Blogging mostly about mundane stuff like, immigration, Workers' Compensation and other immigrant related activities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

42 Days!...and counting...

Image Credit: Chris Piascik 
Most everyone I know has already registered to Vote and have strong feelings as to who they will support in this Presidential election. 

I consider this Presidential election the most important election of my lifetime. I was first eligible to vote in 1980, so I've voted in quite a few elections and I can admit to a few mistakes. I can and will readily admit that I sometimes did not fully research the candidates, their platforms or event the important issues of the day.  On occasion here and there, I later determined that I voted for the wrong candidate and committed myself to closer scrutiny of the candidates, their platforms and the issues.

Granted, people will always favor different candidates and will look at issues from different perspectives, but that is what makes this country great.  So, whether your a McCain or Obama supporter, get out and Vote!, it's never been easier to register to Vote . 

This Presidential election is winding down with only 42 days remaining until Election Day. If you have not registered please do so, if you moved or changed your name register and get out and vote on November 4th.

Your Choice.

If you have not already taken a moment and sat down to quietly contemplate your choice for this Presidential election, now is about as good as time as any.  The issues are aplenty, the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration reform, energy/oil, the environment, womens rights, civil rights, the list is endless.

My Choice.

Personally, I'm a huge Obama supporter. 

I like Senator Obama's platform and strongly feel that his policies and perspectives on a number of issues will lead this country down the right path.  The United States is an important participant in what is increasingly become a global society and some very complex and intertwined economies.

This country needs to be guided by a leader who has the capacity to engender a willingness from foreign leaders to sit down and engage in honest talk and negotiations with us.  Obama's personality and temperament will serve him well as he navigates the complexity of our foreign affairs.

The challenges faced by this country have never been greater and we must consider what path this country should take in order for it to regain its standing as a world leader.

Check Your Status Today!

Again, whether you support McCain or Obama, please get out and Vote this election.  You can check your registration status, register to vote, look up early-vote information for your state, apply to vote absentee, or even find your polling place.  Do it here!

It's the easiest and most important thing you can do to make your voice heard.

Gracias -- we'll see each other at the polls.

UPDATE:  I neglected to mention that the debates begin this Friday, so tune in to get a better understanding on the differences between the candidates.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Obama Ad: Dos Caras

Update @ 2:39pm:  Here is McCain's Ad.

Update @ 2:42pm:  A piece from the NY Times on McCain's Spanish Ad

Short Film by Hilman Curtis: Soldiers

Yesterday, was Constitution Day day in which American commemorate the U.S. Constitution which on September 17, 1787 was signed by thirty-nine visionary men.
Constitution Day is supposed to be a time when "continue the legacy and develop habits of citizenship in the new generation of Americans".  But, what will the face of the "new generation of American's" look like?

A Short Story

In 1980 as a 19 year old I joined the U.S. Marine Corps.  I joined because, I did not want to go directly to college, I wanted to get away from home and wanted to serve his country, all in that order.  I joined much to my parents initial dismay which would later turn into pride albeit with reasonable fears for my safety.
A few months later, after being processed at some building in Los Angeles, I boarded a bus bound for Union Station and boarded an Amtrak train which left Los Angeles and headed to San Diego for 13-weeks of basic training.
I was accompanied on the train a few other recruits, we had been delayed while being processed and missed the chartered bus, so special transportation arrangements where made for our group of what I remember being five Marine recruits.
Anyway, while heading to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot (MCRD) for what would turn out to be some very  long, mentally and physically challenging training, I had time to contemplate what lay ahead.  However, while on the train I had no idea of what actually awaited me, no idea of what to expect while in basic training.  I was just thinking, wishfully thinking about the possibilities as I embarked on this new path.  I was thinking about how best I could serve my country.

Remember, when I joined the military, I was still just a Permanent U.S. Resident and had not yet decided to become a U.S. Citizen, as a 19 year old I had not really given that much thought on what it meant to be a U.S. Citizen, much less pondered it's value and significance.

What's in a title?

