Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Native Hawaiians occupy palace in downtown Honolulu

HONOLULU (AP) - A Native Hawaiian group that advocates sovereignty locked the gates of a historic palace Wednesday in downtown Honolulu, saying it would carry out the business of what it considers the legitimate government of the islands.

State deputy sheriffs weren't allowing anyone else to enter Iolani Palace grounds as unarmed security guards from the Hawaiian Kingdom Government group blocked all gates to the palace, which is adjacent to the state Capitol.

Arrest warrants were being prepared and would probably be served on the 60 or so protesters later in the day, officials said. Protest leaders said they were prepared to be arrested and would go peacefully.

Protest leader Mahealani Kahau said the group doesn't recognize Hawaii as a U.S. state. Supporters planned to keep the protest peaceful and if evicted would return later, she said.

The group is one of several Hawaiian sovereignty organizations in the islands, which became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

The palace, the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom's last two monarchs, is a major downtown tourist attraction.

Mary Sanchez: Bush wasted an opportunity on immigration

By Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star Editorial Board

Both men proclaim a reverence to God. Both avow that faith is their guiding principle and stress the duty to follow the tenets of religion.

Pope Benedict XVI in his actions seems to bear that out. As for George W. Bush, I’m beginning to have my doubts.

They met recently in the Oval Office, the pope and the president, during Benedict’s historic visit to the United States.

As a matter of protocol, they released a joint statement. It read, in part: “The Holy Father and the president also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.”

The same day, immigration agents raided Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants in five states and the homes of immigrant workers. They rounded up about 400 people for working in this country illegally. The arrests in some cases left children without their parents.

So much for humane treatment and the well being of families.

Pilgrim’s Pride is the nation’s largest chicken supplier, with operations in 18 states. It uses the federal government system to check the validity of its workers’ documents. It’s a verification system that the government admits is flawed, especially in its inability to track stolen IDs.

Yet companies that use it can escape federal fines, often by offering up workers for capture. The only ones who tend to suffer from immigration enforcement, in other words, are the immigrants themselves, not the companies that benefit from their low-wage labor.

What is frustrating is that Bush grasps the issue of immigration as no other president has in recent history. His family background and his years as the governor of Texas prepared him to be the right president at the right time to address illegal immigration.

He regularly speaks eloquently on the topic, conveying the sense that he understands how illegal immigration affects the country’s economic and security needs, but also that America has a humanitarian role to play.

Yet Bush’s actions speak louder than his words. Good works please God — not simply prayers or Oval office decrees.

If Bush needs some examples of humanity in action, he might seek the input of judges who must peer into the eyes of these workers. In Little Rock, Ark., U.S. attorney Jane Duke declined to pursue jail time in addition to deportation for the immigrants caught at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant, noting that they were “otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Arkansas Magistrate Judge Beth Deere was especially mindful of the children. She pressed the detained parents to admit if they had children left at home. Often they will not.

That’s an indication of how desperate some parents are: They will at least temporarily give up their right to be with their own children, in the hope that somehow the little ones will be able to stay in the United States.

It’s a horrible situation, and immigrants surely bear responsibility for not honoring U.S. law. Yet equally culpable is our government and industry. Our visa system is not geared to meeting our labor needs. We need low-wage immigrant labor, and immigrants need the work. We don’t offer them enough visas, yet, as a nation, we still continue to find plenty of ways to benefit economically from their labor.

That is not exactly moral. Nor is it good for the nation’s security. We can’t check the identities of people we do not know are here. And, with increasing frequency, immigrants turn to identity theft of U.S. citizens to secure work documentation. Nor can we monitor and control the extent to which immigrants are displacing U.S. workers or affecting their wages negatively.

President Bush has wasted an opportunity to resolve a pressing national problem with courage and humanity. Instead, he warmly greeted one of the world’s moral leaders and even sermonized about treating immigrants with dignity and respect, while taxpayer money was being spent on a roundup program that did exactly the opposite.

What a cruel way to run a nation. No, it is worse. It’s sinful.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send e-mail to

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Financial Times: City dwellers priced out of the market

Javier Blas in Addis Ababa

Yeshi Degefu stopped eating meat about a year ago. Vegetables followed soon and, more recently, chickpeas and lentils. Today, Mrs Yeshi, 50, of Addis Ababa, queues for subsidised wheat, the only food she can still afford.

“In the past year all food prices have jumped,” Mrs Yeshi says at the Gojjam Berenda grain distribution centre in the Ethiopian capital. “Everything is much more expensive.”

Mrs Yeshi is caught up in a food crisis that is hitting the urban population rather than the rural poor, the group that has in the past faced the greatest threat of hunger. This time, the problem is not a shortage of food but its price.

The spread of the crisis to the cities is particularly unwelcome for the governments of developing countries because urban populations are more likely to protest, triggering riots which in Africa have already hit Burkina Faso and Senegal.

The emergency has few precedents: only Indonesia and Mexico suffered price-related food crises in the 1990s. In the past, hunger has been linked to natural disaster, such as drought, conflict or extreme poverty, rather than rising prices.

Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Programme, says the crisis is the “new face of hunger” affecting urban areas. Rising prices, she says, mean that “people in the cities which just eight months ago did not need food aid need it now”.

Ms Sheeran says food prices in the cities are rising much faster than wages, squeezing purchasing power. “We see food on the shelves but people are unable to buy it,” she says at the distribution centre where wheat is less than half the price paid at the city’s markets.

The International Monetary Fund says the “social implications of rising food prices can be severe”, warning that “food price-related riots” could spread.

