Saturday, August 30, 2008

Boo-fucking-hoo: Sean Combs halts private jet flights over fuel costs

From Yahoo News.

LOS ANGELES - Fuel prices have grounded an unexpected frequent-flyer: Diddy.

Sean "Diddy" Combs complained about the "... too high" price of gas and pleaded for free oil from his "Saudi Arabia brothers and sisters" in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. The hip-hop mogul said he is now flying on commercial airlines instead of in private jets, which Combs said had previously cost him $200,000 and up for a roundtrip between New York and Los Angeles.

"I'm actually flying commercial," Diddy said before walking onto an airplane, sitting in a first-class seat and flashing his boarding pass to the camera. "That's how high gas prices are. I'm at the gate right now. This is really happening, proof gas prices are too high. Tell whoever the next president is we need to bring gas prices down."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A law that could give Big Labor some brawn

Businessweek has an article on the Employee Free Choice Act.

For union advocates, EFCA is the No. 1 legislative priority because they say the current union election system favors employers. Employers have access to workers on the job while unions can only contact them off-site. According to research conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, 91% of employers require employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors during union organizing drives. It also found that when faced with organizing efforts, 30% of employers fire pro-union workers, 49% threaten to close the worksite, and 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.

Other academic studies support these findings. Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor studies education at Cornell University, says employer intimidation to discourage unionization is the norm rather than the exception. "One thing that stands out in the research is how routine this all is," she says. "These elections haven't been free or fair in the 20 years I have studied them. During an organizing drive, the workplace is a totally coercive environment; workers are not making a free choice."

Research shows that fear of employer retaliation is one of the main reasons workers don't join a union, so EFCA's protections could clear the way for more union wins. "There are always eulogies about the labor movement," says Clete Daniel, a Cornell University history professor. "But while it's been battered, the idea of workplace democracy has not been drained of its last ounce of vitality."

Urban farms found in an unlikely setting

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Credit card rage in the US

Businessweek tells how American consumers are infuriated at the egregious tactics of US credit card issuers. Congress is likely to push back, and that's a good thing.

Venting Rage

"Something needs to be changed to keep credit-card companies from taking advantage of people," consumer Paul Wolcott posted to the Fed comment board. Another cardholder, Cleve Prince, wrote that his credit-card debt drove him to the brink: "Credit-card companies had increased my interest rates on each one of my cards so that my only recourse was to file for bankruptcy."

Consumer advocacy organizations encouraged their members to use the public comment period as a forum to air their grievances and push for change. Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer-rights organization, encouraged its members to write in. The group set a goal of generating 10,000 comments. "Look how many people agree," says Mark Hickney, a small business owner from Dallas.

Of course, not everyone agrees. The five largest credit-card issuing banks say that as much as consumer may enjoy lashing out, they're likely to regret the end result of the rule changes. The new regulations will curtail their ability to "price for risk," the banks say: By being able to change the rates they charge cardholders based on payment history, outstanding debt, and credit score, banks can price in the risk that each individual consumer won't be able to pay off his debt. The alternative is to cut back on low-interest offers for all cardholders, the banks say.
Banks Call Rules Misguided

"We have very real concerns that the proposal will result in higher costs for cardholders across the board," says Peter Garuccio, a spokesman for the American Bankers Assn. (ABA). If the Fed rules rob them of the right to price for risk, all consumers will suffer with higher rates overall and worse teaser rates.

In a response posted to the Fed's Web site, Bank of America, the nation's largest credit-card issuing company, summarized the industry's attitude toward the new rules: "We believe the practices the agencies are mandating are far from ideal, from the perspective of consumers, banks, and the financial system as a whole." Bank representatives held a series of private meetings with the Fed and the ABA. According to notes from the meeting on the Fed site, industry officials reiterated that risk-based pricing actually keeps rates down overall for the majority of consumers.

Consumer groups counter that the rule changes are fairly minor compared with the reforms they would like to see.

Once the 75-day comment period ends, the Fed will decide what rules to approve. Sandra F. Braunstein, who heads the Fed's consumer and community affairs division, told congressional lawmakers in April that she thought the proposal would be hammered out and finalized by the end of the year.

Racist party secures record Swiss vote

The anti-immigration nutcases are also at work in Switzerland.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party has won the most votes ever recorded in a general election in Switzerland after mounting a virulent anti-foreigner campaign widely denounced as racist.

The SVP, led by the controversial billionaire and Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, 67, won 29 per cent of the vote in Sunday's general election and seven extra seats in the national parliament.

The final result published yesterday by Switzerland's Federal Statistics Office firmly secured the controversial SVP's position as the largest party in the Swiss parliament. "We have reached the highest score in the history of Switzerland's present day electoral system," said Ueli Maurer, the SVP party president after the result.

Mr Blocher's populist campaign was dominated by the single issue of immigration. His party's election posters featured three white sheep standing on a red and white Swiss national flag kicking a black sheep out of the country. Alongside ran the slogan "More Security!"

The notorious posters, which were part of the party's campaign to deport foreign criminal offenders, were denounced as "openly racist" by the United Nations. They prompted widespread media criticism and sparked violent anti-SVP demonstrations in the Swiss capital Bern this month.

Sunday's election was a disaster for the left-of-centre Social Democrats, the country's second largest party which was accused of failing to offer voters a convincing alternative to Mr Blocher's nationalist anti-Europe and anti-foreigner brand of politics.

The Social Democrats' share of the vote dropped by four per cent losing the party nine seats in the national parliament. However the environmentalist Greens won an extra six seats and just fell short of securing 10 per cent of the vote.

Stunned by international criticism of the SVP's campaign, reaction to the party's sizeable electoral gains was muted yesterday. The leaders of the country's four main parties said they were committed to retaining the system of consensus politics which ensures that no party can obtain an absolute majority.

Surprisingly the poll resulted in the election of the first black member of the Swiss parliament: Ricardo Lumengo, a Social Democrat who was born in Angola, entered the country as an asylum seeker in the 1980s and subsequently became a Swiss citizen.

The SVP's campaign caused considerable unease in Switzerland's large immigrant community. Over twenty per cent of the country's population is made up of foreigners. However the anti-foreigner rhetoric clearly appealed to voters, particularly in Switzerland's rural districts.

Mr Blocher, who led a campaign to keep Switzerland out of the European Union in 1992, denied that the posters were racist. His party claimed to have collected more than 200,000 signatures in support of deporting criminal foreigners from the country. The party also wants to enforce a ban on the building of minarets.

Average American taxpayers subsidizing fat cats

MSN Money describes how American tax law essentially has average taxpayers subsidizing CEOs, mainly through favorable tax treatment of stock options. These tend to be issued in large chunks to CEOs, allegedly to incentivize them to improve the business (although in fact they're not the best way to do that).

By far the biggest tax break on CEO pay comes from a stock-option rules. Companies get huge tax breaks for lavishing giant stock-option awards on execs.

Here's how this works. When a company issues options, it writes off an expense right away based on their estimated value. When options are cashed in, companies deduct the profits earned by the execs.

There's never a cash outlay from the company, but exercising options creates more stock, which dilutes earnings and dividends, lowering the value of existing stock.

The real cost is borne by shareholders, but the tax savings go to the company. And executives benefit because the rule makes it easier for companies to dole out rich options packages. (This rule applies to options earned by the rank and file as well, but those grants are much smaller.)

The numbers are huge. Applying the standard 35% tax rate to the $543 million that Ellison realized from options this year, the company could save $190 million by declaring most of his profits as a write-off, estimates Albert Meyer, a money manager at Bastiat Capital and an outspoken critic of excessive use of stock options.

By the same math, IAC would have saved $64 million on the $183 million that Diller realized in 2007 by cashing in options. And Countrywide would have saved more than $42 million on the $121.5 million that Mozilo got last year by cashing in options.

The Institute for Policy Studies estimates companies save about $10 billion a year in taxes from this rule. But the amount may be much higher. In response to queries from Levin last year, the Internal Revenue Service estimated the difference between what companies booked as an expense on options in 2005 and how much employees profited was $61 billion. Assuming a 35% tax rate for companies, the tax break would have been worth $21.3 billion.

In addition, as outrageous as it sounds, companies can deduct from their income (when figuring taxes) any amount of executive pay. And while the average worker is limited to a $15,500 contribution to their 401(k) and/or a $5,000 contribution to an IRA (smaller companies may not have 401ks), executives can essentially accumulate unlimited deferred compensation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tyler Cowen: Finding the mess behind the mess

Economics Professor Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University in the US, writes an op-ed for the NY Times on the US banking crisis.

His diagnosis: "The fundamental problem in the American economy is that, for years, people treated rising asset prices as a substitute for personal savings."

The need to save more sharpens a number of interrelated secondary problems. First, America is aging. More people than ever are entering the years when they stop saving and start spending their nest eggs. That means the transition to higher-than-expected savings may be drawn out and painful.

The second problem is that the American economy is enduring a credit crisis, with many banks trying to raise more capital and make fewer loans. Savings are good for the economy when they lead to investment, but there is no guarantee that financial institutions will be allocating capital efficiently.

