Friday, May 30, 2008

Tribute to Joan of Arc, martyred May 30, 1431

Maid of Orleans, by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

If Joan of Arc had a heart, would she give it as a gift
To such as me who longs to see, how a legend oughta be

Had dreams to give her heart away, like an orphan along the way
She cared so much, she offered up her body to the grave

From Wikipedia

Maid of Orleans had originally been written by Andy McCluskey on 30th May 1981, the 550th anniversary of Joan of Arc's death. The song is in 6/8 time, giving it a waltz-like style. With only eight lines of text it is almost an instrumental. The main theme is a synthesized bagpipe tune (played on the Mellotron --- consisting of the "female choir" and the "3-Violins" presets). The intro is made of strange noises and was added later:[1]
“ The intro was a problem for radio and we did do edited versions where it was shortened.

The idea came about because we actually had the song recorded but thought the track started oddly and needed something else to announce it's arrival. At the time of A+M we were making a lot of music that was ambient soundscapes. The natural thing was to give the song an intro that set up the feel for the main themes to resolve out of the noises.

It's not meant to "mean" anything specific, just set up a feeling to let the track grow out of the strange noises. I think that it worked well!

BTW.. for the sound anoraks...most of the noises are melotron vocal sounds slowed down/sped up and greatly distorted simply by completely overdriving the old Helios desk in The Manor Studio. Pink noise and snare drum in lots of reverb.

IS the US cigarette industry going up in smoke, and why should we care?

Morningstar, a stock and fund analysis firm, believes that the US cigarette industry is in for hard times. Altria has been one of the best performing stocks in the past. Nicotine is probably the most addictive substance we know of. In the past, even when price was increased, consumers did not significantly curtail their smoking habits - in economics terms, demand for cigarettes was inflexible. Demand for gas in the US is another example.

However, consumers have limits. The economy is, as they say, going south. People in the West are smoking less. And the Federal government, as well as state and local governments, have viewed tobacco taxes as a bit of a horn of plenty. The recent expansion to SCHIP was to have been funded by increased tobacco taxes. We are starting to reach the point where the prices are so onerous that they are having an effect on consumer behavior. It's as if gas were $8 a gallon, instead of $4.

As a result, Morningstar feels that US tobacco companies have significantly diminished prospects going forward. Now, Altria split its international division, Philip Morris International, off, and its sales in emerging markets are unfortunately increasing. However, while Americans will still smoke, they will smoke less.

It's a good thing that people are smoking less. However, this article has implications for legislators who want to fund their programs with tobacco taxes: in the future, it isn't going to work so well. I'm not exactly sad for the tobacco industry, though.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hispanic Caucus in US Congress stalls all immigration measures

The Hispanic caucus in the US Congress has vowed to veto all narrowly tailored immigration measures. They will discuss only comprehensive immigration reform, or they will not discuss immigration at all.

The Wall Street Journal, a very right-leaning publication, criticizes Sen. Robert Mendez, a Democrat from New Jersey. Hispanic Democrats have promised to veto any H1B legislation.

However, Mendez vetoed legislation that would have increased the number of H2A agricultural workers allowed in the country. The current process for obtaining a H2A visa is onerous, and the caps are also artificially low. The WSJ article contends that three quarters of all agricultural workers in the US are in some violation of immigration regulations - perhaps the anti immigrant crowd should boycott US produce. WSJ also contends that the legislation in question, which was part of an amendment to a larger spending bill, had support from unions as well as businesses. Mendez alleged that the provisions were too business friendly.

At present, US farms need to hire agricultural workers. It's not clear that US-born workers could replace all the undocumented workers. It's also clear that the US political system favors incremental reform. Perhaps the Hispanic Caucus should be taking a softer line on immigration reforms targeted at a specific program. At least that way you get some of what you want. By maintaining the status quo with the guest worker program, which might as well not exist, the US is basically ensuring that a great proportion of agricultural workers will be undocumented.

If there isn't enough American labor available at a low enough price to fill the labor needs of America's farms, then either produce prices will rise, or the farms will move to Mexico (and prices will still rise because of higher transport costs). Of course, if the anti-immigrant folks boycott produce, then there will at least be more to go around for everyone else.

Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green

Wired Magazine has an article on some things they would like greens to rethink.

The real no-brainer is: don't buy a Prius, get an efficient used car instead. Hybrid car batteries incur large environmental costs for the extraction and processing of nickel and cadmium. It's better for the planet to get an efficient car and drive it for over 100,000 miles (160,000 km).

They also remind us that cap and trade schemes are more complex, and will not work as well as, a simple carbon tax. Of course, utilities, mining, and manufacturing companies would bitterly oppose a carbon tax.

More controversially, the authors would like us to reconsider genetically engineered crops made by firms such as Monsanto. I'm actually neutral on GM crops, but they raise human rights concerns in developing countries. I'll try to highlight some of the concerns around Monsanto's engineered, sterile crops in a later article.

Additionally, the authors would like us to accept nuclear power. They make the case that nuclear power generates zero greenhouse gases in operation. Of course there would be emissions and environmental concerns in extraction of uranium or thorium, which are nuclear fuels, and there are concerns over storage and safekeeping of nuclear waste, and reactor safety. Many of these concerns are addressable. However, it should be noted that Yucca Mountain, the presently identified deep geological waste repository in Nevada, is in severe conflict with indigenous peoples rights (specifically, the Western Shoshone peoples).

Jobs for grads who want more than money

Businessweek has a slideshow on jobs for grads who want more than just money.

In my field, NGOs and foundations pay decently, from $32,000 to $80,000. They often require a master's degree in public health, public policy, public administration, or something like that. There are positions available for BAs, though.

Iowa kosher plant immigration raid impacts Houston

The Houston Chronicle reports that kosher meat prices have jumped after the Federal raid on an Iowa kosher meatpacking plant - one of the major suppliers of kosher meat.

As I said earlier, the law is the law (even if it is shit). And there was evidence (but no charges yet) that many workers were being abused.

However, if the US were to strictly enforce the law, and were somehow able to deport all the undocumented immigrants present in the country, Americans will definitely see a lot of ripples in the economy. Most will be bad.

Lee Payne, a sales representative for food distributor Ben E. Keith Co., said that employers hiring undocumented workers can face consequences and impact other parts of the U.S. food industry, noting the April raids of five Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants that netted about 300 illegal immigrants.

"There are a lot of illegal immigrants here working," he said. "Everyone's trying to reduce costs by hiring people with somewhat questionable backgrounds. It's going to cause ripples in the system."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The law is the law, but the law is shit

The Globe and Mail has a 4 page report about a large recent immigration raid in the US that essentially decimated a small Iowa town. A (legal) resident the paper interviewed said "The law is the law, but..." Here's an excerpt:

In the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, 389 people were arrested in a matter of minutes, herded onto buses and interned at the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds, 120 kilometres away in Waterloo.

They were kept there in a makeshift camp, behind a chain-link fence, watched by armed immigration officers for three days until they could be processed and sent to jails across the state. Nearly 300 have pleaded guilty to reduced charges of document fraud and will serve short prison sentences before being deported, while others are awaiting immediate deportation or have been placed on temporary release for compassionate reasons.

The Iowa slaughterhouse raid is part of a growing trend in the United States, home to anywhere from 12 to 18 million illegal immigrants, that has seen workplace immigration arrests grow tenfold in the past five years. Deemed illegal "aliens," this group has long been the focus of a fierce political debate, most recently in last year's failed attempt to reach a congressional consensus on immigration reform. That effort highlights the enduring tensions in this debate between hawks who want to clamp down on illegal migrants and pour billions into beefing up border security, and those - like the people of Postville, it turns out - who acknowledge that the migrants have earned a place in American society.

Rosa, a 40-year-old mother of two from Mexico, was working on the kill floor the morning of the raid. She had been at the plant for 15 months, and has lived in the United States for 13 years, working a number of factory jobs in Midwestern towns.

When she heard the cries of "la migra," a warning about immigration officials, ringing through the plant and saw her friends drop their tools and run, she slipped into a freezer and hid among the dead chickens. She sat there alone in the cold for several minutes, thinking to herself that everything was over. She would be caught. She would have to go back to Mexico with nothing. The better life she had planned for her children was not to be.

For years she had worried that this day might come, but somehow allowed herself to think it would not. Not here, not in the lush, green farm country of northern Iowa, more than a thousand miles from the Mexican border and a long way from the dense immigrant communities of California, Texas and South Florida. When she finally felt the hand of an ICE agent on her shoulder, Rosa's heart sank. The game was up.

As the illegal workers at the slaughterhouse watched their hoped-for futures dim, the people of Postville fumed. The bust puts the town's major employer in peril, casting a shadow of uncertainty over Postville's future.

At an emergency town meeting this week, Mayor Bob Penrod summed up the mood of an angry and confused town.

"I've asked myself 100 times, 'Why us?' " he said. "We're just a small town in Northeast Iowa."