“These pressures pose new challenges for African policymakers and will have particularly adverse effects on the poor,” the IMF says.

Food aid officials say that the urban middle class is not yet suffering from hunger, but warn that because of rising prices, families are cutting every other expense, including education and health, in order to cover their monthly food bill. A varied diet makes way for reliance on the staple.

The evolution of food prices in Ethiopia is illustrative of the trend in urban areas across emerging countries. The price of wheat in Addis Ababa has surged 32 per cent since last summer, while that of lentils has jumped 73 per cent and maize 47 per cent in the same period, according to the WFP.

In the five years to 2007, food prices in Ethiopia have soared by 62.3 per cent. The jump is significantly faster than non-food prices, says the WFP, “suggesting that those involved in [the] non-food sector of the economy, predominantly the urban population, have become relatively poorer over the last five years”.

In the Ethiopian capital’s grain market the mood among traders is gloomy as prices continue to climb. “This is the new gold,” says Yosef Yilak, a trader, showing in his hands teff, the indigenous grain used to make Ethiopian injerra, or flat bread. “Demand outstrips supply,” he says.

The developing crisis in the grain markets of the main cities led the Ethiopian government to create a grain stabilisation programme in April last year. Although the scheme initially covered just the capital, distribution centres now operate in 12 other cities.

Berhane Hailu, the general manager of the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise, which runs the programme, says that an estimated 4m people in urban areas benefit from it.

Governments across the world are taking similar measures and also lowering food taxes and slashing import tariffs for agricultural commodities in an effort to control local food prices.

But Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s finance minister, says that one of the tragedies of the current crisis is that there is no short-term solution and even some of the policies now being implemented in several countries could backfire.

“Few systems work. In the past it has been demonstrated that subsidies, strategic stockpiles or vouchers for foods all create some problems,” Mr Manuel told the Financial Times on the sidelines of the African Union finance ministers’ meeting.

As Mrs Yeshi waits to buy subsidised wheat, the policy talks mean little. Her only concern is that she “can no longer feed the children”.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Food crisis explained

The Financial Times has an interactive page describing the food crisis.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The plunge protection team: how an elite group protects the financial sector

For those interested in finance and macroeconomics,the Washington Independent has an article on the President's Working Group on Financial Markets, an elite US group that protects large consumer and investment banks.

To be sure, the financial sector is important. It is impractical for most people to buy a house or to go to university without borrowing. The finance sector does help people grow their savings for retirement. It enables investment by businesses, and we wouldn't have jobs without industry (although there are certain industries that should clean their act up or face judgment).

However, the U.S. Federal Reserve recently brokered a buyout of Bear Stearns, an investment bank, by JP Morgan Chase, a diversified financial corporation that includes investment and consumer banking. The Fed guaranteed a lot of Bear's rather questionable loans, putting taxpayer dollars at risk.

Had Bear Stearns collapsed, the entire financial industry could have been put in jeopardy. A lot of businesses and individuals might not have been able to get loans.

However, the article makes the case that the public should have a lot more information about what and how the Working Group is doing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Can men be feminists?

Cath Elliot, in an opinion piece on the Guardian.

Many feminists welcome men's championship of the cause, but there's much debate over their entitlement to call themselves feminists
Cath Elliott


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In the book Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks defines feminism as "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression", while the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of sexual equality." You'll get no argument from me on either of these interpretations; they're straightforward, non-controversial, and best of all, inclusive. Ignore all the confusing sub-divisions like Marxist feminism, radical feminism and anarcha-feminism, and the arguments about whether we're experiencing the third-wave or whether we're in a state of post- feminism, and feminism really can be summed up this concisely. What's even more exciting is that if we went by either one of these definitions we'd probably be hard pushed to find someone who wasn't prepared to declare themselves a feminist.

But is it really as straightforward as this? Can everyone who supports the idea of women's rights call themselves a feminist, or are there other criteria that have to be met before people are allowed to sport the label? Like having a vagina for example, or having experience of life as a female and all the attendant discriminations that that brings? Can men ever really be feminists, or should pro-feminist men be consigned to the sidelines, welcome allies in the struggle for gender equality, but disqualified from full membership by dint of their unasked for but nonetheless privileged position as fully paid up members of the male fraternity?

Any movement for social justice would be doing itself no favours if it deliberately excluded its own supporters from the ranks, but while many feminists welcome men's championship of the cause, there's still a great deal of debate over their entitlement to call themselves feminists. The argument rages even amongst pro-feminist men, with some arguing that gender should be no barrier to full and active participation, and others arguing that as feminism is rooted in the women's liberation movement, a movement founded by women for the advancement of women, men have no right to lay claim to the tag.

Brian Klocke of the National Organisation for Men against Sexism has argued: "Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today's society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (ie a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one's directly-lived experience inform one's theory and praxis."

Women feminists have also voiced misgivings about men's involvement in the movement. Some men, they argue, automatically assume a dominant role when they become activists, claiming to be better feminists than feminist women, and failing to recognise and challenge their own sexist behaviour. These so-called fellow travellers merely reinforce the tired gender stereotyping that feminism seeks to subvert, and by their domineering behaviour, they silence women's voices and perpetuate existing male power and oppression. They jockey for control and appoint themselves as spokespeople, in a diverse non-hierarchical movement that neither needs nor seeks figureheads or leaders.

