Thursday, July 31, 2008

We met at Starbucks ... but not the same Starbucks

This amusing clip from the mockumentary Best in Show has Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock reminiscing on how they met at Starbucks ... but not the same Starbucks; the outlets were across the street from each other. Starbucks was relentlessly opening new outlets, and is now paying for it in a more strained economy by having to close about 600 stores in the US. In some ways, it's a symbol of the excesses of the US economy that were enabled by Alan Greenspan's loose fiscal policies. However, the economy may have changed permanently, and the excesses of the past are catching up with the US. Americans have very often been frugal folks, and perhaps it's best for the country to return to that in an age of resource constraints and global warming.

Mexico-US immigration and indigenous rights

An article for Poynter Online highlights the nexus between Mexican indigenous peoples and immigration to the US. Poynter is a resource for journalists, so I'm not going to post the whole article. But here's the relevant section:

Struggling to make sense of the developing patchwork of immigration law? Wondering how to do more than cover scattered enforcement actions and raids? Now is the time to dig more deeply into one of the most powerful stories in America, according to speakers at a day-long UNITY session on immigration last Wednesday. Apply context, the panelists urged, and move beyond stories of immigrant heroes and immigrant victims.

Several emerging trends remain generally unnoticed so far, the panelists said. Instead of assuming that border crossers are mostly Mexican, think indigenous instead, recommends Patrisia Gonzales, assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Mexican American Studies and Research Center. A large portion of migrants come from indigenous communities, with the largest numbers contributed by Mixtec, Zapotec and Chinantec groups from Oaxaca heading north to other areas in Mexico and the United States. Their travels extend a long history of movement throughout the continent. "Most of their ancestors crossed back and forth for generations," Gonzales says.

If you are reporting at a community level, indigenous people add a thought-provoking twist to the usual immigration story. Gonzales cited one school district that had to find a Mixtec community outreach worker to address parents' needs. She also mentioned the new "La Hora Mixteca," a radio program that brings indigenous news and information to both sides of the border by satellite radio. On a larger scale, adding indigenous people to the immigration equation "changes how we frame immigration and opens new conversations," she said.

Waiting for justice

A NY Times article debates the merits of indictments for human rights abuses.

WASHINGTON — Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, sitting in Khartoum and likely to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity from the International Criminal Court for the last five years of bloodshed in Darfur.

You’re watching CNN International, and what comes on the screen but Radovan Karadzic, the notorious Bosnian Serb leader, apprehended after 13 years in hiding and about to be hauled to the United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague on war-crimes charges.

Now what, Mr. Bashir?

A) Do you get really nervous at this peek into your future and decide to straighten up, do what the international community has been telling you to do, sign a peace deal and let peacekeeping forces into Darfur?

B) Or do you get only mildly nervous at this peek into your future, figure that you have some options, and decide that since there’s a wanted poster with your face on it, you might as well forget the peace deal and give the Janjaweed even freer rein to attack civilians and maybe even a few relief workers?

The dueling war-crimes cases of July — first Mr. Bashir is told that a prosecutor is seeking a warrant for his arrest on war-crimes charges, and then Mr. Karadzic actually gets arrested in Belgrade, Serbia, in a move that will most likely send him to The Hague — received two very distinct reactions from the international community. The reason may well lie in the two very distinct pathways that Mr. Bashir could choose in our opening puzzle.

Just about everyone except a few übernationalistic Serbs appeared to cheer the arrest of Mr. Karadzic, who was indicted for the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica in which Bosnian Muslim men were singled out for slaughter. But curiously, the request by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, for a warrant for Mr. Bashir’s arrest was greeted with ambivalence among international human rights activists.

“The problem is, it doesn’t stop the war,” said one human rights official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used. Gary Bass, a Princeton professor who wrote a book on the politics of war-crimes tribunals, said human rights advocates were caught in a bind in the Bashir case because they worry that an indicted Mr. Bashir might think he has no option but to continue waging war; if he makes peace, he will still have an indictment hanging over his head and could end up in The Hague.

“From a human rights perspective, what’s more important?” Mr. Bass asks. “Delivering justice for people who’ve been victimized, or preventing future victimization?”

There is a strand of those within the human rights community who say that war-crimes indictments should be used only after a conflict is resolved, because such indictments, they say, can extend the length of a conflict. Advocates of this view point to the case of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the guerrilla group that has been engaged in an armed resistance against the Ugandan government since 1987. During peace negotiations in 2005, the I.C.C. issued arrest warrants for Mr. Kony and his deputies, charging them with crimes against humanity that include murder, rape, sexual slavery and the enlisting of children as combatants.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo met with some human rights advocates before issuing the warrants; the advocates said they urged him not to do it. Mr. Kony’s advisers said they would never surrender unless they were granted immunity from prosecution, but the Ugandan government doesn’t have the power to revoke a war-crimes indictment. A tenuous peace is holding right now in Uganda, but human rights advocates point out that Mr. Kony remains at large — he is believed to be hiding in eastern Congo — and fighting could flare up again at any time.

International justice advocates say the don’t-indict-until-the-conflict-is-over argument is bogus. “The push for justice is getting a bum rap,” said John Norris, executive director at Enough, a group that seeks to end genocide. “What they miss is what an indictment does to change the internal debate. It’s a big thing when the international community stands up and says ‘this guy is reprehensible and we’re not going to do business with him.’ ”

Mr. Norris worked on the Kosovo war for the State Department during the Clinton administration. He said he was in Moscow for negotiations in 1999, while NATO forces were bombing Serbia, when news came that the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, had been indicted for war crimes. Russian negotiators, Mr. Norris said, “saw this indictment as a disaster.”

“They said the war was never going to end,” Mr. Norris said. “Everybody was gnashing their teeth about it.” But, he argues, the indictment didn’t change Mr. Milosevic’s calculations. In fact, it was only a week later that Mr. Milosevic gave in to NATO’s demands and the war ended.

Why? For one thing, Mr. Milosevic had endured a fierce bombing campaign. For another, he believed — rightly — that he had other options. Indeed, it wasn’t until two years after he was indicted, in 2001 — after he had lost elections — that he was forced to surrender to Yugoslav security forces. He was then transferred from a jail in Belgrade to United Nations custody just inside Bosnian territory, and eventually to The Hague, where he died two years ago, his trial incomplete.

Mr. Karadzic’s case is even more striking. After the Bosnian war ended in 1995, he lived as a fugitive for 13 years. It wasn’t until Serbia elected a new government more interested in joining Europe than in nationalism that the authorities arrested the Bosnian Serb leader.

Those cases suggest that one way war-crimes indictments are useful is not so much to obtain justice, but as a tool to help shape the postwar behavior of a country: its new leaders may need a way to re-engage the outside world. In the case of Mr. Karadzic, Serbia’s new leaders realized he was of more use to them as a way to get back into the good graces of Europe.

An indictment also didn’t change the calculations of Charles Taylor, the Liberian president indicted for war crimes in March 2003. But it did play a role in clearing a path for peace, all the same.

Just a few months after he was indicted, Mr. Taylor agreed to a deal that forced him to leave Liberia for what was supposed to be a safe haven in Nigeria. Part of the deal, which Mr. Taylor struck with Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was that he could stay, unarrested, provided he didn’t meddle in West African affairs and wars while in exile.

Prosecutors with the Special Court for Sierra Leone said that Mr. Taylor didn’t keep that promise, and Mr. Obasanjo rescinded Mr. Taylor’s “safe haven.” He was captured while trying to leave Nigeria in 2006, and was eventually carted off to The Hague; meanwhile, in his absence, Liberians had elected a new democratic leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who promised reconciliation.

Professor Bass of Princeton says that while he’s not sure war-crimes indictments are always the way to go in the midst of a conflict, he does think indictments sometimes embolden a country’s opposition, making a despot’s reign more tenuous. “It tells domestic political opponents that maybe the time is right to get rid of you,” he says.

And, he adds, no matter the problems it may create, there’s something to be said for justice.

“Does finding out the truth mean something?” he asks. “For a lot of people — like the Armenians, for instance — it does.”

Brazilian's national dish getting more expensive

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gunman who attacked church hated liberals; bitter that he was jobless

ABC News reports that a gunman opened fire in a Unitarian Universalist church in Tennessee yesterday, killing several people. He was incensed at their stance in support of progressive causes, particularly in support of the LGBT community, and accused liberals of putting him out of work. Reports are that police found 76 shotgun shells on him.