Speak English, child! This is Korea

In an interesting counterpoint to the movement in the US to declare English to be the sole official language - a move aimed against Hispanic immigrants - Reuters has a report on children in South Korea being pressured to learn English.

Some say that English is critical to Korea's economic competitiveness, and that the present school system is dysfunctional in general, and doesn't teach English in particular. Also, the article mentions that South Koreans form the largest international student group in the US.

US Supreme Court finds man not guilty, state prosecutor tries again

The US Supreme Court reviewed the case of Paul House, who is White and who was convicted of murder, in 2006. They decided that based on new DNA and other evidence, there was reasonable doubt over his guilt. At this point I would normally raise a question over wen they'll extend the same favor to a convicted African American person. However, there's another issue that overshadows the case: the state prosecutor is hell-bent on locking up the probably innocent House, has kept him in prison, and is re-trying the case.

CROSSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- Multiple sclerosis has Paul House in a wheelchair. A tenacious prosecutor has him on death row, deemed too dangerous to be released two years after the U.S. Supreme Court said he likely isn't guilty.

That closely watched ruling, which made it easier for inmates to get new hearings on DNA evidence that emerges after their trials, and the fallout from it have left House in limbo while a prosecutor methodically battles every effort from the courts to have him retried.

Federal judges have done as the high court ordered: They reviewed his murder case and concluded new evidence raises reasonable doubt about his guilt. Not allowed to overturn the conviction, they took the extraordinary step of giving Tennessee a six-month deadline to bring House to trial or release him.

And still House, 46, is locked up in a Nashville prison.

An appeals court ruled in his favor this month, but that ruling also reset the 180-day countdown at zero.

U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider terms and conditions of House's release, but prosecutors are taking their time in setting a date for a new trial.

"The Supreme Court has said, 'You just got the wrong person.' You would think ... that there would be some respect for that situation," said U.S. Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, who has heard portions of House's case and believes he isn't guilty of murder.

District Attorney Paul Phillips said he plans to retry House with old evidence from the first trial and some new evidence he wouldn't describe. He promises he has "proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. House is guilty or we would not be re-prosecuting him."

For House's mother, it's hard not to think the state is delaying on purpose.

"What I really think, and I'm not the only one, is they just want him to linger in there until he dies. Then it will all go away, they think," Joyce House said recently at her white ranch-style home in Crossville, a town of about 10,000 some 100 miles east of Nashville.

Phillips denied prosecutors are intentionally putting off the case and noted the inmate's doctor testified House could live for decades with his illness.

"They just don't want to admit they made a mistake," Joyce House said. "They're not the only state that's ever made a mistake."

House entered state prison Feb. 8, 1986, with a death sentence for the 1985 slaying of Carolyn Muncey, a young mother of two whose badly beaten body was found near her Union County home in eastern Tennessee. But House adamantly maintains he did not kill her.

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court concluded in June 2006 that reasonable jurors wouldn't have convicted House if they had seen what DNA tests revealed in the late 1990s.

Semen collected from Muncey's nightgown and panties belonged to her husband, undercutting the premise that House murdered her during a sexual assault. The court also said House's lawyers offered new witnesses who provided "substantial evidence pointing to a different suspect."

The justices were referring to the victim's husband and House's former friend, Hubert Muncey. Besides the DNA testing on the semen, five witnesses came forward many years after the trial and gave testimony implicating Hubert Muncey.

The Associated Press tried several times to reach Hubert Muncey by phone at his home in Maynardville, Tennessee. He remarried 13 years ago and his wife, Joann, said her husband has changed, is "into church now" and "not for anyone being put to death." She said Hubert Muncey is not upset by House's possible release but doesn't want him "bothering" their family.

In December, Mattice ordered the state to retry House within 180 days or release him. The state appealed, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- including Merritt -- affirmed Mattice and the state finally dropped its challenges.

Phillips said he intends to meet the new deadline for a retrial by early November, although he hasn't decided whether to seek the death penalty again.

In a recent prison interview, House said he's lost all faith in the criminal justice system. Embittered and cynical, he looks older than he is. He can't walk or stand and has trouble speaking because of the multiple sclerosis, an incurable nervous system disorder that he contracted 10 years ago.

"It's taken me all these years to prove that I didn't do it. And I don't have another 20 years to invest," House said. "I didn't do the crime, but I've done the time."

Joyce House said her son wants two things when he gets out of prison: his favorite dish, chili verde, and a bedroom with windows so he can enjoy something he's missed for close to half his life -- a view.

In her home, two bedroom windows look west over a farm filled with hogs, turkeys and cows and rolling green hills. House's mother has been preparing that room for him and taking medical classes to help care for him.

"I always thought he'd come home eventually," Joyce House said. "I didn't think it would take this long though. Whenever you're innocent, eventually the justice system works. But it shouldn't take 22 years."

Mass arrest in Chile dictatorship-abuse probe

The Globe and Mail reports that Chile is starting to bring to justice some of the military and judicial personnel who participated in human rights abuses under Pinochet. These folks had previously been granted immunity.



May 26, 2008 at 2:04 PM EDT

SANTIAGO — Nearly 100 former Chilean soldiers and secret police from Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship were ordered detained on Monday in the biggest single mass arrest for abuses during the period, judicial sources said.

Investigating judge Victor Montiglio ordered the detentions in a probe into the kidnapping and killing of 42 people during "Operation Colombo" early in the 1973-1990 dictatorship, during which 119 Pinochet opponents, many of them leftists, died.

Some of those held worked for Mr. Pinochet's infamous DINA intelligence service, which ran torture centres where hundreds of people were either killed or disappeared during one of the darkest periods of contemporary Latin American history.

"This is excellent news, because Operation Colombo was also a case in which General Pinochet's immunity from prosecution was stripped, and given the number of victims, is an emblematic case," Sergio Laurenti, executive director of Amnesty International in Chile, told Reuters.

"But it is important that the police now furnish the necessary information to enable the courts to proceed," he added. "There is a lack of co-operation from the armed forces and security forces."

Among those being probed is former DINA head Manuel Contreras, already jailed for other abuses. Many of the newly detained will be held in military compounds.

Mr. Pinochet's secret police collaborated with dictatorships in neighbouring Argentina and in Brazil amid a wider crackdown called "Operation Condor," and at the time explained away the disappearances in Chile by saying that the victims had fled the country.

They later changed their story, and said the victims were killed due to internecine fighting.

"All advances in human rights cases are important," Justice Minister Carlos Maldonado told reporters. "Some cases are advancing more than others ... but I hope none is closed until all those responsible are found."

Mr. Pinochet died in December 2006 without ever facing trial for crimes during his rule, during which 3,000 people died or disappeared, 28,000 were tortured and about 200,000 fled into exile.

Chile has long grappled with the task of bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed in the Pinochet era, and relatives of victims say some accused have got off lightly and are being shielded by the army. An amnesty in 1978 provided no immunity for those accused of rights abuses.

Only around two dozen other security officials have been convicted of dictatorship crimes so far, while before Monday around 380 others were under investigation. Previously, arrests have been limited to small groups or individuals.

Recommend this article? 5

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

McCain says US needs to step up to control nuclear threat

As reported by Marketwatch, Sen. McCain has given a speech on control of nuclear proliferation. He seems to see the need for controlling nuclear proliferation, and seems to be willing to stop American development of new nuclear weapons. Although I would not vote for him, it is refreshing to hear such words from a member of an otherwise dangerously hawkish party.

In a major foreign policy speech, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday called for more vigilance in cutting back on nuclear weapons, calling for renewed negotiations with the world’s superpowers and limiting the number of nations that are part of the nuclear club.

The presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency told an audience at the University of Denver that the U.S. needs to be more vigilant if it is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of extremists.

“If you look back over the past two decades, I don’t think any of us, Republican or Democrat, can take much satisfaction in what we’ve accomplished to control nuclear proliferation,” McCain said in a speech that was interrupted a few times by hecklers.

McCain also took a veiled shot at his likely Democratic rival, Barack Obama, alluding to the junior senator from Illinois’s call for negotiations with Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran is believed to be pursuing a nuclear weapons program even though that country’s leaders insist it is only trying to develop nuclear power.

“Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang [North Korea} and Tehran [Iran], as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades,” McCain said.

McCain called for a number of steps to curb nuclear proliferation. They include:
– Ask the Joint Chiefs to do a comprehensive review of nuclear strategy and policy.
– Negotiate a new treaty with Russia to further reduce the number of weapons.
– Begin a dialogue with China on strategic and nuclear issues.
– Conduct talks with other countries to put a moratorium on testing.
– Put a hold on all new nuclear weapons, and cancel work on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.

While McCain called for cutbacks in nuclear arsenals, he did say that civilian nuclear energy could be an effective tool in battling global warming.

But the senator also said nuclear energy cannot be used as a segue to atomic weaponry.