Personally I have some sympathy with this position, having had my own run-ins with so-called male feminists. To be perfectly frank, I really don't need men telling me how to be a better feminist, or that my "kind" of feminism is wrong. By all means debate the issues with me, but define my feminism for me? No, I don't think so.

These annoying entryists aside, men are welcome allies in the struggle for women's equality. The current crisis in masculinity and the search for a male identity bear testimony to how centuries of patriarchal hegemony has harmed men too. Pro-feminist men have been active in challenging male behaviour and attitudes, founding organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign, which raises awareness of male violence against women, and working with young men (pdf) in schools as both role models and mentors.

At the end of the day, any men prepared to stand up against sexism, sexual and domestic violence, socially constructed gender roles and women's oppression are all right by me. I don't care what they call themselves either: allies, fellow travellers, feminist sympathisers, pro-feminists, or even just plain feminists; it doesn't matter what's on the label, it's how feminism is translated into everyday life that matters. You can't call yourself a feminist and then go home and beat your partner; you can't call yourself a feminist and in the next breath deny your daughter the right to decide her own future; you can't call yourself a feminist while at the same time you're patting women on the head and telling them how to think. But treat us as equals and we'll reciprocate. There's still a long way to go, but we'll get there much faster together.

Minority Report: Anita's story and the callous immigration rule that trapped her

Jerome Taylor, blogging on the Independent.

At first glance Anita Jain looks and acts just like any other bright and confident 28-year-old woman. It's only when she pulls back her sleeves to reveal the deep, angry scars running along her wrists that you realise Anita's recent past has been anything but plain sailing.

For two years her husband beat her horrendously. So bad was the abuse that she was regularly hospitalised - on one occasion a nurse even found a footprint in the small of her back.

Helping any vulnerable woman escape from such a situation is depressingly difficult. But a particularly callous British immigration law means that, for people like Anita, finding a way out is even harder.

The problem is that although Anita, an Indian national, had come to Britain perfectly legally and was married to a British citizen she was forbidden from accessing any public money during her first two years in the country.

That meant she couldn't receive some of the vital benefits that help other women in her situation escape. Without housing benefits she was unable to access most refuges, without income support she was unable to feed herself or even get a room to escape her husband.

The rule is known as the "No Recourse" rule, and campaigners say it should be immediately suspended for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Anita was forbidden from accessing public funds simply because she entered the UK on a spousal visa. If you come to Britain on a student visa, a temporary work visa or a spousal visa then under the No Recourse rule you are not allowed to access public funds for the first two years. It's a sort of probationary test, a way of trying to reduce people abusing the benefits system but it also traps some of the most vulnerable women in the country in a vicious cycle of violence.

Anita first tried to escape from her husband in January 2007. After a particularly vicious beating she was locked in the bathroom by her husband. She decided to escape and jumped out of the window, injuring herself in the process.

She told me (in the near perfect English she's been practising) that a man found her sobbing at a nearby bus stop and took her to his neighbours, who were Asian. The police came round, took a statement and said they would be back tomorrow. In fact it took them two weeks to come back again. The family tried to get Anita into a women's refuge centre but because she was forbidden from accessing public funds most refuges are forced to say no and she couldn't get in anywhere.

She couldn't return to India because her parents would have disowned her and eventually she felt she could no longer be a burden to the kind family that took her in and decided to go back to her husband. It wasn't long before the beatings resumed. By September she was in hospital again with a broken cheekbone and a bleeding wrist from an attempted suicide bid.

Finally she was put in contact with the Southall Black Sisters - one of the few charities that still support women with no recourse to public funds (Refuge is another charity that does so). They took her in, helped her give another statement to the police and now her husband has been arrested and is awaiting trial.

Southall Black Sisters first started campaigning against No Recourse in 1992 and yesterday they were outside Westminster alongside a coalition of women's groups calling on the government to do more to help these vulnerable women access funds as soon as they possibly can.

They want the government to follow the lead of other countries who provide these women with access to funds and shelter.

In Austria any woman, irrespective of her immigration status, is entitled to access a refuge and living costs if she applies for an injunction, issues divorce proceedings on the basis of the violence or obtains a report from a social institution confirming she is a victim of domestic violence. In Canada, meanwhile, spouses automatically become permanent residents on arrival as there is no probationary period meaning they can immediately access shelter should their marriage become violent.

In Britain at present a woman who experiences abuse can apply for permanent residency during the two year probationary period if she can prove that she is a victim of domestic violence. But campaigners say it is incredibly difficult for any woman to provide evidence of domestic violence. For a woman who may not speak English very well and has been held a prisoner in her own home by her husband, or sometimes his extended family, it is close to impossible.

It's not just Asian women who suffer what Anita has. Campaigners say they have seen similar cases among Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and, increasingly, Eastern European women.

Regardless of the immigration debate, surely it is our moral responsibility to provide any of these women who have entered the country legally (and even those who haven't) with the protection they need? They are not benefit fraudsters or cheats, they are desperately vulnerable people in need of help, and at the moment Britain turns its back on them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zimbabwe's neighbors unite to block arms shipment

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) — Zimbabwe's regime got a taste of the international isolation critics say it deserves, with its neighbors uniting to block a shipment of Chinese arms to prevent them from being used against Robert Mugabe's opponents.

Union, church and human rights leaders across southern Africa rallied against allowing the Chinese freighter An Yue Jiang to dock at ports in any of landlocked Zimbabwe's neighbors, and they were bolstered by behind-the-scenes pressure from the United States.

In the end, governments usually unwilling to criticize Mugabe barred the ship at a time when Zimbabwe's government is being accused of cracking down on dissenters.