The rise and fall of an American beer

Edward McClelland writes for

I did my heaviest drinking before I turned 21. I had the motivation: I was spinning my wheels in community college. I had the opportunity: My best friend was already losing his hair, so he never got carded. And the gas station in my neighborhood sold a beer I could afford on my $3.35-an-hour video clerk's salary: Falstaff. Twelve stubby brown torpedoes of Fort Wayne water, subtly flavored with hops and barley, packaged in a plastic yellow tray. Under every bottle cap was a rebus ("It's [heart] 2 [bell] [leaf]") that was fun to solve before the first beer, but not worth the trouble by the fifth or sixth.

Falstaff was once the third biggest brewery in America. George Will drank it when he was a teenager, as hard as it is to imagine George Will as a teenager. It even outsold Budweiser in St. Louis. But Falstaff no longer exists. The last bottle was capped in 2005. The only remnant I know of is a faded mural on the East Side of Chicago.

Ever since Budweiser was sold to Belgian brewing monster InBev on Sunday, beer drinkers have been sighing that a piece of Americana has been lost. They've got it all wrong. During its rise to President for Life of Beers, Budweiser ended up crushing dozens of local brands that formed part of this country's colorful drinking heritage.

Imagine the Budweiser Clydesdale team on a cross-country rampage, with a decrepit, tipsy August A. Busch Jr. strapped to the lead horse, wearing a bright red St. Louis Cardinals cowboy hat. Starting on the West Coast, platter-hoofed horses trample a can of Blitz-Weinhard, spewing suds all over the streets of Portland, Ore. Moving south to San Francisco, they stamp on bottles of Lucky Lager. In their hometown of St. Louis, they crash through the wall of a Griesedieck Bros. brewery, rolling hundreds of barrels into the Mississippi. They're seen next in Cincinnati, kicking a Hudepohl taster to death. The Clydesdales' tour of destruction ends in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Busch orders them to urinate in a vat of Piels, cackling that no one will be able to tell the difference.

That's an exaggerated version of what actually happened to American brewing in the decades after World War II. In 1960, there were 175 traditional breweries operating in the United States, most of them producing lagers not much different from Budweiser. As of 2005, there were 21, with Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors supplying 80 percent of the beer sold in taverns and party stores.

"Most of those regional beers that everyone laments were exactly the same kind of beer," says beer historian Maureen Ogle, author of "Ambitious Brew -- The Story of American Beer."

Once a bigger, better-funded brewer invaded their hometowns, small-time beers couldn't compete. They either were bought up by one of the Big Three or disappeared from the shelves.

So if Budweiser was little different from Rheingold, or Utica Club, or Grain Belt, how did it drown those rivals?

From its very inception, Budweiser was a triumph of marketing over quality. Adolphus Busch, the dynasty's founder, called his beer "dot schlop" and drank wine instead. During taste tests, St. Louis drinkers spat it back over the bar. But if the Busches didn't believe in their product, they believed in their business plan. Adolphus bought licenses for tavern keepers and paid their rent. In exchange, they served Budweiser. On one of his frequent visits to Europe, he learned about pasteurization. That, and a fleet of refrigerated railcars, kept the beer fresh on cross-country shipments, allowing Bud to break out of St. Louis.

What really made Bud was television. In the 1950s, Anheuser-Busch was only the fourth largest brewery in the nation. But it sponsored programs by Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle, and paid Frank Sinatra $750,000 for a TV special.

"Television helped make beer a national business and dictated the demise of smaller, regional breweries," wrote Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey in "Under the Influence," their history of Anheuser-Busch.

Then Bud got into sports. Anheuser-Busch bought the St. Louis Cardinals and began slapping its logo onto basketball programs, race cars, baseball caps. Nobody has spent more on Super Bowl advertising than Budweiser, which created the Bud Bowl as a station-break contest between the mother brand and its lite descendant. (It helped that Budweiser goes so well with sports on TV. It's a mild, unchallenging beer that doesn't draw your attention away from the game above the bar. You barely realize you're drinking it.)

During that same period, America was developing a national culture. While earlier generations had spent their entire lives in small towns or ethnic neighborhoods, the World War II vets and their children were moving from city to city. A salesman transferred from Rochester, N.Y., to Dallas couldn't find his hometown Genesee cream ale at the liquor store, so he started drinking a brand he'd seen on TV: Budweiser.

Budweiser is especially popular in the South. Because of the Bible Belt temperance movement, a lack of German immigrants and a hot climate unsuited for brewing, the region developed few indigenous beers. It's also close to St. Louis. Shipping was easy and, until the Braves moved to Atlanta, the Cardinals were Dixie's team.

"The people that live down here are typically very proud of their country," says Kevin Eichelberger, webmaster of Atlanta-based, which sells beer memorabilia. "They're the type of people that use American products, more rural people. Budweiser's kind of a mainstay. It's a good old American tradition, like going to a baseball game or a college football game."

(Indeed, it's such an American icon that when a friend of mine moved back to England, I sent him home with a parody T-shirt that said "Buttweiser: King of Rears.")

But Budweiser's position as America's beer -- the alcoholic version of McDonald's, Disney World and Wal-Mart -- has made it difficult to reach the modern drunk. Traditional-beer sales have been stagnant since the 1990s. The baby boomers graduated from their prime drinking years, and new local beers arose to replace the hometown lagers Bud had helped pour down the drain. In 1980, America had eight craft breweries. A quarter-century later, there are over 1,300. In some cases, they've recaptured regional loyalties. As a young beer drinker in Michigan, I was weaned on Stroh's from my father's refrigerator. After that Detroit brewery went out of business, my dad started expressing his Michigander pride by drinking Bell's Amber, from Kalamazoo. Last week, I was in Duluth, Minn., where I saw the process gone full circle: Fitger's Brewery, which closed in 1972, has been converted to Fitger's Brewhouse, maker of Big Boat oatmeal stout. Then I went on to Wisconsin, where I bought a six-pack of Island wheat, brewed from grain grown on Washington Island.

With the InBev sale, local brewmeisters may have gotten their revenge on Budweiser. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained Anheuser-Busch's weakness by noting that "changing tastes among beer drinkers in the last decade have bedeviled its vaunted marketing and distribution systems."

Anheuser-Busch tried to get into the craft beer market by buying a stake in Red Hook ale. That killed Red Hook's cred with serious beer drinkers, Eichelberger says. Rival Miller had more success with Leinenkugel's, because the beer maintained its Wisconsin roots.

Budweiser is seen as kind of like 'The Man,'" says Eichelberger, a serious student of beer semiotics. "People who want to be anti-establishment, they're more comfortable with Miller."

For the same reason, Pabst Blue Ribbon is the cheap beer of hipsters in the funky-but-not-quite-scary dive bars of our largest cities.

"The only way [Bud] could get there is to drastically drop in sales and then be rediscovered in 20 years as retro Americana," Eichelberger says.

Could that happen? Probably not. Some beer drinkers are promising to stand up for the red, white and blue by switching to Miller or Coors -- but those breweries sold out to foreign companies years ago. And while Bud isn't the most sophisticated beer on the shelf, there are days when a no-bodied lager is the best medicine for a thirst. Like Tuesday. It was 87 degrees here in Chicago, and the lake breezes were stagnant. After Falstaff became hard to find, I confess I turned into the kind of snob who drinks Miller High Life out of an aluminum can. But right then, sex in a canoe would have hit the spot. Now that I was done writing about beer, I went around the corner to the Lighthouse, to watch the All-Star Game and drink ... an Old Style.

Hey, some towns have held on to their swill.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Americans must diet to save their economy

Catherine Brahic, writing for New Scientist.

Want to save the US economy? Go on a diet.

That's the message ecologists are trying to get across this week. They say the apparently looming energy crisis could be averted if US residents cut their calorie intake.

David Pimentel of Cornell University and colleagues have drawn on an extensive body of existing studies to highlight the wastage in the US food production chain. To bring their point home, they have estimated how much energy could be saved by making a few relatively simple changes to the way corn is produced.

Their conclusion is that energy demands could easily be halved. That could stave off the prospect of further rises in the costs of fuel, they say.

To do that, however, would require a considerable change in the average US diet. The average American consumes about 3747 kcal per day compared to the 2000 to 2500 kcal per day recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The 3747 kcal per day figure does not include any junk food consumed.