“We need to build an international consensus that exposes this deception, and holds nations accountable for it,” McCain said. “We cannot continue allowing nations to enrich and reprocess uranium, ostensibly for civilian purposes, and stand by impotently as they develop weapons programs.”

– Russ Britt, MarketWatch

Italian xenophobia against the Roma is on the rise


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

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May 21, 2008 at 4:26 AM EDT

ROME — Janos Koztarsasag fears for his safety for the first time since he arrived in Italy in 1989, and his bags are packed. He and his dog, Rex, are clearing out.

The genial 62-year-old Hungarian has no Italian documents and no job, beyond selling secondhand books from his perch on the ancient Milvio bridge in northern Rome. A few weeks ago the police shut down a Roma camp on the banks of the Tiber River, below the bridge.

Since then, the area has been thick with police. The caravan on a nearby street that was his home was towed away.

Mr. Koztarsasag has not been threatened by the police in the Italian crackdown on alleged illegal immigrants, most of them Roma, often called Gypsies, who have moved from Eastern Europe. But he's not pressing his luck. "I'm leaving for France tonight," he said, producing his train ticket and the dog's vaccination card. "I'm afraid."

His Romanian friend Nico, who lives in a tent in a Roma camp but insists he is not a Roma, said he's plotting his escape too. Both men said racism is suddenly alive in Italy and that ethnic tensions could turn the country into "another Yugoslavia."

The Italians are fearful too. A recent poll found 68 per cent of Italians want Roma kicked out of the country. Many are also happy to see any jobless or illegal Eastern European and North African expelled or moved from squalid urban camps to the countryside.

They blame the Roma for crimes from the petty to the violent and, in extreme cases, have resorted to crowd retaliation. Last week several hundred Italians used sticks and gasoline bombs to attack a Roma camp in the eastern suburbs of Naples. They went in after a teenage Roma girl was accused of trying to kidnap a baby (some reports said she may have been playing with the baby). "Out, out!" they yelled, according to local news reports. "You're dirty and smelly and rob babies."

Italy's anti-immigrant campaign has been building for some time, as the European Union adds new members. Romania and Bulgaria were admitted in January. Citizens of 27 countries are free to live where they wish, though many countries, including Italy, still require work permits and related documents.

As the number of Roma increased in Italy - as many as 1,000 a week arrive in Rome, according to some estimates - the media and the politicians, including some centre-left politicians, demanded a crackdown. "The Invasion of Nomads," was one headline last year in the Corriere della Sera, Italy's top daily newspaper. Last spring the municipalities of Rome and Milan issued "security" pacts that appeared to allow the police to run roughshod through Roma camps and shantytowns.

The tension has mounted since then. Last autumn in Rome, the particularly savage slaying of Giovanna Reggiani, the 47-year-old wife of an Italian naval captain, sparked something close to anti-immigrant panic. The man accused of robbing, sexually assaulting and beating her to death was Romanian.

A few days later the Italian president signed an emergency decree to allow prefects (the local Interior Ministry representatives) to expel EU citizens if they are judged public security threats. About the same time, Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome who is now national opposition leader after failing to defeat Silvio Berlusconi in the recent national election, said the Roma are guilty of 75 per cent of the city's petty crime.

EU Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla yesterday reminded Italy that all European citizens must be treated equally, and warned the government not to discriminate against Roma people.

Maurizio Pagani, the vice-president of Opera Nomadi, a volunteer group that arranges jobs, housing and education for the Roma, said the rise of the political right and the centre-right in Italy is bad news for the immigrants in general and the Roma in particular. "It all comes from the right and their call for security," he said.

Mr. Berlusconi's centre-right movement owes its election victory in part to its get-tough policy on immigrants. The virulently anti-immigrant Lega Nord (Northern League) is part of Mr. Berlusconi's ruling coalition and its leader, Umberto Bossi, was made Minister of Institutional Reforms and Federalism. "This operation against illegal immigrants is what people want," Mr. Bossi said recently. "They ask us for security and we have to give it to them."

Rome's new mayor, Gianni Alemanno, the founder of the Social Right party, has joined the anti-immigrant crusade too. He has vowed to dismantle the "nomad camps" where the Roma live in "third-world conditions." In a visit to a camp this week, he said "there are no words to describe what I saw."

Afraid that Italy is in the grip of xenophobic fervour, the human-rights and Roma assistance groups are going on the offensive. Mr. Pagani, of Opera Nomadi, said the campaign against the Roma has gone way too far, even though he admits some are guilty of "micro criminality." He said not all Roma can be lumped together; half of the 160,000 or so of the Roma in Italy are Italian citizens and another 25,000 are war refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

Last week the European Roma Rights Centre, a human-rights group funded by George Soros, the New York hedge fund manager and philanthropist, sent a letter to Mr. Berlusconi demanding "urgent intervention by Italian authorities to adequately protect Roma in the country from further acts of racist aggression and to diffuse the climate of anti-Romani hostility."

Tara Bedard, the ERRC's programs co-ordinator in Budapest, said there are no data backing up Mr. Veltroni's assertion that 75 per cent of Rome's petty crime is committed by the Roma, and scant evidence that the expulsions were legally carried out. "Expulsions are allowed but a legal process has to be followed," she said.

Italy's war against the Roma is now being criticized across Europe.

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, Spain's Deputy Premier, said the Spanish government "rejects violence, racism and xenophobia, and therefore cannot agree with what's happening in Italy." Italy's Foreign Minister dismissed the criticism as unwarranted interference in domestic affairs.

In Italy, however, there is no warning from the mainstream Italian media or the top politicians that the crackdown is out of control.

"Realistically, this could get worse when you have a government in Italy promoting the negative image of the Roma," Ms. Bedard said.

A Roma child plays at a camp in Rome May 16, 2008. Silvio Berlusconi's new right-wing government is preparing tough emergency legislation to tighten screening of immigrants -- especially Roma people from Eastern Europe whom many in Italy blame for crime. The plan could include reimposing border checks despite Italy's membership of the European Union passport-free Schengen zone, making illegal immigration a jailable offence, speeding up deportations and turning holding centres into detention camps. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Prayers at a time of war

For peace

Jesus, giver of peace, we look for your gift amidst the conflicts of our time> You are the Savior who searches for us, the Friend who longs for us, the Redeemer whos trives for us, and we set our troubled hearts before you. Turn us from despondency, and keep us searching for the way that leads to peace; turn from us disillusion, and keep us longing for the healing that makes for peace; Turn from us despair, and keep us striving for the change that will build peace; until our hopes find their fulfilment in your gift made real.

For communities suffering war

God of compassion, look in mercy on all who suffer the terrors of war - the anguished, the frightened, and the pained, all who are wounded, all who mourn, and all who have lost home or livelihood. May they know respite, relief, and hope.

For combatants

Jesus Christ, who in the hour of your death was recognized as Savior by a soldier standing nearby: be to those who bear arms now, a sign of saving hope. In circumstances of danger and ever-pressing fear keep alive in them steadfastness and courage. Preserve in them when tested, righteous and humane values; and uphold their good wills until they are released from the awful necessities of human strife.

For relief agencies

Liberating God, who rends the chains of sin and breaks the power of its consequences, be the ever-present encourager of those who serve your cause in bringing relief to the war weary and the hurting. Protect them when danger threatens, steel their resolve when the pressures are too great, and resource them in their labors, that all whom they serve may find in their efforts the beginnings of life renewed.

(Source: unknown, but Anglican)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Businessweek: Detroit to be hammered meeting CAFE

Businessweek has an article about what it would cost the American Big 3 automakers to comply with the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards - a lot, far more than Japanese automakers, but not as much as they would pay with the initial stricter standards. Here, I have little sympathy for the automakers or the unions, who have both stonewalled stricter standards to the detriment of the entire world. However, it also bears mentioning that the economic impact will be significant, and not just to the automakers and their employees.

Posted by: David Kiley on May 23

International consulting firm Global Insight predicts that new fuel efficiency rules will cost Detroit’s automakers nearly twice what Japanese companies will pay. That’s because the fleets of Toyota, Honda and Nissan are closer to being able to meet the new requirements and are less dependent on trucks and big SUVs today.

The Detroit 3 can expect to pay $30.60 billion in additional costs to meet a fleet-wide standard of 31.6 mpg by 2015, said Rebecca Lindland, a Global Insight auto analyst. Asia’s top three car companies, she says, will pay about $14.85 billion.

General Motors alone, she says, will have to spend $15 billion, she said.

It’s worth noting here that while that sounds like a lot of money, and it is, Detroit has an astonishing talent for frittering away money. The company reported today that the utterly unnecessary and ridiculous strike by the United Auto Workers against GM supplier American Axle will cost GM $1.8 billion in lost earnings. You can’t make up how stupid a chapter in auto industry labor relations this was.

The U.S. Government proposed the rules in April to cut fuel consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The rule mandates a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency by 2020, and a 25 percent improvement by 2015.