The third problem is that lower consumer spending will require the American economy to make some shifts. That may mean fewer Starbucks and fewer new homes but more tractor production for export to foreign markets. In the long run, shifting some consumption to investment is probably beneficial to the economy; in the short run it means job losses and costly readjustments.

In addition, there are still excess homes on the market, and housing prices need to fall further. Of course, such price declines can make banks less solvent and thus worsen the credit crisis. And politicians would like to moderate this fall in prices, again prolonging the adjustment process.

His prescription:
What should policy makers do? One path that is likely to prove counterproductive is further fiscal stimulus in the form of tax rebates. Such stimulus can raise consumer spending and bolster the economy in the short run, but it works — if it works at all — only by pushing consumers to spend rather than to save. It merely postpones needed adjustments by providing a grab bag of goodies at exactly the wrong time.

Excessive bank regulation is another danger. To be sure, the regulatory structure for financial institutions failed in the current crisis, and change is in order. But we shouldn’t reform in a way that will discourage bank lending and weaken the tie between savings and investment. Banks are already allergic to very risky mortgages — probably excessively so — and we shouldn’t overreact by punishing them for past mistakes.

In other words, regulatory reform needs to be forward-looking rather than focused on penance. Given that politics often revolves around assigning blame, it’s not obvious that we will succeed in this task.

Emerging from the current slowdown isn’t just a matter of political will or smart central banking. If the recipe for success requires smooth adjustment into new growth sectors, more savings from disposable income, cleaning up the housing mess, well-functioning energy markets, and more effective financial intermediation — all in the right combinations and in the right sequences — neither the government nor the Federal Reserve can control this process. The Fed can add regulatory and monetary clarity, but there isn’t any magic bullet. Beware of anyone who tells you there is.

The Japanese failed to break out of their recession quickly because they didn’t promptly close down or clean up their problem banks. So far, the Fed and other regulators show no signs of making this mistake; they have been vigilant in resolving crises as they occur. But that’s not enough to guarantee a successful transition. The American economy will be tested for its deftness — and the test will be difficult precisely because there isn’t a single enemy on which to focus.

HAVE you ever tried to undo a bunch of tangled wires or cords? If you don’t pull on the right wires in the right order, the mess becomes worse. If you pull too hard, the whole thing can break. But if your first pulls are good ones, the untangling becomes easier with each move.

This is allegedly a blog about religion, so here's the mandatory religion bit: the "regulatory reform needs to be forward-looking rather than focused on penance" bit is linked to the Christian principle of turn the other cheek, applied to public policy.

Mexico City struggles with abortion

In most of Latin America, abortion is illegal in most or all cases.

Rich women can fly elsewhere.

It is poor women who are in jeopardy, as they go to illegal clinics. Having an abortion by an unskilled practitioner can place their health in jeopardy.

As the NY Times reports, Mexico City recently legalized abortion. However, 85% of the gynecologists in the city's public hospitals declared themselves conscientious objectors, the conservative Federal government has challenged them in court, and abortions have been in practice very difficult to obtain.

Alejandra, 24, who works for the city’s women’s institute, said that when she went to get an abortion last year at a public hospital, a social worker there told her that she would need to pay for her own ultrasound, which is supposed to be free, and that she would need to be accompanied by a family member. Scared off by the description of the risks and the procedure, she fled the hospital.

She ended up taking pills to induce an abortion, without seeing a doctor, and developed a serious infection. She asked that only her first name be used because she said she recently received a death threat for speaking at a city event celebrating the new law. Another woman, a 27-year-old high school literature teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her friends told her that they were treated like prostitutes at public hospitals. She also took abortion pills but said they were ineffective, requiring her to visit a doctor to complete her abortion.

To speed up treatment, officials are moving low-risk abortions out of overworked public hospitals into three smaller public clinics, based in part on models in Britain and the United States. The smaller staffs there should be more supportive, they hope.

Contraceptives are apparently legal. One doctor quoted in the text objected to abortions. She said that women were irresponsible not to use contraceptives. Of course, poor women may face barriers that make it impossible to use contraceptives.

Another gynecologist quoted said the following:

Those who have chosen to perform abortions say it has not been easy. Dr. Laura García was the only one of 13 gynecologists at her hospital who agreed to offer abortions last year. Some days, she says, she performs as many as seven or eight surgical abortions.

“I became a warrior there defending my convictions,” said Dr. García, who moved to a new hospital in May where the city plans to have abortions performed for minors.

She said she had been insulted by colleagues and chased down the street by abortion opponents. But she said that having witnessed what happened to women before abortion became legal — she saw cases of septic shock and uncontrolled bleeding from botched abortions — helped her continue her work.

“I am contributing to rescuing women’s rights,” Dr. García said. “In Mexico, women have always been marginalized.”

She added: “I am a Catholic, but I have convictions. I don’t think I’m going to hell. If I go, it will be for something else.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Freedom = happiness

Earlier, I posted a slideshow of the world's happiest countries, as listed by the World Values Survey conducted at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Businessweek has another article on the survey.

It's Not Just About Money

Generally, a rising global sense of freedom in the last quarter-century has eclipsed the contribution of pure economic development to happiness, he says. This is especially evident in developed countries with stable economies, where the freedom of choice gained through wealth has made people happier—not necessarily the wealth itself.

What's more, "there are diminishing returns to economic progress," Inglehart says. In poorer countries, happiness can be linked to solidarity among tight-knit communities, religious conviction, and patriotism, which probably explains the happiness of some relatively poor Latin American countries, he says.

Social tolerance is another important factor in how happy a country rates itself. Over the last quarter-century, growing gender equality and acceptance of minorities and homosexuals has played a major role in those European countries found to be the most content. No. 7-ranked Switzerland, for instance, has elected two women as head of state in the last 10 years, while No. 4-ranked Iceland has recently passed laws guaranteeing virtually all the same rights to gay couples that married couples enjoy. "The less threatened people feel, the more tolerant they are," says Inglehart. Tolerance simply has a rippling effect that makes people happier.
Gratitude Improves Attitude

While Inglehart does not profess to know the true secrets of happiness, he says that this most recent study has made the picture a bit clearer. In his opinion, benevolence and expressions of gratitude appear to be subtle but powerful ways to bring happiness into one's life and to extend it. Religion and solidarity in the community play a big role in this, he says, but any positive belief system can help. "Latin America seems to understand this," he says.

"In the old days I would have told you to work hard and save your money," says Inglehart. "It's different today. I just haven't nailed it down yet."

This offers a whole lot of important lessons for many people.

NY Times: Obama: a free-market loving, big spending, fiscally conservative wealth redistributionist

The Times has an article on Barack Obama's economic views, which are both liberal and pragmatic.

The article is 8 pages long.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Facing an increasing number of refugees, Italy's right-wing government cracks down

An Associated Press article

ROME (AFP) — Nearly 900 would-be immigrants have arrived on Italian shores in the last two days, putting new pressure on an already overcrowded processing centre, a coastguard spokesman told AFP on Friday.

The coastguard rescued some 480 people on Friday after they were spotted near the island of Lampedusa, a speck of land 100 nautical miles from Tunisia and 200 miles from Libya, the embarkation point for most of the boat people.

Another 42 arrived on their own, the day after 355 Eritreans disembarked on the Mediterranean island, the southernmost piece of Italian territory.

Nearly 1,600 people are crowded into Lampedusa's processing centre, built to accommodate 850 people, Lampedusa Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis told the ANSA news agency, adding that some 250 would be transferred to other centres in Italy on Friday. "The situation is getting dire," he said.

Arrivals topped 15,000 in the first seven months of the year, nearly double the figure for the same period in 2007, according to the interior ministry.

Most risk their lives in rickety, overcrowded boats in the hope of finding a better life in Europe.

Italy's right-wing government, which took office in May, wants to double the number of centres for immigrants across Italy from 10 to 20. It is also renaming them, calling them "centres for identification and expulsion."

In addition, legislation is pending to extend the allowed detention period from two months to 18 -- an EU-wide norm.

The laws, which would also make illegal immigration a custodial offence punishable by between six months and four years in jail, are opposed by the Italian left, Roman Catholic groups and human rights organisations.

The usual stay in Lampedusa is 72 hours before migrants are transferred.

Seventy air force troops have been added to back up paramilitary police who patrol inside the Lampedusa facility. They are part of a 1,000-strong military force being deployed at immigration centres as the government -- which has linked illegal immigration with crime -- moves to boost security.

In July, the government also extended a state of emergency in effect in the vulnerable south -- closest to north African shores -- to the entire country, because of a "persistent and exceptional influx" of illegal immigrants.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The ethics of protesting

Bruce Weinstein, writing for Businessweek, gives a quick primer on protesting ethically.

RI bishop wants US to halt mass immigration raids

By Ray Henry for the Associated Press.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's Roman Catholic bishop is calling on U.S. authorities to halt mass immigration raids and says agents who refuse to participate in such raids on moral grounds deserve to be treated as conscientious objectors.

Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin asked for a blanket moratorium on immigration raids in Rhode Island until the nation adopts comprehensive immigration reform. Tobin made the requests in a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston.

The letter was sent Tuesday and publicly released Thursday.