Producing those daily calories uses the equivalent to 2000 litres of oil per person each year. That accounts for about 19% of US total energy use.
Go veggie

Using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Pimentel estimates that half of the energy used to make food in the US is spent making animal products - meat, dairy and eggs. Farmers must produce crops to feed the animals that eventually provide humans with animal protein.

In 2004, Pimentel estimated 6 kilograms of plant protein are needed to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein. He calculates that if Americans maintained their 3747 kcals per day, but switched to a vegetarian diet, the fossil fuel energy required to generate that diet would be cut by one third.

Reducing their meat intake is not the only way Americans can cut the nation's energy bill. And Pimentel's other suggested change to US eating habits would have the added benefit of cutting the national health bill as well.

In addition to the 3747 kcals, the average American consumes one third of their calories in junk food and Pimentel and colleagues suggest this could be cut by 80% and the total calorie intake be reduced by 30%. That could drastically cut the amount of energy which goes into feeding Americans, as junk food is typically low in calories, but energetically expensive to produce.

For instance, Pimentel calculates that the equivalent of 2100 kcal go into producing a can of diet soda which contains a maximum of 1 kcal. About 1600 kcal go into producing the aluminium can alone.
Efficient farming

Other suggested changes to the food production process range from replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent ones, to using fewer machines, pesticides and fertilisers, and more human power on farms.

Reducing the distance that food is transported could also cut energy costs: food travels 2400 km on average to its consumer in the US. This requires 1.4 times the energy actually contained in the food. Producing food locally would cut the energy expended transporting it by half.

Pimentel estimates that the amount of energy that goes into packaging foods could be halved as well, as could the amount of energy used by agricultural machines.

If his dietary and production measures were implemented, he says, the US food industry would consume half the energy it does. Whether or not the US is ready for these changes remains to be seen.

Journal reference: Human Ecology (DOI: 10.1007/s10745-008-9184-3)

Energy and Fuels - Learn more about the energy crisis in our comprehensive special report.

Immigration: the right to stay home

An Alternet article on immigration by David Bacon discusses the push factors that drive many Latin Americans to the US: Much of today's immigration from Mexico begins with heavily-subsidized U.S. corn. It highlights the fact that while immigration reform in the US is necessary, there is also work to be done with fair trade policies, and international development assistance. This one's a bit long, but I'm posting the whole thing anyway.

Editor's Note [Alternet's editor, not me]:This June in Juxtlahuaca, Mexico -- in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region -- dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to declare their right to stay home. David Bacon is the author of "The Children of NAFTA" (University of California Press, 2004). He sits on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Committee of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.

JUXTLAHUACA, OAXACA, MEXICO -- For almost half a century, migration has been the main fact of social life in hundreds of indigenous towns spread through the hills of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's poorest states. That's made the conditions and rights of migrants the central concern for communities like Santiago de Juxtlahuaca.

Today the right to travel to seek work is a matter of survival. But this June in Juxtlahuaca, in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region, dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to talk about another right, the right to stay home.

In the town's community center two hundred Mixtec, Zapotec and Triqui farmers, and a handful of their relatives working in the U.S., made impassioned speeches asserting this right at the triannual assembly of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB). Hot debates ended in numerous votes. The voices of mothers and fathers arguing over the future of their children, echoed from the cinderblock walls of the cavernous hall.

In Spanish, Mixteco and Triqui, people repeated one phrase over and over: the derecho de no migrar - the right to not migrate. Asserting this right challenges not just inequality and exploitation facing migrants, but the very reasons why people have to migrate to begin with. Indigenous communities are pointing to the need for social change.

About 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca live in the US, 300,000 in California alone, according to Rufino Dominguez, one of FIOB's founders. These men and women come from communities whose economies are totally dependent on migration. The ability to send a son or daughter across the border to the north, to work and send back money, makes the difference between eating chicken or eating salt and tortillas. Migration means not having to manhandle a wooden plough behind an ox, cutting furrows in dry soil for a corn crop that can't be sold for what it cost to plant it. It means that dollars arrive in the mail when kids need shoes to go to school, or when a grandparent needs a doctor.

In Oaxaca the category of extreme poverty encompasses 75 percent of its 3.4 million residents, according to EDUCA, an education and development organization. For more than two decades, under pressure from the World Bank and U.S. loan conditions, the Mexican government has cut spending intended to raise rural incomes. Prices have risen dramatically since price controls and subsidies were eliminated for necessities like gasoline, electricity, bus fares, tortillas, and milk.

Raquel Cruz Manzano, principal of the Formal Primary School in San Pablo Macuiltianguis, a town in the indigenous Zapotec region, says only 900,000 Oaxacans receive organized healthcare, and the illiteracy rate is 21.8%. "The educational level in Oaxaca is 5.8 years," Cruz notes, "against a national average of 7.3 years. The average monthly wage for non-governmental employees is less than 2,000 pesos [about $200] per family [per month], the lowest in the nation. Around 75,000 children have to work in order to survive or to help their families."

"But there are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore," Dominguez asserts. "We come to the U.S. to work because we can't get a price for our product at home. There's no alternative."

Without large scale political change most local communities won't have the resources for productive projects and economic development that could provide a decent living. Towns like Juxtlahuaca, don't even have waste water treatment. Rural communities rely on the same rivers for drinking water that are also used to carry away sewage. "A typical teacher earns about 2200 pesos every two weeks [about $220]," says Jaime Medina, a reporter for Oaxaca's daily Noticias. "From that they have to purchase chalk, pencils and other school supplies for the children,"

Because of its indigenous membership, FIOB campaigns for the rights of migrants in the U.S. who come from those communities. It calls for immigration amnesty and legalization for undocumented migrants. FIOB has also condemned the proposals for guest worker programs. Migrants need the right to work, but "these workers don't have labor rights or benefits," Dominguez charges. "It's like slavery."

At the same time, "we need development that makes migration a choice rather than a necessity -- the right to not migrate," explains Gaspar Rivera Salgado, a professor at UCLA. "Both rights are part of the same solution. We have to change the debate from one in which immigration is presented as a problem to a debate over rights. The real problem is exploitation." But the right to stay home, to not migrate, has to mean more than the right to be poor, the right to go hungry and homeless. Choosing whether to stay home or leave only has meaning if each choice can provide a meaningful future.

In Juxtlahuaca Gaspar Rivera Salgado was elected FIOB's new binational coordinator. His father and mother still live on a ranch half an hour up a dirt road from the main highway, in the tiny town of Santa Cruz Rancho Viejo. There his father Sidronio planted three hundred avocado trees a few years ago, in the hope that someday their fruit would take the place of the corn and beans that were once his staple crop. He's fortunate -- his relatives have water, and a pipe from their spring has kept most of his trees, and those hopes, alive. Fernando, Gaspar's brother, has started growing mushrooms in a FIOB-sponsored project, and even put up a greenhouse for tomatoes. Those projects, they hope, will produce enough money that Fernando won't have to go back to Seattle, where he worked for seven years.

This family perhaps has come close to achieving the derecho de no migrar. For the millions of farmers throughout the indigenous countryside, not migrating means doing something like it. But finding the necessary resources, even for a small number of families and communities, presents FIOB with its biggest challenge. This was the source of the debate at its Juxtlahuaca assembly.

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado says, "we will find the answer to migration in our communities of origin. To make the right to not migrate concrete, we need to organize the forces in our communities, and combine them with the resources and experiences we've accumulated in 16 years of cross-border organizing." Fernando, the greenhouse builder and mushroom farmer, agrees that FIOB has the ability to organize people. "But now we have to take the next step," he urges, "and make concrete changes in peoples' lives."

Organizing FIOB's support base in Oaxaca means more than just making speeches, however. As Fernando Rivera Salgado points out, communities want projects that help raise their income. Over the years FIOB has organized women weavers in Juxtlahuaca, helping them sell their textiles and garments through its chapters in California. It set up a union for rural taxis, both to help farming famiies get from Juxtlahuaca to the tiny towns in the surrounding hills, and to provide jobs for drivers. Artisan co-ops make traditional products, helped by a co-operative loan fund.

The government does have money for loans to start similar projects, but it usually goes to officials who often just pocket it, supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Oaxaca since it was formed in the 1940s. One objective debated at the FIOB assembly was organizing community pressure to win some of these resources. But any government subsidy is viewed with suspicion by activists who know the strings tied to it.

Another concern is the effect of the funding on communities themselves. "Part of our political culture is the use of regalos, or government favors, to buy votes," Gaspar Rivera Salgado explains. "People want regalos, and think an organization is strong because of what it can give. But now people are demanding these results from FIOB, so do we help them or not? And if we do, how can we change the way people think? It's critical that our members see organization as the answer to problems, not a gift from the government or a political party. FIOB members need political education."