Among GI’s forecasted chnages to cars and trucks to meet the requirement:

• Spark-ignition gasoline engines will be just 36 percent of the market, from 90 percent in 2006.

• Boosted direct-injection spark-ignition engines will be 33 percent, from less than 5 percent.

• Diesel engines will command 19 percent of the market, from less than 5 percent.

• Stop-start hybrids [in which engines shut off at stop lights and idle]will account for 35 percent of all drivetrains, from less than 5 percent.

Global Insight forecasts that total U.S. industry sales volume will languish below 16 million units through 2010. But according to the forecast, changing demographics and pent-up replacement demand will push sales beyond 18 million in 2015.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

US Farm Bill: the only good thing was the food stamps

The US Congress recently passed a farm bill. The only good thing in that bill was the increase in funding for food stamps, which aid Americans unable to afford food. It's an important safety net. Economists generally consider direct subsidies to purchasers to be effective.

However, the farm bill is also laden with subsidies for agribusiness, and tons of other forms of pandering.

As you know, agricultural subsidies by the US and Europe prevent farmers in the Global South from competing on even terms. It helps to keep them in a cycle of poverty.

There was a similar situation at the Temple in Jerusalem, with the money changers. Jesus was so furious that He performed the only act of physical violence He ever performed in his ministry.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, mainly over its high cost. However, the Congress is likely to override him. Congress is scamming the American people, as well as the poor farmers in the South. I'm not advocating that Americans take whips to their Congresspeople. But if we go by Jesus' actions, I don't think He will judge the American Congress very kindly.

China quake death toll passes 60,000

The Globe and Mail reports that the death toll from the quake in Sichuan has passed 60,000, and could exceed 80,000. Local hospitals are already overwhelmed, and many injured are being transported to other provinces. Pray for China.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why sharing with competitors is smart

Businessweek has an article about Samuel Adams sharing 10 tons of hops with small craft brewers at cost. No deep religious implications here, I just like craft beer.

Earlier this spring, we at Samuel Adams decided to share 10 tons of hops at cost with other craft brewers whose businesses had been imperiled by price hikes and crop shortages. Some business leaders may see this as enabling the competition at the precise moment we could have beaten it. I see it as both the right thing to do and smart business.

The craft beer segment is championed by a fairly close knit group of passionate brewers who operate as much like colleagues as competitors. Brewers are entrepreneurs, but they are also craftsmen and artisans who love comparing brewing tips, ingredients and beers. We also love educating consumers about what makes beer great. In turn, those curious consumers seek the variety we tell them is a hallmark of craft brewing. Variety comes through having many entrepreneurs, competitors, simultaneously innovating with new recipes.

There's a palpable sense that we succeed together or not at all. This is true for many business sectors that have a core of small, entrepreneurial players, but it's especially true when those small businesses have to compete with giants one hundred times their size, the way craft brewers have to compete with multi-national breweries like Anheuser-Busch, SAB Miller-Coors and Diageo.

Indeed, I believe it's precisely this collegial approach to business and commitment to innovation that has encouraged robust growth in craft brewing for the past five years. In 2007 alone, sales of craft beers increased 12 percent while mass domestic beer sales remained flat.

Craft brewers had been expanding and preparing to meet this increasing demand when, late last year, several new realities converged to create the industry's most clear-cut moment of vulnerability in 25 years.

The downturn struck craft brewers swiftly. First, prices for wheat and barley increased significantly as farmers opted to switch crops and grow corn to satisfy the burgeoning market for corn-based ethanol. Then, transportation costs increased dramatically due to oil and gas prices. Finally, the weak dollar combined with several seasons of low yields to send prices soaring for the aromatic hops that craft brewers prefer.

Last fall, Noble Bavarian Hops that had been selling for $6/pound were rumored to be selling for $30/pound. Samuel Adams has been fortunate. We've been around longer than most craft brewers, and we have long term contracts with hops growers, so our supplies were secure.

In mid-January we hosted a meeting of the Massachusetts Brewers' Guild, and the hops crisis was the primary topic. I heard about brew pubs that changed their recipes, small breweries that discontinued brewing some styles and others that were poised to shut their doors. It was then I realized that as the category leader it was time for us to step in and lend a hand. We decided to suspend brewing of one of our beers, the very hoppy Imperial Pilsner, and offer 20,000 pounds of German Tettnang Tettnanger and English East Kent Goldings hops to craft brewers in need.

So, I posted a message on a craft brewers' message board, and we set up a system on our Web site where brewers could apply. We didn't publicize it outside the brewers' forum.

The response was overwhelming. In short order, we received applications for 75,000 pounds of hops from nearly a quarter of the nation's 1,400 craft brewers. We felt a lottery was the fair way to distribute the hops we set aside, and in the end 108 breweries received between 88 and 528 pounds each. Worth Brewing Company, for example, a tiny brewery in Iowa that brews beer ten gallons at a time, will receive 88 pounds of hops, which Peter Ausenhus and his wife Margaret Bishop who own Worth Brewing, say will keep them in business for a year. In all, the hops we distributed will make approximately 36,000 barrels of craft beer, or 10 million pints.

Since we held the lottery, many people have asked me about the idea of helping competitors. Certainly part of the decision came from an instinctual sense of obligation. While the Boston Beer Company is one of the more senior members in this fraternity of craft brewers, I always feel close to the harsh challenges that many of these smaller breweries face as they grow, because it wasn't so long ago that I was in their shoes.

But I believe that that taking one of my beers off the market temporarily so that dozens of other beers could stay on the market was smart business, too. Of course it seemed risky for us to part with our most important ingredient—especially without yet knowing if the 2008 hops crop will be healthy. But I knew it was riskier for Sam Adams if the choices in craft beers diminish or the quality deteriorates. Rather than worrying about stealing share from each other, I was thinking about craft beers losing share overall. With just under 4 percent of the beer market, we all have plenty of room to grow.

What can leaders in other industries take away from our experience? Of course a rising tide lifts all boat, but more than that, leaders can be the gravity that lifts that tide. Leaders need to be alert to situations in which the long-term interests of their companies are best served by putting the needs of their segments or industries first, even when that means enabling competitors to better compete for your customers in the short-term.

Provided by Harvard Business—Where Leaders Get Their Edge

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Think about what you eat: Seafood

Our choices about what to eat have significant impacts on the health of the planet. For example, meat is considerably more resource intensive to produce than grain.

We need to be careful about what types of seafood we eat. Some fish populations are in danger, and/or are farmed using high impact fishing gear (driftnets, tuna, and dolphins). Others have pollution problems (e.g. mercury).

Environmental Defense has categorized seafood into Eco Best, Eco OK, and Eco Worst.

Anchovies, US catfish, mussels, pacific halibut, farmed oysters, and canned or Alaskan salmon are examples that are on the approved list.

White sturgeon caviar (NOT sturgeon caviar from the Caspian), wild clams, US King crabs, haddock caught by hook and line, and canned light or canned white Tuna are on the OK list.

Chinese crawfish, most non-farmed caviar, monkfish, Atlantic Halibut and farmed Atlantic Salmon are some of the fish on the avoid list.

Each webpage provides an explanation about the species of fish.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Re the previous post

Wouldn't it be nice if racism and sexism were dead?

Wouldn't it at least be nice if they were at least dead in America?

Well, they aren't. This election has shown us that.

I remember watching a video, in a psych class, detailing some of the comments made about Geraldine Ferraro, a US Vice Presidential candidate who ran with Walter Mondale on the Democratic ticket some time in the 1980s (I think). If someone made comments like that in my home, I'd ask them to leave.

And then, during the campaign, Ferraro essentially said that Obama wouldn't be where he was if he wasn't Black. She was working with Clinton's campaign. For that, I might not have asked her to leave, but I sure wouldn't have invited her back.

The Democratic campaign has been rather close (partially due to the way they count their votes, with delegates divided proportionately rather than winner takes all). As the campaign has gone on, the comments have got more and more bitter. I'm not sure that I've heard either Hillary or Barack disavow comments made against the other candidate's race and gender.

I hope America's Presidential candidates and nominees can take the high road.

Do you think sexism is dead in America?

An article by Marie Coco, posted on Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton's blog.

Misogyny I Won't Miss
By Marie Cocco
Thursday, May 15, 2008; A15

As the Democratic nomination contest slouches toward a close, it's time to take stock of what I will not miss.

I will not miss seeing advertisements for T-shirts that bear the slogan "Bros before Hos." The shirts depict Barack Obama (the Bro) and Hillary Clinton (the Ho) and are widely sold on the Internet.

I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won't miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item.

I won't miss episodes like the one in which liberal radio personality Randi Rhodes called Clinton a "big [expletive] whore" and said the same about former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. Rhodes was appearing at an event sponsored by a San Francisco radio station, before an audience of appreciative Obama supporters -- one of whom had promoted the evening on the presumptive Democratic nominee's official campaign Web site.