"We often ask, 'What would Jesus do?'" Tobin said in an interview Thursday. "I know for sure what Jesus would not do, would be to sweep into a community, gather up large numbers of people, separate them from one another and deport them to another country. In my own mind, in my own conscience, that's crystal clear: Jesus would not do that."

Tobin's action comes during a heated debate over illegal immigration in heavily Catholic Rhode Island. Authorities recently raided six courthouses looking for illegal immigrant maintenance workers and Gov. Don Carcieri, himself a Catholic, signed an order requiring state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation.

"We believe that raids on the immigrant community are unjust, unnecessary, and counterproductive," the bishop's letter says. It urges individual federal agents to consider the morality of their actions and refuse to participate if their conscience dictates.

In such cases, he said, "we urge the Federal Government to fully respect the well-founded principles of conscientious objection."

ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency respects Tobin but believes his diocese "would be better served by helping individuals to comply with the law or working to change those laws rather than asking law enforcement agents not to enforce it."

Carcieri questioned Tobin's logic during an interview on WPRO-AM.

"If you choose to become a law enforcement officer, you swear to uphold the laws of the state and the nation," Carcieri said. "That's what you do. You don't want to do that, then don't become a law enforcement officer."

ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier said she did not know if any ICE agents have asked to be excused from participating in raids on moral grounds.

Roman Catholic and other religious leaders have repeatedly criticized immigration raids that target migrant workers, rather than illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

Tobin's request is unusual because it suggests the raids are forcing immigration agents to choose between their jobs and their religious faith.

Tobin is bishop of the Diocese of Providence, which covers the entire state. Some 60 percent of Rhode Island residents call themselves Roman Catholic, a higher percentage than any other state.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called U.S. immigration policies "morally unacceptable," saying they keep families divided and encourage the exploitation of migrants.

While the bishops' conference has said the federal government has a right to launch raids, it believes they are often counterproductive, said Kevin Appleby, director of the conference's Office of Migration and Refugee Policy.

He said Tobin's letter is unique because it asks that ICE agents be excused from raids on religious or moral grounds.

"I think it's an interesting idea because, from our reports, a lot of these raids have really impacted families and individuals and really terrorized communities," Appleby said. "It should be logical that some agents think that tactic is too harsh and might not want to participate."

Tobin said he decided to write the letter after hearing about the plight of suspected illegal immigrants arrested during raids in June and July.

The July raid on the Rhode Island courthouses occurred as Tobin was attending the first meeting of a panel charged with monitoring the implementation of Carcieri's crackdown on illegal immigrants.

As the illegal immigrants were being arrested, the state police superintendent assured Tobin and other clergy that his officers would not launch immigration raids. State police later said they were just assisting in a federal investigation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Working Class or Upper Crust, Tacos for All in the Hamptons

Julia Moskin, writing for the New York Times, has a very interesting article highlighting the intersection of immigration and restaurant menus, with spicy Latin American food provoking some tension from White Americans. I've posted the full article.

WHEN Bruce Damark took over his family’s deli in 2000, he didn’t realize how bitter plantains and empanadas would taste to his neighbors.

Small food businesses like Damark’s have always struggled in Long Island’s beach towns, with too many customers in the summer, too few in the winter. And Mr. Damark found he had a new problem: the women who worked at the counter were openly hostile to the increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking customers, he said, sending them to the back of the line and pretending not to understand their orders.

“Just about then, it seemed like the entire population of Cuenca, in Ecuador, moved to East Hampton,” he said. “I decided to see it as a market to be served.” Mr. Damark hired Julia Sangurima, a woman from Cuenca who is still in charge of the kitchen, to begin making food that would bring in Latino customers. “I make the food from my home, but so that everyone will like it,” she said. That means guisado de puerco (pork stew), frijolitos con carne (red beans with meat), and traditional Ecuadorean breakfast food like mote pillo, chewy dried hominy scrambled with eggs and peppers.

Not everyone did like it. “I immediately heard about it from the Bonackers,” Mr. Damark said, using a local term for the full-time residents of the East End of Long Island, many with roots that go back generations in the sandy soil. “They said that if I started giving the Latinos their food, they would never leave.”

Although Ms. Sangurima’s mote pillo is surely not the only cause, the year-round Latin American population of the Hamptons has multiplied many times in the last 10 years.

And since authentic Latin food like Ms. Sangurima’s arrived in the Hamptons, there are now places where drivers of Range Rovers line up on Sunday afternoons with irrigation workers in ranchero belts, waiting their turn for bottles of Corona and tacos de barbacoa de borrego.

When Mr. Damark’s grandparents opened their store, in 1949, they sold fried-egg sandwiches, quarts of milk and brown-bag lunches of fried chicken and lobster rolls. Since then the Hamptons have evolved from farming and fishing villages sprinkled with a few old-money estates into a string of high-gloss beach towns. In midsummer the place resembles an oddly composed sandwich: a thick slice of wealthy summer people who come to play, another thick slice of Latin Americans who come to work, and a thin filling of year-rounders, mostly white and working-class, in the middle.

After Sept. 11, 2001, it became more difficult for the summer workforce of landscapers, carpenters, cashiers and housekeepers to move between their home countries and the United States.

Now, many have settled here full-time with their families, finding relatively affordable housing in nearby towns like Riverhead and Hampton Bays. They are the loyal patrons and, increasingly, the owners of the Latin restaurants on the East End.

“It’s not so hard to cook for both kinds of people,” said Juan Hernandez, an owner of La Hacienda, a restaurant in Southampton. La Hacienda has two menus, one a printed, rather dull English listing of hard tacos and burritos; the other a series of photographs hanging over the counter of Guadalajaran specialties like birria, a beef stew spiked with cinnamon, clove and chili; and torta ahogada, a sandwich on crusty bread (“Like a French bâtard,” he said), drowned in deeply spicy tomato sauce and covered with crunchy rings of raw onion and oregano leaves.

“The Americans are always only worried that it will be too spicy,” he said. “But I always tell the truth, and I always offer a taste. And then they come back.”

At La Fondita, in Amagansett, the chef Juan Geronimo has resisted adding Americanized Mexican food like hard tacos, and makes his own chorizo sausage and four different sauces from scratch every day. (Mr. Geronimo is from Acapulco and the restaurant is owned by the partners in Nick and Toni’s, a casual upscale restaurant in East Hampton that grows some of its own produce, including tomatillos and cilantro for La Fondita.)

“I don’t believe in just putting the same hot sauce, like Cholula or Tapatío, on everything,” he said. Fish calls for a more acidic flavor, like that of tomatillos. Chicken is good with the suaveness of pumpkin seeds. Red meat responds to the depth of smoked chipotles. Onion, garlic and tomatoes are the common undertones to his sauces, which make the simple food here bright and savory.

Hector Maldonado, a regular at La Fondita and a native of Puebla, Mexico, who was pumping out a rain-flooded fairway on the Maidstone Club’s golf course in East Hampton, offered a history of the taco in the Hamptons.

“Ten years ago, we had to go all the way to Patchogue,” over an hour away, he said. “Now the tacos right in Amagansett are pretty much like at home.”

The customers are almost all Hispanic at Chiquita Latina, a bakery and grocery store that offers a daily hot lunch of “comida Latina” — a blend of cuisines that doesn’t exist in Latin America, but will satisfy anyone fond of plantains and corn, rice and beans, pork and chilies, cilantro and cumin. (The daily guisados, stews, and fresh pan de bono, cheese rolls, are excellent.)

“We passed this place for years and never went in,” said Ryan Donohue, a lawyer in Manhattan who was having dinner with his two children at Enramada, a Colombian restaurant on the highway near Southampton. Mr. Donohue was eating a strip steak with green chili and cilantro sauce; his 8-year-old, Ella, was gnawing on a piece of chicharrón, fried pork skin.

“The restaurants out here are not worth the money, compared to the food you get in the city,” he said. “In July we started coming here for rice and beans and flan, and now we eat the whole menu.”

Colombian food is well represented in the Hamptons. Brasa y Sabor is known for its roast chickens, and there is a tiny freezer with luscious homemade ice-cream pops flavored with guanábana, passion fruit and coconut.

“There are many, many more Latinos here than when we opened” in 2003, said an owner, Robert Gonzales, who sells both staples and treats like dulce de leche, guava-stuffed pastries and Chupa Chups lollipops. “But you will never be able to count them.”

Colombians, Ecuadoreans and Mexicans make up the largest immigrant groups, with smaller communities from Venezuela, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“We need a serious study, because the census tells you nothing about the undocumented population,” said Isabel Sepúlveda-de Scanlon, the publisher of Voz Latina, a bilingual monthly newspaper for the local Latino community. She came to the East End from Santiago, Chile, in 1991 and found work as a waitress.

“I know that the preschool in my town is 50 percent Latino,” she said. “That will tell you the direction things are going.”

Bruce Damark, meanwhile, plans to expand Damark’s and has arrived at a working formula.

“Now I keep the menu 60-40, 60 percent American and 40 percent Hispanic,” he said. “Everyone is getting along just fine.”

A Latino Sampler

These businesses may keep limited hours outside the summer months; it is best to call.

BRASA Y SABOR 622 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, (631) 267-2227.

CHIQUITA LATINA 480 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, (631) 329-6624.

DAMARK’S DELI 331 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton, (631) 324-0691.

