those places we committed premeditated and deliberate mass murder, with no justification whatsoever; and yet for saying that I will receive more hate mail, more hostility, more dismissive and contemptuous responses than will those who suggest that no body count is too high when we're the ones doing the killing. Jeremiah Wright becomes a pariah, because, you see, we much prefer the logic of George Bush the First, who once said that as President he would "never apologize for the United States of America. I don't care what the facts are."

And Wright didn't say blacks should be singing "God Damn America." He was suggesting that blacks owe little moral allegiance to a nation that has treated so many of them for so long as animals, as persons undeserving of dignity and respect, and which even now locks up hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders (especially for drug possession), even while whites who do the same crimes (and according to the data, when it comes to drugs, more often in fact), are walking around free. His reference to God in that sermon was more about what God will do to such a nation, than it was about what should or shouldn't happen. It was a comment derived from, and fully in keeping with, the black prophetic tradition, and although one can surely disagree with the theology (I do, actually, and don't believe that any God either blesses or condemns nation states for their actions), the statement itself was no call for blacks to turn on America. If anything, it was a demand that America earn the respect of black people, something the evidence and history suggests it has yet to do.

Wise goes on later to argue that:

Most white people desire, or perhaps even require the propagation of lies when it comes to our history. Surely we prefer the lies to anything resembling, even remotely, the truth. Our version of history, of our national past, simply cannot allow for the intrusion of fact into a worldview so thoroughly identified with fiction. But that white version of America is not only extraordinarily incomplete, in that it so favors the white experience to the exclusion of others; it is more than that; it is actually a slap in the face to people of color, a re-injury, a reminder that they are essentially irrelevant, their concerns trivial, their lives unworthy of being taken seriously. In that sense, and what few if any white Americans appear capable of grasping at present, is that "Leave it Beaver" and "Father Knows Best," portray an America so divorced from the reality of the times in which they were produced, as to raise serious questions about the sanity of those who found them so moving, so accurate, so real. These iconographic representations of life in the U.S. are worse than selective, worse than false, they are assaults to the humanity and memory of black people, who were being savagely oppressed even as June Cleaver did housework in heels and laughed about the hilarious hijinks of Beaver and Larry Mondello.

These portraits of America are certifiable evidence of how disconnected white folks were--and to the extent we still love them and view them as representations of the "good old days" to which we wish we could return, still are--from those men and women of color with whom we have long shared a nation. Just two months before "Leave it to Beaver" debuted, proposed civil rights legislation was killed thanks to Strom Thurmond's 24-hour filibuster speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. One month prior, Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus called out the National Guard to block black students from entering Little Rock Central High; and nine days before America was introduced to the Cleavers, and the comforting image of national life they represented, those black students were finally allowed to enter, amid the screams of enraged, unhinged, viciously bigoted white people, who saw nothing wrong with calling children niggers in front of cameras. That was America of the 1950s: not the sanitized version into which so many escape thanks to the miracle of syndication, which merely allows white people to relive a lie, year after year after year.

Mike Huckabee gives his opinion of Jerry here:

As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, "That's a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I'm going to be probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you: We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had ... more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.

- Mike Huckabee, offering his perspective on the preaching of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (Source: MSNBC)

It's often very difficult to get ordinary Americans to listen. Too often, the anti-American card is played. Although I would disagree with him on many issues, Mike has started to listen.

Echoes of Apartheid - posted on the Sojourners blog

Echoes of Apartheid (by Graeme Codrington)

The Cost of War

I was conscripted into the South Africa military in the late 1980s. Still in my teens, I was shipped off to do two years of "service" for my country. This included not only military training, but also indoctrination about "the enemy." I was taught about the threat of communism, of the dangers of insurgents and the evil inherent in those who wished to destroy the "freedoms" we held so dear in our land.

South Africa was a country divided. Its history is reasonably well known to the world because of all we have since achieved. But the late 1980s were dark days, at the height of the apartheid regime's attempts to retain power in the face of growing international opposition and internal chaos.

One day, at home on leave, I was reversing my car out of our home's driveway in Randburg, Johannesburg. A knock on my window startled me. A young man, slightly out of breath, motioned for me to roll down the window. Slightly nervous, I lowered it a few centimetres. He asked if I could give him a ride. To this day I don't know why I agreed, as I am not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers. But, that day, I said, "Yes. Get in."

As we drove away, he calmly told me that he had just escaped from the police cells at the nearby magistrate's court. He was a political activist and had been arrested as a member of the ANC. He wanted me to take him to a nearby township where ANC cadres were known to hideout. But, he explained calmly, if I felt otherwise, I could take him up the road and hand him over to the police again.

Not many people are confronted with these sorts of choices. Not only was I under immediate pressure: Were the police coming down the road in hot pursuit? Had they seen me? But I was also being confronted with a mindset shift. Deep down inside I had a vague understanding that apartheid was wrong and that it should be opposed. But as a teenager, what chance had I to process these thoughts, or choose to do something about it? Now, what would I do? Whose side was I on?

It's difficult to explain to someone who hasn't lived in a propaganda state how much can be hidden from the citizens by the government and selective media. And how much apathy there is in those not directly affected by the violence such a state perpetrates.

I wish I had done more to oppose apartheid. I can claim that I was young, and that apartheid was almost dead by the time I came of age. But so many young people gave their lives for justice. There are no excuses. I wish that day I had done more than I did. I drove that young man about five kilometres away, and then dropped him off on the side of a busy road where I knew he would quickly be picked up and taken to safety. I should have done more.

Maybe I should be doing more now.

This may be an overly harsh assessment, but some of what has happened in America under the current administration in the name of a "war on terror" looks and feels remarkably like the workings of that apartheid machine I grew up in. And the most concerning thing is that, just as many South Africans – white and black – were sucked into the apartheid system's mindset, so too the average American does not seem to notice it happening.

In the name of freedom, freedoms are gradually removed. The state spies on its own citizens, and explains that it does not need to explain why. In the name of peace, we declare others to be "the enemy" and wage war on them, crushing them with overwhelming superior force. Worst of all, we declare ourselves outside international agreements and norms. We can torture, because it's not really torture, and besides, the end justifies the means. We can refuse to sign international treaties, because what are others going to do about it anyway?

I hate to point it out, because the memory of that type of state is so fresh in the minds of South Africans like myself. I hate to point it out, because I would like to think that the most powerful country in the world is what it also claims to be: the most free, the most civilized and the most advanced. I hate to point it out. But I must: The so called "war on terror," most obviously evidenced by a 5-year ground war in Iraq, is nothing more or less than apartheid was proclaimed to be: a crime against humanity. It is a dark blot on our human soul.

And all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing about it. How I wish I had done more. But, how proud I am today to be a South African – part of the story of a nation of people who collectively decided that change was possible, and who each did just a little bit to make that dream a reality.