I won't miss Citizens United Not Timid (no acronym, please), an anti-Clinton group founded by Republican guru Roger Stone.

Political discourse will at last be free of jokes like this one, told last week by magician Penn Jillette on MSNBC: "Obama did great in February, and that's because that was Black History Month. And now Hillary's doing much better 'cause it's White Bitch Month, right?" Co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski rebuked Jillette.

I won't miss political commentators (including National Public Radio political editor Ken Rudin and Andrew Sullivan, the columnist and blogger) who compare Clinton to the Glenn Close character in the movie "Fatal Attraction." In the iconic 1987 film, Close played an independent New York woman who has an affair with a married man played by Michael Douglas. When the liaison ends, the jilted woman becomes a deranged, knife-wielding stalker who terrorizes the man's blissful suburban family. Message: Psychopathic home-wrecker, begone.

The airwaves will at last be free of comments that liken Clinton to a "she-devil" (Chris Matthews on MSNBC, who helpfully supplied an on-screen mock-up of Clinton sprouting horns). Or those who offer that she's "looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court" (Mike Barnicle, also on MSNBC).

But perhaps it is not wives who are so very problematic. Maybe it's mothers. Because, after all, Clinton is more like "a scolding mother, talking down to a child" (Jack Cafferty on CNN).

When all other images fail, there is one other I will not miss. That is, the down-to-the-basics, simplest one: "White women are a problem, that's -- you know, we all live with that" (William Kristol of Fox News).

I won't miss reading another treatise by a man or woman, of the left or right, who says that sexism has had not even a teeny-weeny bit of influence on the course of the Democratic campaign. To hint that sexism might possibly have had a minimal role is to play that risible "gender card."

Most of all, I will not miss the silence.

I will not miss the deafening, depressing silence of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean or other leading Democrats, who to my knowledge (with the exception of Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland) haven't publicly uttered a word of outrage at the unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled at a former first lady and two-term senator from New York. Among those holding their tongues are hundreds of Democrats for whom Clinton has campaigned and raised millions of dollars. Don Imus endured more public ire from the political class when he insulted the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Would the silence prevail if Obama's likeness were put on a tap-dancing doll that was sold at airports? Would the media figures who dole out precious face time to these politicians be such pals if they'd compared Obama with a character in a blaxploitation film? And how would crude references to Obama's sex organs play?

There are many reasons Clinton is losing the nomination contest, some having to do with her strategic mistakes, others with the groundswell for "change." But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture.

Marie Cocco is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Her e-mail address is

Monday, May 19, 2008

Choices to make on immigration policy

Jacob Vigdor writes for the Boston Globe

ARE TODAY'S immigrants having a harder time blending into society than their predecessors of a century ago? This question is central to the current immigration policy debate, but the answers we hear often rely on personal anecdotes or subjective opinion. The first annual Index of Immigrant Assimilation issued this week by the Manhattan Institute, which uses US Census data to assess the progress of immigrants since the early 20th century, offers us some answers. To judge from this research (of which I am the author), the news is both good and bad.
more stories like this

* Bush praises Mexican Americans at Cinco de Mayo dinner
* Thousands rally in May Day effort for immigration reform
* Mexican lawmakers decriminalize migrants
* Union and states try recruiting farm workers from Mexico
* Calderon makes pitch for US investment in Mexico

The newly arrived immigrants of 2006 bear much resemblance to the newly arrived Italian, Greek, and Polish immigrants of 1910. These immigrants are quite distinct from the native-born population because they speak English relatively poorly and tend to occupy lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. Yet the immigrants of a century ago, and many groups of immigrants today, make quick progress as they spend more time here - advancing economically, and becoming naturalized citizens. In addition, their children are in most ways nearly indistinguishable from native-born children.

However, the set of immigrant groups making substantial progress today excludes the largest group: the 11-million-plus natives of Mexico, who are at the heart of most immigration policy debates. In contrast with more successful groups from Asia, the Caribbean, and other parts of Latin America, Mexican immigrants struggle to make progress.

This strong contrast poses a number of questions, some obvious and others not.

Why haven't Mexicans made progress comparable to other groups? There are several factors. Mexicans' incentives to assimilate fully into US society are low, particularly relative to politically motivated immigrants from countries such as Cuba and Vietnam. Many have strong expectations of returning to Mexico. Moreover, a strong network of Spanish-speaking immigrants exists in most major American cities, reducing the need for Mexican immigrants to learn English in order to survive.

Even so, there are undoubtedly many Mexican immigrants who strongly want to integrate their families into American society. Many of these immigrants find their path to the American mainstream blocked, however, by the simple fact that they cannot live or work legally in the United States. Without legal status, there is no road to citizenship. Economic advancement is difficult when one is relegated to the shadows of the labor market.

What, if anything, should we do to encourage assimilation? The anemic progress of Mexican immigrants is but one sign that our current immigration policy is not working. Before deciding what to do about it, though, we need to make some important decisions as a society.

First, should the goal of our immigration policy be to satisfy industrial demand for low-skilled labor? Or should we place a higher priority on admitting new residents who seek to build a permanent attachment with American society? A guest worker program sounds like a great way to achieve the first goal, but runs the risk of creating a class of American residents culturally distanced from the majority, and lacking fundamental political rights and responsibilities. In contrast, demanding a deep commitment to the United States could mean excluding individuals who stand to make important economic contributions - from the unskilled farm worker to the highly-skilled entrepreneur.

Should our policy toward immigrants place a greater value on cultural or civic assimilation? Those who think all immigrants should speak English might see Canadian immigrants as the ideal. Culturally and economically, they are indistinguishable from native-born Americans. But Canadian immigrants don't have particularly high naturalization rates. As a group, they benefit from American opportunities but place little value on American citizenship.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese immigrants, with the highest naturalization rates among major immigrant groups, are closer to the ideal from a civic perspective. But from a cultural perspective, they are almost as distinct as Mexicans are. As a society, would we rather have Mexican immigrants strive to be more like Canadians, or more like the Vietnamese?

The Index of Immigrant Assimilation can't answer these questions by itself. It does make clear, though, that any serious effort to reform immigration policy will have to address them.

Jacob Vigdor is associate professor of public policy and economics at Duke University and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Liberal Catholicism Dead?

From Time Magazine

He may not have been thinking about it at the time, but Pope Benedict, in the course of his recent U.S. visit may have dealt a knockout blow to the liberal American Catholicism that has challenged Rome since the early 1960s. He did so by speaking frankly and forcefully of his "deep shame" during his meeting with victims of the Church's sex-abuse scandal. By demonstrating that he "gets" this most visceral of issues, the pontiff may have successfully mollified a good many alienated believers — and in the process, neutralized the last great rallying point for what was once a feisty and optimistic style of progressivism.

The liberal rebellion in American Catholicism has dogged Benedict and his predecessors since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. "Vatican II," which overhauled much of Catholic teaching and ritual, had a revolutionary impact on the Church as a whole. It enabled people to hear the Mass in their own languages; embraced the principle of religious freedom; rejected anti-Semitism; and permitted Catholic scholars to grapple with modernity.

But Vatican II meant even more to a generation of devout but restless young people in the U.S. Rather than a course correction, Terrence Tilley, now head of the Fordham University's theology department, wrote recently, his generation perceived "an interruption of history, a divine typhoon that left only the keel and structure of the church unchanged." They discerned in the Council a call to greater church democracy, and an assertion of individual conscience that could stand up to the authority of even the Pope. So, they battled the Vatican's birth-control ban, its rejection of female priests and insistence on celibacy, and its authoritarianism.

Rome pushed back, and the ensuing struggle defined a movement, whose icons included peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan, feminist Sister Joan Chittister, and sociologist/author Fr. Andrew Greeley. Its perspectives were covered in The National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal and America. Martin Sheen held down Hollywood, and the movement even boasted its own cheesy singing act: the St. Louis Jesuits. The reformers' premier membership organization was Call to Action, but their influence was felt at the highest reaches of the American Church, as sympathetic American bishops passed left-leaning statements on nuclear weapons and economic justice. Remarks Tilley, "For a couple of generations, progressivism was an [important] way to be Catholic."

Then he adds, "But I think the end of an era is here."

To some extent, liberal Catholicism has been a victim of its own success. Its positions on sex and gender issues have become commonplace in the American Church, diminishing the distinctiveness of the progressives. More importantly, they failed to transform the main body of the Church: John Paul II, a charismatic conservative, enjoyed the third-longest papacy in church history, and refused to budge on the left's demands; instead, he eventually swept away liberal bishops. The heads at Call to Action grayed, and by the late 1990s, Vatican II progressivism began to look like a self-limited Boomer moment.

Then, the movement received a monstrous reprieve. The priest sex abuse scandal implicated not only the predators, but the superiors who shielded them. John Paul remained mostly silent. A new reform group, Voice of the Faithful, arose; the old anger returned, crystallizing around the battle-cry "They just don't get it."