ENRAMADA 450B County Road 39, Southampton, (631) 259-8999.

LA FONDITA (open May-October), 74 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, (631) 267-8800.

LA HACIENDA 48 Jagger Lane, Southampton, (631) 287-6814.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“The Bishop of the Poor”: Paraguay’s New President Fernando Lugo Ends 62 Years of Conservative Rule

Democracy Now has a report on Paraguay's new President.

A former priest known as the “Bishop of the Poor,” Fernando Lugo is the first Paraguayan president since 1946 not to be from the conservative Colorado Party. He has pledged to give land to the landless and fight corruption. We speak to Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American History at NYU. [This link is an MP3]

In one of his first acts in office, Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, has appointed an Indian woman to be minister of indigenous affairs. Margarita Mbywangi is a 46-year-old Ache tribal chief who was captured in the jungle as a girl and sold into forced labor several times with the families of large land owners. She spent the early part of her career as an activist defending her people’s land. Her appointment makes her the first indigenous person to oversee ethnic Indian affairs in Paraguay.

President Fernando Lugo formally named her to his Cabinet on Monday as he began setting up his government following his inauguration on Friday. A former priest known as the “Bishop of the Poor,” Lugo is the first Paraguayan president since 1946 not to be from the conservative Colorado Party. He has pledged to give land to the landless and fight corruption.

He is also the first bishop ever to become president of a country. Lugo says he was influenced by the liberation theology of the ’60s. Both Paraguay and the Vatican ban clergy from seeking political office, so Lugo resigned in December 2006. He said he would not marry during his five-year mandate. His sister will therefore act as the country’s first lady.

On Saturday, Lugo traveled to San Pedro, the province where he spent 11 years as bishop. He was accompanied by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who has promised to provide Paraguay with a steady supply of fuel. Appearing on stage together, Chavez gave Lugo a replica of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar’s sword. Brandishing the sword in his hand, Lugo pledged to fight for justice and end corruption.

Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU and author of “Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.”

Illegal immigrant crackdown may threaten America's health, some doctors say

By KRISTIN COLLINS | Raleigh News and Observer/GNS
Posted on the Chicago Sun Times.

Doctors say a growing fervor over illegal immigration may scare illegal immigrants away from seeking health care and create a public health threat.

A recent case in Alamance County, N.C. -- in which medical records may have been used to help prosecute a library worker who was in the country illegally -- has prompted many to speak out about what they see as an unprecedented breach of trust between doctor and patient.

"Whether you're legal or illegal, it's always been assumed that your medical information is private and can't be used against you," said Dr. Christopher Snyder III of Concord, president of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians. "The doctor-patient relationship is sacred, and I'm not sure that has really been challenged until now. We're in uncharted territory."

Snyder was among several doctors who said that if patients become afraid to seek care, infectious diseases could spread, infant mortality could rise and emergency costs could increase.

Immigrants have high rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and often do not have health insurance. Public-health clinics, along with some private ones, provide basic care that doctors say is key to maintaining the health of the broader community, offering prenatal care, immunizations and screening, and treatment for contagious diseases.

Pam Silberman, president of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, which studies health-care issues, said it is not in the public interest to build more obstacles to immigrant health care.

"If they cough on somebody and they have tuberculosis," Silberman said, "that doesn't stop with them."

Strict federal laws prohibit the release of medical records in most cases. But records can be released on the order of a judge, which is what happened in the case of the library worker.

Alamance County Health Director Barry Bass said that during a recent State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into his health department, a judge ordered him to release the records of about five patients, one of whom was library worker Marxavi Angel Martinez.

Martinez, who had been brought to North Carolina by her parents when she was a toddler, now faces federal felony charges for using the Social Security number of a dead person.

Chris Hoke, a lawyer with the state Division of Public Health, said judges frequently order the release of medical records in criminal and civil cases, but he said he does not know of any previous cases where public-health records were used to help prosecute people for being in the country illegally.

Some doctors worry that it could become a trend.

There is growing sentiment among anti-illegal-immigration groups that taxpayer-funded health care constitutes a public benefit that illegal immigrants should not receive, even though federal law requires that public-health care be provided regardless of immigration status.

Alamance is among several counties across the country that have adopted that philosophy and have begun asking whether they should provide health services to illegal immigrants. Beaufort County, in Eastern North Carolina, has considered cutting some public-health programs that are used by illegal immigrants, such as prenatal care for poor women.

Those efforts haven't gone far because most public-health programs receive state and federal funding and must be provided under state law.

Lynette Tolson, director of the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors, said no public-health departments in North Carolina have cut off care based on immigration status. But she said some health directors feel under siege.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A journalist in B-School wonderland - critique of Havard Business School students' values

Harry Hurt III reviews a book written by Phillip Broughton, which asks what kind of values are being instilled in business leaders.

This is why I chose public health instead.

So who are these future leaders and where do they come from? Although Mr. Broughton changes names and biographical details in describing his 895 classmates, he pulls no punches in his characterizations. Many of his peers, he says, hailed from one of the “three M” backgrounds: Mormons, former military officers, and former McKinsey & Company consultants. There was also a large contingent of so-called “international” students — Indians, other Asians, South Americans — most of whom had actually gone to colleges and/or high schools in the United States.

A second-year student who delivered a welcoming speech “told us that simply by getting into H.B.S., ‘You’ve won,’ ” Mr. Broughton reports. “From now on it was all about how we decided to govern our lives. There was something creepy about his Kennedyesque cadences and his well-practiced call to arms. But what he said would be repeated throughout my time at Harvard. H.B.S. was a brand as much as a school, and by attending, we were associating ourselves with one of the greatest brands in business.”

Mr. Broughton stresses that “in many ways, I loved my two years at Harvard.” His teachers were, “for the most part, inspiring and committed,” he says, and “smart and considerate” is how he describes his classmates.

“For me, and everyone I knew, Harvard changed the view of our futures and the possibilities available to us through business,” he observes. Yet among his fellow students, he also saw evidence of “arrogance” and an obnoxious “sense of entitlement.”


Along the way, Mr. Broughton says, he discovered that his classmates generally operated in only two modes: “deadly serious” and “frat boy.” He describes parties at which students slurped vodka poured down a channel in a block of ice called “the booze luge.” He recounts serving as the auctioneer at a charity fund-raiser during which he obligingly stripped off his shirt and tie and allowed himself to be handcuffed to a “muscular bond trader” as his classmates brayed with delight.

Mr. Broughton also details a scheme for acquiring “financial aid BMWs”: Upon being accepted at the business school, some students deliberately emptied their bank accounts to buy BMWs for themselves. Since they were not required to list vehicles among assets on their financial aid applications, they often qualified for extra financial aid. “So basically, Harvard buys you a BMW,” a classmate informed Mr. Broughton.


Mr. Broughton says he was glad to have learned “the language of business, the modes of thinking.” But he also contends that “business needs to relearn its limits” and that the business school should revise its stated mission of educating leaders for the world at large.

“H.B.S. need only promise to educate students in the process and management of business,” he says. “It would be a noble and accommodating goal and would dilute the perception of the school and its graduates as a megalomaniacal, self-sustaining elite.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How fuel subsidies drag down a nation

Robert Frank, an economist writing for the NY Times, highlights the fact that government fuel subsidies encourage drivers to be more wasteful, and that every bit of waste costs the government giving the subsidy.

A more appropriate venue to alleviate hardship for the poor would be to give them a tax cut (or a rebate, as is done in the US with the Earned Income Tax Credit).

Malaysia has had to end or sharply curtail (can't remember which) its fuel subsidies. Frank also points out that the US is effectively engaging in a subsidy, as gasoline prices here understate the full costs (including environmental costs, for example) of gasoline use.

Consider how this difference might affect a trucker’s decision about whether to accept a hauling job. A rational trucker will apply the basic cost-benefit test, which says that something is worth doing if, and only if, its benefit is at least as great as its cost. Suppose the job in question requires 1,000 gallons of fuel, available at the subsidized price of $2 a gallon, for a total fuel outlay of $2,000. If the cost of the trucker’s time and equipment are, say, $1,000 for the trip, his narrow interests dictate accepting the job if the shipper is willing to pay at least $3,000. Suppose the shipper is willing to pay that amount but not more.

The problem is that if the trucker accepts the job at that price, the country as a whole will be worse off by more than $2,000. Although the $3,000 fee would cover his own costs, the government would end up paying $2,000 in additional subsidies for the 1,000 gallons consumed. On top of that, the trip would generate additional pollution and congestion costs. So the fact that the subsidy encouraged him to accept the job means that its net effect is equivalent to throwing more than $2,000 onto a bonfire.

Waste is always bad. Anyone who doubts it need only remember that when the economic pie grows, it is always possible for everyone to have a larger slice than before. Using fuel for activities whose costs exceed their benefits makes the economic pie smaller.

Subsidy proponents cite the firestorm of political protest that would erupt if fuel were to sell at the international market price. That fuel subsidies are wasteful, however, implies that there must be less costly ways to keep the peace.