Dr. Graeme Codrington is a researcher, author, presenter and consultant on issues of people strategy. He works internationally from bases in Johannesburg and London, and can be contacted at

Larry Ellison of Oracle gets a $3m tax cut on his estate

Full story on SF Gate

Larry Ellison, ranked 12th on the Forbes 500 list with a net worth of $25 billion, has bagged a $3 million tax break after arguing that his flamboyant Japanese-style estate in Woodside is functionally obsolete.

The chief executive officer of software giant Oracle Corp. will be paid from San Mateo County property taxes collected this year, which otherwise would have gone to schools, the county general fund and cities, among other things, Deputy Controller Kanchan Charan said. The hit to schools alone will be nearly $1.4 million.

Ellison's Octopus Holdings LP acquired the 23-acre site in May 1995 for $12 million and spent nine years constructing the lavish property, modeled on a Japanese emperor's 16th century country residence, according to the San Mateo assessment appeals board.


But Ellison's appeal claimed the property suffered from "significant functional obsolescence" because there is a finite market for high-end luxury homes, limited appeal for 16th-century Japanese architecture and the "over improvements" and "excessive" landscaping are costly to maintain.

The board ultimately agreed, slicing the valuation by around $100 million for each of the last three years, for a tax savings of more than $3 million, Flinn said.

The largest proportion of San Mateo County property taxes, 45.1 percent, goes to school districts, followed by 21.5 percent for the county general fund, 16.7 percent to cities and 7.5 percent to redevelopment agencies. Woodside will lose about $78,000 from the $130,000 in property taxes it collected on the Mountain Home Road property during the past few years, Town Manager Susan George said. Nevertheless, she doesn't begrudge Ellison.

"He went through a process that was laid out by the law," she said. "It shouldn't make any difference how much money he has if the process was fair."

AT&T CEO says hard to find skilled US workers

Telecom CEO speaks candidly on the U.S. work force and his company's attempt to fill all 5,000 customer service jobs it promised to return to the United States from India.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - The head of the top U.S. phone company AT&T Inc said on Wednesday it was having trouble finding enough skilled workers to fill all the 5,000 customer service jobs it promised to return to the United States from India.

"We're having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs," AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio, where the company's headquarters is located.

So far, only around 1,400 jobs have been returned to the United States of 5,000, a target it set in 2006, the company said, adding that it maintains the target.

Stephenson said he is especially distressed that in some U.S. communities and among certain groups, the high school dropout rate is as high as 50 percent.

"If I had a business that half the product we turned out was defective or you couldn't put into the marketplace, I would shut that business down," he said.

Gone are the days when AT&T and other U.S. companies had to hire locally, he said.

"We're able to do new product engineering in Bangalore as easily as we're able to do it in Austin, Texas," he said, referring to the Indian city where many international companies have "outsourced" technical and customer support workers.

"I know you don't like hearing that, but that's the way it is," he said.

Stephenson said neither he nor most Americans liked the situation, and the solution was a stronger U.S. focus on education and keeping jobs. Business needed to help, such as AT&T's repatriation of service positions and education grants, he added.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Environmental justice vignettes, both US and international, at a U of M Natural Resources and the Environment class page

SNRE 492, a class at the U of M School of Natural Resources and the Environment, maintains a page of environmental justice cases here. It's a high level undergrad class, and cases come from all over the world. I encourage readers to browse.

Readers may remember that in 2004, Nevadan federal senators, including the allegedly populist Democrat Harry Reid, pushed a bill that expropriated land from the Western Shoshone tribe, and sold it to a Canadian gold mining company. One of the cases profiled above deals with the Western Shoshone and their resistance to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site. Personally, I think nuclear energy needs to be an option on the table. The waste does need to be stored. Although the proposed Yucca Mountain site is now in limbo, I'm not sure that it was an egregious case of environmental injustice. I think the reaction to the studies may have been exaggerated.

Of course, I am a bit of a fundamentalist on Indigenous peoples' rights, and if the Western Shoshone had said that Yucca Mountain infringed on their religious freedom, I'd say forget it. In addition, if the site had been approved but the Western Shoshone had sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, they would have had a good chance of success. The RFRA has been invalidated as to the states, but has been found binding as to the Federal government. It's a long story, which I might profile someday.

John McCain calls for vigilance on global warming, adds shades of gray to his Iraq position; skeptics call his claims rhetoric

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Wednesday called for greater vigilance in combating global warming, saying that a successor to the Kyoto Treaty should be enacted.

McCain called for the U.S. to be good "stewards of our planet," saying the treaty that U.S. has yet to ratify is necessary to preserve the Earth. A cap-and-trade system in which environmental credits are exchanged much like common stock is a system the Arizona senator said he favors.

"The risks of global warming have no borders," McCain said. "We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren."

Shades of gray in his Iraq position
McCain called for the environmental measures as he delivered what was billed as a major foreign policy address in Los Angeles. The Arizona senator tempered his tougher stand on issues such as Iraq by calling for moderation in how it conducts itself in the world.

He called for the U.S. to remain in Iraq until insurgents are quelled but added the U.S. needs to be a "model citizen" to the rest of the world. McCain's speech, in part, responded to criticism from Democratic rivals Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., who call for immediate withdrawal of troops from the region.
McCain said the U.S. cannot prematurely withdraw forces from Iraq or it could risk turning over the entire region to al Qaeda terrorists. He said the U.S. may have to keep a presence there for decades, much in the same vein as the Pentagon kept bases in Germany and Japan after World War II.

At the same time, though, McCain said he "detests" war. He also reiterated his call for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying terrorists should not be treated inhumanely.

"We must fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundation of our society," McCain said.

While McCain asserted that Democrats were short-sighted in their call for immediate withdrawal, he also said that he is not opposed to eventually leaving the region.
"I do not argue against withdrawal, any more than I argued several years ago for the change in tactics and additional forces that are now succeeding in Iraq, because I am somehow indifferent to war and the suffering it inflicts on too many American families," McCain said.

"I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later."

Skeptics call it rhetoric
Critics of McCain dismissed much of his speech as "rhetoric," saying the candidate was eloquent about the horrors of war but has a history of relying on military force to stake America's claim in the world.

"Days after 9/11 and before U.S. forces had even invaded Afghanistan, McCain was focused on attacking countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 - Iraq, Iran, Syria - and said picking which one to attack would be the tough part," the National Security Network said in a release issued shortly after McCain's speech.

McCain went on to address a number of foreign policy issues, following on the heels of a major speech on the economy delivered Tuesday in nearby Orange County.
Among other issues, he called for China to be more transparent about its military buildup in order to insure that it is "peacefully rising." He also called for a "league of democracies," a coalition of democratic states in order to protect their interests.

Tax protesting within the limits of US law

I think something like half of all income tax dollars in the US (not Social Security or Medicare taxes) go to the defense budget, which right now means the war.