Benedict's visit, however, changed the dynamic. And that's a problem for progressives. Says Fr. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center whom Benedict famously removed from his previous job as editor of America, "Reform movements need an enemy to organize against. As most bishops have gotten their acts together on sex abuse, they have looked less like the enemy and more like part of the solution. Enthusiasm for reform declined. With the Pope's forthright response, it will decline even more."

Not everyone agrees. Says Voice of the Faithful spokesman John Moynihan, "That's funny; I just came from a meeting of COR [Catholic Organizations for Reform], and there were a lot of people very buoyed up. We can now say to people, 'We have made a difference, and if you stick with us we are going to make a further difference'." Adds Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, now a director of Fordham's Religion and Culture Center, "I think there is continuity in terms of the issues and the questions about whether Church structures can be altered." He notes that a social justice group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, formed just three years ago.

But the familiar progressives-versus-Vatican paradigm seems almost certain to be undone by a looming demographic tsunami. Almost everyone agrees that the "millennial generation," born in 1980 or later, while sharing liberal views on many issues, has no desire to mount the barricades. Notes Reese, "Younger Catholics don't argue with the bishops; they simply do what they want or shop for another church." And Hispanic Catholics, who may be the U.S. majority by 2020, don't see this as their battle. "I'm sure they're happy that the celebration of the Eucharist is in the vernacular," says Tilley, "but they don't have significant issues connected to Vatican II."

And so, unless Benedict contradicts in Rome what he said in New York, the Church may have reached a tipping point. This is not to say that the (overhyped) young Catholic Right will swing into lay dominance. Nor will liberal single-issue groups simply evaporate. But if they cohere again, it will be around different defining issues. "It's a new ball game," admits Steinfels. As Tilley wrote recently in Commonweal regarding his fellow theologians, "A new generation has neither the baggage nor the ballast of mine. Theirs is the future. Let's hope they remember the Council as the most important event in twentieth-century Catholicism."

Let's see.

Why pump prices need to stay high

From Christian Science Monitor

Driving less? More than two-thirds of car owners already are. It's a natural reflex to $50-$70 tank fill-ups. But US drivers may also know it's time to pay a price to curb global warming. That may be one reason they reject the campaign stunt of urging a holiday for the federal gas tax.

US politicians can't have it both ways. Most seek the type of solutions for climate change that would raise energy costs, yet they are now trying to prevent the very kind of high pump prices that help drive conservation and green technology.

Next year, Democrats in Congress plan to pass antiglobal-warming measures that are sure to drive up consumer costs. Rather than prevent $4-a-gallon gas now, legislators should welcome it. One courageous lawmaker, John Dingell (D), who heads the House energy panel, even proposes a 50-cent hike in the gas tax.

World oil markets are doing the US a favor by imposing a form of tax that challenges energy profligacy and disregard for the planet's future. A gas price threshold has now been reached to influence behavior. SUV sales are down. Mass transit ridership and carpooling are up. More people want to live closer to work.

What do these lifestyle-altering trends signal? That Congress must impose a "carbon" tax on fossil-fuel use, from electric utilities to home furnaces to gas-guzzling vehicles.

Such a tax is a better tool than the alternative favored in Congress: a "cap and trade" system that would force only industries to curb greenhouse gases while allowing cleaner companies to sell permits to more polluting ones. The system is complex, inflexible, and easily abused.

A carbon tax (with progressive rebates for the poor) would directly make lawmakers accountable for taking action on global warming, while providing revenue for innovation in clean energy. In a February report, the Congressional Budget Office found a carbon tax would be five times more effective in reducing carbon emissions than a cap-and-trade market.

Is there a model for a carbon tax? Yes, Sweden has had one since 1991. While it has not been perfectly implemented, the Nordic nation of 9.2 million people has seen a 9 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions – more than required under the Kyoto treaty – while maintaining a healthy economy and becoming a "clean tech" leader. A German environmental group finds Sweden has done the most of all countries to protect the climate. It also helps that the country relies on nuclear and hydro power for all its electricity.

Sweden, of course, has done more than simply tax fossil fuel. It's created bicycle lanes, encouraged "green" cars and buses, favored heat pumps over oil furnaces, put a toll on driving in Stockholm, and invested in renewable energies and recycling of waste heat, among other steps. The government now taxes vehicles based on carbon dioxide emissions rather than weight, helping Sweden become the leader in Europe in reducing carbon emissions from new cars.

The initial reason for a carbon tax was Sweden's dependency on imported fossil fuel. Now its success in improving national energy security has made it a global model for achieving climate security.

Most of all, Swedes still welcome the tax. Americans can accept a similar sacrifice rather than trying to roll back prices at the pump.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

ELCA document on immigration

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has a message on immigration here. Lutherans have in the past sponsored many refugees for admission to the US; to my knowledge, refugees no longer require sponsorship (although there are numerous legal and other barriers to refugees proving their fear of persecution).

Celebrating US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

This was posted on Daily Episcopalian

Bishop John Bryson Chane writes to his diocese [ed: Episcopal Diocese of Washington]:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As you may remember, our diocese is proposing that the Episcopal Church include civil rights leader and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on its liturgical calendar. By resolution of the 2006 Diocesan Convention, we recommended that May 17, the anniversary of Marshall’s victory in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case be observed as his feast day.

The 2006 General Convention referred the resolution to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which, we hope, will bring it forward at the 2009 General Convention, next summer in Anaheim.

One important criterion that the Commission considers is whether there is widespread local observance of a candidate’s proposed feast day. So to strengthen our presentation at the 2009 General Convention and, more importantly, to hold up before our people the Christian witness of Justice Marshall, please plan to observe Saturday May 17 or Sunday May 18 as Thurgood Marshall Day in your parish.

You can learn more about Justice Marshall at

In Christ’s Peace Power and Love,
Bishop John Bryson Chane

The Washington Window has written numerous stories on the effort to include Marshall's name in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (1, 2, 3, 4.) The mainstream media has also paid some note.

Liturgical resources for the feast of Thurgood Marshall, May 17

Propers suggested by the Diocese of Washington. Music suggested by students at Seabury-Western Seminary and St. Augustine’s Church, Washington, D. C.

Eternal and Ever-Gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood with special gifts of grace and courage to understand and speak the truth as it has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. Grant that by his example we may also know you and seek to realize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, whom you sent to teach us to love one another; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Suggested scripture readings
Amos 5:10-15, 21-24
Psalm 34:15-22
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Matthew 23:1-11

Suggested Music
Song of Praise
Christ Has Arisen from Lift Every Voice and Sing (LEVAS) 41

Zimbabwe Alleluia

Offertory Hymn
How Great Thou Art LEVAS 60

Memorial Acclamation Sung to the tune of We Shall Overcome:

Jesus Christ has died.
Jesus Christ is risen.
Jesus Christ will come again.
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
Jesus Christ will come again.

Communion Hymn
Just As I Am LEVAS 137

Processional Hymn (and Marshall’s personal favorite)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory LEVAS 226

Friday, May 16, 2008

Yom Ha'atzmaut and al-Nakba (by Jim Wallis)

I recently joined many prominent Christian leaders in signing a joint declaration on Israel's 60th anniversary. The signers are too many to list here but they include church leaders, theologians, and the heads of international missions agencies who have an intimate knowledge of the region's history, theological significance, and present reality. (To name just a sampling: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director/CEO, World Evangelical Alliance; Lynn Green, international chairman of YWAM; Rev. Garth Hewitt, canon of St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem; James W. Skillen, president of the Center for Public Justice; Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland church; Rev. Kathy Galloway, leader of the Iona Community; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Rev. Glenn R. Palmberg, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church; Arli Klassen, executive director, Mennonite Central Committee; Brother Andrew, author of God's Smuggler; Charles Clayton, national director of World Vision in Jerusalem on behalf of World Vision International; Dr. Vernon Grounds, chancellor of Denver Seminary; Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann; and author and Sojourners board chair Brian McLaren.)

The statement begins by recognizing the achievement and necessity of the state of Israel:

We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha'atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people's ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust.

But as is so often the case in human history - including U.S. history - one people's escape from persecution and tyranny resulted in the suffering of others. So the statement also says:

We also recognise that this same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed (al-Nakba).

The statement confesses that "To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy," and that many segments of the church - and I would add, especially U.S. evangelicals:

while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.

Many Christians in the U.S. and around the world - including myself - have traveled to Israel and Palestine to learn about the geographical origins of our faith, and to meet the people whose lives are still shaped by the struggle over that Holy Land. We've heard stories of lives destroyed by terrorist violence, and lives destroyed by the violence of occupation. While it is tempting to either emphasize the suffering of one people over the other, or to impose an oversimplified narrative of false symmetry and intractable conflict, our biblical imperative remains, as the statement cites, to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14).