Political abstention isn't an option, however, warns Juan Romualdo Gutierrez Cortez. "We aren't the only organization in Oaxaca - there are 600 others. If we don't do it, they will." But for the 16 years of its existence, FIOB has been a crucial part of the political opposition to Oaxaca's PRI government. Gutierrez, a school teacher in Tecomaxtlahuaca, was FIOB's Oaxaca coordinator until he stepped down at the Juxtlahuaca assembly. He is also a leader of Oaxaca's teachers union, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union, and of the Popular Association of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).

In June of 2006 a strike by Section 22 led to a months-long uprising, led by APPO, which sought to remove the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz, and make a basic change in development and economic policy. The uprising was crushed by Federal armed intervention, and dozens of activists were arrested. According to Leoncio Vasquez, an FIOB activist in Fresno, "the lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration from Oaxaca and Mexico, since it closes off our ability to call for any change." This spring teachers again occupied the central plaza, or zocalo, of the state capital, protesting the same conditions that sparked the uprising two years ago.

Gutierrez himself was not jailed during the uprising, although the state issued an order for his detention. But he's been arrested before. In the late 1990s he was elected to the Oaxaca Chamber of Deputies, in an alliance between FIOB and Mexico's leftwing Democratic Revolutionary Party. Following his term in office, Gutierrez was imprisoned by Ruiz' predecessor, Jose Murat, until a binational campaign won his release. His crime, and that of many others filling Oaxaca's jails, was insisting on a new path of economic development that would raise rural living standards, and make migration just an option, rather than an indispensable means of survival.

Despite the fact that APPO wasn't successful in getting rid of Ruiz and the PRI, Gaspar Rivera-Salgado believes that "in Mexico we're very close to getting power in our communities on a local and state level." He points to Gutierrez' election as state deputy, and later as mayor of his hometown San Miguel Tlacotepec. Other municipal presidents, allied with FIOB, have also won office, and activists are beginning to plan a FIOB campaign to elect a Federal deputy.

FIOB delegates agreed that the organization would continue its alliance with the PRD. Nevertheless, that alliance is controversial, partly because of the party's internal disarray. "We know the PRD is caught up in an internal crisis, and there's no real alternative vision on the left," Rivera Salgado says. "But there are no other choices if we want to participate in electoral politics, so we're trying to put forward positive proposals. We're asking people in the PRD to stop fighting over positions, and instead use the resources of the party to organize the community. We can't change things by ourselves. First, we have to reorganize our own base. But then we have to find strategic allies.

"Migration is part of globalization," he emphasizes, "an aspect of state policies that expel people. Creating an alternative to that requires political power. There's no way to avoid that."

Tough love for Israel?

Nicholas Kristof, in a very frank editorial in the NY Times, says the things that few have dared to do in the US.

On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.

After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog,, was flooded with counterarguments — and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously ... until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements. And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution — and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.

Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.

Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.

I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Immigration: "They Work Here, They Live Here, They Stay Here."

Another article from Alternet: In France, a movement to legalize the sans-papiers is afoot. There are striking similarities between this movement, and the issues that undocumented immigrants in the US face. It's also striking that the French seem to be moving forward quite fast for now. However, the previous article demonstrates Nicolas Sarkozy's hostility towards immigrants, and these gains may not be replicated for all immigrant groups.

France has an estimated half-million undocumented immigrants, including many from France's former colonies in Africa. The sans-papiers (literally, "without papers"), as the French call them, lead a shadowy existence, much like their U.S. counterparts. And as U.S. immigrants did in 2006 with rousing mass demonstrations, the French undocumented have recently taken a dramatic step out of the shadows. But the sans-papiers did it in a particularly French way: hundreds of them occupied their workplaces.

The snowflake that led to this snowball of sit-in strikes was a November immigration law, sponsored by the arch-conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, that cracked down on family reunification and ramped up expulsions of unauthorized immigrants. The law also added a pro-business provision permitting migration, and even "regularization" of undocumented workers, in occupations facing labor shortages. The French government followed up with a January notice to businesses in labor-starved sectors, opening the door for employers to apply to local authorities for work permits for workers with false papers whom they had "in good faith." hired. However, for low-level jobs, this provision was limited to migrants from new European Union member countries. Africans could only qualify if they were working in highly skilled occupations such as science or engineering -- but not surprisingly, most Africans in France are concentrated in low-wage service sector jobs.

At that point, African sans-papiers took matters into their own hands. On February 13, Fodie Konté of Mali and eight co-workers at the Grande Armée restaurant in Paris occupied their workplace to demand papers. All nine were members of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), France's largest union federation, and the CGT backed them up. In less than a week, Parisian officials agreed to regularize seven of the nine, with Konté the first to get his papers.

The CGT and Droits Devant!! (Rights Ahead!!), an immigrant rights advocacy group, saw an opportunity and gave the snowball a push. They escorted Konté and his co-workers to meetings and rallies with other undocumented CGT workers, where they declared, "We've started it, it's up to you to follow." Small groups began to do just that. Then on April 15, fifteen new workplaces in Paris and the surrounding region sprouted red CGT flags as several hundred "irregular" workers held sit-ins. At France's Labor Day parade on May 1st, a contingent of several thousand undocumented, most from West African countries such as Mali, Senegal, and Ivory Coast, were the stars.

But local governments were slow to move on their demands, so with only 70 workers regularized one month into the sit-ins, another 200 sans-papiers upped the ante on May 20 by taking over twenty more job sites. Still others have joined the strike since. As of early July, 400 former strikers have received papers (typically one-year permits), and the CGT estimates that 600 are still sitting tight at 41 workplaces.

Restaurants, with their visible locations on main boulevards, are the highest profile strike sites. But strikers are also camping out at businesses in construction, cleaning, security, personal services, and landscaping. Though the movement reportedly includes North Africans, Eastern Europeans, and even Filipinos, its public presence has consisted almost entirely of sub-Saharan Africans, a stunning indication of the degree of racial segregation in immigrant jobs. Strikers are overwhelmingly men, though the female employees of a contract cleaning business, Ma Net, made a splash when they joined the strike on May 26, and groups representing domestics and other women workers began to demonstrate around the same time.

"To Go Around Freely ... "

The sans-papiers came to France by different means. Some overstayed student or tourist visas. Others paid as much as 7,500 euros ($12,000) to a trafficker to travel to the North African coast, clandestinely cross by boat to Spain, and then find their way to France. Strike leader Konté arrived in Paris, his target, two long years after leaving Mali. A set of false papers for 200 euros, and he was ready to look for work.

But opportunities for the undocumented are, for the most part, limited to jobs with the worst pay and working conditions. The French minimum wage is 8.71 euros an hour (almost $13), but strikers tell of working for 3 euros or even less. "With papers, I would get 1,000 euros a month," Issac, a Malian cleaner for the Quick restaurant chain who has been in France eleven years, told Dollars & Sense. "Without papers, I get 300." Even so, he and many others send half their pay home to families who depend on them. Through paycheck withholding, the sans-papiers pay taxes and contribute to the French health care and retirement funds. But "if I get sick, I don't have any right to reimbursement," said Camara, a dishwasher from Mali. He told L'Humanité, the French Communist Party newspaper, how much he wished "to go around freely." "In the evening I don't go out," he said. "When I leave home in the morning, I don't even know if I will get home that night. I avoid some subway stations" that are closely monitored by the police.

When asked how he would reply to the claim that the undocumented are taking jobs from French workers, Issac replied simply, "We are French workers -- just without any rights. Yes, we're citizens, because France owned all of black Africa!" [Editor: many Mexicans face a parallel situation in that large parts of Mexico were annexed by the US.]

Business Allies

The surprise allies in this guerrilla struggle for the right to work are many of the employers. When workers seized the Samsic contract cleaning agency in the Paris suburb of Massy, owner Mehdi Daïri first called the police. When they told him there was nothing they could do, he pragmatically decided to apply for permits for his 300-plus employees. "It's in everybody's best interest," he told Le Monde, the French daily newspaper. "Their action is legitimate. They've been here for years, working, contributing to the social security system, paying taxes, and we're satisfied with their work." He even has his office staff make coffee for the strikers every morning.