Tax protesters are small in number. Some don't believe the government has the right to levy taxes; that's an interesting philosophical question, but the legal grounds for the government to do so are unimpeachable.

Some, however, are protesting the numerous unjust wars the U.S. has engaged in. I've heard stories of people who basically live on cash. If you do in fact owe taxes, the IRS will levy your bank account and social security check. It's very difficult to run from the IRS, unfortunately, and living solely on cash is not easy.

A recent CNN Money story profiled this guy:

Few among us would want to settle for a drastically lower income just to avoid taxes. But David Gross did just that. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 39-year-old technical writer decided that he didn't want his tax dollars funding the war. Only by earning less, he realized, could he stay within the law.

At the time his salary came to about $100,000 a year. He asked his employer to pay him far less - some $70,000 less - but was turned down. So he quit and launched a business from his apartment, strictly limiting his earnings.

In 2007 his income was $29,000. He put $2,850 in a health savings account, $4,500 in a simplified employee pension (SEP) and $4,000 in an IRA. Since he works freelance, he can deduct half of his self-employment tax ($1,850) and his health insurance premium ($1,200), leaving him with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $14,600.

After taking the standard deduction and one exemption, his taxable income neared $6,000 and his tax was $493. Low-income earners like Gross are also entitled to a credit for retirement plan contributions. His came to $500 and - poof! - no tax bill.

Because he's saving so much, Gross has to pinch every penny. But even though he lives in San Francisco, one of the nation's most expensive cities, he says, "it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought." Most places he goes are within walking distance, working at home gives him time to cook, and he and his girlfriend (who does pay taxes) rely on Netflix-rented movies for entertainment.

Gross believes in the government's right to levy taxes - he still pays California taxes - but he's satisfied, he says, that he hasn't been financing what he calls "the hugely bloated military."

So, it is perfectly legal to reduce your income to the point where you pay zero taxes, or close to zero. It's not exactly very easy to live on that, though. Plus you do want to pay your Medicare taxes. State sales and local property taxes are harder to not pay, but as David points out, individual US States and municipalities aren't invading other countries in violation of international law.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

To Win the New Asia for Christ, on Daily Episcopalian

Daily Episcopalian has a very interesting article on Asian Christianity. Asian Christians are not to be solely judged by the actions of John Chew of South East Asia. I've summarized below.

1.) Asia has become a world-class exporter of theology...names like the Sri Lankan Catholic Aloysius Pieris, the Taiwanese Protestant C. S. Song, and the New Zealand Anglican, Jenny Te Paa, have gained global recognition for their different contributions.

Pieris for linking the social-economic emphasis of Latin American Liberation theologians with Asia’s poor, whom he contends must be the center of any missionary effort.

Song as a leader in the widespread contextual theology movement that allows individuals and communities to tell their deeply meaningful stories with religious implications, relate them to the life and teachings of Jesus, and from the ground up build theologies derived from them.

Te Paa as a respected voice in the global Anglican Communion. Her bridging of Maori and white New Zealand cultures and their complex race relations serves as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.

2.) Hunger for contact with Western churches is widespread...

3.) On the one occasion when the subject came up, there was real interest in and support for ordaining women and persons of single sex orientation to ministry and episcopacy...participants (about half women and half men) wanted to hear details of the Episcopal Church’s half-century struggle toward fuller acceptance of women and gays and lesbians as children of God and ministers of the church.

4.) Asians note that Asia’s major religions were long established centuries before Christianity and Islam arrived... Following a period of warfare in the southern Philippines, local Roman Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders created a Bishops-Ulama council that meets four times a year.

5.) After witnessing the vitality and diversity of religious expressions in Asia, the Global South Anglican advocacy group’s claims to be [the sole - ed] representative voices of this vast segment of the developing world appear increasingly thin.

6.) Nor does the oft-invoked North/South divide hold up under scrutiny... “extraordinary descriptive crudeness and historical innocence. Many of the significant diversities within each civilization are effectively ignored, and interactions between them are substantially overlooked.”

7.) Many deeply devout Asian Christians accept the idea that other valid paths to salvation are represented in the different religions around them...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- In the wake of damaging lawsuits charging Yahoo Inc. with complicity in the jailing and torture of Chinese dissidents, the company is seeking to make amends with a "human-rights fund" dedicated to providing victims of government censorship with legal and other assistance.

Human-rights groups that once criticized Yahoo for complying with Chinese authorities' efforts to clamp down on political discourse are now praising its new, public stance on the issue.

Nevertheless, Yahoo's effort raises questions about its future in a country where companies are expected to avoid open conflict with government policies. Those questions also could conceivably apply to Microsoft Corp. in the future, should it succeed in acquiring Yahoo.

Harry Wu, a former political prisoner and human-rights advocate once deported by the Chinese government, has been charged with overseeing Yahoo's initiative. Wu said a board of roughly five members should be in place to start administering the fund by the end of this month.

"So far it's unique; there are no other big companies who have set up big funds," he commented. Both Yahoo and Wu declined to detail the fund's initial size, though Wu said the company has the option to add to it if deemed necessary.

Other groups including Reporters Without Borders, an organization that earlier this week helped disrupt the Beijing Olympics flame-lighting ceremony in Greece in protest against China, have been tapped to advise on Yahoo's fund, according to Wu.

In addition, Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang indicated in a letter sent last month to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that bolder moves may be in store. Yang wrote that he looks forward to "seizing the opportunity presented by the Olympics to redouble our efforts in securing the release of political dissidents." The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin in August.

Falling afoul of the Chinese government has long been considered a dicey proposition for companies hoping to do business there.

Yahoo sold its direct presence in China in 2005, but retains a 39% stake in Alibaba Group, a Hong Kong-based holding company for a number of promising Chinese ventures including online-auction and payment services. Yang also serves on the board of directors at Alibaba.

A Yahoo spokeswoman recently said "we don't do business in China." Yet the company's assets there are widely seen as a valuable potential beachhead in a market with a rapidly growing Internet audience.

"I'm sure if Yahoo did something loud enough, Alibaba would hear about it," said Cowen & Co. analyst Jim Friedland. "But I think Yahoo's once or twice removed enough that it won't cause problems for them."

Rest of the article at Marketwatch

Apple's environmental progress is going

Company has met some of Jobs' goals, but plenty of work remains
Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple has made some progress in meeting its self-imposed goals for making more environmentally friendly products. But a look at what Apple has done in the past year finds that the company still has some work ahead of it when it comes to reaching the environmental objectives outlined by Steve Jobs.

Those goals were spelled out by the Apple CEO nearly a year ago in an essay entitled A Greener Apple posted on Apple’s Web site. In his May 2007 letter, Jobs laid out not only what environmental efforts Apple was making at the time, but also what the company’s plans were for the future.

The goals set out by Jobs ranged from several fait accompli to more ambitious ongoing plans, but they focused primarily on two facets of environmental impact: the reduction of toxic chemicals in Apple products and the company’s recycling program.