When you join the Marines you don't automatically become a "Marine".  You don't earn the privilege of being called Marine until you actually graduate from basic training.  While in basic training Drill Instructors may refer to you as "private", if they are feeling generous, most likely they will less desirable names, such a maggot, scum bucket, shit-for-brains, etc., all meant to remind you that you have not yet earned the title of Marine, you've yet to earn the title of Private, so dig deep and train hard.
At about the 11th week, the Drill Instructors will begin to call you "Private" and one begins to see them more as mentors rather than, well hard-asses hell bent on destroying you.  The fact that a Drill Instructor would address with the title of "Private" is enough to fill up any recruit who has just left behind him or her some 10 weeks of intense physical training of what is the most demanding basic military training program in the U.S. Armed Forces will fill them with immense pride.  The title of Private tell you that the forthcoming title is that of United States Marine.  The light becomes visible at the end of the tunnel.
What does it mean to be a Citizen?

So, once again yesterday was Constitution Day, which made me ponder what it means to be a Citizen.  It made me think about the sacrifices that citizens and our US Military makes on our behalf everyday.  It reminded me of the sacrifices that thousands of soldiers what are foreign born immigrants, the sacrifices that those immigrants who have yet to become U.S. citizens also make for their adopted country.
I could not help but think what those thirty-nine courages and visionary men, those who wrote the U.S. Constitution could possible think about how our current legislative leaders and our commander in chief have interpreted the articles of the constitution?
Is it possible that new immigrants have a different concept of what Citizenship means, one that is different from what our founding fathers envisioned?  Certainly our founding fathers would never have envisioned a nation with a racial make up such is our nation is today.
It goes without saying that the founding fathers could never have envisioned a United States of America in 2008.  But our current leaders know what to expected our nation to look like in 2050.   The US Census has widely reported on how Asian, Black and Latino/Hispanics will become the majority in the United States by 2050.
So once again, what does it mean to be a Citizen of the United States today?  Is there broad consensus amongst us on what that means?
The Pew Hispanic Center just released study cites that:
Half (50%) of all Latinos say that the situation of Latinos in this country is worse now than it was a year ago, according to a new nationwide survey of 2,015 Hispanic adults conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.

How can this country and it's citizens become more unified if most factors point to a continued fragmentation. The failure of our government to fix our immigration crisis has only added to the fragmentation, something that a souring economy only makes worse.
We can vigorously debate the issue of illegal immigration and whether or not such immigrants contribute positively or negatively to the United States, both in an economic and social sense, but the fact remains that they are here, some have been here for over 20 years and despite Draconian efforts most will remain in this country.
The immigration crisis as an issue has been largely absent from the Presidential Elections of 2008, perhaps the upcoming debates will be reason for it to resurface and allow the candidates to spell out their plans for a solution.

The current issue is that of the economy, but immigration, even illegal immigration has become an integral part of such economy.  The fixing of our immigration crisis is like the elephant in the room which nobody wants to acknowledge.  Both presidential candidates fears what that fix will look like and they fear alienating their base with the hard and difficult choices that will accompany such "fix".
The McCain and Obama camps seem to be comfortable in the notion that it's best to address the immigration crisis once they are elected into office.  It's strategically a better place from which to deal with the messy clean-up, since in office their election is not longer at stake, but it's a cop out.
Citizens vs. Immigrants

How will our legislature deal with the Millions of undocumented workers currently in the United States and will they be provided with an eventual path to Citizenship?
How will the next Presidential administration deal with the billions of dollars that undocumented immigrants have paid into the social security system?  A dirty little secret is that those funds have been paid by immigrants to fund the benefits that U.S. Citizens receive from the Social Security Administration.  It's simply how the SSA operates, current generation of workers pay the Social Security benefits of past working generations.  

Will an immigration reform measure allow the SSA to credit the account of millions of undocumented immigrants with the money they have contributed via payroll deductions?  More importantly will they be allowed to receive Social Security benefits when they become eligible and how will those benefits be funded?

McCain and Obama have very hard work ahead.  The next President will be required to lead our legilators and have them decide whether millions of undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States will be provided with a path towards U.S. Citizenship.
The stakes are immensely high and even our founding fathers would be hard pressed for an easy decision.  The choices made by the next administration on comprehensive immigration reform will greatly impact the future of the United States in profound ways that are yet to be determined.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is it Racist to Market Obama Waffles?

So, these two enterprising business guys and since this post is about race, I'll mention that it's two Caucasian guys from Franklin, Tennessee.  The guys, Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss decide to sell boxes of waffle mix which featured caricatures of Obama.  The caricature is reminiscent of stereotypical racist cartoons.  

The men claim that their product was merely intended as political satire and that it should not be viewed as promoting racism in any.  The box also has caricatures of Michele Obama, the Pastor Jeremiah Wright and Senator John Kerry.  