Though some businesses have taken a harder line against the strikers, the major business associations have called for massive regularization of their workforces. According to L'Humanité, André Dauguin, president of the hotel operators association, is demanding that 50,000 to100,000 undocumented workers be given papers. Didier Chenet, president of another association of restaurant and hotel enterprises, declared that with 20,000 jobs going unfilled in these sectors, the sans-papiers "are not taking jobs away from other workers."

For the CGT, busy with defensive battles against labor "reforms" such as cutbacks in public employees' pensions, the strike wave represents a step in a new direction. The core of the CGT remains white, native-born French workers. As recently as the 1980s, the Communist Party, to which the CGT was then closely linked, took some controversial anti-immigrant stands. Raymond Chauveau, the general secretary of the CGT's Massy local, acknowledged to Le Monde that some union members still have trouble understanding why the organization has taken up this issue. But he added, "Today, these people are recognized for what they are: workers. They are developing class consciousness. Our role as a union is to show that these people are not outside the world of work." While some immigrant rights groups are critical of the CGT for suddenly stepping into the leadership of a fight other groups had been pursuing for years, it is hard to deny the importance of the labor organization's clout. Half empty or half full?

With only 400 of 1,400 applications for work permits granted four months into the struggle, the CGT is publicly voicing its impatience at the national government's insistence that local authorities make each decision on a case-by-case basis rather than offering broader guidelines. But Chauveau said he is proud that they have compelled the government to accept regularization of Africans in low-end jobs, broadening the opening beyond the intent of the 2007 law. And on its website, the CGT boasted that the sans-papiers "have compelled the government to take its first steps back, when that had seemed impossible since the [May 2007] election of Nicolas Sarkozy." Perhaps even more important for the long term is that class consciousness Chauveau mentioned. This is "a struggle that has changed my life," stated Mamadou Dembia Thiam of Senegal, a security guard who won his work authorization in June. "Before the struggle, I was really very timid. I've changed!" Changes like that seem likely to bring a new burst of energy to the struggling French labor movement.

Marie Kennedy is professor emerita of Community Planning at the University of Massachusetts Boston and visiting professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. Chris Tilly is director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. In addition, Kennedy is a board member of Grassroots International, and Tilly is a Dollars & Sense Associate.

France Offers Europe an 'Inhuman' Model for Immigration

This story comes from Alternet.

rench PM Nicolas Sarkozy wants to use France's turn in the EU's rotating presdiency to "harmonize" European immigration policy.

The French government, which assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Jul. 1, is trying to expand its tough policy against immigration and asylum to all of the EU.

Ahead of assuming the European presidency, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been campaigning for a "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum", which would harmonize countries' policies in both areas.

The pact, already discussed in all European capitals, will be officially presented to the EU Jul. 7 and 8 in the southern French city Cannes.

Sarkozy is urging the EU to adopt "selective immigration" and massive expulsion of undocumented migrants.

In a speech to the Greek parliament early June, Sarkozy said his government did not want "a closed Europe...but nor do we want a Europe that stands by powerless before unchecked waves of immigration."

He said harmonization of national policies was urgent, because Europe "can't at the same time have a common area of free movement of women and men, and have 27 national policies on this issue."

Sarkozy aims to expel 25,000 undocumented migrants per year from France. But human rights groups say this target is putting police under strong pressure, and has led to excesses.

"This policy, based on fulfilling statistics, is incompatible with humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, and has created a dreadful climate," Christophe Deltombe, president of the French humanitarian association Emmaus told IPS.

"Thousands of immigrants, who are perfectly integrated in French society, who work here, have a family and lead a rightful life, live with fear in their bellies, because a control order by the French police can destroy their lives. Why must the French state persecute these people who are useful for our economy and do not provoke a single legal problem, and expel them from our country?"

Thomas Ferenczi, European correspondent of the daily Le Monde, said the policy "violates the freedom of people who have committed no other crime than living illegally in France and in Europe." It also leads to creation of so-called centers of detention, "places where the living conditions are deplorable," Ferenczi said.

On June 21, a Tunisian immigrant detained at the Vincennes center died, apparently of a heart attack. Inmates rioted, and the next day set the center on fire.

"We wanted to know more about him," Koné from the Cote d'Ivoire, who was also detained at the center, told IPS. "He was vomiting blood and his nose was bleeding." After inmates protested, "police fired tear-gas, and then the situation deteriorated."

It was the second blaze at the center in two years.

The Vincennes center has capacity for 140, but the government has confined twice as many in there, according to a report by the Ecumenical Support Service (CIMADE, after its French name), a church group helping refugees and immigrants.

CIMADE points out that an official report Jun. 5 had warned the government that the situation at the center was "untenable".

The report said the Vincennes center had become "by its size and its management mode a symbol of the industrialization of (immigrants) capture and detention." It spoke of "the climate of tension and violence that permanently reigns, where nothing is necessary to set it on fire." The report did not mean that literally, but that is exactly what happened less than three weeks later.

Prime minister François Fillon said immediately after the tragedy that "it will not change government policy. Laws are to be respected, and one shouldn't be on French territory if one does not have the authorization."

Minister for the interior Brice Hortefeux praised the "government's achievements" in expelling immigrants. Two days before the Tunisian detainee died, Hortefeux had announced that "expulsions have increased by 80 percent in the first five months of the year."

The expulsions are "a sign that, conforming to the wishes of our citizens, France is controlling its immigration," he said at a press conference Jun. 19. Hortefeux said French detention centers "are better than most."

France has 31 detention centers for undocumented immigrants. Human rights groups report that suicides, self-mutilations and hunger strikes are common in all of them.

"When people who feel they have committed no crime are handcuffed and led to a prison; when they are threatened with rupture WITH their life, their families, and are threatened with expulsion that they see as an end to life, it's not surprising that we see acts of desperation," CIMADE director Damian Nantes told IPS.

The French now want this to be a model for Europe.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

US Congressional Black Caucus split over menthol cigarettes - Big Tobacco has them in its pocket

The capitalist pigs of Big Tobacco have the US Congressional Black Caucus in their pockets.

And now that they've been bought, they're endangering health for all Americans, including racial minorities, as reported in a New York Times article.

You see, approximately 75% of African Americans choose menthol cigarettes.

The 43 African American members of Congress have long had financial ties to tobacco companies.

And now, there is a bill before Congress that would allow the severely underfunded Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. It specifically exempts menthol cigarettes, which make up 28% of the $70bn American market.

That compromise was, unfortunately, seen as necessary to get the legislation passed. It's a deal with the devil, which severely undermines the intent of the legislation. If passed as is, this would exacerbate existing health disparities, as African Americans would continue to smoke unregulated products.

Among them, some critics have said, was Charles B. Rangel of New York. Although he supported some antitobacco initiatives, until the last few years Mr. Rangel staunchly opposed federal tax increases on tobacco products.

He has said his stand was based on the disproportionate effect of excise taxes on the poor, not because of the thousands of dollars he received in tobacco industry political action committee donations.

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus oppose the menthol exemption. But for representatives of racial minorities that are economically disadvantaged, financial blackmail is very attractive.

Last year, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, donated $50,000 to an endowment Mr. Clyburn established at South Carolina State University, a historically black college.

Henry Waxman, the sponsor of the bill, isn't willing to remove the menthol exemption for fear that it will doom the bill. He says the bill does give the FDA the authority to regulate menthol if it is shown to be harmful, but it is likely that menthol itself isn't harmful. Its pleasant taste might make it easier for teens to get addicted to cigarettes.

The lesson that all people should learn from this is not to bargain with Satan. He may make the deal seem tempting, but he will always write the small print in his favor. Being from an economically disadvantaged group gives Satan a lot of leverage over you, but you have to resist.

Israel reneges on settlement pledge - as it always does

From The Guardian.

An Israeli ministerial committee has approved construction of new homes in a West Bank settlement despite a pledge to the US to stop building on the site, Israeli media reported today.

The committee has given the green light for 20 new homes at Maskiot. Ehud Barak, the defence minister, is expected to authorise construction soon, said Israel Radio. The plans were dropped by Israel in 2006 after pressure from the US.

It is bound to anger the Palestinians and irritate the US, which has called on Israel to halt construction in the settlements as part of the American "road map" for peace in the Middle East.

The 2003 peace plan also called on Palestinians to clamp down on militants who attack Israel.

The Bush administration previously criticised Israeli plans to settle 30 families at Maskiot, a former Israel defence force base, as a breach of Israeli obligations.

Israel has defended the latest move on the grounds that the settlement is not new. The government says it was legally established in 1982, housed an army unit and a school, and has had civilians living there for several years.