Jobs’ public statement came as the company found itself the focus of an ongoing campaign by activist group Greenpeace, which did everything from picketing the 2007 Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco to setting up an Apple-specific environmental Web site to criticizing the company’s policies in a series of reports.

Apple’s efforts in the past year have paid off in at least one regard—the most recent version of Greenpeace’s 10-point Guide to Greener Electronics bumps up the company’s rating. “Apple was at a score of 4 a year ago,” said Rick Hind, Legislative Director of the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign. The organization’s most recent scorecard, published earlier this month, shows Apple with a score of 6.7, placing it at ninth out of the 18 companies ranked. “By having a global takeback program and completing BFR [brominated flame retardants] and PVC [polyvinyl chloride] eliminations, they could have a score of 7.7,” Hind said. That score would have put Apple in a tie with Samsung and Toshiba at the top of Greenpeace’s ratings.

With almost 11 months having passed since Jobs posted his letter on Apple’s environmental plans, here’s a look at the progress the company has made in meeting its stated goals.
Getting the lead out

In A Greener Apple, Jobs touted the fact that Apple had phased out CRT monitors, a major source of lead, and made a complete transition to LCD displays, well before any of its competitors. CRTs aren’t the only source of lead in computers, though: Apple’s environmental product design page concedes that a very small amount of lead can still be found in some of its products. The most recent iMac revision, for example, contains less than a gram of lead, though that’s undeniably a vast improvement over the 484 grams of the material used in the design of the original G3 iMac.

A quick survey of competitors Dell, HP, and Lenovo shows that all three manufacturers are still making and selling CRT monitors. None have as of yet announced plans to eliminate CRTs from their lineup.
Restriction of hazardous substances

The European Union has implemented a strict set of environmental guidelines known as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). In his letter, Jobs stipulated that all of Apple’s products were compliant with the “spirit and letter” of RoHS, especially in as regards three specific chemicals: Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, and Decabromodiphenyl Ether, all of which have long been removed from Apple’s products. Jobs also pointed out that several of Apple’s competitors have continued using these materials in their products, taking advantage of exemptions from the RoHS standards.
Arsenic and old mercury

From the perspective of many Mac users, one of the most interesting tidbits that Jobs let drop in his May 2007 was the news that Apple would be transitioning its LCD displays from fluorescent to LED backlighting, a process that would, among other benefits, eliminate the use of mercury. “They did lead the way on mercury-free flat screens,” said Greenpeace’s Hind, who points to that chemical’s extreme toxicity.

But Apple noted that the transition was contingent on technical and economic feasibility. The iPhone and all models of iPhone use mercury-free displays, but the only Macs using LED-backlighting in Apple’s lineup are the 15-inch MacBook Pro introduced last June and the MacBook Air. The most recent MacBook Pro speed bumps brought an LED-backlit display as a build-to-order option on the 17-inch MacBook Pro, but the MacBook models released at the same time still use fluorescent backlighting, as do Apple’s Cinema Displays and the aluminum iMac.

Apple also promised to eliminate the use of arsenic in the glass of its LCD displays, a promise which has so far been met only by the MacBook Air and the optional high-resolution LED-backlit display available on the 17" MacBook Pro, though Apple says it plans to stop using arsenic completely by the end of 2008.
BFRs, PVCs, and other three-letter abbreviations

Two other materials to which Jobs drew particular attention were Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs). The CEO said that Apple had made great strides in reducing the use of both materials in all of its products and packaging, and planned to eliminate them completely by the end of 2008. According to Apple’s current environmental information, iPods use BFR-free circuit boards, the MacBook Air uses no PVC in its internal cables, and both the latest MacBook Pros and MacBooks feature mostly PVC-free internal cables and mostly BFR-free circuit boards.
Reduce, reuse, recycle

The final topic Jobs covered in his letter concerned Apple’s recycling program. In 2006, Apple had recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste, equivalent to 9.5 percent of the weight of the products it’d sold seven years prior in 1999 (a standard of measurement proposed by rival Dell). Jobs hoped to increase that percentage to 13 percent in 2007, 20 percent in 2008, and almost 30 percent in 2010, as well as expand recycling programs to almost all of the countries in which Apple products were sold.

Apple’s page on its recycling program doesn’t provide updated figures for either of these goals, but the company does now accept old cell phones along with all iPods and Macs from anywhere in the U.S., with free shipping, as Jobs promised. And those who buy qualifying Macs or displays from Apple can also recycle old equipment free of charge.

But Apple’s recycling programs still has shortcomings, especially in terms of its geographic availability. “Their recycling is not global and not universal,” said Greenpeace’s Hind. “It’s quite limited.”
Yearly updates

In closing his letter, Jobs vowed to provide on Apple’s environmental status on an annual basis. While Apple’s yearly shareholder meeting earlier this month seemed ripe for such an update, Jobs’s only remark on the topic was that there was work left to do, but that Apple was ahead of the industry.

At that meeting, shareholders were asked to vote on a motion to create a board committee for sustainability. But Apple, citing its recent environmental practices, recommended against the proposal—it did not pass. Apple did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Meanwhile, Apple has created a prominent section of its Web site devoted to environmental matters and appears to be in the process of revamping the Environment section of its newest Macs’ technical specifications, making them more prominent and providing a more transparent accounting of the environmental facets of each product.

While Apple has a lot of targets to hit by the end of 2008 in order to keep its promises, the company seems to be on the way to doing so though. As Steve Jobs would likely tell you, there’s still over 40 weeks to go.

This article was reposted at 2:35 p.m. PT to include the 17-inch MacBook Pro's optional LED-backlit display among the arsenic free displays in Apple's product line.

[Associate editor Dan Moren is co-editor of MacUser.]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ekklesia: Why the church needs a new foreign policy

I'm not going to post the entire article. But Ekklesia has an article by Simon Barrow.

In line with other posts on this site, he argues that the church needs a new foreign policy.

Why? Basically, because the previous one is broken. Oh, and it's Easter.

The true meaning of Easter

Sticky moment - Store gets egg on its face:

“ Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone. But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus. . . .” Press release from Somerfield, April 3

“ Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone. But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the rebirth of Jesus . . .” Revised press release

“ Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone. But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the resurrection of Jesus” Second revision

Many thanks to Hayley Booth, writing for a PR agency hired by the UK supermarket chain Sommerfield.

Savi Hensman: The church must be on the side of the crucified

Savi Hensman, writing for Ekklesia, a liberal Christian UK think tank.

In October 2007 a priest was convicted of complicity in 7 murders, 31 cases of torture and 42 kidnappings. Christian Von Wernich had been chaplain to the Buenos Aires police force in the years of Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976-1983. For his role in the ‘dirty war’ in that period, when many opponents of the regime ‘disappeared’ and were never seen again by their loved ones, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Roman Catholic church, like many other Christian denominations and faith communities, has long made clear its opposition to human rights abuses. How, then, did a priest end up in the dock for such grave crimes? Why, when clergy have been called to account by their bishops or even the Vatican for comparatively minor matters, was action not taken at the time? And are their lessons to be learnt by people of faith?