On Tuesday, church leaders in Zimbabwe said people were being tortured, abducted and murdered in a campaign of retribution against opposition supporters following the March 29 election, and urged international intervention.

In Washington, the State Department said it had urged countries in southern Africa — notably South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia — not to allow the ship to dock or unload. It also asked the Chinese government to recall the vessel and not to make further weapons shipments to Zimbabwe until the postelection crisis is resolved.

China insisted the shipment of mortar grenades, ammunition and other weapons was part of "normal military product trade between the two countries," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

"As far as I know, the carrier is now considering carrying back the cargo," she added.

Patrick Craven, spokesman for a South African trade union federation, which helped lead the campaign, called it a "historic victory" that he hoped would encourage Zimbabweans and lead to more grass-roots campaigns against Mugabe.

"So far the governments have clearly been lagging behind the people," Craven said. "We're hoping now they will wake up."

A spokesman for Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai welcomed the development. "It would be pleasing to the people of Zimbabwe to note that there has been solidarity on the continent to stop the arming of the (Mugabe) regime at the expense of the people," said the aide, Nelson Chamisa.

When the ship arrived in South Africa last week, the government said there was no legal reason to stop its cargo from being unloaded and shipped on to Zimbabwe. There is no international arms embargo against Zimbabwe.

The Southern Africa Litigation Center, a South Africa-based human rights group, persuaded a judge to bar the weapons from transiting South Africa to reach Zimbabwe. The ship then sailed away from South Africa, and private groups and government officials in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia also objected to the weapons.

Nicole Fritz, director of the center, said she believed Zimbabwe's neighbors were not changing policy but were responding to pressure from civic groups and the United States. She was particularly critical of South Africa, whose President Thabo Mbeki was chosen by regional leaders to mediate between Mugabe and his opponents and who has counseled against confronting Mugabe.

"The South African authorities' actions over this past week ... suggest that South Africa cannot be perceived to be a good faith mediator," she said, noting the Zimbabwean opposition has asked that Mbeki step aside.

Over 200 African bar associations, human rights groups and other independent organizations met Monday in Tanzania and issued a demand that the African Union get involved in Zimbabwe's crisis, saying the southern African regional grouping that had appointed Mbeki mediator is not doing enough.

The Zimbabwe crisis "is serious enough that the AU must get involved and it must de dealt with at a continental level because this is an issue that has strong implications for the continent," Eleanor Sisulu of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition told The Associated Press Tuesday.

The State Department also is urging governments in the region to step up pressure on Mugabe's government to release the long-delayed results of the election and said the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, would leave Washington Tuesday for talks in Angola, South Africa and Zambia.

The Bush administration also pressured Zimbabwe's neighbors to turn away the arms shipment.

"Right now, clearly, is not the time that we would want to see anyone putting additional weapons or additional material into this system when the situation is so unsettled and when we have seen real and visible instances of abuses committed by the security forces," deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

He added that China had been encouraged in a message delivered by U.S. diplomats in Beijing "to halt this shipment" and "to refrain from making additional shipments."

Mugabe's deputy information minister, Bright Matonga, said Tuesday his country had the right to acquire arms from legitimate sources. "We are not a rebel country," he told The Associated Press.

The opposition says post-election violence had displaced 3,000 people, injured 500 and left 10 dead.

Chamisa, the opposition spokesman, said he visited a hospital in southeastern Zimbabwe on Monday where he saw cases of people injured in postelection violence, including a pregnant woman who had a "wound in her womb" after being stabbed. He said he also saw an 85-year-old woman whose legs had been broken.

Mugabe's officials said such reports could not be confirmed, adding that if there had been such violence, the opposition could be to blame.

Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg and Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Immigration and language

As I see it. Immigrants are welcome into this country providing they pay their own way, learn the language and contribute to the economy. As it is now we are expected to give up many of our traditions and terminology for fear of offending newcomers. I feel that my rights are being infringe on.

--, North York

I really shouldn't mock people. However, find all the mistakes in this person's English. Hint, the part of the passage that is in bold font is free of mistakes. This was taken from The Star, an Ottawa newspaper.

Coca Cola's CEO's green mission

Coca Cola has questions to answer over human rights, and over depleting water tables in nations where people tend to rely on groundwater. We should also ask questions over a business model which involves selling sugared water, and people in Western countries should certainly ensure that they and their children don't consume too much of that, because it does place you at increased risk for obesity and diabetes. Those two conditions also cost health systems a lot of money, although we may be overstating the risk from obesity.

That said, Coke's CEO is starting to see the light from an environmental perspective. He has invested in energy efficient technology for vending machines, has made attempts to decrease water usage, and is trying to increase the recyclability of its plastic bottles. There's an environmental problem with soft drinks of all stripes. PET, which is what plastic bottles are made of, is made from oil, and is only partially recyclable. At present, we need at least 50% virgin PET in a bottle. That percentage can be increased, but eventually, PET will discolor. Aluminum is very energy intensive to mine, although I imagine it is easier to recycle.

CNN Money has the story.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Food crisis

It is high time I did some explaining about the global food crisis. Macroeconomic relationships are complex, and I am in the midst of finals and a job hunt. However, I also need a break.

The graphic on the left shows the effects of projected food price increases on trade balances for 2008, and comes to us courtesy of an article by the International Monetary Fund. Not my favorite bunch of people, but not the worst of the lot as far as I know. Basically, countries in red are expected to import more food. Countries in blue are expected to export more. Deeper colors mean more imports/exports.