Consider again our trucker who accepted a job that barely covered the cost of his time, equipment and subsidized fuel. Instead of paying $2,000 to subsidize his fuel, the government could give him a tax cut of, say, $1,000, and use the remaining $1,000 to help pay for public services. Because the trucker’s earnings from the hauling job were only enough to cover his costs at the subsidized fuel price, he would be $1,000 better off with the tax cut alone than with the fuel subsidy. The additional support for public services would augment this benefit. In short, a tax cut is always a better way to keep political protest at bay because, unlike a fuel subsidy, it does not encourage shipments whose costs exceed their benefits.

IF a United States president urged developing economies to eliminate fuel subsidies because they result in higher energy prices for Americans, the conversation would probably end very quickly. But this conversation might be reframed.

A good place to start would be to heed the same advice we’d like others to follow. Emerging economies are not the only ones in which prices at the pump substantially understate the true social cost of fuel. For instance, although the United States doesn’t have direct fuel subsidies, existing fuel taxes significantly understate the pollution and congestion costs associated with additional fuel use. Adopting some variant of a tax on carbon, as both leading presidential candidates have proposed, would help eliminate this discrepancy.

That would set the stage for our next president to explain to other leaders why eliminating fuel subsidies would make the overall economic pie larger. Because the resulting efficiency gains can be redistributed so that everyone gets a bigger slice than before, the idea should be fairly easy to sell.

Priced out of weight loss camp

I've previously asked if the obesity "epidemic" in the United States is overstated. That said, there are a growing number of children and adults who are genuinely obese.

The New York Times has an article on weight loss camps.

Apparently, these camps are typically for profit. Scientists express concerns that children may revert to their previous weight after completing the camp. Health insurance typically doesn't cover the costs of these camps, and national lobbying is taking place to change that. All in all, the article highlights a quintessentially American set of challenges around organizing care for a (possibly overstated) medical condition.

Israel's welcome for Ethiopian Jews wears thin

An Associated Press article covers the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Many Ethiopian Jews fail to integrate into an industrial society. Israelis are particularly concerned over the authenticity of Ethiopian Jews who assimilated to Christianity, allegedly to escape persecution (to be fair, folks were indeed being persecuted for being Jewish). It's also interesting to see Jewish American groups being the primary advocates for their acceptance into Israel, as the Israeli government is far more reluctant.

GONDAR, Ethiopia (AP) — Sitting in a leaky, flyblown hut, a few dozen Ethiopian villagers are anxiously waiting to be transported to another world.

They have just been given word that their years of waiting are over, and that soon they will make a 2,000-mile journey by land and air with what is probably the last wave of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.

In doing so, they join generations of Jews who have immigrated to the Promised Land. But they are flying into the teeth of a dilemma that touches the heart of Israel's founding philosophy.

For people like 48-year-old Abe Damamo, his wife and eight children, wrenching change awaits.

Like most Ethiopians with Jewish roots, they have come from the Gondar region of northern Ethiopia. Their remote village uses donkeys for transportation and has no bathrooms. Damamo has no formal education and speaks no language but his own.

He is moving to an industrialized democracy where he will have to learn Hebrew, master a cell phone, commute to work and find his place in a nation of immigrants from dozens of countries ranging from Argentina to Yemen, Australia to the United States.

But to him, being Jewish is all that matters.

"I am so happy to go and live my religion," he says through a translator.

Not everyone at the Israeli end is happy, however.

In the initial stages of an immigration that began three decades ago, all the Ethiopians immigrating to Israel were recognized outright as Jews. But those now seeking to make the trip are the so-called Falash Mura, whose ancestors converted to Christianity, the main Ethiopian faith, at the end of the 19th century to escape discrimination.

Initially Israel balked at accepting their claim of Jewishness, but relented after American Jews led a campaign for the Falash Mura.

Some 40,000 moved to Israel, a country of 7 million, joining the 80,000 already there. But their presence has touched off a fierce debate in Israel over where to draw the line.

Ethiopians with any hope, however faint, of eligibility for Israeli citizenship have descended on camps in the city of Gondar, scrambling to prove their Jewishness. Men in prayer shawls sway back and forth in makeshift synagogues and children in skullcaps sit on mud floors learning the Hebrew alphabet and Jewish holidays.

But centuries of intermarriage and a lack of documentation have made it extremely difficult to prove who is a Jew, and the group awaiting their flight to Israel last month were supposed to be among the last, because the Israeli government has decided that the influx must stop.

Those lucky enough to meet the criteria for immigration will have to undergo conversion to Orthodox Judaism after arriving in Israel.

Sixty-six-year-old Tegabie Jember Zegeye's application was rejected long ago, his links to Judaism deemed too remote. But he has been living with his wife and five children in a Gondar camp for 10 years. He wears a skullcap and attends daily prayers and religion classes.

"When I left my village, I didn't think I would be here for 10 days," he says, adding that he has close relatives in Israel who he feels are a part of him. "How can you split a man into two halves?"

He says he feels Jewish at heart. But when asked about his previous lifestyle, he replies: "I lived like a Christian, like all the Jews."

Besides cutting to the heart of the age-old debate over who is a Jew, the dispute between the Israeli government and the American Jewish activists who finance the Gondar camps raises uncomfortable questions about a central tenet of Israel's founding philosophy.

Israel's Law of Return guarantees citizenship for any Jew in need, and these days the country is especially concerned about boosting its Jewish population to compete with the Arabs. But the Ethiopians have proved the hardest immigrant group to absorb, and the Falash Mura, some critics feel, is pushing the limits.

Like every other immigrant group, Ethiopian-Israelis have made their mark on the human mosaic of Jewish nationhood giving it top-notch soldiers, funky musicians, world-class athletes and two members of parliament. They also have a powerful backer, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in the ruling coalition, which capitalizes on the Ethiopian vote.

But as a whole they are poor, plagued by crime, violence and substance abuse, feeling shut out of a world very different from rural Africa.

The steep learning curve is evident even before they depart for Israel.

Those approved for immigration are taught what a fridge looks like, how to cook on a stovetop, how to flush a toilet. Nurses teach the women to use female hygiene products. The families are introduced to TVs, and are shown videos of life in their new world. They are warned to mind the "magic stairs" — the escalators — at the Addis Ababa airport.

Before leaving, they undergo extensive medical checkups at an Israeli Embassy compound in Addis Ababa, and their African surnames are replaced with Hebrew ones.

Ori Konforti, the Ethiopia representative of the Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental agency in charge of incoming Jews, calls the transformation a move from "a land where they live like they did in the Bible, to the actual land of the Bible."

But despite all the preparations, most Ethiopian immigrants over age 35 go straight onto welfare after reaching Israel, according to the Jewish Agency.

That's no reason for shutting out the Falash Mura, says Mazor Bahyna, an Ethiopian in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament.

"I think Israel has an obligation to prove that it is not a racist state," he says. "If everyone was blond-haired and had blue eyes, they would bring them."

The Israeli government, lacking a universally accepted definition of Jewishness, has long welcomed immigrants whose links to Judaism were questionable, many of them among the hundreds of thousands of people who came from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Ethiopian Jews, once popularly known as the Falasha, began arriving in Israel in the 1970s after a revered rabbi ruled that they were descended from the lost biblical tribe of Dan. Traveling by plane, at times clandestinely, or on foot in desert treks in which many died, their exodus held Israel in thrall.

In 1991, Israel flew out nearly 15,000 Jews as rebels charged into Addis Ababa to overthrow its communist regime.

But then the problems began.

As word of the 1991 operation spread, the Falash Mura also sought to leave. Suddenly Israel was confronted with the possibility of multitudes banging on its doors claiming to be Jewish and daring it to turn them away.

At first the Israeli government turned them down, but a coalition of American Jewish organizations took up their cause. They set up camps in Gondar, providing free schools, shelter and heath clinics — and most important, a ticket out of Ethiopia.

"There is a very strong feeling that a danger to a Jewish community should never be ignored again," said Barbara Ribakove Gordon, director general of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, the main group advocating Falash Mura immigration. "As far as I'm concerned, they are Jews. ... They are as much Jews as any other Jew from Ethiopia or New York."

For the Ethiopians at the center of the controversy, Zionist ideology is secondary to what they see as their most pressing need: reunification with family already in Israel.

Sitotaw Tamir, a 30-year-old father of two, has a gold Star of David dangling from his neck while his wife, like many Ethiopian Christians, has a cross tattooed on her forehead.

Interviewed two days before his departure for Israel, Tamir said he has three sisters and a brother left in Gondar, and "will not feel right" if they don't join him in Israel.

That's precisely what Israel fears.

"There is no end to reunification," said the Jewish Agency's Konforti.

Israel has struggled for years to figure out which Ethiopians should be allowed in. Each time it has attempted to end the immigration by emptying the Gondar camps and airlifting their inhabitants to Israel, thousands more have flooded into the camps, scrambling to prove their Jewishness.

The argument now seems to have come down to numbers: Israel says the last of the Falasha Mura who qualify for immigration arrived in Israel earlier this month, while the American groups say some 8,700 have been left behind.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has upheld the Israeli list, effectively marking an end to the historic chapter.

Friday, August 15, 2008

USCIS detainee dies in custody

The New York Times has a very disturbing article on Hiu Lui Ng, who died in custody.

Ng had a fractured spine and advanced cancer. Both had gone untreated for months. It appears USCIS' failure to treat him, and other detainees with severe medical conditions, was willful.