A church of the powerful

A clue, perhaps, lies in the position of religious institutions in society. Where these are favoured by the privileged and powerful, and derive benefits from this position, they may come to identify with their wealthy patrons and supporters. Religious leaders may then find it difficult to recognise and challenge abuses, especially when victims are relatively poor and unimportant, or are portrayed as threatening social and economic systems in which faith-based institutions have thrived.

Amidst struggles between wealthy landowners and businessmen on the one hand and those seeking a better deal for peasants and workers on the other hand, communism was seen by Argentinian church leaders as a major threat. In the 1960s Cardinal Caggiano wrote that Marxism was born of the negation of Christ and his church, ‘put into practice by the Revolution’, and of the need to ‘prepare for the decisive battle’ though the enemy had not yet ‘taken up arms’. He helped to create a course in which students from the military studied a quotation from the fifteenth-century bishop of Verden: ‘When the existence of the Church is threatened, it is no longer bound by the commandments of morality. When unity is the aim, all means are justified: deceit, treachery, violence, usury, prison and death. Because order serves the good of the community, and the individual has to be sacrificed for the common good.’

Just after the 1976 coup, Argentinian Archbishop Paraná Adolfo Tortolo, himself a senior military chaplain, praised Jorge Rafael Videla, who had seized power: ‘General Videla adheres to the principles and morals of Christian conduct. As a military leader he is first class, as a Catholic he is extraordinarily sincere and loyal to his faith.’ He also said that when confronting subversion, the military should take ‘hard and violent measures.’

Some in the church were actively opposed to the regime and its violence. For example in 1977 two French nuns regarded as dissidents were murdered, and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, which protested against the ‘disappearances’, met in Santa Cruz church in Buenos Aires. But much of the religious hierarchy sided with the military.

Against this background the actions of Von Wernich, who misused his priestly function to try to obtain information from detainees, can more easily be understood though not justified. When military rule ended, the church hierarchy sought to shield him from facing the consequences, including sending him away to a parish in a small town under a false name. But finally he was tracked down and put on trial.

Witness after witness testified to the terrible suffering they had undergone during the years of dictatorship. ‘I continue to question the Church’s role as an institution, above all in the hierarchy, because it wasn’t able to meet the challenge, which is to say, it wasn’t with the crucified,’ said another priest, Rubén Capitanio, who testified against Von Wernich. ‘Von Wernich’s case is more than symbolic, because he put himself on the side of the crucifiers.’

God of life or the idols of death

In El Salvador during the years of military terror, the response of the church was different.

Though many in the church were strongly attached to the establishment and relatively uncritical of social inequalities and the repression of protest, some priests sided with the poor, working with lay people in community education and development. To the hierarchy in 1977, pious conservative Oscar Romero at first seemed a safe choice as archbishop, someone who would rein in those clergy who were too critical of the status quo.

But his deep pastoral sensitivity to the plight of the people, and distress at the murder by a death squad of a friend of his, a radical Jesuit priest, began to transform his ideas. ‘We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death,’ he reflected. ‘We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.’ Though he was saddened by the opposition of fellow-bishops and lack of support by the Vatican, he did not flinch from criticism of the regime at a time when many did not dare to speak out.

He tried in vain to persuade the US government to stop supporting the brutality of the regime in El Salvador, which, in trying to suppress dissent and rebellion, used massive violence against civilians. In March 1980, he appealed directly to the soldiers: ‘You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, “Thou shalt not kill”. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order.’ While celebrating holy communion that evening, he was assassinated.

A fortnight earlier, he had said, ‘I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection.’ If he were to be killed, ‘A bishop will die, but the church of God – the people – will never die.’ And indeed neither his murder, nor the widely-publicised rape and murder of three American nuns and a layworker later that year, stopped the church in El Salvador from challenging oppressive structures and abuse of human rights.

The Jesuit-run University of Central America became a centre for study of El Salvador’s social and economic situation and concern for the traumatised and dispossessed. Psychology lecturer Ignacio Martín-Baró described the devastating impact of a conflict in which ‘The human nature of the “enemies” is denied; one rejects the possibility of any constructive interaction with them, seeing them as something one would like to destroy.’ Amidst violence, social polarization and the institutional lie, in which perceptions of reality were distorted, ‘the militarization of social life can become a militarization of the mind.’

In 1989 he, along with five other priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were murdered by soldiers. But their influence continued. A few years later, negotiations led to an end of the civil war.

Another of the Jesuit martyrs, Juan Ramón Moreno, had earlier reflected on the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37): while the priest and Levite ‘look without solidarity, from a distance’, the ‘Samaritan’s gaze is very different – the gaze of one who is open to the situation of others’, and thus ‘he is “moved to pity.”’ He pointed out that ‘this way of acting, which Jesus presents as a model (“go and do the same”), simply reflects Jesus’ own way of acting… Before speaking or acting comes the gesture of looking, expressing a heart of mercy.’ The incarnation reflects the compassionate tenderness of God, whose ‘response to this world stretched out on the roadside, this world in the throes of a despairing death, is, as in the parable of the Samaritan, to come close to the world, to enter into the world.’

The church, Moreno suggested, must be willing to look carefully at the suffering in today’s world and show compassion, seeking the reign of God, whose love and mercy can transform. This can be challenging, especially for the privileged: ‘it is a frightfully radical change that one be decentred, abandon the viewpoint of one’s own interests and privileges, whether individual or class or nation.’

There is a price to be paid for sharing the good news in word and deed. ‘But what is important for our church and for our religious institutes: that the powerful of this world look on us approvingly and support us, or that we be a cry of hope, good news for the despised of the earth? Jesus’ words – “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” – are applicable institutionally to the church and to ourselves.’

Hope amidst turmoil

When governments are responsible for human rights abuses, how members of faith communities respond may be influenced by various factors.

How highly do we prioritise the preservation of the current order and protection of existing patterns of wealth and privilege, which may benefit us individually and institutionally? In providing pastoral care to the privileged and powerful, are we able to remain detached from their outlook and encourage them to seek a higher good? Do we tend to adopt society’s values, dismissing as unimportant the hardship and injustice endured by the poor and marginalised, or are we bearers of good news even in bleak situations?

When conflict escalates, can we resist the ‘militarization of the mind’? How willing are we to be transformed by a God of love, to look with unflinching compassion on those who suffer and seek to identify and address the causes?

And how willing are we to risk losing what we have in order to gain what is incomparably better? Even when destruction and death seem to hold sway, can we trust in the new life which is to come and be heralds of hope?