Let's consider the United States, which should increase its food exports slightly thanks to the price increases. The US does have a lot of arable land.

From the IMF article:
A rise in food prices of 48 percent since end-2006 is a huge increase that may undermine gains the international community has made in reducing poverty, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned.

He told an April 10 news conference in Washington that policy responses to higher food prices have to be tailored to meet the needs of each country.

Strauss-Kahn said the IMF could take four steps to help address higher food prices in the short term:

• Support countries in designing appropriate macroeconomic policies to deal with shocks

• Provide advice and technical assistance for countries where rising food prices are eroding terms of trade, through targeted income support for the poor—without jeopardizing hard-won gains on economic stabilization

• In countries where price shocks are affecting the balance of payments, provide assistance through IMF lending facilities

• Work, along with other agencies and donors, to help countries mitigate negative impacts.

Open trade policies

Longer-term answers to the problem of higher food prices centered on removing obstacles to increased supply, Strauss-Kahn said.

The IMF cites increased trade as a policy option for mitigating the effects of higher commodity prices on national economies. IMF chief economist Simon Johnson told an April 9 World Economic Outlook briefing: "As a way to reduce global pressure on food and energy prices, more open trade policies in those products would be a good start. Less insular biofuels policy in advanced economies would help relieve some pressure. At the same time, we encourage countries to avoid raising taxes or imposing quotas on their food exports. These reduce incentives for domestic producers and also increase international prices."

The bit about some "advanced economies" instituting less insular biofuels policies is especially important. In the United States, corn ethanol is a scam. It costs more energy to produce ethanol than it provides as fuel. It is essentially a giveaway to agribusiness. Additionally, the US government should reduce its subsidies to agribusiness in general. Those subsidies artificially lower the price at which farmers here produce food. This makes it harder for African farmers to compete, even when we're talking about African farmers producing staple crops for Africans vs US farmers exporting those staple crops. The transition needs to be managed, and US farmers will need retraining and jobs, but this has to end.

The IMF and World Bank are free market institutions. Don't take everything they say as Gospel. That said, they are right that protectionism by nations affected by the food crisis is not a long-run solution.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Abuse victims warily consider Pope's words

The New York Times has an article giving perspectives on Pope Benedict's visit from some sexual abuse survivors.

Please remember that this isn't only about the Catholic Church. We hear the most about them because they are by far the largest Christian denomination - there's more Roman Catholics than all Protestants combined, I think. And I've heard similar criticisms leveled at, say, the Southern Baptist Convention. Sexual abuse has taken place in every denomination. And it will, unfortunately, continue to take place. That said, churches that are slow to admit there's a problem, will have a bigger problem. To the extent that the Catholic Church has been disproportionately slow to react to sex abuse, then this is about the Catholic Church.

Edit: The Episcopal Church, whose organizational structure is relatively democratic and transparent, also had a case where a bishop concealed sexual abuse perpetrated by his brother, a priest.

H2B seasonal guest worker program also affected by US immigration debate

This article is from the Detroit Free Press. Emphasis in article is mine.

MACKINAC ISLAND -- It's 80 degrees in Kingston, Jamaica. On Mackinac Island, winter lingers on frigid, snowy streets. Even so, Nadine Wright is sad that she won't be able to leave her home in tropical Kingston in a few weeks for her usual summer job on the island.

For the last seven years, Wright, 29, has worked at the Chippewa Hotel on an H2B visa, part of a guest worker program the United States started in the 1940s.

This year, like hundreds of other foreigners who wait tables, check in guests, clean bathrooms and handle horses on the island, she won't be back.

They've all been caught up in the fight in Congress over immigration. Last fall, lawmakers let lapse an exemption that allowed some past visa holders to return to their old employers each year.

"It's going to have a major effect on all of us," said Wright, speaking this week by phone from Jamaica. "It helps us support our families."

Wright -- promoted last year to front office manager at the hotel -- has worked from late April to November each year on Mackinac Island, earning nearly double what she can at home.

Last fall, Congress cut the H2B program nearly in half, leaving workers like Wright on the outside.

The number of H2B visas has been capped at 66,000 a year since 1990. Visa requests from employers have mushroomed since 2002.

Congress allowed returning workers to be exempt from the cap starting in 2004, and more than 120,000 H2B visas were granted last year. But the exemption expired in September, and Congress refused to renew it. Among many others, the change has hurt crabmeat processors in Maryland, ski resorts in Colorado, circuses in California, hotels on Cape Cod and landscapers in Ohio.

In Michigan, landscape firms and summer resorts are scrambling to find workers.

"We will weather the storm, but it's very, very difficult to make it work," said Dan Musser, whose family owns Mackinac's iconic Grand Hotel.

The hotel hires about 650 people each year, about 375 of them on H2B visas. Some foreigners have worked there for decades. None of those past workers can return this year.

"It's potentially devastating to all of us seasonal business owners," Musser said.

He said he hopes to fill out his roster with workers by using two other types of visas and with H2B workers he is borrowing from other hotels in Arizona, California and Colorado who managed to get them under the cap last winter.

"The staff that guests have gotten to know over the years are not going to be there," he said. "We pride ourselves on service, and this will be a challenge."
Some critical of visas

But not everyone is sympathetic.

"There's no reason to have H2B visas at all," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration.

"It's based on the premise that there are jobs Americans won't do. It's absurd," he said. "Employers need to increase wages, change benefits or come up with new ways of recruiting."

Labor unions agree.

