Archive for April 16th, 2009

The Liberation of Mother Earth in Cauca

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

by Levi Bridges

In Colombia, many indigenous people inhabit officially designated resguardos, or reserves, in highland areas where insufficient space fails to fulfill the agricultural needs of an increasing population. The lives of the indigenous Nasa are further complicated because they live in Colombia’s Cauca Department, a violent area where fighting between the army, the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary groups often leaves indigenous people caught in the crossfire. Together, violence and malnutrition caused by the land deficit have resulted in numerous Nasa deaths. Like many indigenous peoples in Latin America, the contemporary problems within the Nasa community began centuries ago. During the Spanish conquest, European settlers claimed flatter lowlands better suited to agriculture for themselves. Hundreds of years later, indigenous groups from Mexico to Bolivia barely eke out a subsistence living cultivating crops on the steep hillsides their ancestors were forced to inhabit. Such is the plight of the Nasa.
On December 16, 1991, the sun barely penetrated the clouds in the highlands of Cauca. More than 50 Nasa had gathered to discuss a land dispute on the El Nilo ranch. Years earlier, a previous landowner had permitted some Nasa to live and cultivate crops on unused portions of the land, but when the estate was sold, the new owners sought to expel them. As the daylight faded, and the owners had still not arrived, some returned home, while others gathered around small fires to share a hot plate of food.

Suddenly, the still quiet of dusk was broken by the intrusion of approaching vehicles. Without warning, gunshots and screams signaled the beginning of the supposedly nonviolent meeting which the Nasa had waited for all day. “The shots came from far away,” recalled Caroline Corpus de Dicuè in a court testimony just days later. “We could not see who was firing because it was already dark … another group nearby were boiling beans … they were the ones who were killed. We were … running uphill towards our house … later they burned our house and clothes … they burned the belongings of all the Nasa living in El Nilo.” On the following morning, the blood of twenty Nasa—men, women and children—stained the green grass.
Today, many believe that drug traffickers purchased the El Nilo estate and, with the compliance of local police, orchestrated the 1991 massacre that left behind eight widows and 40 orphans. Despite warnings from armed groups and local authorities that they could be risking their lives by remaining in El Nilo, the Nasa who inhabited the ranch sought to resolve the matter through a legal agreement between themselves, the new landowners, and the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform. Because of these prior admonishments, many Nasa now refer to the El Nilo massacre as Another Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a play on words of the novella written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel Laureate of Literature.
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Wall Street’s Best Investment: Ten Deregulatory Steps to Financial Meltdown

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

By Robert Weissman and James Donahue

Wall Street has no one but itself to blame for the current financial crisis. Investment banks, hedge funds and commercial banks made reckless bets using borrowed money. They created and trafficked in exotic investment vehicles that even top Wall Street executives — not to mention firm directors — did not understand. They hid risky investments in off-balance-sheet vehicles or capitalized on their legal status to cloak investments altogether. They engaged in unconscionable predatory lending that offered huge profits for a time, but led to dire consequences when the loans proved unpayable. And they created, maintained and justified a housing bubble, the popping of which has thrown the United States and the world into a deep recession, resulted in a foreclosure epidemic ripping apart communities across the country, and caused the financial crisis itself.

This article documents 10 specific deregulatory steps (including failures to regulate and failures to enforce existing regulations) that enabled Wall Street to crash the financial system. Wall Street didn’t obtain these regulatory abeyances based on the force of its arguments. At every step, critics warned of the dangers of further deregulation. Their evidence-based claims could not offset the political and economic muscle of Wall Street. The financial sector showered campaign contributions on politicians from both parties, invested heavily in a legion of lobbyists [see “By the Numbers” on page 12], paid academics and think tanks to justify their preferred policy positions, and cultivated a pliant media — especially a cheerleading business media complex.