(c) Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities and is a respected and widely published writer on Christianity and social justice. An Ekklesia associate, Savi is author of the recent 'Binding the Church and constraining God' (, 'Anglicans need deep learning not cheap victory' ( and ‘Re-writing history’, a research paper on the row within global Anglicanism: Digg it Tailrank Reddit Newsvine Now Public Technorati

Giles Fraser: A funny kind of Christian

His thirst for scapegoats shows how poorly George Bush understands the meaning of Easter
Giles Fraser, writing in The Guardian

Somewhere in the Middle East, Jesus Christ is strapped to a bench, his head wrapped in clingfilm. He furiously sucks against the plastic. A hole is pierced, but only so that a filthy rag can be stuffed back into his mouth. He is turned upside down and water slowly poured into the rag. The torturer whispers religious abuse. If you are God, save yourself you fucking idiot. Fighting to pull in oxygen through the increasingly saturated rag, his lungs start to fill up with water. Someone punches him in the stomach.

Perhaps this is how we ought to be re-telling the story of Christ's passion. For ever since the cross became a piece of jewellery, it has been drained of its power to sicken. Even before this the Romans had taken their hated instrument of torture and turned it into the logo of a new religion. Few makeovers can have been so historically significant. The very secular cross was transformed into a sort of club badge for Christians, something to be proud of.

Two weeks ago, the most powerful Christian in the world vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal for the CIA to use waterboarding on detainees. "We need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists," said George Bush in a passable impersonation of Pontius Pilate. "This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe."

Throughout his time in office, the president has frequently been photographed in front of the cross. Yet as his support for torture demonstrates, he has understood little of its meaning. For the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is supremely a moral story about God's identification with victims.

The French anthropologist René Girard is the modern voice that has done most to explain the nature of this moral change. Human societies, he argues, are often held together by scapegoating. From the playground to the boardroom, we pick on the weak, the weird or the different as a way of securing communal solidarity. At times of tension or division, there is nothing quite as uniting as the "discovery" of someone to blame - often someone perfectly innocent. For generations of Europeans, the Jews were cast in the role; in the same way women have been accused of being witches, homosexuals derided as unnatural, and Muslims dismissed as terrorists.

The crucifixion turns this world on its head. For it is the story of a God who deliberately takes the place of the despised and rejected so as to expose the moral degeneracy of a society that purchases its own togetherness at the cost of innocent suffering. The new society he called forth - something he dubbed the kingdom of God - was to be a society without scapegoating, without the blood of the victim. The task of all Christians is to further this kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven".

Yet, for all his years in office, it is hard to think that President Bush has done anything much to make this kingdom more of a reality. Instead he has given us rendition, so-called specialised interrogation procedures, and the blood of many thousand innocent Iraqis. Given all this, what can it possibly mean for George Bush to call himself a Christian?

Easter is not all about going to heaven. Still less some nasty evangelical death cult where a blood sacrifice must be paid to appease an angry God. The crucifixion reveals human death-dealing at its worst. In contrast, the resurrection offers a new start, the foundation of a very different sort of community that refuses the logic of scapegoating. The kingdom is a place of shocking, almost amoral, inclusion. All are welcome, especially the rejected. At least, that's the theory. Unfortunately, very few of us Christians are any good at it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Waiting for human rights

On Good Friday, Christians remember Jesus' torture and execution. It was conducted by an occupying power, with the collusion of powerful interest groups.

On Saturday night, many take part in the Great Vigil of Easter, where we watch and wait for Easter and the Resurrection. On Sunday, of course, we celebrate Easter.

It strikes me that with human rights, we are stuck on Saturday night.

Torture, genocide, pollution - all go on unopposed. Sometimes, our leaders even celebrate when they torture people, or conduct or help with genocide. They blame the victims. Like with drugs in America. America puts more people per capital in prison than even the most successful police states. The majority are African Americans.

You can say that the folks, regardless of race, who dealt drugs broke the law - but when you get outcomes this disproportionate, the law is either unfair or stupid. Oh, and why is crack cocaine, consumed more by Blacks in inner cities, more heavily punished than powder, when the physiological effects aren't all that different?

Even in Western countries, rising healthcare costs make it increasingly difficult for countries to help their citizens recognize the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. For mental health especially, our limited evidence base of interventions means that there is a certain part of the population for which no treatment is completely successful.

It may feel like it's night-time forever. Humans are so tragically flawed, and we will never on this earth reach our goal.

But when you think about it, Saturday night must have felt like forever for the disciples.

God gives us the grace to persist.

Whoever stands up for the rights of human beings, stands up for God.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A real apology means you don't do it again

Letter in Indian Country Today, dated March 7, 2008. Some of the incidents the letter refers to have been profiled in my blog.

Congress is considering an apology to American Indians for the wrongs done by this country - forced relocation, takings of lands, violating treaties, destroying sacred sites, and outlawing Native religions and languages, to name a few. But a real apology means you won't do it again - and there is the problem.

The federal government still takes Indian land without paying for it, still fails to account for the Indian money it holds, still violates treaties with Indian nations without making amends, and still maintains a body of law and policy that is so discriminatory and racist that it should have been discarded generations ago. To make a genuine apology, Congress needs to stop doing the things for which it is apologizing.

It is astonishing to most Americans that Congress and the administration are still taking Indian land and resources - without due process of law and without fair market compensation - sometimes with no compensation at all. The Constitution says that Congress may not take anyone's property except for a public purpose, with due process of law, and with fair market compensation. But these rules are not applied to most land and resources owned by Indian tribes, and the government takes the land and resources at will. Obviously, this is wrong.

A few years ago, Congress confiscated part of the Yurok Nation's reservation in California and turned it over to another tribe. At the time, Congress gloated that it could do this without paying compensation because of ''plenary power,'' a concept that gives Congress complete power over Indian affairs. This power has almost no constitutional limitations that protect basic rights, and Indians are the only people in the United States subjected to it.

A good example of ongoing wrongs is how the government is trying to drive Western Shoshone Indians off their homelands in Nevada without due process and for a payment of about 15 cents per acre. This is gold-mining land (much of it turned over for only $2.50 per acre to Canadian-owned companies) but Indians derive no royalties from it, while being left virtually landless with no means for economic development to improve their impoverished conditions.

In 2004, Congress passed a law that confiscates more than $145 million belonging to nine Western Shoshone tribal governments and orders the Interior Department to hand out the money to individual tribal members.
The bill was passed despite the objections of most Western Shoshone tribes, because it violates their inherent right to self-governance and control over their resources.

Another glaring abuse of federal power is how the Interior Department still does not account for billions in Indian funds that it holds. This national shame is reported regularly in the press. The department is defying the law, as it has done for years. The United States still insists that Indian tribes, and in some respects Indian individuals, are in a state of permanent, involuntary trusteeship, with the federal government as trustee. No one else in the United States is subject to such unaccountable ''trusteeship.''