The Hispanic caucus in Congress blocked efforts to allow past H2B workers to return this year because they say comprehensive immigration reform is needed, not piecemeal fixes.

"H2B is a casualty in a bigger war called immigration," said U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Menominee Democrat who has tried to bring back the returning worker exemption.

Stupak said he had strong bipartisan support a few weeks ago for an immigration measure that included renewing the returning worker provision, but Republicans stalled it because presidential candidate John McCain didn't want to vote on it in an election year.

So, why are resort hotels short of U.S. workers when Michigan has an unemployment rate of 7.2%?

Employers across the island cite the same issues: few unemployed people want to relocate to the island for a job that lasts only half a year; there's little housing, especially for families; college and high school students don't want a summer job scrubbing toilets and prefer internships.

"We need a workforce that can arrive early and stay late," said Mary McGuire Slevin, director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

In the past, the season lasted only June through August, so resorts hired students and teachers.

Now, the island attracts visitors for twice as many months.

Students are not available in the shoulder months, but H2B workers are. Since they leave families behind, they don't mind the dorm-style housing hotels provide.

Resorts do hire students in peak months, but the H2B workers are core staff that open up the hotels in early spring and help close them after Halloween.

"They're a stable, reliable workforce," said Anneke Myers, who hires staff for the Village Inn, Pontiac Lodge and Balsam Shops on the island.

More than just Mackinac

The problem isn't limited to Mackinac Island. Employers with seasonal jobs all over Michigan use H2B workers.

Carmen Carla has hired five to 13 workers from Mexico each year since 2002 for Decra-scape, a landscape firm in Sterling Heights. This year, none can come.

"For people who hire legal workers and follow the rules, we don't think we should get our hands slapped," she said.

The firm pays minimum wage with incentive bonuses for longevity. Local workers tend to quit after a few days installing retaining walls and brick pavers, she said.

"It's very hard work, and they don't feel the pay fits the job," she said.

Boyne USA has hired Austrians on H2B visas for 30 years at its two Michigan resorts as ski instructors, said Gretchen Crum, personnel director, adding, "It's part of our brand."

This winter, none of the Austrians were allowed back. That made it harder on the staff. Some instructors didn't have a day off all season, she said.

No one knows what the future holds.

"We're taking it one summer at a time," said the Grand Hotel's Musser.

Contact TINA LAM at 313-222-6421 or

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Internal migration

Marketwatch has a story on migrant living in China, profiling a family that has migrated from Anwei, a rural province, to Beijing to find temporary labor.

Since the beginning of time, people have moved to where there is work. Wu Jia-Lan (I think) and her husband come to Beijing to work. She does domestic work, and her husband works in construction related to the Genocide Olympics. Under Chinese law, they can't send their son to public school in Beijing, so he stayed home for some time, and they saw him only once a year. However, the Wus eventually brought him over to Beijing.

Money is very tight. They may have to send him back, especially when the Genocide Olympics ends, and the construction jobs dry up.

Multiple movements and family separation aren't very helpful for children trying to make it in school. On a side note, migration is a factor in HIV transmission in some parts of Africa; migrant male laborers separated from their wives will often seek prostitutes.

Western Shoshone

Toby Barlow, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote this opinion piece on the plight of the Western Shoshone people of Nevada. Readers will remember that they had their land stolen, and sold to Barrick Gold, but that's not the only time their land has been stolen. The Nevada Test Site, a nuclear weapons testing site, sits on their land. The Yucca Mountain Repository, which is planned as the United States' national nuclear waste disposal facility, is on their territory. And now, the U.S. plans to expand their Nevada test site.

As we bemoan the fate of Tibet and rush to fill the streets in the big game of "douse the torch," it's important to keep in mind the many ways that we ourselves continue to trample on the rights of nations that live with us right here on our own continent.

The U.S. government has a plan currently on the table for an enormous nuclear weapons complex, eerily named "Complex Transformation." Weapons research is a notoriously toxic and dangerous activity so, logically, we aren't building the site near where any of us live. In fact, the plan's key site isn't on U.S. soil at all, it's on land that's a part of the Treaty-recognized territory of Western Shoshone.

Understandably, some people are upset by this plan, namely the Western Shoshone people and their supporters.

The United Nations has gone so far as to urge the United States to "freeze", "desist" and "stop" actions being taken against the Western Shoshone Peoples of the Western Shoshone Nation. The U.N. decision explicitly cited ongoing weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site. The United States, who, like China, tends to ignore outside criticism, is of course choosing to ignore the U.N.

The Shoshone have no Dalai Lama, Sharon Stone, or Richard Gere to bring attention to their cause. Luckily though, they do have you. And last time I checked we still live in a place that, on a good day, when the wind is blowing just the right way, vaguely resembles a democracy.

So you can help make a difference right now by commenting on the "Complex Transformation's" crimes against the Shoshone. Just click here and submit an official letter of protest. Act soon though because the deadline for public comment ends April 10.

If you happen to think it's wrong but you don't speak out, then you may as well live in Tibet, or as they call it these days, China.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

John A. Guest: Caring for a city of immigrants, Feb 4 2002, in Modern Healthcare

This is a reproduction of an article published in Modern Healthcare in 2002. I'm reproducing it here, because it gets at why health systems in just about any country should provide care, or at least certain kinds of care, without regard to immigration status: it's the right thing to do, and providing preventive care means you avoid more costly conditions later. The article doesn't deal with one other factor: if an immigrant community has as outbreak of an infectious disease, like AIDS, the flu, or SARS, you absolutely need to offer treatment, or else your citizens get sick, too.