Approval has also been granted for construction in areas of East Jerusalem surrounded by large Arab populations but Israel said they are not settlements.

In his visit to Israel this week, Gordon Brown called on the government to freeze building of settlements in the occupied West Bank and withdraw from them.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, warned last month that Jewish settlement building was having a "negative effect" on efforts to reach a peace deal. She was referring to Israeli plans to build 1,300 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, an area of the West Bank that Israel considers part of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have called the settlement plans a systematic policy to destroy the peace process, but Israel has described the new homes as the natural growth of existing communities.

About 260,000 settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. The international court of justice has ruled that Israeli settlements on land captured in the 1967 war are illegal.

Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, yesterday told reporters during a visit to Israel that he would begin working straight away for peace in the Middle East if elected in November.

This is a bit late - Radovan Karadic captured

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Malaysia's inflation hits 26 year high

As reported by Marketwatch, inflation in Malaysia hit 7.7% annualized. The most recent US inflation rate is about 5% annualized, although many say the Consumer Price Index in the US understates inflation.

If inflation rises to the point where ordinary folks can't afford food, starvation and political instability will result. Countries' central banks can increase prevailing interest rates to fight inflation, but that also slows economic growth by making it more expensive to borrow money to invest in businesses.

As an extreme example, Zimbabwe's is experiencing runaway inflation at tens of thousand of percentage points, mainly thanks to Robert Mugabe's incompetence.

Europe Has an Economics Lesson for Obama

Henry Olsen, writing for the notoriously right wing Wall Street Journal, says that Europe's reasonably successful embrace of market-based reforms offers an economics lesson for Barack Obama. Olsen is a Vice President at the even more notorious American Enterprise Institute. It is telling, therefore, that he also says that

They have also come to the recognition that the task of center-left governments is to minimize the negative externalities of market action while using government to more equitably distribute the resulting economic gains. These progressives believe in reforming and guiding, not restricting or reviling, the private sector.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Marketwatch: A study of beer

(Reporters ask Joris Pattyn, a judge for beer competitions, to taste a Budweiser.)

(Pattyn sniffs. He shakes his head slightly and raises his eyebrows.)

(He drinks. He doesn't look too happy.)

(He looks at the camera and shrugs slightly.)

"That's a beer for students getting drunk at the low, low end. It will take hours, but eventually, it will happen."

UK House of Commons report: immigration has damaged community relations in parts of England

The BBC has a story on a House of Commons report that highlights some of the cultural and fiscal stresses that increased immigration creates for native Britons.

Rapid immigration has damaged community relations in parts of England, a report by the Commons communities and local government committee says.

In three areas with high immigration - Peterborough, Burnley, and Barking and Dagenham - community cohesion is among the lowest in the country, the MPs say.

The report said there was "significant public anxiety" over issues such as pressure on public services.

Ministers said action was being taken to minimise the impact of immigration.

'Flawed data'

In their report, Community Cohesion and Migration, the MPs say many migrants make "significant contributions" to local communities - working in the NHS or other public services.

But it said there was "significant public anxiety" in some areas about immigration, which it warned "cannot simply be dismissed as expressions of racist or xenophobic sentiments".

Some concerns arose from "practical concerns" - such as overcrowded accommodation and pressure on public services - such as sharp rises in the numbers of primary school children who do not speak English well.

In the three areas visited, community cohesion - measured by how many people believe those from different backgrounds get along - is among the lowest in England, the report said.

It said public services were under pressure because government funding was being based on "flawed population data".

The committee criticised plans for a levy on migrants' normal visa fees to help fund public services like policing which it said were likely to generate "very little" money.

Press reports suggest it could be only £15m, something the committee says would be "a drop in the ocean".

'Additional pressures'

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "We do think it is right that newcomers are asked to pay a little bit more for public services.

"Actually we propose that the fund should raise tens of millions of pounds every year.

"This vital cash will allow us to channel money quickly to public services wherever there is a short term pressure from migration."

But the committee said it might be unfair, as not all immigrants would pay into the fund. EU citizens and anyone moving within the UK would not have to pay.

Instead the government should "immediately establish a contingency fund capable of responding effectively to the additional pressures which may be put on local government services from migration".

'Negative conclusion'

The Local Government Association has repeatedly called for a £250m contingency fund to be made available for under-pressure councils.

But Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, of the Institute of Public Policy Research, said he was disappointed by the committee's "negative conclusion".

"We're risking turning everything that migrants do into a problem and forgetting that they are dynamically contributing to the local economy and to the country because they are working and paying taxes," he said.

He said only better population figures and a funding system that could respond quickly would "solve the challenges".

For the Conservatives, shadow minister Baroness Warsi said the report was an "indictment" of the problems caused by the government's "failure to control the numbers of migrants coming into this country" and by their "inability to know where migrants are living and to fund local authorities accordingly".

The Conservatives say it shows annual limits on economic migration are needed to ensure communities and public services can cope.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the government was already taking action to manage migration to "maximise the benefits and minimise the impacts".

These included a £50m "cohesion fund" to support councils and extra funding to help manage the "transitional impacts" of migration - such as £10m as for schools experiencing increases in pupil numbers.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

American universities and alumni associations are prostituing themselves to predatory credit card issuers

Actually, it's worse: universities and alumni associations are prostituting their own students. Businessweek has the story. An excerpt:

Schools or alumni groups inclined to curtail their relationships with credit-card issuers may pay a price. That's what happened at Washington State University last year. The alumni group had a contract with MBNA from 1997 to 2007 under which it provided the card company with student contact data. The bank was allowed to conduct at least four direct mailings a year, three telemarketing campaigns, and five on-campus marketing events. On top of payments for alumni accounts, the contract promised the group $3 a year for each student account and 0.4% of all sales charged to student cards. The association stood to earn annual bonuses of $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the number of new accounts opened and the average outstanding balance held on the high-interest cards: The more debt, the more the alumni group stood to gain.

All told, the contract guaranteed the Washington State Alumni Assn. $5 million over 10 years, or $500,000 per year. That's no small amount for a nonprofit whose 2006 revenues totaled $2.4 million.

In 2006, however, state legislators in Washington began grumbling about credit-card marketing to college students. "We realized that this thing was littered with potential issues," says Jud Preece, the alumni association's marketing director. "We were being compensated for student accounts. It could be damaging to the university as a whole."

When it came time to discuss renewing the deal, the group told MBNA's owner, BofA, to remove students from the contract and stopped providing any information on undergrads. Credit-card marketing on campus ended, and the alumni association stopped receiving compensation for student accounts. A new five-year contract assures Washington State alumni only $1.6 million, or $320,000 per year--a 36% cut.

As with all specific contracts, BofA declined to discuss its relationship with Washington State. But two former bank executives say that the contracts become much less valuable without undergraduates. "Banks want the students," says Kerry Policy, who worked on college deals as an assistant vice-president at MBNA from 1998 to 2005. "People usually hold on to their first credit card for a long time."

The article contains a very telling quote:

Penn State's alumni association views the affinity card as a legitimate service and means of raising revenue, says Executive Director Roger Williams. "Credit is not a bad thing," he says. "In fact, you can make an argument that the American way of life is predicated on the generous use of credit."

In Singapore, for example, credit is much more tightly controlled. There is a legal income minimum before someone can be issued a credit card. Commuting long distances in enormous vehicles is the American way, but is completely unsustainable. Is it the same with such easy access to credit?

Others disagree. Creola Johnson, a law professor at Ohio State University who has studied campus credit cards, says: "It is unethical for schools to allow a sophisticated industry to have access to their students, [many of whom] have graduated from high school without any financial education or literacy....The playing field is grossly uneven." Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a liberal nonprofit in Washington, faults schools and alumni groups for failing to use their clout to gain better terms on cards for students. "The agreements allow for special access to undergraduate info and repeated contact to undergrads that may not be good for their well-being," he says.

Craft an immigratino policy based on respect

Leslie Gutterman, a senior rabbi in Providence, connects the experiences of immigrants to those of Jewish Americans in an article in the Providence Journal.

THERE IS A VERY SMALL photograph of my paternal grandfather hanging in my study. It is only one inch both in its height and width. The picture is attached to “Certificate of Citizenship Petition #74446” which states that Jacob Gutterman, age 32, is Polish.