Ng, a Hong Konger, applied for asylum but was denied. USCIS, then INS, mistakenly mailed a notice for him to appear in immigration court to the wrong address. Ng married an American, who petitioned for his permanent residency; USCIS arrested him at an interview for that process.

The Times has several articles highlighting the atrocious treatment of detainees in USCIS custody, and of their complete lack of oversight.

Russians losing propaganda war in South Ossetia, but Georgia not without fault

The BBC has an article describing how Russia is losing so far in the court of public opinion.

While the US and UK are firmly against Russia's actions, Germany is slightly more sympathetic:

The Bush administration appears to be trying to turn a failed military operation by Georgia into a successful diplomatic operation against Russia.

It is doing so by presenting the Russian actions as aggression and playing down the Georgian attack into South Ossetia on 7 August, which triggered the Russian operation.

Yet the evidence from South Ossetia about that attack indicates that it was extensive and damaging.

Blame game

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford has reported: "Many Ossetians I met both in Tskhinvali and in the main refugee camp in Russia are furious about what has happened to their city.

"They are very clear who they blame: Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, who sent troops to re-take control of this breakaway region."

Human Rights Watch concluded after an on-the-ground inspection: "Witness accounts and the timing of the damage would point to Georgian fire accounting for much of the damage described [in Tskhinvali]."


There are signs, though, that there is some sympathy for Russia within the European Union - although not among the Eastern European states who still fear Russia and not in the British government, which has matched the US line about Russian "aggression".

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeing Russian leaders and while she too will urge them not to challenge borders, the German government has been notably reluctant to blame Russia.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia continues invasion of Georgia

The Associated Press has a report on Russia's continued invasion of Georgia. Russian forces are occupying two cities in South Ossetia, and have destroyed Georgian military hardware.

Besides the hundreds killed since hostilities broke out, the United Nations estimates 100,000 Georgians have been uprooted; Russia says some 30,000 residents of South Ossetia fled into the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.

Russian troops also appeared to be settling in elsewhere in Georgia outside the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.

The US and UK have firmly opposed Russia's invasion. That said, this is a complex issue, with Russia claiming that it is Georgia which engaged in ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia.

"The Russian troops are here. They are occupying," Ygor Gegenava, an elderly Zugdidi resident told the APTN crew. "We don't want them here. What we need is friendship and good relations with the Russian people."

Georgia, bordering the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

A steady, dejected trickle of Georgian refugees fled the front line in overloaded cars, trucks and tractor-pulled wagons, heading to Tbilisi on the road from Gori. One Soviet-era car carried eight people, including a mother and a baby in the front seat. The open back door of a small blue van revealed at least a dozen people crowded inside.

The Russian General Prosecutor's office on Thursday said it has formally opened a genocide probe into Georgian treatment of South Ossetians. For its part, Georgia this week filed a suit against Russia in the International Court of Justice, alleging murder, rape and mass expulsions in both provinces.

More homes in deserted ethnic Georgian villages were apparently set ablaze Wednesday, sending clouds of smoke over the foothills north of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway South Ossetia.

One Russian colonel, who refused to give his name, blamed the fires on looters.

Those with ethnic Georgian backgrounds who have stayed behind — like 70-year-old retired teacher Vinera Chebataryeva — seem increasingly unwelcome in South Ossetia.

As she stood sobbing in her wrecked apartment near the center of Tskhinvali, Chebataryeva said a skirmish between Ossetian soldiers and a Georgian tank had gouged the two gaping shell holes in her wall, bashing in her piano and destroying her furniture.

Janna Kuzayeva, an ethnic Ossetian neighbor, claimed the Georgian tank fired the shell at Chebataryeva's apartment.

"We know for sure her brother spied for Georgians," said Kuzayeva. "We let her stay here, and now she's blaming everything on us."

North of Tskhinvali, a number of former Georgian communities have been abandoned in the last few days. "There isn't a single Georgian left in those villages," said Robert Kochi, a 45-year-old South Ossetian.

But he had little sympathy for his former Georgian neighbors. "They wanted to physically uproot us all," he said. "What other definition is there for genocide?"

Even so, there is no justification for an outright invasion. Russia should withdraw immediately. It is not Russia's place to settle this issue with arms.

Remembering Jonathan Myrick Daniels

The Episcopal Cafe's Daily Reading commemorate's Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminiarian who was martyred during the Civil Rights struggle in the US. He's on the right in the photo.

Daily Reading for August 14 • Jonathan Myric Daniels, 1965

As soon as [ESCRU’s executive director, the Rev.] John Morris learned of Daniels’s death, he made arrangements for the body to be flown back to Daniels’s home in Keene, New Hampshire, for burial. In place of a formal eulogy at the funeral service, excerpts from Daniels’s theological writings were read aloud to the mourners gathered at St. James’ Church. In one of those selections, he wrote that he had stopped being afraid of death in Alabama, for he realized that “I had truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”

Stokely Carmichael, the SNCC organizer with whom Daniels had worked most closely in Alabama, was deeply upset by the murder and remarked that Daniels had “lived like Christ.” In tears at the interment following the funeral, Carmichael joined hands with other mourners, who softly sang “We Shall Overcome” beside the grave.

At the same time, memorial services were held in many other churches throughout the country, and the slain seminarian received numerous tributes. Frank Mathews expressed shock at what had happened and offered prayers at St. Paul’s. William Stringfellow, who had been one of Daniels’s mentors, called him “an authentic Christian” who had died simply for doing what the gospel demanded; Judith Upham believed his witness demonstrated that “God requires not extraordinary people, but ordinary people with an extraordinary commitment as channels for His grace-full action in the world.”

From Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights by Gardiner H. Shattuck (The University Press of Kentucky, 2000).

NY Times: home geothermal energy installations going up in the US

The NY Times has an article about small-scale geothermal energy installations. Home systems can pay for themselves in 3-8 years. Commercial systems can do it in 2-3.

While not featured in the article, Ormat Technologies is a small Israeli company that does larger scale installations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What are Anglicans doing about the LGBT people who are being raped and murdered?

Cain Murders Abel

Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’

Genesis 4:8-12, NRSV

For my money, the most important aspect of the "fringe events" was the presence of the LGBT folk and their straight allies from Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. Some of them risked personal harm when they return home because of their truth telling. You can read about one example - a printed statement by Rose Ngeri which she personally handed out to African bishops and their wives - on my blog.

When Rose was asked if she feared reprisals she said, with a chilling calm, "Oh, they will just rape me, but they will torture and kill my brothers. Do you not understand? They will torture and kill my brothers. I have to do this." And so, she did.

Rose Ngeri, as told to the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton

As the Lambeth conference in Canterbury was drawing to a close, Michael Causer died. He was not an Anglican bishop, but an 18-year-old hairdresser, a popular lad described by his family as "definitely a 'people's person'. Our world will never be the same without him." He was the victim of a homophobic attack.

In other countries too, during the conference, virulent hatred of gays and lesbians continued to take its toll – sometimes in spectacular fashion. A gunman in Tennessee shot two people dead during a children's performance in a Unitarian church he thought too "liberal" before being overpowered. A Ugandan gay and lesbian rights activist was kidnapped by police in Kampala and tortured. A wave of homophobia swept Indonesian capital Jakarta, and arrests were reported.

In many countries, repressive laws fuel bigotry. All too often in schools and workplaces, temples and churches worldwide, people learn to hate or despise lesbians and gays. To Christians, this is tragic, not just for the victims: those who do not love their neighbour are spiritually dead. Yet talk among Anglican Communion leaders about homosexuality seemed oddly disconnected from the world in which most of us live, and the challenge to make it more just and loving.


Meanwhile, at the Lambeth conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury appealed for a "covenant of faith" that would "promise to our fellow human beings the generosity God has shown us", and suggested "a Pastoral Forum to support minorities". But to him, those needing greater generosity and pastoral care were mainly Christians with strong objections to same-sex partnerships. While he is a humane man, his priorities seem strange. If Anglicans are to remain relevant, and a force for good, bishops need to listen more carefully to people like Michael Causer's family.

Savitri Hensman, writing for the Guardian

Folks, the Anglican churches of the Global South who stand by while such things happen are spiritually dead. They question whether the Western churches are still visibly Christian; the same should be asked of them.

However, the same was not asked of them at this Lambeth conference. There is ample evidence that the human rights of LGBT persons are being violated in the Global South. Why were they not asked to repent?

Cain came to murder Abel over petty jealousy. God asked him where Abel was. Cain lied. God called BS.

The blood of our LGBT sisters and brothers is crying out to God from the ground. We should call BS.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Italians welcome army on streets as anti-gipsy sentiment sweeps country

The Telegraph has a worrying report of the Italians deploying military forces domestically, allegedly to fight crime. The real target is the Roma.

"It's great to see the army here," Luigi Cabras, 60, a civil servant, said with enthusiasm. "There used to be lots of petty stealing, but it's much better now. And the gipsies who were camped around here have gone, thank God."

The station is hardly crime-plagued; a littering problem, some pickpocketing, and car park break-ins, all blamed on gipsies from the squalid camp which used to be next to the station until bulldozers moved in a fortnight ago.