1. The Repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Rise of the Culture of Recklessness

2. Hiding Liabilities: Off-Balance Sheet Accounting

3. The Executive Branch Rejects Financial Derivative Regulation

4. Congress Blocks Financial Derivative Regulation

5. The SEC’s Voluntary Regulation Regime

6. No Predatory Lending Enforcement

7. Federal Preemption of State Regulation and Consumer Protection Laws

8. Escaping Accountability: Assignee Liability

9. Merger Mania

10. Rampant Conflicts of Interest: Credit Ratings Firms’ Failure

Robert Weissman is editor of Multinational Monitor. James Donahue is an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Essential Action. This article is based on a February report, available in full with citationns at www.wallstreetwatch.org, published by the Consumer Education Foundation and Essential Information, the parent organization of Multinational Monitor. Harvey Rosenfield, Jennifer Wedekind, Marcia Carroll, Peter Maybarduk, Tom Bollier and Paulo Barbone assisted with writing and research.

By the Numbers:
Throwing Money at the Political Process

How did Wall Street manage over the decades to achieve such an across-the-board rollback of existing regulations, suspension of new regulation and abeyance of regulatory enforcement?
There were many factors, but surely a leading explanation was the extraordinary amount of money that financial firms invested in political influence purchasing.
The financial sector spent more than $5 billion on federal campaign contributions and lobbying in the United States over the last decade. That number comes from a Multinational Monitor analysis of campaign donation and lobbying disclosure statements. The Monitor analysis draws on campaign donation and lobbying spending tallies prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics, as well as lobby disclosure statements filed with the Congress.

The entire financial sector (finance, insurance, real estate) drowned political candidates in campaign contributions, spending more than $1.725 billion in federal elections from 1998-2008. Primarily reflecting the balance of power over the decade, about 55 percent went to Republicans and 45 percent to Democrats. Democrats took just more than half of the financial sector’s 2008 election cycle contributions.
The industry spent even more — topping $3.3 billion — on officially registered lobbyists during the same period. This total certainly underestimates by a considerable amount what the industry spent to influence policymaking. U.S. reporting rules require that lobby firms and individual lobbyists disclose how much they have been paid for lobbying activity, but lobbying activity is defined to include direct contacts with key government officials, or work in preparation for meeting with key government officials. Public relations efforts and various kinds of indirect lobbying are not covered by the reporting rules.

During the 10-year period, commercial banks spent more than $154 million on campaign contributions, while investing $363 million in officially registered lobbying. Accounting firms spent $68 million on campaign contributions and $115 million on lobbying; hedge funds spent $32 million on campaign contributions (about half in the 2008 election cycle); and $16 million on lobbying; insurance companies donated more than $218 million and spent more than $1.1 billion on lobbying; private equity firms contributed $56 million to federal candidates and spent $33 million on lobbying; securities firms invested more than $504 million in campaign contributions, and an additional $576 million in lobbying.

Individual firms spent tens of millions of dollars each. During the 10-year period, Goldman Sachs spent more than $45 million on political influence buying; Merrill Lynch spent more than $67 million; Citigroup spent more than $100 million; Bank of America devoted more than $38 million; and JPMorgan Chase invested more than $59 million. Accounting giants Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Pricewaterhouse spent, respectively, $31 million, $36 million, $26 million and $54 million.

The number of people working to advance the financial sector’s political objectives is startling. In 2007, the financial sector employed a staggering 2,996 separate lobbyists, more than five for each Member of Congress. The securities/investment industry alone had 1,023 lobbyists on their payroll.
A great many of those lobbyists entered and exited through the revolving door connecting the lobbying world with government. Surveying only 20 leading firms in the financial sector (none from the insurance industry), we found that 142 industry lobbyists during the period 1998-2008 had formerly worked as “covered officials” in the government. “Covered officials” are top officials in the executive branch (most political appointees, from members of the cabinet to directors of bureaus embedded in agencies), Members of Congress and congressional staff.