In December the Harris County district attorney in Houston announced he was ''shelving'' his criminal investigation into the Harris County Hospital District's provision of discounted, nonemergency care to undocumented aliens residing in our county. Now that nobody is talking about arresting me or other district officials, I feel free to speak out on this thorny issue, which has implications for providers and immigrants across the country.

While some have argued that this case is about providing free care to illegal immigrants, I look at it differently. What we have been doing is providing preventive care to our neighbors, who in many cases pay for part of their treatment. It's a lot better than everyone depending on emergency rooms as primary-care centers.

It is important to remember that Texas used to be part of Mexico. Today large numbers of people on one side of the border have family on the other side. Children visit their parents; cousins spend summers with aunts and uncles; even in-laws move in with one another for varying periods of time. Sorting out who belongs on which side of the border is next to impossible, particularly for a public hospital system with limited investigative powers.

Mostly, undocumented immigrants come to Texas to work. And it is often physically demanding work-mowing lawns, building houses and roads, picking crops, preparing and serving food. Federal law says we are not supposed to employ them, but they are here, working in our community.

While no generalization applies to all undocumented immigrants, for the most part they are young and healthy, necessary attributes for doing the kind of work they do. They also lack insurance and a regular doctor, so when they need healthcare, they use the emergency room. After all, hospitals cannot refuse to treat someone who is ill. But that is not the type of care most of them need. They need preventive care, ongoing care.

And when an undocumented immigrant couple gives birth to a child in the U.S., that child is automatically an American citizen. I think we would all agree that when it is time for a baby to be born, that child should be born healthy.

The cruel reality is that many immigrant children are not born healthy, in part because their mothers did not get early and adequate prenatal care. When she is ready to give birth, that's when sending her to the emergency room makes sense. But prenatal care needs to take place in other, more appropriate settings so the seriously ill or injured patients can be seen more quickly.

I didn't always think this way. When I was chief executive officer of the public hospital system in San Antonio in the mid-1980s, I thought it was inappropriate to provide care to undocumented immigrants who lived in the area unless it was an emergency or it was paid for. In 1989, the district board-over my objection-changed our policy. The board decided that neither citizenship nor immigration status should be used to determine if someone was a resident of Bexar County.

I expected an influx of new patients, but this did not occur. Emergency-room volume flattened out or dropped. Hospital district staff members who had spent considerable energy trying to determine immigration status now concentrated on determining who really lived in our community. And finding the best way to care for a family unit composed of American citizen children and working undocumented immigrant parents was no longer a problem.

When the 1996 federal welfare reform law made certain immigrants ineligible for some public benefits, the hospital district in San Antonio kept serving undocumented Bexar County residents. The board was right, and I had been wrong.

In Houston there are many more undocumented and legal immigrants than in San Antonio. This is a city of immigrants. They come here to work. Their children are entitled to a public education. They have made homes here, and many plan to live their entire lives here. They are in our schools, in our places of business and in our emergency rooms.

Like San Antonio, Houston needs to decide what makes the most sense. Should we exclude the undocumented and all other ''unqualified'' immigrants from certain services offered by the Harris County Hospital District? Will that encourage them to go away? Will we reduce the tax burden by leaving the emergency-room door open and closing all other services? Can we afford to serve people from everywhere?

My answer to these questions is ''no.'' The Harris County Hospital District cannot care for everybody. We can't take care of our neighbors from other counties or countries. But we can take care of people who live in Harris County, and that's really all I want us to do. If that's a crime, then someone should arrest me.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Japan has violated Indigenous peoples' rights as well

An article from 2005, from Japan Times. Indigenous peoples live all over the world.

Japan signed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. They stated that they did not believe that the Declaration gave Indigenous peoples the right to secede from their nation state, or to impair the sovereignty of the state.

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso has called Japan a "one race" nation, an expression similar to a controversial statement in 1986 by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, sources close to the minister said Monday.

In a speech during a ceremony at the new Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Saturday, the sources said Aso described Japan as having "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race. There is no other nation (that has such characteristics)."

Two decades ago, Nakasone stirred controversy by publicly calling Japan a "homogenous nation," drawing criticism particularly from the indigenous Ainu people who live mainly in Hokkaido.

Following Aso's remarks, Mitsunori Keira, head of the citizens' group Yaiyukara-no-Mori, which works to preserve Ainu culture, criticized the minister.

"The fact that top government officials have repeatedly made similar remarks shows the government has never sincerely listened to our protest," Keira said.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. and Oscar Romero: Prophets of Easter

Marty and Oscar are usually saints of Lent, which is a season of fasting, penitence, and reflection.

However, Easter is very early this year. Oscar's feast day falls just after Easter, and Marty's falls today.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

MLK, the day before his assassination

I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.

Oscar Romero

These two were prophets of our time. Both took the side of the poor, and both were killed because of it.

What does it mean to be a prophet of Easter season? It means that God remembers that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. It means that God will make it so that nothing the prophets have sacrificed will be in vain.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

My time in Hizb ut-Tahrir

Rashad Ali, an ex Islamist extremist gives a short interview with the Times on his experience in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist organization.

Rashad now works with the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think tank.

Anger over rising NZ immigration

Article on NZ immigration on MSN Money. I understand that New Zealand is on the strict side when it comes to immigration.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - New Zealand's Asian population is growing faster than any other ethnic group and will outnumber indigenous Maori by 2026, government figures released Wednesday showed.