On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, the box contains a recipe for "Open Border Fiesta Waffles" which can serve "4 or more illegal aliens".

Last weekend they sold their "Obama Waffles" at a booth at the Values Voter Summit in D.C. for $10.00 per box.  They also operate a website to sell their product.   The story on the "Obama Waffles" blew up over the weekend and once again brought the issue of race front and center in these Presidential Elections.  Once again the issue of race keeps rearing it's ugly head.

So, are the "Obama Waffles" racist or are they political satire?  

Let's say they don't rise to the level of racist caricatures and that they are indeed political satire.  Does this type of political satire help or hinder McCain supporters?  The creators of this product are clearly McCain/Palin supporters, so, does a product that injects or stirs up accusations of racism from the opponent or it's supporters something the McCain camp should publicly defend or reject?  

Unfortunately, both sides of the aisle will be busy trading barbs at each other and not much meaningful discourse will result from such an important discussion on race and it's impact on this Presidential Election.  

It's sad realization about how much race will factor into this Presidential Election.  If in 2004 we were divided, essentially split into what pundits deemed a "haves and have-nots" divide.  

The "Obama Waffles" incident is a sad commentary on how much further our nation may be split during this election.  It goes deeper than agreeing on whether or not a caricature of Obama rises to the level of stereotypical characterizations.  We've yet to arrive at a place where we can find common ground on what constitutes or rises to the level of racism and this Presidential Election threatens to deepen that divide rather than close it.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fat Cat Slim Gets a 6% Bite of NY Times

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu has acquired ownership stake in The New York Times Company, publisher of one of the most prestigious US newspaper dailies.  Slim Helu's investment stake of 6.4% will make him the largest holder of Class A shares, which are in a separate category from those held by members of the controlling family of the company.  The total investment by Slim Helu in the New York Times comes to $127m (£73m), which amounts to $1,352,869,087.38 Mexican Pesos at the current rate of exchange. 

Carlos Slim is ranked by Forbes magazine as the second wealthiest person in he world, behind Warren Buffett.  I posted on Slim Helu in 2006 when his wealth was then an estimated 30 billion dollars.  Today, Slim Helu's estimated wealth has grown to 60 billion dollars, he has essentially doubled his wealth in just two short years and surpassed Bill Gates on the list of the worlds richest people. 

I previously posted about Slim Helu here, when Forbes magazine declared him the third wealthiest person in the world.  I posted:
So how much of what Carlos Slim Helu does can actually be viewed as working towards closing the gap between rich and poor in Mexico?  Not much.  Despite all of Mr. Slim Helu's generous civic actions they pale in comparison to the millions he and his business partners have contributed to the ruling party the PRI and their political campaigns.
The near monopoly power that TelMex enjoys in Mexico has resulted in what consumer advocates cite as price gouging of the poor while the ratio of telephones per 1000 inhabitants is lower than Brazil and Argentina both of which have smaller economies than Mexico.
A post previous to that is here, which is about Slim Helu's purchase of a 3% stake in Apple Computers in 1997.  That 1997 investment in Apple by Slim Helu cost him a total of 25 million dollars.  Apple stock was at $17.00 when Slim Helu purchased the stock and during the next 12 months with the return of Steve Jobs to the helm the stock rose to $100.00.

What can Slim Helu possibly see in the future of The NY Times that other investors have missed?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Harvest of Shame

Former Speaker of the California State Assembly Fabian Núñez has released a short documentary film titled "Harvest of Shame".  The film is narrated by Núñez and it documents the unsafe and sometimes fatal conditions that farm workers face on a daily basis while harvesting our fruits and vegetables. 

The film comes at the heals of a bill authored by Speaker Emeritus Núñez, Assembly Bill 2386.  The bill was written in response to the unsafe working conditions faced by farm workers.  For a brief outline on the bill see the Farm Workers page Assemblyman Núñez has on his website.  The provisions of AB 2386 are currently not supported by The California Farm Bureau Federation, which is a broad coalition of California agricultural organizations, it issued a statement urging a veto of the measure by California Gov. Schwarzenegger.

AB 2386 would authorize secret ballot elections for farm workers and help ensure that the laws on the books match the realities in the farm fields.  The bill passed the Senate and currently awaits a response from the California Governor, who is expected to veto the measure.