Nothing evidences the revolving door — or Wall Street’s direct influence over policymaking — more than the stream of Goldman Sachs expatriates who left the Wall Street goliath, spun through the revolving door, and emerged to hold top regulatory positions. Topping the list, of course, are former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, both of whom had served as chair of the investment bank Goldman Sachs before entering government.
— R.W.
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What It Would Take to Mend Fences with Islam

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

After Obama’s First Peace Crusade

By Patrick Cockburn

The start of the Iraq war in 2003 marked a crucial break between the US and almost all the states of the region. “None of Iraq’s neighbors, absolutely none, were pleased by the American occupation of Iraq,” says the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari. Long-term US allies like Turkey astonished the White House by refusing to allow US troops to use its territory to invade Iraq.

Barack Obama, who made his first official visit to the country on Tuesday, is now trying to disengage from Iraq without appearing to scuttle or leave anarchy behind.

He is trying to win back old allies, and, as he made clear in a speech in Ankara on Monday, to end the confrontation between the US and Islam which was president Bush’s legacy.

It is not easy for Mr Obama to reverse the tide of anti-Americanism or bring to an end the wars which Mr Bush began. For all the Iraqi government’s claim that life is returning to normal in Baghdad the last few days have seen a crescendo of violence. The day before the President arrived, six bombs exploded in different parts of Baghdad, killing 37 people.

And as much as Mr Obama would like to treat the Iraq war as ancient history, the US is still struggling to extricate itself. The very fact that the Democratic President had to arrive in Iraq by surprise for security reasons, as George Bush and Tony Blair invariably did, shows that the conflict is refusing to go away.

The Iraqi Prime Minister and President remain holed up in the Green Zone most of the time. The American President could not fly into the Green Zone by helicopter because of bad weather but the airport road is still unsafe and Baghdad remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The Iraqi political landscape too was permanently altered by the US invasion and it will be difficult to create a stable Iraqi state which does not depend on the US. Opinion polls in Iraq show that most Iraqis believe that it is the US and not their own government which is in control of their country.

One change which is to Mr Obama’s advantage is that the American media have largely stopped reporting the conflict because they no longer have the money to do so and a majority of Americans think the war was won. But the danger for the President is that if there is a fresh explosion in Iraq, he may be blamed for throwing away a victory that was won by his predecessor.

The rhetoric with which the US conducts its diplomacy is easier to change than facts on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. Mr Obama’s speech to the Turkish parliament in Ankara was a carefully judged bid to reassure the Muslim world that the US is not at war with Islam.
Everything he said was in sharp contrast to George Bush’s bellicose threats post 9/11 about launching a “crusade” and to the rhetoric of neo-conservatives attacking “Islamo-fascism” or claiming that there was a “clash of civilizations.”

The leaders of states with Muslim majorities appreciate the different tone of US pronouncements, but wonder how far Mr Obama will be able to introduce real change.

Turkish students at a meeting with Mr Obama in Istanbul voiced scepticism that American actions in future would be much different from what they were under Mr Bush. Reasonably enough, Mr Obama replied that he should be given time and “moving the ship of state is a slow process.” But he also cited the US withdrawal from Iraq as a sign that he would match actions to words.

Istanbul, on the boundaries of Europe and Asia, is a good place for the US leader to display a more conciliatory attitude towards Islam. The city is filled with grandiose monuments to Christianity and Islam, though religious tolerance was more in evidence under the Ottoman empire than since the foundation of the modern Turkish state in 1923. Mr Obama paid visits to the great Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia and was shown the splendors of the Blue Mosque by turbaned clerics.
But the women students wearing short skirts and without headscarves asking Mr Obama questions in fluent English give a misleading impression of the balance between the secular and the religious in modern-day Turkey.

The reality is that secularism is dying away in Turkey’s rural hinterland and is on the retreat even in Istanbul itself. Butchers selling pork are few compared to 20 years ago. Obtaining alcohol is quietly being made more difficult, except for foreign tourists, by high taxes on wine and expensive liquor licenses for restaurants.

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The Crisis of Credit Visualized

Thursday, April 16th, 2009


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

The Short and Simple Story of the Credit Crisis.