The findings drew the ire of an anti-immigrant party that contends the door should be shut on Asian immigrants, claiming they do not integrate into mainstream society.

"If we continue this open door policy there is real danger we will be inundated with people who have no intention of integrating into our society. The greater the number, the greater the risk," New Zealand First Party deputy leader Peter Brown said.

Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter condemned the comments.

"I think he's absolutely being racist," Carter said. "He shouldn't be condemning people because of their race or culture."

The chief executive of the country's Employers and Manufacturers Association, Alasdair Thompson, said Brown's comments were "racial stereotyping of the worst sort."

"We need our newer migrants. We don't need Mr. Brown's racism," he said.

United Asian Association spokesman Ken Yee welcomed the figures, saying the projected rise in Asian numbers would mean "more color and cultural diversity" that would only be a good thing, National Radio reported.

New Zealand First currently has seven lawmakers in Parliament and is a support party in the governing coalition led by the center-left Labour Party. New Zealand First's leader, Winston Peters, holds the post of foreign minister.

A general election is due by late November and Brown's party, which has a long-standing policy against immigration, is garnering less than 5 percent of voter support nationwide in current polls.

According to government statistics, the nation's four main ethnic populations of Maori, Pacific Islanders, Asian and ethnic European peoples will all increase in the next 18 years, with those identifying as Asian set to grow the most.

A projected increase of the Asian population by 3.4 percent a year, mainly by migration, over the period to 2026 would see the Asian population double from 400,000 in 2006 to 790,000 by 2026, according to government statistician Geoff Bascand.

Some 16 percent of New Zealand's total population was expected to identify with Asian ethnicity by 2026, Bascand said. By then, New Zealand's overall population was projected to be 5.5 million from the current 4.2 million.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Woman beats anorexia to give birth ... three years after she was given 10 days to live

This story was posted on Daily Mail, which is a UK tabloid. There is a rather shocking photo of Ms. Wilde when she was severely anorexic at 16, which I have not reproduced here.

I normally wouldn't do tabloids. OK, I have to be honest, I might glance at the pictures of (ahem) attractive women. And therein lies the problem. Body image is a problem, and it is a driver of anorexia and other forms of disordered eating. I could write or post an essay about how images of models have distorted our perception of what the ideal female body should be.

Her frame was so skeletal that doctors warned Hayley Wilde she was just over a week away from death.

But three years on, after an eight-year battle against anorexia, she has bounced back in the most emphatic fashion by giving birth to a boy.

Her son Michael was born last month weighing a healthy 7lb 14oz, something that would have been unthinkable when she was at her lowest ebb.

Yesterday the 20-year-old and her mother Jane released a harrowing photo of Hayley when she weighed just over five stones to show the devastating effects of anorexia - and also to prove that however bleak things seem, there is always hope.

The picture was taken when Hayley was 16. She had been fighting the condition since she was 11. Her 5ft 7in frame was down to 5st 1oz, and doctors warned she could have ten days left to live if she did not start to put weight on.

She was hospitalised for months on end and fed through a tube. Her hair started to fall out and her periods stopped for four years. But expert medical help and the support of her parents saw her pull back from the brink, and last year she and her partner were thrilled to discover she was pregnant.

"Michael will never want for anything," Hayley said. "I will make sure that he eats well and has a healthy diet. And he will have lots of love."

As well as risking permanent damage to a woman's fertility, anorexia can cause other problems for sufferers who do become pregnant.

For someone who has spent years trying to be thin, the temptation to lose weight following the birth can provoke a relapse. But Hayley and her 50-year-old mother, who live together in Blackpool, are aware of the potential pitfalls and are confident that the need to put Michael first will see her avoid them.

"I had to eat a normal diet, for my baby," she said.

"I was eating healthily because of him. I like to be thin, thinner than I am now, but I don't want to go back into hospital. I don't want to be like that picture again."

Her problems began when she started secondary school and, lacking confidence, started skipping meals. "I thought being thinner would make me more popular," she said.

At home, she concealed what was happening from her parents . "I used to hide food in a napkin and put it in my pockets," she recalled. "I would hide it in a carrier bag in my wardrobe and when my mum and dad went out, threw it in the bin."

When her her mother eventually found out, she was devastated. "It was as if someone had battered me over the head with a bat," she said. "It was the worst shock of my life."

Hayley was diagnosed with anorexia, but in her mid-teens her weight continued to plummet and she had five spells as an in-patient at a specialist clinic in Manchester.

Despite her strong reservations, her mother took the photograph of her at her thinnest in 2005 to show how bad things had become. "I felt dreadful when I took it, but it was something I had to do," she said.

The following year, Hayley spent all but seven weeks on a ward. But all the support, combined with falling in love, helped her reach a more healthy weight, and last year came the news she was pregnant. Michael was born two weeks early on March 8 and is doing well.

"The birth of my grandson was something I had only dared to hope and pray for," said Mrs Wilde. "Michael is a miracle for us, and the wonderful thing is that having him has meant we've seen Hayley grow into a young woman for the first time as well."

Despite missing so much school, Hayley passed her A-levels and is training to become a teacher. Her mother, who has set up a support group, Fighting for Freedom with Anorexia Nervosa, said: "I hope by telling our story, other parents of anorexics will see there is hope."

Official Results Show Widening Lead for Zimbabwe Opposition

Washington Post:
HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 1 -- The ruling party's grip on Zimbabwe appeared to be loosening Tuesday as official results showed a modest but widening lead for the opposition from last weekend's election.

Read the rest at the site.