But everybody knows why combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq have been deployed, the first time the army has been on the streets of Italy since anti-Mafia operations in the 1990s.

Mr Cabras gestured towards a nearby field and shook his head sadly. "Before things change, you have to have a dead body," he said. What he pointed at was the spot where an admiral's wife was raped and beaten to death in November, in one of Rome's most shocking murders for years.

Giovanna Reggiani, 47, a housewife and religious education teacher, was walking back to her car along a badly-lit road when she was attacked by an illegal immigrant from Romania.

The gipsy community around Saxa Rubra claims that the man arrested for the crime, 24-year-old Nicolae Mailat, was not in fact a gipsy, despite his being detained on one of their camps. But the incident has provoked a nationwide backlash against Italy's 150,000-strong gipsy community, which has seen them portrayed as one of the biggest threats to the Eternal City since the Barbarian invasions.

Gipsies, also known as Roma, have been in Italy for centuries, ever since their ancestors arrived as metalworkers and merchants from India. Many live in houses rather than itinerant camps and have intermarried with Italians, sending their children to school and integrating into society.

But over the past decade, their numbers have almost doubled as poorer, uneducated gipsies arrived from Eastern Europe, some fleeing Balkan wars, others simply in search of a better life, creating additional strains with a host community that has never entirely accepted them.

Unlike many Rome intellectuals, who complain about authoritarianism, Saxa Rubra's white-collar workers are delighted to see the military fully-armed as they set off for work. Fabio Monaci, 25, who has been giving the soldiers discounts at his sandwich shop, feels much safer. "Crime is a real worry in Italy now," he said gravely as he poured an espresso. "But it won't be so bad if we get into a new era of discipline."

That is exactly what is promised by new prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a Right-wing populist who has just ridden into power for the third time with his ex-fascist and xenophobic Northern League allies on a wave of popular fear about crime.

Sending 3,000 troops to guard railway stations and tourist spots has been Mr Berlusconi's boldest move yet, and judging from the mood in the suburbs, the soldiers have won the hearts and minds of the commuting classes, even if they have not struck much of a blow against crime. So far one pickpocket has been detained in the nationwide operation – the military has orders to arrest only suspects caught in the act.

British tourists, who are out in force in Rome's piazzas and trattorias, were a little surprised. "Has there been a coup?" was the bemused response of one pensioner from Scotland.

But after the murder of Mrs Reggiani, most Italians are pleased to see them. The killing was particularly shocking for Romans because their city is considered relatively safe by the standards of other European centres – there is nothing comparable to London's current knife crime epidemic, for example.

Mr Berlusconi declared a "Roma emergency", produced a disputed dossier of alleged immigrant muggings, robberies and murders, and promised to dismantle illegal gipsy camps. So far 700 have been identified. Even more controversial in a nation whose Fascist rulers helped the Nazis deport Jews and gipsies during the Second World War, fingerprinting of gipsies has started, despite the European Union saying the programme encourages xenophobia, and a Roman Catholic group describing it as racist.

On the streets of northern Rome such reservations are hard to find. "All our problems come from foreigners getting drunk, smashing windows and stealing," said Anna Maria Mercure, who at 80 is old enough to remember an earlier era of Italian discipline. "Mussolini had his positive side. The streets were safe in his day."

Whether they are genuinely more dangerous now is disputed, but even Left-wingers are as concerned as those on the Right and aware that there is no straightforward solution to a difficult and emotive social problem. And whatever the truth of the matter, gipsy encampments up and down the country are the main targets as long-simmering tensions erupt into open hostility.

The residents of the Rome suburb of Centocelle, a pleasant, tree-lined district of modest apartment blocks, finally lost patience last week with the gipsies in a local camp called Casalina 900, a miniature shanty town where rats and naked children run amid piles of half-burnt rubbish. The residents, mainly gipsies who fled the Balkans, have coexisted uncomfortably with their Italian neighbours for more than a decade.

That all came to an end last week when camp residents burnt some old tyres instead of taking them to the dump, creating clouds of acrid black smoke. In the current political climate, it became the catalyst for a near riot, with Centocelle's residents staging a demonstration in the middle of a major highway.

"I would kill them all," said Virginia Cristell, a mother in her 40s. "Send them to the country – or send them somewhere. They are dirty and there are lots of problems with burglary and thieving. They make toxic smoke."

Soon her second wish will come true. Rome's new Right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, promised the middle-class troublemakers that if they gave up their road protest he would get rid of the camp.

For the inhabitants of Casalino 900, the bulldozers will be another of life's frequent disasters. Afterwards they will scavenge what possessions they can and move off to some other patch of unoccupied land.

The camp has been sealed off by police, but The Sunday Telegraph found a hole in the fence. Inside we found dislike of Italy and fear of the future. But the teenage mothers suckling infants have grown up in Rome and most speak only Italian. One camp resident, Najo Adzovic, 37, said he had deserted the Federal Yugoslav Army and fled to Italy when he was ordered to slaughter 15 Muslims during the Balkan wars. "I don't like the police outside our camp or the military presence on our streets," he said. "There is some petty crime committed by gipsies because our people are poor, but we are not all criminals."

The fingerprint policy that has them so worried – and fearful that the Government is trying to drive them out of Italy – has been drawn up by the junior party in Mr Berlusconi's coalition, Alleanza Nationale. Until it reinvented itself in the 1990s, it was a neo-fascist party.

Marco Marsilio, a member of Italy's lower house of parliament, is an amiable young politician who made an articulate case for fingerprinting. He said it was to help protect gipsy children who he insisted were bought and sold as beggars; critics claim he is nothing but a myth peddler.

"The Leftists aren't able to understand this fear of crime because they have an ideological prejudice against law and order," said Mr Marsilio. His colleague, Alessandro Cochi, laughed off a 1930s-style propaganda poster in his office of a wild-eyed man giving a stiff-arm salute; he was not a fascist, he said, nor was Italy suffering a fascist wave.

That, however, is not the view of Goffredo Bezzecchi, 69, an Italian gipsy who came close to death after Italian Fascists tried to send his family to the death camps. They escaped before they could be deported. Mr Bezzecchi, who was fingerprinted at his home near Milan last month, feels history is at risk of repeating itself. "These things were done in the Fascist days when gipsies were killed or sent to concentration camps," he said. "The politicians should remember that we are human, not garbage."

Archbishop of Canterbury may be forced to do fundraising tour for Lambeth

The Lambeth Conference ran a deficit of about £1m. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, disclosed that the US bishops had been approached for funds, and that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had asked to come to the US to do fundraising (although oddly enough, Lambeth Palace later denied that).

Rowan's timing is a little poor. The dollar has severely depreciated against the pound, the US is in a bit of a financial crisis, and he has openly disrespected an American bishop, Gene Robinson, by excluding him from the Lambeth Conference.

American military commissions system still on trial

The NY Times has an article reminding us that even after Salim Hamdan's conviction, the system is still on trial. Are the trials legitimate, are they sufficiently open, do they satisfy due process? Will the Bush administration, or its successor, try to keep the detainees there even after they complete their sentences?

Bush administration has long asserted that detainees at Guantánamo, even those who complete war crimes sentences or are acquitted, are enemy combatants who can be held indefinitely.

A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, pointedly declined to make any promises after the short sentence, which surprised the military prosecutors. The morning of the verdict they had been pressing for at least 30 years, and they argued that a life sentence would have sent the right message to terrorists.

Commander Gordon said he “would not want to speculate” about whether Mr. Hamdan would be released at the end of his sentence, adding, “I can reassure you that the Defense Department is hard at work on this issue.” On Saturday, he said no decision had been made.

After the trial, the comments by the participants were argumentative, a new reminder of Guantánamo’s enduring divisiveness and a sign that the final verdict on the military commission system is likely to take a while.

The prosecutors had a victory that had the trappings of defeat, as Mr. Hamdan was acquitted on a conspiracy charge. They acknowledged disappointment. But they kept repeating that they had, after all, won.

“I really think it is a vindication for the system,” said one of them, John Murphy.

The defense lawyers had the opposite challenge. Their defeat in a conviction looked like a victory because Mr. Hamdan had a new chance at life. They kept insisting that the system was as deeply flawed as they had been saying all along.

“This case is not a vindication of the military commission system,” said the chief military defense lawyer for Guantánamo, Col. Steven David. “Quite the contrary.”

It was quintessential Guantánamo, where things are rarely what they seem. The Pentagon’s spokesmen, for example, repeat like a mantra that the detention camp delivers “safe and humane” care. But military investigators have documented a history that includes treatment of one detainee who was isolated, deprived of sleep and forced to perform dog tricks.

Another military mantra is that the tribunal is open and transparent. But no one can go to this remote naval station to attend the sessions without military orders. At the tribunal itself, where many seats are empty, journalists are accompanied at all times by military escorts, who stand guard even outside the latrine.

So it was in keeping with the contradictions of Guantánamo that the Hamdan trial in many ways looked like an American trial and in many ways did not.

There were secret filings. There were closed sessions. There were unexplained mysteries. After a session was cut short because a participant was said to be ill, a military spokeswoman said it was not Mr. Hamdan. The next day, a different spokeswoman disclosed that it had indeed been Mr. Hamdan, who had, she said, been seen at a hospital for flulike symptoms.