Truth to tell, Jews at that time may have dwelled within the borders of Poland but they were not allowed to be of Poland. They dwelled in small, isolated villages (shtetls) removed from the mainstream of Polish civic and cultural life. Their future was not bright, though who would have predicted that most of the Jews of Poland would be murdered by the Nazis?

Jacob and Ida Gutterman, along with his brothers and their wives, chose the path of immigration that led to U.S. citizenship. Grandpa’s brother Abram stayed in New York City, where he opened the first Jewish mortuary in Manhattan, still known to this day as “Gutterman Funeral Home,” although the business was sold to a conglomerate long ago.

Jacob and his brother Henry moved to Detroit, where Grandpa resumed his livelihood as a tailor. My dad, aunt and uncle were born in a neighborhood whose nearby synagogue and kosher butcher shop were frequented by those who had been my grandparents’ neighbors in the old country.

Grandma and Grandpa never became truly Americanized. They spoke Yiddish at home. My dad (tenderhearted and gentle even as a youngster) was their only child who would answer in their mother tongue rather than English. A family amusement was getting Grandma Gutterman to pronounce correctly the name of the 1939 Republican presidential candidate as Wendell Wilkie and not as she inevitably did — Vendell Vilkie. Dad decided to become a dentist rather than a doctor, so that he could more quickly earn the money needed to put his brother Meyer through medical school.

Such an American story has been rewritten many times with varying ethnic scripts. However, the saga of Jewish immigration has not always been so sanguine. There have also been sorrowful chapters of forced emigration.

In 1940, the population of Warsaw numbered 1.2 million people. By the fall of that year, the Jews of that city were walled into a 3.5-square-mile area. Their numbers were almost one-third of the city’s population because the Nazis forced so many Jews to move into this constricted space. Thirty percent of Warsaw’s population now lived in less than 3 percent of the available space in Warsaw. No wonder that 830,000 men, women and children would soon die of hunger. Some 300,000 Jews were taken to Treblinka on their way to Auschwitz. The remainder were killed, captured or deported when the Germans leveled the city.

Jews have also experienced illegal immigration. Many have read Leon Uris’ novel Exodus. Its main character was played by Paul Newman in the movie version. He was modeled after Yossi Harvel, who died in Tel Aviv this past April at 90.

When he was only 28, Havel became involved in the clandestine effort to smuggle Jews from Europe into Palestine. He ran four ships that held more than 24,000 illegal immigrants into Palestine. The country was then limited by the British white paper of 1939 to 75,000 Jews, only a fraction of those trying to escape from the Nazis. The most famous of Havel’s ships was renamed Exodus 1947. It never made it to its destination.

The sight of British forces boarding the dilapidated ship, killing three and injuring hundreds in a violent clash, was seen as a dramatic symbol of injustice. The ship’s passenger list included 4,553 people (655 of them youngsters) who were mostly Holocaust survivors. Sadly, the British delivered them to an old Nazi SS Camp near Hamburg after the refugees went on a hunger strike for more than three weeks in the sweltering heat of summer.

As it turned out, a special committee of the United Nations was in Palestine at the time. Witnessing this spectacle influenced its decision to support the creation of the State of Israel.

One has to be careful in making facile historical comparisons, but it seems a fair conclusion that there have been, and still are, many unfair, unjust laws and protocols about how to deal with illegal immigration.

In many ways, the Catholic Church has pointed the way to thinking about the thorny issue of illegal immigration in a humane way. Pope Benedict reminded a large audience on “World Day of Migrants and Refugees” that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees when they fled Herod. Benedict emphasized the church’s teaching that every human being is of infinite value by virtue of being created in God’s image. He also reminded his listeners of the Catholic priority of keeping families together. American bishops have lobbied for the family to remain as a single unit. There are immigration restrictions on the books that work against this goal. Thus Cardinal Sean O’Malley stated that “the immigration policy we need in the U.S. must be based on the cornerstone of respect for the dignity of every human person.”

Such a theological stance is politically consequential. As Michael Sean Winter observed, “The pope’s pro-family stance is extremely resonant with Latino voters, many of whom come from families with mixed legal status: A wife with a green card and an undocumented husband, for example, or undocumented parents with citizen children.”

The raid on a factory in New Bedford that tore immigrant families asunder repulsed many at the time. Instead of identifying foreigners with a criminal class intent on threatening the underpinnings of the American economy, let us, at least, keep in mind that we are usually dealing with someone’s mother, father, brother or sister. How would we want another country to treat our own kin regardless of their immigration status? Let us begin a conversation in the public square about the kind of laws that at the very least would ensure a treatment of immigrants that is worthy of America’s best traditions.

On July 25, 1867, a young woman of Sephardic Jewish ancestry signed the visitor’s book at the Touro Synagogue, in Newport. President George Washington many years before had sent a letter to her Great-Uncle Moses Seixas, addressed to the Newport Congregation. It contained this sentence: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens . . . .”

Emma Lazarus became famous because of her sonnet, which was put on a plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. The poem has the title “The New Colossus:”

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,/With conquering links astride from land to land, /Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand/ A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/ Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name/ Mother of Exiles. From her beacon — hand/ Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command/The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. /‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she/ With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, /The wretched refuge of your teeming shore. /Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. /I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ ”

This famous lamp is still lifted aloft along with the aspiration of those who yearn to live in America, who hope that the light of liberty will illumine their path to citizenship as it once did for my grandparents.

Leslie Y. Gutterman is senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El, Providence.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sen. McCain doesn't seem to remember how he voted on birth control

Folks who are pro choice should consider that Sen. McCain is probably not going to be an ally of women's health.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What if gas goes to $10 a gallon?

Remember the what if we threw out all the illegal immigrants article I reposted from MSN Money, the one which got the xenophobe nuts so upset? Well, they did another simulation, this time with gas at $10.

First, do note that gas isn't likely to just shoot up that high without warning. It's going to be $4, maybe $5 this year, but not $10 barring some immense geopolitical disaster.

That said, the economy would be incredibly disrupted. Filling up a Honda Civic would be over $100. People would eat out less, use less plastic, stop using plastic bags, and basically stop flying. Plug in hybrids would strain the current electricity grid, even though they are markedly more efficient than gasoline cars. Folks would recycle compulsively. Many of these things are what we should already be doing.

Additionally, resistance to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the coast would disappear. One poster whose comment I deleted earlier is seemingly very eager to drill all over the place, including in the ANWR.

And in the long run, the economy would adapt. Jobs in the sciences and engineering would boom as efficient and alternative energy technologies came online. Additionally, with increased transport costs, I imagine offshoring production will become less attractive. I obviously don't mean to be protectionist, but it will be good for the US to have more industries start in the country.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Police, roads, buses feel gas pinch

CNN Money has this story about how increasing gas prices are pinching the budgets for many vital American public services.

An excerpt:

Less lucky are city bus departments. That may seem like tough love in a time when high prices are causing more and more people to take public transit. But in Cleveland and other cities across the country, that's exactly what's happening.

"We're planning on laying off some staff and cutting some routes that are poor performers," said Jerry Masek, a spokesman for the Greater Cleveland Regions Transit Authority. "People will still have service, but not as much."

The cuts are necessary because Cleveland has seen it's bus fuel bill go from $5 million a year in 2003 to a projected $21 million in 2008. Out of a total budget of $230 million, that's a lot of cash.

"You just can't absorb that without doing something," said Masek. He didn't know how many bus lines would be cut, and said a combination of fare hikes could spare some neighborhoods.

"[Riders] would rather pay more than loose service," he said. "No matter how much we raise fares, it's still cheaper than driving."

And undoubtedly easier on your car, especially if the road repair crew is in a situation like New Jersey's.

It's not the cost of driving those big dump trucks that's straining the budget at the New Jersey Department of Transportation. It's the price of paving.

What many people don't know is that asphalt is made largely from oil. It's the heavy oil at the bottom of a barrel that can't be refined into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel or other lighter products. And it's risen in price right along with gasoline.

It takes a school, not missiles

Courtesy of Nicholas Kristof, one of those evil liberals at the New York Times.

Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush’s and Greg Mortenson’s.

Mr. Bush has focused on military force and provided more than $10 billion — an extraordinary sum in the foreign-aid world — to the highly unpopular government of President Pervez Musharraf. This approach has failed: the backlash has radicalized Pakistan’s tribal areas so that they now nurture terrorists in ways that they never did before 9/11.

Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana, takes a diametrically opposite approach, and he has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.

The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.