Finally and most powerfully, the declaration urges

all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that "will produce lasting peace and security" (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples' shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

So can we authentically celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut while we mourn al-Nakba? Can we "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15)? Biblical justice demands it.

US Federal Reserve Governor says Fed can and should deflate some asset bubbles

Frederic Mishkin, a current U.S. Federal Reserve governor, says that the Fed should act to deflate some asset bubbles, particularly those which impact the banking system.

It's a rather dense reading. The main point, though, is that the Fed does have the authority to use relatively narrow regulations to do the above. For example, the Fed could have increased banks' capital requirements during the housing bubble (tier 1 capital is shareholders' equity, which is assets minus liabilities). Banks would not have been able to make as much as they did in loans, and/or invest as much as they did in risky assets. Booms and busts are a core part of capitalism, but had the Fed done the, the current bust would probably have been ameliorated. Of course, Greenspan is a hard-core free markets guy, and doesn't believe in regulation.

California Supreme Court brushes aside the entire history and meaning of marriage in our tradition: very sad

Or not so sad. The California Supreme Court has ruled that bans on same sex marriage violate the State constitution.

This ruling, however, has no impact on Federal benefits such as immigration status, Federal income tax, Social Security, and others.

Additionally, conservative groups are attempting to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. If passed, it would override the Court's decision.

Obviously, I pray this does not come to pass.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Immigration: Denying Entry

Love may be the international language, but it doesn't cut the mustard with Customs and Border Protection agents at Washington Dulles International Airport. That's where, according to The New York Times, Domenico Salerno, a 35-year-old Italian and recent law school graduate, was denied entry into the U.S.

His answers, given in broken English, failed to assure agents that he was on the up-and-up and so he was sent in shackles to a Virginia jail, where he remained for at least 10 days. If Canadian agents could quickly find a Tagalog speaker to deal with a lost tot at an airport there recently, why couldn't U.S. agents find an Italian one? In treating Salerno like a criminal, our government managed to inadvertently help Salerno's American sweetheart with her mission during this visit: To show him "another side" of America. The Italian, we're told, was locked up as an asylum seeker, in a barracks holding 75 others, including some who actually were asylum seekers and had been waiting there for a year. Salerno, who is from a well-off family in Italy, says he never asked for asylum and says that his requests to speak to his embassy were denied. As his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper, put it, "Who on Earth would ever seek asylum from Italy?"

Salerno, who at one point was so shaken that he asked if Virginia has a death penalty, was released after an NY Times reporter made some calls upon hearing about his situation from Cooper. We can't help but agonize over all the innocent people who fall between the cracks simply because they don't have a resourceful advocate out there, one who can marshal the full weight of the NYT to help them. What becomes of them in our "system"?

Earthquake in Sichuan, China

Pray for the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan, China. Chinese authorities have estimated 15,000 dead so far, with many still missing. Sichuan is very mountainous, and it is difficult to deliver aid and health services.

Arizona governor Janet Napolitano ends Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio's contract

PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered the state to end an anti-illegal immigration contract with a high-profile sheriff Tuesday so she can pay for a larger effort to track down thousands of felons around Arizona. [Editor: Arpaio has been criticized as a vigilante by some. Including me.]

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday criticized the governor's decision as a maneuver to thwart his efforts against illegal immigrants.

"Dirty politics are at work right now," Arpaio said at a news conference.

Arpaio, who describes himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff" and is best known for feeding jail inmates green bologna sandwiches, clothing them in pink underwear, and making them work on chain gangs, received praise for his anti-immigration efforts from many who believe the federal government isn't doing enough to remove people in the U.S. illegally.

But his raids and sweeps of illegal immigrants in Phoenix and nearby Guadalupe have drawn protests from community leaders and civil liberties advocates. Arpaio, a Republican, has also been criticized for letting thousands of felony warrants go unserved while he chased illegal immigrants.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there are about 59,000 outstanding, unserved felony warrants in the state. The majority are in Maricopa County, the state's most populated county.

Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer denied that the Democratic governor was trying to cut into efforts to stop illegal immigration.

"It couldn't be further from the truth," L'Ecuyer said.

Pennie Gillette-Stroud, the DPS chief of the criminal investigations division, said Napolitano's multi-agency task force will focus on violent, repeat criminals as well as undocumented immigrants with felony warrants.

To help pay for the task force, the state Department of Public Safety won't renew a $1.6 million contract with the sheriff's office. That contract ends May 17th, DPS spokesman Bart Graves said.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Greendex: get your results here

Greendex is a global index of consumption. Get your score here. Mine is not quite as bad as others in the US, but that's not saying much.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Taco Bell and Fiji Water: nice try

(Fortune) -- You knew you could help save the earth by installing energy-efficient light bulbs or swapping your gas guzzler for a hybrid. But have you heard that drinking Fiji Water and dining out at Taco Bell are supposed to be good for the planet, too?

Fiji Water claims to have become the first big beverage company to go "carbon negative," meaning that it will offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions and then some. "The production and sale of each bottle of FIJI Water will actually result in a net reduction of carbon in the atmosphere," the company's Fiji Green website. "Every drop is green."

Meanwhile, Taco Bell, a unit of restaurant giant Yum! Brands (YUM, Fortune 500), says that it is saving water and energy by replacing steam tables and cabinets with electric grills. A Taco Bell exec says: "Whether you take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or purchase a Grill-to-Order menu item at Taco Bell, you can save water and impact the environment without even thinking about it."

Well, maybe. But let's think about it, anyway.

In truth, the brain need not be taxed too severely to see that Taco Bell's claims are, at best, incomplete. To be sure, the company has calculated that its grilling system will save "enough water per year to fill 8 oz. water cups that would stretch across the U.S. 80 times" and "enough electricity per year to power every household in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas for one day." The new grilling system, the company says, will also save it $17 million a year.

Some green advocates aren't impressed. Paul Faeth, who is executive director of the Global Water Challenge, a coalition of business and environmental groups, says: "It's a nice start. But it would be great if they did an assessment of their whole company, and where the big uses of water are, and what they can do about them."

One place Taco Bell might begin is with beef. One study cited by the World Wildlife Federation found that it can take as much as 3,682 liters of water to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of boneless beef in the United States. Beef and dairy products - the Chalupa Supreme is made with ground beef, cheddar, pepperjack and mozzarella - also generate far more greenhouse gases than chicken, pork or fish, the Los Angeles Times reported on Earth Day. The single easiest thing a consumer can do about climate change is to eat less beef.

I asked Rob Poetsch, a Taco Bell spokesman, if Taco Bell had looked more broadly at its environmental footprint. "You can expect to hear more from us in this area," he said, without elaborating.

As it happens, Climate Counts, a nonprofit group that ranks 56 consumer companies on their commitment to climate change, released its 2008 scorecard this week and gave Yum! Brands a score of one - making it one of the five lowest-ranked companies.

In response, Yum! told Fortune: "The company's first global Corporate Social Responsibility report will be released this summer, so unfortunately, the rankings don't reflect that information."

The Fiji water story is more complicated. To its credit, the company measured and disclosed its carbon footprint last month and joined the Carbon Disclosure Project, a global investor coalition on climate change. It has also formed a partnership with Conservation International, a respected environmental group, to restore and protect forests on the remote Pacific island of Fiji, the source of its water.

A Fiji Water press release quotes Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of Conservation International, as saying: "We applaud FIJI Water for offsetting the climate impact of its products, reducing the impact of its operations, and funding crucial conservation efforts that support local communities and protect some of the last remaining forests in the South Pacific." It's worth noting that Stewart Resnick, an owner of Fiji Water, is a member of the board of directors at Conservation International, and that Fiji Water pays the nonprofit group for its advice on environmental issues.

Tom Mooney, senior vice president for sustainable growth at Fiji Water, argues that the company's environmental harm isn't as great as it might appear. Fiji water travels to the United States on container ships packed with Australian beef and wine that are making the trip anyway. Its iconic square bottles, he notes, can be shipped more efficiently that conventional round ones. What's more, the company, unlike beverage giants Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500) and PepsiCo (PEP, Fortune 500), supports bottle-deposit bills in state legislation that drive up recycling rates, according to Mooney. It's exploring the idea of building a wind tower to power its operations in Fiji.

"Fiji's efforts are noteworthy," says Mike Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network and a frequent critic of big business. "They're taking a flawed business model and making every effort to minimize its climate action." Still, he said, drinking tap water is a better way to fight climate change than drinking Fiji.

Mooney doesn't disagree. "Versus tap water, bottled water has a higher environmental impact." But he goes on to say that most people drink bottled water in place of carbonated sodas, which require thicker bottles to hold in the bubbles and, in some cases, agricultural inputs from growing corn or sugar cane.

"To me," he says, "the rise in bottle water, far from being a bad thing, is a triumph in terms of health and it's much better for the environment."