There were unknowns. A Pentagon official, Susan J. Crawford, has broad power over the entire tribunal process, including naming the military officers eligible to hear the case. Her title, convening authority, has no civilian equivalent. Her decisions to grant or deny financing for items like the defense’s expert witness fees or defense lawyers’ transportation were not explained during the trial. She has never granted an interview to a reporter.

The defense was permitted to call witnesses. But, the defense lawyers said, remoteness and lack of cooperation from the government meant that was sometimes impossible. One witness who might have been powerful in the courtroom, Mr. Hamdan’s wife, could not make it to the trial. She appeared instead in a muffled videotape.

So much was new at the trial that the proceeding at times seemed like some kind of space exploration. After the military judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, told the panel he was considering a weekend session, he had to tell its members he had been informed that was not possible. “It’s not as easy as a court-martial back home,” he said.

The few familiar guideposts included the battle over Guantánamo itself.

Before the trial, Mr. Hamdan’s lawyers claimed that he had been mistreated by long stretches in solitary confinement. A spokeswoman, Cmdr. Pauline Storum, responded at the time that that was not possible because there were no solitary confinement cells in Guantánamo, only “single-occupancy cells.”

After the verdict, one of Mr. Hamdan’s lawyers, Charles D. Swift, said Mr. Hamdan was moved the night after the verdict into a cell by himself in a prison wing with no other prisoners.

One of the prosecutors had a familiar response that suggested that even after a historic war crimes verdict at Guantánamo, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The prosecutor, Lt. Cmdr. Timothy D. Stone, said Mr. Hamdan could not be in solitary confinement. “There are no solitary confinement cells on Guantánamo,” he said.

Crisis in South Ossetia worsening

Reuters has a report. the UN Security Council is trying to issue a statement, but Russia has a veto.

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council was meeting on Saturday to discuss the escalating conflict in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia but was too split to issue a unanimous call for a ceasefire, diplomats said.

The meeting was the council's third emergency consultations on the crisis in as many days. Council envoys had been drafting an appeal for an end to the hostilities but were too far apart in their views to be able to come to an agreement.

"We've pretty much given up on the idea of issuing any kind of statement at this point," a Western diplomat told Reuters.

It was unlikely that the council would try to take any action at the moment, he said. Since Russia is a permanent veto-wielding council member, it can block everything.

After listening to the Georgian and Russian envoys hurl accusations of "ethnic cleansing" at each other on Friday, the Security Council remained deadlocked in a way that was reminiscent of the Cold War, with the United States and Britain firmly on Georgia's side against Russia.

Pro-Western Georgia earlier called for a ceasefire after Moscow's bombers widened an offensive to force Tbilisi's troops back out of the region in the Caucasus mountains.

Moscow says its military has been responding to a Georgian assault to retake South Ossetia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said the two states were at war.

The United States and Britain have urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a three-point plan to end the fighting that would include a withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops to the positions they held before the conflict started.

U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations Edmond Mulet was briefing the council behind closed doors about the situation on the ground in Georgia.

Council diplomats said that one of the problems they face is the lack of independent confirmation of Russian and Georgian statements about attacks and bombing raids.

The United Nations does have a small observer mission in another Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, so council members were hoping Mulet would have some reliable information.

Russian officials said the death toll in fighting that began on Thursday stood at 2,000. Georgian officials said that on their side, 129 people had been killed and 748 injured.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Fledging fund helps illegal immigrants post bail

Susan Carroll, writing for the Houston Chronicle, tells of a fund that helps undocumented immigrants post bail and seek legal assistance. Some undocumented folks are eligible for asylum status based on persecution. I'm posting this just for the anti-immigrant whack jobs.

When federal immigration agents raided a Houston rag factory and took 166 suspected illegal immigrants into custody, a Boston philanthropist and multimillionaire was ready to chip in bond money to help the workers.

Robert J. Hildreth, 57, is the public face of the National Immigrant Bond Fund, a fledgling organization that helps immigrants swept up in Immigration and Customs Enforcement workplace raids post bonds.

The controversial fund has the backing of major immigrant advocacy groups and religious leaders, but has drawn criticism from anti-illegal immigration organizations.

Since spring 2007, the fund has paid more than $180,000 to bond out immigrants snared in ICE raids in California, Massachusetts and Maryland.

Word of the fund is spreading, but not quite fast enough for some immigrants caught up in the recent crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. In the past nine months, ICE has detained about 4,500 undocumented workers and 111 employers, according to ICE statistics.

Hildreth said he and bond fund leadership, which includes leading advocacy organizations such as the National Immigration Forum, decided about four months ago that the organization should broaden its reach across the country. It is now soliciting donations nationally, hoping to raise its profile and political clout to help lobby for immigration reform. So far, it has raised $200,000 for the national fund, but the money is going out as quickly as it comes in, organizers said.

On-the-ground support
The higher profile might have aided the bond fund during its recent outreach in Houston.

After ICE agents raided Action Rags USA, the Houston rag factory, on June 25, bond fund organizers struggled to find "on-the-ground support" to help mobilize the families of detained immigrants, Hildreth said. One of the principles of the fund requires detainees' families to make matching contributions, which helps ensure they appear in court, organizers said.

"I was very disappointed in Houston because we were ready to help," Hildreth said.

Maria Jimenez, a longtime Houston activist and special projects coordinator for the Center for Central American Resources, said local aid groups didn't learn about the fund until long after the raid. At least 74 of the 166 workers were released for humanitarian reasons within a week of the sweep.

"It wasn't until two weeks later that the attorneys got a notice the bond fund was available, we only had one person who was still being detained and whose family couldn't raise the bail money," Jimenez said.

Hildreth saw TV footage in March 2007 of workers picked up in an ICE raid in New Bedford, Mass., boarding a plane bound for Texas, where they were to be held before deportation.

"I was really ticked off," he said. "Within 24 hours, ICE decided to take them to the detention centers in Texas just to facilitate removing them as fast as possible. I thought that was unfair.

"If they stayed in Massachusetts, close to where we could have bonded them out, they could have gotten due process."

Hildreth called an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance to low-income clients, to offer his help posting bonds.

Nancy Kelly, the managing attorney of the organization's immigration unit, took Hildreth's phone call, and remembers thinking it was "too good to be true."

"It was amazing," she said.

Hildreth, the son of schoolteachers, said part of his motivation to help immigrants came from his father, a historian.

"One of his big themes was that the immigration story in the United States is vital to the health and growth of our country," he said. "He drilled that into me."

After graduating from Harvard University, Hildreth worked for the International Monetary Fund from 1975 to 1980, living in Washington, D.C., and La Paz, Bolivia. He returned to the U.S. and worked for major Wall Street firms until starting his own business in 1989, Boston-based IBS Inc., which buys and sells loans in international markets.

"I've been involved in Latin America since college," he said. "I know many, many, many Latin Americans, including many, many Mexicans, so I have a personal friendship, a personal affinity."

"And," he added, "I am a devout Roman Catholic and a liberal."

In all, Hildreth said he paid $130,000 to help the New Bedford workers, and detainees' families chipped in $100,000, securing the release of 40 people, he said. He said none of them skipped bond.

The fund has infuriated some advocates for stricter immigration reforms, who have called it "traitorous" on Internet message boards.

Risk of losing money
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which lobbies for stringent immigration controls, said many illegal immigrants historically have failed to leave the country as ordered by the government. The number of immigrants labeled as "fugitives" or "absconders" by ICE totaled more than 594,000 in October 2007, the most recent statistics available.

"These contributors better be prepared to lose a lot of money," Mehlman said.

Hildreth is frank about the bond fund's goal: to push for immigration reform that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants in the U.S.

"There's one more reason — besides humanitarian — that this bond fund was created and it's just as important. It's political," he said. "We hope that if we get a lot of history helping people in raids, plus a lot of contributions, even if it's only a buck, then we can really have a voice next year in the immigration debate."

The bond fund primarily helps people detained in workplace raids, but also occasionally takes on other immigration cases for humanitarian reasons. Hildreth helped a teenager who was housed in an immigration detention center for youths in Nixon, Texas, after the center was shut down amid allegations of sexual abuse by guards. After the center closed, one teenager's Texas attorney contacted the fund for assistance.

"We were able to find a family a pro bono lawyer, and convince a judge to let us post a $4,000 bond to get him out of jail and into a permanent situation," he said. "When the $4,000 comes back, we're going to offer that as a scholarship fund for him."

Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton contributed to this report.


Q: How does the fund help with bonds?

A: The fund works with local organizations that represent or assist people arrested in immigration raids. These local organizations can ask the fund to pay half of the bond if they have helped the detainee raise the other half.

Q: If I donate, can I ask that the money go for a specific person?

A: No. Your donation will go into the national pool to help match the money that family and friends raise for a particular person. If you want to help an individual with bond, you should contact the local organization or family members assisting that person.

Q: Will the money I give to the bond fund be reimbursed when the case is over?

A: No. At the end of a case, the immigrant will return the money paid by family and friends, and give the other half to the fund. The fund will use that money to help other detainees get out of immigration detention.