Mr. Mortenson has become a legend in the region, his picture sometimes dangling like a talisman from rearview mirrors, and his work has struck a chord in America as well. His superb book about his schools, “Three Cups of Tea,” came out in 2006 and initially wasn’t reviewed by most major newspapers. Yet propelled by word of mouth, the book became a publishing sensation: it has spent the last 74 weeks on the paperback best-seller list, regularly in the No. 1 spot.

Now Mr. Mortenson is fending off several dozen film offers. “My concern is that a movie might endanger the well-being of our students,” he explains.

Mr. Mortenson found his calling in 1993 after he failed in an attempt to climb K2, a Himalayan peak, and stumbled weakly into a poor Muslim village. The peasants nursed him back to health, and he promised to repay them by building the village a school.

Scrounging the money was a nightmare — his 580 fund-raising letters to prominent people generated one check, from Tom Brokaw — and Mr. Mortenson ended up selling his beloved climbing equipment and car. But when the school was built, he kept going. Now his aid group, the Central Asia Institute, has 74 schools in operation. His focus is educating girls.

To get a school, villagers must provide the land and the labor to assure a local “buy-in,” and so far the Taliban have not bothered his schools. One anti-American mob rampaged through Baharak, Afghanistan, attacking aid groups — but stopped at the school that local people had just built with Mr. Mortenson. “This is our school,” the mob leaders decided, and they left it intact.

Mr. Mortenson has had setbacks, including being kidnapped for eight days in Pakistan’s wild Waziristan region. It would be naïve to think that a few dozen schools will turn the tide in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Still, he notes that the Taliban recruits the poor and illiterate, and he also argues that when women are educated they are more likely to restrain their sons. Five of his teachers are former Taliban, and he says it was their mothers who persuaded them to leave the Taliban; that is one reason he is passionate about educating girls.

So I have this fantasy: Suppose that the United States focused less on blowing things up in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more on working through local aid groups to build schools, simultaneously cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan manufactured exports. There would be no immediate payback, but a better-educated and more economically vibrant Pakistan would probably be more resistant to extremism.

“Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country,” says Mr. Mortenson, who is an Army veteran.

Each Tomahawk missile that the United States fires in Afghanistan costs at least $500,000. That’s enough for local aid groups to build more than 20 schools, and in the long run those schools probably do more to destroy the Taliban.

The Pentagon, which has a much better appreciation for the limits of military power than the Bush administration as a whole, placed large orders for “Three Cups of Tea” and invited Mr. Mortenson to speak.

“I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general, and Afghanistan specifically, is education,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, who works on the Afghan front lines, said in an e-mail in which he raved about Mr. Mortenson’s work. “The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books. ... The thirst for education here is palpable.”

Military force is essential in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. But over time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, the best tonic against militant fundamentalism will be education and economic opportunity.

So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Setting precedent, Exelon plans a huge cut in emissions

Matthew Wald of the NY Times has a story about Exelon, a large utility and operator of nuclear reactors. Given the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, nuclear power must be an option on the table.

Exelon, the electric company based in Chicago, will promise on Tuesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 by an amount larger than its total emissions in 2008, in a bid to shape the debate on carbon dioxide rules and to get a jump on compliance.

Many academic researchers and nonprofit groups have made proposals for cutting emissions, but Exelon’s will be an unusual public presentation devised by a company that hopes to make money in the process. The plan relies heavily on conservation and having existing nuclear plants produce more power, but it includes smaller contributions from wind and sun energy.

The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will come by making Exelon’s operations more efficient, cutting the energy use of its electricity customers and building low-carbon generators that would displace older, less-efficient plants, many operated by rivals, the company said.

One reason for the pledge is to seek credit for actions that cut emissions of other companies, said Exelon’s chairman and chief executive, John W. Rowe.

For example, Exelon plans to help the factories that it serves do the same work with less electricity so that some generating stations, owned by Exelon or others, will burn less fuel. Exelon also wants to build generating stations that use natural gas more efficiently to replace coal plants in the Midwest and East — probably owned by other companies — that emit far more carbon dioxide.

“Dealing with greenhouse gases, while essential, is very costly,” Mr. Rowe said. “If you have an adequate way of accounting for offsets and displacements, we think we can offset our carbon footprint at a reasonable price.”

Some components of the plan, like trying to bolster the output of its nuclear plants, are moves that Exelon would have taken anyway, Mr. Rowe acknowledged. One major step is made financially feasible by changes in the fuel markets: the price of natural gas is now so high that efficient generating stations can be built profitably to replace older plants.

The plan’s biggest components are cutting customers’ use of energy by improving efficiency and increasing the output of existing reactors. Each of those moves would contribute 23 percent to the carbon reductions.

By the company’s calculation, some of those steps save money on a net basis. Some of the improvements would cut costs up to $70 a ton of carbon dioxide saved after expenses. Some of the nuclear changes would earn $60 a ton net of expenses.

Operators of most of the nation’s 103 commercial nuclear reactors have raised output, usually by making small changes to pumps and valves and performing engineering analyses to show that they can safely produce more heat — akin to raising a highway speed limit.

Exelon is counting on this source for about 16 percent of the savings. But it holds open the possibility that it could exceed its goal, and more than half the planned greenhouse gas reductions use this method.

But the plan is remarkable for what it does not emphasize. Despite a national focus on solar and wind power, discussions in Congress about renewed tax credits for investments in windmills and solar systems and debate over a federal requirement for a minimum level of “renewable” energy, Exelon calls for relatively little.

New “renewable” energy, including plants that run on landfill gas or wood or crop waste that can be burned, makes up just 7 percent of the carbon savings. In the region that the company serves in Pennsylvania, where state law requires electricity distributors to buy “renewable energy credits,” it will buy the equivalent of another 6.5 percent.

Sequestering the carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants is not a technology that Exelon thinks will be available by 2020.

In contrast, the plan calls for improving the efficiency of its fossil-powered plants. It also calls for cutting the release of sulfur hexafluoride, a gas that is used to insulate circuit breakers but which is 24,000 times more potent for global warming than carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule.

“This is a mix of things that any sensible person would do, and of things that you only can economically do if the cost of climate are incorporated into the marketplace,” said Mr. Rowe, referring to carbon taxes or limits that require emissions trading.

Exelon’s carbon footprint is relatively small, because it has many nuclear reactors, he said.

Silvio Berlusconi lies about welcoming immigrants

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has issued a bald lie about how his country welcomes immigrants. He's forgotten about the Roma.

The article reports that his government decided to have the Roma fingerprinted - a clear incidence of targeting an ethnic group.

Authorities in Rome are more sensible than he, and have refused to execute the order. The European Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the process. Berlusconi says that somehow, fingerprinting the Roma will ensure that children go to school. He needs a lesson in causality, and he needs to be stopped. How far behind can internment camps be?

In the long run, GM is dead

Rick Wagoner, GM's CEO, announced today a series of actions GM was taking to adapt to the changing North American environment. CNN Money is deeply unimpressed.

* Wagoner expects GM's U.S. market share to level off at 21%, this despite removing about one million units of light truck capacity. A couple of years ago, Wagoner expected GM to be cruising at 30% market share. Given GM's ability to stabilize sales in the past, 21% is surprisingly optimistic.

* Wagoner expects oil to prices to remain in the range of $130 to $150 between now and the end of 2009. A couple of months ago, that would seem outrageous. But since oil prices seem capable of violating the laws of gravity and growing to the sky, even $150 sounds more hopeful than realistic.

* Wagoner expects to improve working capital by $2 billion by tightening up operations, notably by reducing in raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods inventory. This is the Detroit equivalent of balancing the federal budget by cutting pork barrel spending. If it was so easy to do, why hasn't it been done already?

The author called it addressing the symptoms but not the underlying causes.

Long run, GM is dead. It won't go as spectacularly as the US financial system, but it will go.

That will really be a net positive for the nation. The auto companies and the unions have long stalled better fuel standards and long insisted on foisting monster trucks off. The country is paying for that now in a very real way. The environment has long been paying for that in terms of global warming.

At least one of the Big 3 should. That will reduce overcapacity and reduce their now disproportionate political clout. In 10+ years, I would hope that someone has to go into bankruptcy and liquidate. It doesn't really matter which of company goes, and I'm not equipped to speculate on who's most likely to go.

This will not be pleasant for the state of Michigan, which is still heavily dependent on the auto industry. But it has to happen. Anyway, all we really need is for oil prices to stay high, which demand from China and India will do, and for business conditions to keep changing. The auto industry has refused to adapt in the past, so that should be the nail in someone's coffin.