Some oil firms agree to settle lawsuits over additive MTBE - except Exxon Mobil and some others

CNN Money has an article over a planned settlement over the anti-knocking additive MTBE, which was used to replace lead. MTBE, even at very low concentrations, renders water undrinkable by ruining the taste. That said, it is not known to be poisonous at low doses.

That doesn't mean it isn't. Not all industrial chemicals are studied, mainly for a lack of funds. In those that are studied, animal studies and very high doses are used. The results are then extrapolated to humans, and chronic, low doses. It's not an exact science.

Either way, it's depressing but unsurprising to see Exxon Mobil act like it's above needing to care for the communities it may have affected.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

High US incarceration rate weighs on economy

Seeking Alpha article

The burgeoning US prison population is having deleterious economic as well as social consequences and is rapidly becoming fiscally unsustainable. As a result, reforms that reduce the incarceration rate are inevitable, according to Oxford Analytica.

* The US accounts for approximately 25% of the global prison population, despite possessing less than 5% of the world’s population.
* There are 2.3-2.5 million prisoners in the US — one in every hundred adults is now in jail.
* The US incarcerates 751 per 100,000 members of the population, compared with 63 in Japan, 88 in Germany and 151 in the UK.
* Russia comes closer to the US figure, with a count of 627 per 100,000.
* The current US figure is also a major departure from the country’s historic incarceration rate; between 1925-75 only 110 per 100,000 US citizens faced imprisonment.

OxAn runs through the factors behind these startling figures, including the war on drugs, the “three strikes” rule and welfare policy reforms.

Unsurprisingly, many former felons fail properly to reintegrate into society following release. Prison rarely provides the kind of rehabilitation and job training necessary for labour market success — a weakness of prisons in most societies but a chronic one in the US.

Collapsing housing prices have hit state budgets particularly hard, which will make it difficult — if not impossible — to expand the prison system at the current rate, OxAn says.

The unaddressed problems with the current harsh incarceration policy — particularly its effect on the country’s political economy, deprivation of the franchise from a very large number of ex-prisoners, and lack of preparation it affords parolees for the job market — have begun to attract political attention.

Current US prison policy has many deleterious economic and social effects, and is fiscally unsustainable. Despite the resistance of entrenched interests and political lobby groups, reform — principally in the form of a reduced rate of incarceration for non-violent offenders — is inevitable.

Despite or perhaps because of these trends, analysts see a strong outlook for the leading private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CXW).

Avondale Partners in April noted that

with budgets still constrained at the federal, state and local government levels, it is not palatable to cut funding for healthcare, education, etc. to build a prison. With the aggregate domestic jail and prison population of 2.1 million individuals growing in excess of 2% annually, however, incremental beds are needed.

The private prison sector is in an excellent position to step in and meet this need. With only 7.2% of domestic prison beds currently privatized, a small increase (1%-2%) in penetration could drive meaningful growth for the sector. CCA, with a 50% share of this market, should benefit disproportionately given its facility ownership model.

Avondale rates CCA Market Outperform with a price target of $35. Lehman Brothers in February reiterated its Overweight rating with a price target of $34, based on CCA’s expansion plans. CCA is trading at around $27.

[Isn't it ghoulish that people would seek to profit off prisons by running them for profit?]

Burma death toll could hit 80,000, political prisoners killed

The Telegraph reports that political prisoners were killed after their prison was flooded, and officials refused to evacuate them. This article cites Burmese officials' estimates of over 60,000 dead. However, a later Australian Broadcasting Corporation article cites a World Vision official who estimated 80,000.

Soldiers and riot police opened fire at Insein Prison in Rangoon, the capital of Burma, or Myanmar, after inmates there rioted, according to reports.

The facility, which houses many political prisoners who oppose the country’s military junta, has been described by former inmates as “the darkest hell-hole in Burma”.

The chilling report came after the Burmese authorities raised the estimate of the dead and missing to more than 60,000.

It is feared that the secretive regime’s paranoia has hampered the flow of aid which has now started flowing into the country.

According to state television, 22,464 had been killed and another 41,054 were missing after cyclone Nargis barrelled into the low-lying Irrawaddy delta with 120mph winds, bringing with it an enormous storm surge that inundated towns and villages.

The social welfare minister Maung Maung Swe said that 95 per cent of houses in the delta town of Bogalay had been “destroyed”.

“More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself,” he added. “The wave was up to 12 feet high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages. They did not have anywhere to flee.”

The cyclone ripped the roofs of thousands of buildings including Insein Prison.

More than 1,500 prisoners were locked in a hall and rioted, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

It reported: “Even though prisoners requested prison guards to open the doors and move them to safety, the authorities ignored their request. Some prisoners set fire to the prison hall and a riot ensued.”

Soldiers and riot police called to the prison then opened fire and killed 36 prisoners and injured 70, AAPP said.

Ko Bo Kyi, AAPP’s joint secretary, said: “The authorities are to blame for this situation.

“As soon as the storm hit, they should have moved the prisoners to safety.”

Aid agencies fear the overall death toll in Burma could continue to climb.

If previous disasters of this kind are anything to go by, few of the missing are likely to be found alive. Around one million people were estimated to be homeless.

But despite the scale of the devastation, Burma’s military junta — the country has been under a dictatorship for 46 years — were obstructing the entry of foreign aid personnel and supplies.

“The United Nations is asking the Burmese government to open its doors. The Burmese government replies: 'Give us money, we'll distribute it.’ We can’t accept that,” said the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who is a co-founder of the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières.

A UN disaster assessment team was stuck in Thailand overnight, unable to obtain visas, and the Burmese embassy in Bangkok was closed on Monday for a Thai holiday.

Countries around the world are offering help, but have yet to be invited in by the authorities, and aid agencies say that their staff are still waiting for visas.

In New York, Rashid Khalikov, the UN’s humanitarian affairs co-ordinator, appealed to Burma to drop visa requirements for UN aid staff.

“Unfortunately we cannot tell you how many people are in need of assistance,” he said. “We just clearly understand that it will probably be in the hundreds of thousands.”

But if visas were not forthcoming there were few alternatives, he said. “The backup plan is to urge (the government) to issue visas.”

Burma’s rulers are deeply suspicious of the outside world, particularly the West, but after years of mismanagement, corruption and self-imposed economic isolation, the country’s infrastructure is creaking at the best of times, and their ability to distribute huge quantities of supplies across a vast area in dire circumstances is highly questionable.

One aircraft arrived in Rangoon from Thailand with nine tonnes of food and medicine, but had to be unloaded by hand as no forklift trucks were available.

The World Food Programme began distributing 800 tons of food — a tiny amount relative to the scale of the disaster - in Rangoon, where supplies are running short, but its country director Chris Kaye said: “In order to meet the needs of the persons most badly affected by the disaster, much more cooperation will be required in the short term.”

The military government said a constitutional referendum that is part of its so-called “roadmap to democracy” would go ahead this weekend, except in the worst-affected areas. Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to take power, said the decision was “extremely unacceptable”.

But analysts said the vote could give ordinary Burmese a safe way to protest against the generals’ handling of the disaster, after their bloody crackdown on protesting monks and civilians last year.

“The juxtaposition of the cyclone and the voting might cause many in Burma to feel this is an indication that the military should not be in power,” said David Steinberg, a Burma expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Many Burmese are deeply traditional, he pointed out, and the disaster could be taken to mean the current rulers had lost the “mandate of heaven”.

In Rangoon, where monks and civilians were clearing the streets of debris, a man who refused to be identified added: “Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians? They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity.”

How you can donate:

A number of charities have launched appeals to help the Burmese in the wake of this weekend's cyclone. You can donate online to the British Red Cross, (£5 will provide water purification tablets for 60 people), to Oxfam's emergency fund,, to Christian Aid,, and Save the Children,

The incredible shrinking house: could America be starting to lose its fascination with super-sized houses?

Stephen Gandel, writing for Money Magazine, asks the question. An excerpt:

Up until now: Over the years, many a seer has predicted the mass downsizing of the American home. Instead, the average size of newly built houses has continued to rise from just over 1,600 square feet in the late 1970s to nearly 2,300 now.

But a number of trends suggest that this time Americans really might be willing to swap their McMansions for McCottages. For starters, baby boomers, whose eldest members turned 62 this year, are increasingly becoming empty-nesters; with children gone, they need less space.

Families themselves have changed dramatically. Between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of nuclear families - married couples with kids - declined from 40% of households to 24%, according to the Census Bureau. And childless families are expected to increase. For them, the supersize house may no longer be the ideal.

Then too, Generations X and Y seem more intrigued with life downtown where they can enjoy easy access to restaurants and entertainment, a minimal commute and smaller, easier-to-care-for living spaces.

"Ask anyone how many rooms in their house they don't regularly go into and most will admit that they actually live in a small percentage of their home," says Marianne Cusato, an architect who used to design 3,000-square-foot-plus homes but now specializes in cottages.