Deaths Related to Heat Stroke  

Since 2004 a total of 15 farm workers have died in the farm fields of California.  Some 34 farm workers have died of heat stroke in the United States between 2003-2008.   No other occupation, besides firefighters sees more deaths from heat stroke on a per-capita basis, than farm workers.  The occupational hazards of firefighters encompass heat stroke, but how can we allow farm workers to pick our crops while risking their lives in the hot sun?

Cal-OSHA, the agency entrusted to inspect agricultral operations for safety can certainly do a better job of enforcing already existing rules, fines and penalties on farms.  Criticism can also be leveled at the United Farm Workers who have largely failed to raise awareness of the issue and identify troublesome, repeat offending farms.

It should ne noted that most death cases resulting from heat stroke are not deliberate, which means that the farmer, farm staff and/or supervisors only needed to be better prepared.  The need for better training to treat heat-related illnesses is evident.


The questions beg:  Why is it that farmers are not required to suspend operations once temperature levels are deemed dangerous by the National Weather Service?   It's ironic, that such practice is common and widely used in Mexico.  I witnessed this as a 17-year-old, when on a whim I decided to pick cotton for a summer, while staying with my Grandmother in Mexicali.

While I was enthusiastically picking cotton, in what later amounted to the equivalent of slave-wages, and shoving it into a large canvas bag, which was tied at my waist and trailed behind as I straddled it between my legs, I heard a shout that came from the foreman.  He interrupted my enthusiastic harvest and he politely told me to stop, indicating the weather was too hot.  The foreman added that if I wanted, I could return once the sun started to set and continue my harvesting, it was only then that I noticed that besides me only he and another worker sitting under the shade while he manned the weight scale, remained.

That was in Mexico and some 25+ years ago, surely we can do better, if not do just the same.  Can't we?

Tough Economic Conditions

Firefighters know the risks that come with the job.  They know that they may be vulnerable to heat-related death when they sign up for the job, but should we expect the same from farm workers?  

There are simple things we can do to help ensure the safety of farm workers.  We can mandate that farmers provide their workers with water, shade, and rest periods.  We can demand that Cal-OSHA not be bullied by the large scale lobbying of California's Agri-Business and enforce already existing penalties and fines, that would be a start.

If we want to think outside the box, perhaps the cheapest solutions is simply for agri-business to institute "flex-time" which would allow farm workers a varied work schedule that does not require them to work under the hot sun.  It's a thought and one that could go far in stemming the loss of life farm workers potentially face while doing nothing more than bringing food to our tables.

The Inconsistencies of the English Language


I totally dig how 102-year-old Ed Rondhaller spells out the inconsistencies of the English language.  The video reminded me of Gallagher's comedy routine, "Messing with Your Mind".  English and the inconsistent rules that accompany its pronunciation make it one of the most difficult second languages to learn.  The inconsistencies of the language is one of the most common complaints faced by ESL teachers from students in their first attempt to learn the language. 

UPDATE: Gallagher's "English Language" skit.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mexico Under Siege

Yesterday, Deborah Bonello of MexicoReporter posted a video along with photos of the "Peace March In Mexico". The post is about the thousands of protesters who have taken to streets across Mexico to express their anger and indignation about the increase in kidnappings and murders in their country. The protests are also a means to call upon the government to take further action to quell the violence despite the fact that many protesters fear little will change.

Mexico currently has a kidnapping rate that rivals conflict zones such as Iraq and Colombia . Mexican official statistics report a 40%increase in kidnappings between 2004 and 2007, it's believed that figure is much higher because kidnapping victims often don't report their crime to the police authorities.

Today, President Felipe Calderon submitted a report to Mexico's Congress claiming progress from his war against organized crime that began some 21 months ago. Calderon's crime initiative deployed some 40,000 of Mexico's soldiers and 5,000 federal police to border states and large areas of the country infiltrated by drug cartels. Since Calderon launched his crackdown against drug cartels, an estimated 4,100 people have died. Marc Lacey's report "Mexico: Gains Against Drugs Claimed" for the New York Times he wrote:

He said that, in 21 months in office, his administration had rounded up
many drug kingpins and seized more than 11,000 weapons, from pistols to
missile launchers.