Congress today insists it can put Indian nations and tribes out of existence at any time by terminating their rights. Indian nations and tribes still have no real right to exist in U.S. law. The threat of termination is very real. Some small Native tribes in Alaska have heard this threat from congressional sources in recent years.

Congress also insists that it may freely violate treaties made with Indian nations. Sadly, this is not a thing of the past. Congress does this today - regularly. Treaties are contracts, and the government cannot freely violate its contracts with others, but it often does so in the case of Indian treaties.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS, an international legal body that is officially recognized and supported by the United States, in 2002 concluded that U.S. policies regarding Indian lands are discriminatory and constitute a violation of human rights. But the administration is defying the commission and refusing to change the discriminatory laws it applies to Indian tribes.

This embarrassing state of affairs, this ongoing pattern of lawless and arbitrary congressional power over Indians, has resulted in a negative, risky, unpredictable business climate on Indian reservations that inhibits needed economic development.

Many of the things Congress is considering apologizing for are still being done to Indians, Alaska Natives and to Native Hawaiians as well. Sadly, the United States, especially Congress, has never given up its insistence on treating Indian and Alaska Native nations with injustice and discrimination. This is not only wrong, but very bad public policy and wholly out of keeping with American values.

So what should Congress do? In addition to an apology, Congress should conduct hearings on these issues and adopt a resolution never again to take Indian or tribal property without due process of law and fair market compensation. The resolution should promise that Congress will never again terminate any American Indian tribe or its government and never again violate or abrogate a treaty with a Native nation without making full compensation and correcting all resulting harm to that nation. Congress must examine and change all federal laws, regulations and court-made law that deprive Indian nations and tribes of constitutional rights. Congress must pass legislation to assure that the government accounts fully for the Indian money and property it holds.

Indian nations have particular rights based on their existence as nations since before the United States was created. But this does not mean that these Native societies and governments should be punished by being deprived of the fundamental constitutional rights that protect everyone in this country from arbitrary government action. Indian nations should have at least the same constitutional rights that all others in this country are accorded.

Until Congress corrects the grievous legal framework that applies to Indian nations, tribal governments must work at a terrible disadvantage to battle the deplorable poverty and social problems that afflict most Indian communities. Government program funds and casinos cannot ever overcome the fundamental legal injustice that Congress continues to inflict on Indian and Alaska Native nations.

Without such commitments from Congress, an apology will not be in good faith and will have to be made over again. Until the government changes its ways, things cannot be expected to improve much in Indian country. It is time to make the changes.

Robert Tim Coulter, founder and executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Mont., and Washington, D.C., has practiced Indian and human rights law for more than 30 years.

High income student visa applications still have hard time

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Patricia Azuara's trip to the U.S. Consulate in Nogales on Oct. 1, 2004, should be fairly painless, considering she has spent the previous six years dealing with issues related to her student and worker visas.

The University of Arizona doctoral candidate, 34, knows about all the fees, bank statements and immigration forms she needs. Since arriving in 1998, she has mastered English, adapted to life in the United States and navigated her way through two previous visas.

Her appointment at the consulate is to finalize the transition from the H1B worker visa she has been using to work in public education to an F1 student visa that will allow her to begin a Ph.D. program in the department of language, reading and culture in the UA's College of Education.

She has the letter she needs from the university, a completed immigration form and a bank statement from her father proving she can pay for tuition and expenses not covered by her scholarships.

At her interview, though, a consular officer tells her she has failed to pay a $100 fee required by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program to track students. The program was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

``I was like, nobody told me I had to pay that fee,'' says Azuara, of Mexico City.

Since the U.S. State Department requires the fee be paid through the Internet, Azuara drives around Nogales to find an Internet cafe so she can pay the fee and complete her paperwork.

The consular officer approves her petition, but the mistake reminds her the visa process is never simple, quick or cheap.

``Even if you have all the documents required and you follow all the steps, they can reject your visa application, just like that with no explanation,'' she says.

Applicants for student visas must be excellent students with a command of English and enough money _ $32,000 at the UA _ to prove they, or their families, can pay out-of-state tuition and living expenses for at least one year.

Still, that's no guarantee of approval. In fiscal year 2007, the U.S. State Department rejected nearly a third of the 432,000 student visa applications submitted worldwide.

Azuara is one of 2,300 international students at the UA. Nationwide, she is one of 14,922 from Mexico and 978,906 in the United States, according to figures from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that also include students on two other types of less-common visas.

Becoming an international student isn't possible for many families around the world.

``It's a huge investment for a family to send their children here,'' says Joanne Lagasse-Long, director of the international student programs and services at the UA.

If a family can afford to send a child to study in the United States, it usually means they are doing well socially and economically in their home country and are unlikely to consider entering illegally, she says.

Once here, students are kept under a close watch by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Web-based Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which monitors students and their dependents throughout their approved stay in the U.S. education system.

If students don't have a full course load or are working in an unauthorized job, universities are required to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Educated in private, bilingual schools in Mexico City, Azuara and her family entered the United States yearly with tourist visas for shopping trips to San Antonio and visits to San Diego or Disneyland.

She had earned a bachelor's degree in special education from a private university in Mexico City and was working as a third-grade teacher in a private school when a former professor urged her to apply for a scholarship to pursue a master's degree at the UA.

Even if applicants can get the money together and they are able to gain admission to the university, the final decision rests with the immigration officer.

``What happens at this appointment can vary greatly,'' Lagasse-Long says.

Azuara still remembers her interview in 1998 at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City:

``You wait in line forever. It's like a prison, actually, because they put you like in lines, rows, and then they ask you, like, 'Stand up all this row, sit in the next one.' And you cannot take food and you are there for like the whole day. Finally, you get to somebody that will interview you.

``It wasn't hard for me because they just saw my papers and saw that I have enough money to come here and they gave me the visa, but you see the people interviewing to the next of you and it's kind of scary. They really look at the way you are dressed, the color of your skin.''

Once at school, students must maintain full-time student status and show progress toward completion of the program to retain their visas, Lagasse-Long says. They can work part time at on-campus or at approved off-campus jobs.

Azuara teaches a class at the UA and works as the coordinator for a program that hosts foreign students who come for a month to learn about U.S. history and culture. She earns about $900 a month after taxes, which she says makes it difficult to pay living expenses.

She hopes to earn her Ph.D. in May 2009 and take advantage of a one-year extension granted to students to work in their fields of study. Once her studies and practical training are complete, she'll have to find a company to sponsor her for an H1B visa or return to Mexico, because a student visa offers no path to legal residency.

Despite being here for nearly a decade, Azuara says it remains crystal-clear that her status is temporary.

``You never feel completely here. You are always like a guest,'' she says. ``It is very unfortunate because I go home and I don't feel home, either.''

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Speak English only signs found OK at Philadelphia cheesesteal shop

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The owner of a famous cheesesteak shop did not discriminate when he posted signs asking customers to speak English, a city panel ruled Wednesday.