The goal of giving form to a complex situation like the credit crisis is to quickly supply the essence of the situation to those unfamiliar and uninitiated. This project was completed as part of my thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

For more on my broader thesis work exploring the use of new media to make sense of a increasingly complex world, visit jonathanjarvis.com.

© Copyright 2009 Jonathan Jarvis
(Submitted by a reader)

U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, a film from South Africa

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Japan Pulls Out Welcome Mat from Under Brazilian Dekasseguis

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

By Cristina Pires

Everything was going just as planned for the Hashimoto siblings in Japan, Sheila, 29, Eliane, 26, and Gerson, 23, had moved there to work for a couple of years in the world’s second largest economy, in hopes of saving to buy a house back home in Brazil.
They were among the 316,967 Brazilians registered to work in Japan as of the end of 2007, according to CIATE, an agency that helps dekasseguis – as Brazilian workers in Japan are known – to find jobs. Nowadays, Brazilians make up the third largest group of immigrant workers in Japan, behind Chinese and Koreans.
The connection between the two countries dates back more than 100 years.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Brazil’s economy was booming, thanks to the coffee industry. As a result, immigrants were needed to work in Brazil’s fields and factories, and the Japanese seized the opportunity to leave an overpopulated and jobless country.
In 1908, 781 Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil on the Kasato Maru ship, according to the Immigrant Museum in São Paulo, marking the beginning of what would become the largest Japanese colony outside Japan.
In the 1940s and 1950s, nearly 275,000 Japanese immigrated to Brazil, according to Brazilian government statistics.
The migration between the two countries switched direction in the 1980s. Nearly 30 years ago, Brazilians of Japanese descent began moving to the homeland of their parents and grandparents, fleeing Brazil’s unstable economy. Thus began the dekasseguis movement.
Back then, job offers were abundant in Japan. And just as Brazil welcomed early Japanese immigrants seeking work in fields and factories, Japan absorbed the dekasseguis, many of whom spoke little or no Japanese.
But with the global economy in dire straits, today’s dekasseguis are no longer finding Japan so welcoming.
On December 1st, 2008, the Hashimotos learned that they were being laid off from the Sumitomo factory, which produces electronics in the city of Shiga-Ken, near Nagoya. They weren’t alone: The same factory fired 400 other Brazilians.
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Work Out at 50 & Live Longer

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Effect of adding exercise has the same beneficial effect on length of life as that of stopping smoking, say American experts

KSTEVEN REINBERG | HEALTHDAY NEWS – MEN who start exercising when they are 50 can extend their life span by more than two years, Swedish researchers say. Their study found that exercising has the same beneficial effect on length of life as quitting smoking in middle age. Nonetheless, almost half of middle- age men don’t exercise, the researchers said. But Dr. Karl Michaelsson, a senior lecturer in the Department of Surgical Sciences at Uppsala University and the study’s lead author, said the study offers more proof that “it’s not too late for a man after the age of 50 years to invest in health and longevity by becoming more physically active.”

“Men who reported an increase in physical activity to a high level at age 60 years had, after an induction period of approximately 10 years, the same mortality risk as those who continued to have a high physical activity from age 50 to age 60 years,” he said. “The magnitude of the reduction in mortality risk with increased physical activity corresponded to that of smoking cessation.”

The report was published in the March 6 online edition of BMJ. For the study, Michaelsson’s team collected data on 2,205 men who were 50 years old and then surveyed them again when they were 60, 70, 77 and 82. Each time, they were questioned about their level of physical activity as well as their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking habits and alcohol use.

After adjusting the data for other lifestyle factors, the researchers found that men who led sedentary lives were most likely to die during the follow-up period, and those who had the highest level of physical activity were least likely to die during that time. In fact, men who exercised the most when they were 50 lived, on average, 2.3 years longer, and men who did moderate exercise lived 1.1 years longer than men who reported the lowest levels of exercise. It might take five to 10 years to see, but men who exercise in middle-age live longer, the researchers noted.

And compared with smoking cessation, “the reductions in mortality risk were found to be equal,” Michaelsson said. “Everyone knows that smoking is hazardous for health and increases mortality risk, but it is not generally known that low physical activity has a similar impact on mortality risk as smoking.”