Drug cartels routinely unleash urban battles in their never ending power stuggles. They fight over lucrative trade routes to increase their market share and employ weapons, such machine guns and grenades. Mexican officials describe such battles between drug cartels as the "equivalent to military small-unit combat". The harsh reality is that for some time now criminals in Mexico are better equipped than the local police and military units they combat. The LA Times published an article on August 10, 2008 on how weapons and ammunition flow unchecked into Mexico from U.S. Border states.
More than 6,700 licensed gun dealers have set up shop within a short
drive of the 2,000-mile border, from the Gulf Coast of Texas to San
Diego -- which amounts to more than three dealers for every mile of
border territory. Law enforcement has come to call the region an "iron
river of guns."
American made weapons flow into via the use of "straw buyers" which drug cartels employ along U.S. Border States to purchase and smuggle automatic weapons into Mexico. The constant flow of weapons into Mexico is made possible in part due to the large amounts of cash that illegal drug sales produce for drug cartels in the United States. The cost of such weapons if of little concern to drug cartels whose business had grown into a $65 Billion Dollar business as early as 1998. Thus a vicious cycle ensues; Mexico sends the U.S. illegal drugs and America sends Mexico illegal weapons, routinely caught in the middle are the victims of drug violence on both sides of the border.

A High Profile Kidnapping

The governments difficulty to combat drug cartels and crime was brought sharper into focus when Fernando Marti, 14 years old, was kidnapped. Marti who appears in the image below with his parents was the son of a
wealthy businessman. He was kidnapped at a bogus checkpoint set up by criminals dressed in police uniforms.

(Agencia Reforma)
The kidnapping and death of Fernando Marti, shown last year with his
parents, Alejandro and Matilde Marti, sparked national outrage. His
family reportedly paid the abductors millions of dollars to try to
bring the 14-year-old home.
What troubles so many is the fact that Marti was kidnapped despite efforts by his family to take necessary precautions. Marti was kidnapped from the families bullet proof sedan along with his bodyguard and his driver. The Marti family waited in agony for their son to be released after paying a reported $6 Million
Dollars in ransom money. Marti's decomposed and bullet riddled body would later be found in the trunk of a stolen and abandoned car. Calderon would attend Fernando Marti's funeral while and investigation would later reveal that Federal Police officers were involved in the kidnapping.

Police involvement in criminal activities makes President Felipe Calderon's efforts that much more complicated. The government has the arduous task of combating what many see as pervasive corruption within local and federal police authorities. The corruption amongst police, even if limited, has instilled fear among Mexican citizens, who often fear local and federal police, as much as they fear criminals.

Taking to the Streets

Mexican citizens have taken to the streets to publicly express their outrage and to demand their government take further action, but sadly many admit that combating rampant crime and violence from drug cartels is a problem that will require considerable resources that Mexico can ill afford.

The rash of kidnappings has not only affected citizens throughout Mexico, but has also impacted tourists who are often kidnapped in what is considered as "Express Kidnappings". In such crime tourists are kidnapped and forced to draw money from their bank accounts via Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) and often released unharmed. Mexicans are increasingly not only calling on their government to step up enforcements, but also to raise the penalty on those who commit such crimes, especially when it involves children.

Economic Crisis Coupled with Future Uncertainty

The Mexican government is under pressure to demonstrate results from their offensive against organized crime and calm the uncertainty felt by a large segment of it's citizens. How effective Calderon's administration will be at combating drug cartels and crime has yet to be determined. Pres. Calderon has a full plate before him, aside from combating crime and drug cartels, an economic crisis, he is also wrapped up in a battle to reform Pemex, the state-run oil company which provides the lions share of revenue to his government.

Mexico's growing economic crisis is further impacted as its second largest source of revenue, remittances from Mexicans living and working in the U.S. continues to decline, mostly as a result of the United States declining economy. Prior to 2008, the level of remittances had steadily grown year-after-year and as of 2006 had surpassed tourism to become the second largest source of revenue for Mexico behind oil exports.

Calderon's term as President of Mexico end in 2012 so he has a years ahead to work on fixing many of Mexico's troubles. However, the unfolding presidential campaign in the United States could spell further trouble for Calderon, as an Obama or McCain administration responds to public pressure to fix the illegal immigration problem. Mexico's civic unrest may increase once the U.S. Congress reforms our immigration policy and sharply curtails the number of Mexican migrant workers who are allowed enter and legally work into the United States. As it currently stands Mexico's inability to create jobs results in many of it's citizens voting with their feet, leaving Mexico and seek a better life across the border. How Mexico will be impacted when a greater number of it's citizens can no longer easily, albeit illegally, migrate to the United States is a problem, given Mexico's current problems, that has not popped up on President Calderon's radar.