In a 2-1 vote, a Commission on Human Relations panel found that two signs at Geno's Steaks telling customers, "This is America: WHEN ORDERING 'PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH,'" do not violate the city's Fair Practices Ordinance.

Shop owner Joe Vento has said he posted the signs in October 2005 because of concerns over immigration reform and an increasing number of people in the area who could not order in English.

Vento has said he never refused service to anyone because they couldn't speak English. But critics argued that the signs discourage customers of certain backgrounds from eating at the shop.

Commissioners Roxanne E. Covington and Burt Siegel voted to dismiss the complaint, finding that the sign does not communicate that business will be "refused, withheld or denied."

In a dissenting opinion, Commissioner Joseph J. Centeno said he thought the signs did discourage some customers.

"The sign appeared immediately above another sign that had the following words: 'Management Reserves the Right to Refuse Service,'" Centeno wrote.

Geno's and its chief rival across the street, Pat's King of Steaks, are two of the city's best known cheesesteak venues. A growing number of Asian and Latin American immigrants have moved into the traditionally Italian neighborhood in recent years.

Vento had threatened to go to court if he lost. His attorney, Albert G. Weiss, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by Wednesday's decision.

"We expected that this was not going to go our way," Weiss said.

In February 2007, the commission found probable cause against Geno's for discrimination, alleging that the policy discourages customers of certain backgrounds from eating there.

The case went to a public hearing, where an attorney for the commission argued that the sign was about intimidation, not political speech. The matter then went to the three-member panel for a ruling.

W. Nick Taliaferro, the commission's executive director, said he would not appeal.

U.S. Senate apologized for wrongs against Native Americans

The Denver Post has an editorial about an apology resolution to the Native Americans that cleared the Senate. The U.S. has a bicameral system, and the resolution also needs to clear the House (the junior chamber) to take effect.

Shannon Francis never sought an apology from a country that yanked her mom and grandma off their reservations, forced them into white foster families and barred them from speaking their native Hopi and Navajo languages.

So the Denver resident was unaware Tuesday that her government had decided to say, "Sorry."

"I had no clue it was coming," the 38-year-old mother of six said with a shrug. "So much for making history."

Like Francis, you probably missed it when the U.S. Senate quietly apologized for centuries of "violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples."

The unprecedented resolution acknowledges that the government forced indigenous people off their land, stole their assets and was responsible for "official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants" with tribes.

When Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized two weeks ago for policies that degraded that country's Aborigines, he blared his pronouncement live on giant screens throughout Australia.

U.S. senators instead buried their "Oops, our bad" in an amendment to a bill for American Indian health care.

Well, that certainly makes up for the Sand Creek Massacre and Wounded Knee.

So much for healing generations.

"White America can't afford to apologize too seriously because it would threaten their ownership of Indian land," said Iliff School of Theology Indian cultures professor Tink Tinker.

Tuesday's resolution came at the urging of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who reports a "deep resentment" among Native Americans in his state.

His colleagues aren't so big on apologies. Congress hadn't formally said "sorry" since apologizing to Native Hawaiians in 1993 for overthrowing their kingdom a century earlier. In 1988, lawmakers apologized and compensated Japanese-Americans interned in World War II detention camps.

Brownback's resolution does not authorize or settle any claim against the United States.

"We have a government that took our land and our children and physically and emotionally abused them and forced them to assimilate into something that they're not," said Francis, an accounting consultant by trade and a longtime activist for American Indian causes. "We — I — live with the pain of that every day. And for this they issue a bunch of words, empty like their treaties, that mean nothing and nobody hears."

Who is the apology really for, Francis wonders?

Is it for her mother, grandmother and aunties who spent lifetimes trying to forget the federal boarding schools that sought to strip away their culture?

For her brother, plagued like their father and grandfather by poverty and alcoholism?

For her son, who failed a 7th-grade history test when he refused to check the box saying Christopher Columbus discovered America?

Or for Francis herself, who overcame years of shame about her dark skin and accent to learn the ways of her ancestors that her own family had failed to pass on: to honor her kids, hug them and root them deeply in their heritage?

"If our people had been left alone, maybe things would have been different," she said.

As Francis sees it, Tuesday's resolution does little to fix a sad sequence of abuses that still is far from over.

"We don't need any more hollow words," she says. "What I want is for the country to be honest, really honest, about what it has done and what it continues doing to our people."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

EPA and ozone regulations

Marketwatch reports that the EPA wants to include cost analyses in the equation when considering air pollutant regulation. The Clean Air Act, as written, prohibits it from doing so. The EPA uses cost analyses elsewhere.

Cost benefit analyses can cut both ways. They can show that a given pollution control measure is not as expensive as the industry says it will be, and/or that it produces benefits in excess of the cost. They could also show that the benefits are not in excess of the costs, and then industry complains.

The 2003 effluent limitation guidelines governing confined animal feeding operations (basically industrial livestock farms) showed that quantifiable benefits were approximately the same as costs to implement. There were unquantifiable costs, and the EPA had no cost data on the health effects from livestock effluents (e.g. human health effects of nitrates and pathogens leaching into water). Here, industry was bearing the costs, and society was reaping the benefit. The regulations passed. But you could see how the industry might challenge them: your cost estimates are too low, your benefit estimates are too high, this is a financial burden that will bankrupt us, give us some subsidies...

Here's the first bit of the article:

In annoucing the agency's decision to tighten air regulations for ozone, the primary component of smog, Johnson said science showed the decision was in the best interest of public health. But Johnson simultaneously complained to reporters in a conference call that the clean air laws prevented him from considering the price tag on implementing the new standards.

The Clean Air Act prohibits officials from considering economic costs when setting air quality standards. Johnson, however, made the case last week that although he focused solely on the impact this type of pollution from motor vehicles and power plants has on people's lungs in making his decision, the issue of "cost of achieving healthy air" shouldn't be ignored as the agency makes air quality improvements that are smaller in degree.

Johnson seemed to be trying to appease a split-personality comprised of a health official and a bill collector during the call. The administrator said repeatedly -- and the agency highlighted in its press release -- that the decision was made to meet the "requirements of the Clean Air Act," making it sound like the agency grudgingly acted in order to comply with the law. On the other hand, he praised the agency's decision to lower emissions and protect the public health, calling it the "most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone."

The agency also clearly laid out the effects of ozone on public health. The agency's own scientific review showed that breathing air containing ozone can reduce lung function, increase respiratory symptoms, aggravate asthma, and lead to premature death for people with heart and lung disease.

"After evaluating the results of more than 1,700 new scientific studies available for this review, EPA concluded that ozone causes adverse health effects at the level of the 1997 standard and below," the agency said in supporting documents released at the time of the announcement., referring to the previous standard. Roughly 345 counties will not meet the new standards, according to the agency.