W h e t h e r women might reap the same b e n e f i t s remains a bit u n c l e a r . Michael s son said he was not aware of a similar study involving older women so, “if you are strict, our results cannot be extrapolated to women.” But, he added, “I cannot see a biological reason why there should be gender differences in effect.”

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(Submitted by a reader)

Unemployment among foreigners doubles in March

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Many Europeans not registered as they have been content with cash-in-hand

THE number of immigrants who registered as unemployed in Andalucia in March was double that of March 2008. The actual increase is 102.04 per cent and the actual number of foreign unemployed people in Andalucia is 55,825.

Month-on-month there was an increase of almost five per cent in unemployment from February to March this year, which equates to 2,618 foreigner workers. However, the real figure is probably much worse, as many foreigners do not register for unemployment benefit for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, unfortunately, is that many European foreign workers are happy to work cash-in-hand, despite being entitled to work legally. This is often not by choice, but as a result of a cash culture that extends beyond the service industry. As they are not registered with the social security, they are not entitled to receive unemployment benefit. Consequently, out of the 55,825 foreign persons registered as unemployed in Andalucia, the majority come from non-EEC countries (34,937). Nevertheless, the increase was slightly less than the regional total for March, 106.9 per cent.

By sector

Of the 55,825 registered unemployed, approximately 27,000 belong to the service industry, 14,500 in construction, 6,700 previously unemployed, 4,500 in agriculture and 2,940 in the industrial sector.

By province

Province by province, foreign unemployment in March 2009 stands at: Malaga (19,242), Almeria (12,255), Sevilla (6,684), Granada (6,351), Cadiz (4,369), Huelva (2,902), Cordoba (2,247) and Jaen (1,775).

According to the National Statistics Institute, there are 623,279 foreigners registered in Andalucia. Therefore the unemployment rate for foreign nationals in the region is nine per cent.

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Raising children for a peaceful South Asia

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Editorial by Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.

India and Pakistan, face far greater danger from within than from outside their borders.

The danger stems from the rapidly growing extremism, intolerance and violence. These menaces seriously threaten the security of these nations and wellbeing of their citizens.

In this context, creating a culture of peace in India and Pakistan is very important. Promotion of tolerance, coexistence, harmony and peace in our families and neighborhoods is essential.

We will have to start with children and youth, who will determine the future of India and Pakistan. We will need to teach them, how to live in harmony with those who are different from them; how to disagree with others without being disagreeable; and how to resolve conflicts through dialog, discussion, and empathy. We will have to show them how to be responsible members of their families, schools, and neighborhoods. We should involve them in action-oriented and practical conflict-resolution and peacemaking activities, which they can incorporate their daily life.

More importantly, we need to inculcate in our children and youth a hope for a happy, prosperous and peaceful future for themselves and for their nations. Without hope, our children and youth become easy fodder for the machines of extremism, intolerance and violence, and our nations lose their future.

With these objectives in mind, we, at the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA), have initiated planning for a pilot project to be implemented in a couple of schools in Pakistan. Based on our experiences in these schools, we will gradually expand the project to other schools in Pakistan as well as India.

Some ACHA members in Pakistan have agreed to work on the pilot project. One member will spearhead the effort to design suitable curriculum. Another member has agreed to explore the possibility of involving a progressive theater group to design and stage short-duration plays for school children. We will also seek help from other ACHA members in Pakistan, who have received formal training in conflict resolution and peacemaking, as well those who have skills and experience in designing peace and harmony activities in schools.

Further, we have sought guidance from some members of the Peace Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association in designing suitable curriculum for this project.

And, we will definitely need financial support and help of volunteers to successfully implement this project. Please direct your suggestions, and offers of help to me at asiapeace@comcast.net.

ACHA is a small, U.S.-based, non-profit organization, which is dedicated to promote peace in South Asia and harmony among South Asians everywhere. More information about us can be found at our two websites www.asiapeace.org and www.indiapakistanpeace.org