Sunday, April 30, 2006

Energy Dependence - Truthout - Michael A. Fox: Bodies for Barrels

Editor's Note: This perspective comes from an Ohio Republican. Michael A. Fox served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for 23 years and is currently a County Commissioner in Butler County, Ohio. Conservative on most issues, Fox has come to realize that the war in Iraq is about feeding our oil addiction and it doesn't sit well with him. He raises his voice eloquently against "trading the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil." As more and more Americans from both the right and the left discover that the current energy crisis is not temporary but permanent, the political ground underneath many different issues, from the environment to foreign policy, will shift.

Bodies for Barrels: Betrayal and Energy Dependence
By Michael A. Fox
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

America's energy problems are not, as President Bush recently declared, because Americans have an "addiction to oil." Our energy problems stem from the failed leadership of two political parties - Democrats and Republicans.

For over thirty years presidents and congresses from both parties have had an addiction to playing politics and courting the special interests who fund their next election cycle - all at the expense of our national security.

They have betrayed us. America felt the first shock wave of energy dependence with the oil embargo of 1973. The lessons from that experience were clear - our nation and our economy could be brought to its knees by a handful of hate-filled lunatics in the Middle East; a lesson ignored by both parties. Since then, leaders from each party periodically paid lip service to energy independence, making symbolic moves designed to reassure the public that making America energy independent was important. But neither party ever made it a priority. Neither party has provided continuous and determined leadership to secure our national security by securing our energy independence.

The result? Never in our history has our country been more vulnerable to foreign influence and economic attack from our enemies. The neglect and betrayal by both parties has led us to an unspoken yet horrifically real and hollow energy and foreign policy that reduces us to trading the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil.

Like many Americans I trusted the President. I believe that he is a good and decent man. But like presidents before him, he cannot even seem to envision a policy that leads to energy independence. When he delivered his State of the Union Address a few weeks ago, I cringed when I heard him brag that "Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources - and we are on the threshold of incredible advances." He announced the creation of an "Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22 percent increase in clean energy research." Big deal, like going to a gun fight with a toy knife.

Suggesting that we can somehow do anything meaningful to achieve energy independence by increasing our five year investment in research by roughly $200 million per year is laughable. To put this investment in energy independence in perspective, consider that since 2001 Americans have spent $200 billion dollars on pet food - 20 times more on buying pet food than the federal government spends on energy research.

Here's the essence of our energy policy. Imagine this: you pull into a gas station and tell the attendant to fill up the gas tank. It comes time to pay and the attendant asks "Which of your children do you want to sacrifice in payment." Which child must die? Ridiculous? How is that different than what we are doing in the Middle East?

The invasion of Iraq, the stationing of our 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, the posting of our troops at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars annually throughout the Middle East is about protecting the oil fields of Saudi Arabia - our so-called ally who has provided funding for most of the terrorist groups that stir anti-American hatred throughout the world.

America invests hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of young people's lives and mangled bodies each year to make sure each of us can fill up our tank when we need it - bodies for barrels. But what if we had to trade our child (as so many have been called to do) for a full tank of gas?

Wouldn't we demand an alternative solution like a responsible energy policy that is as important to us as the Manhattan Project was during World War II or putting a man on the moon was in the 60s? I believe we would - and we should.

If it is financially sustainable for our nation to spend what some estimate will be a trillion dollars in the Iraqi War before we're finished, then why is it so outlandish to expect that we make an equal investment of national and financial resources to energy independence? If we are willing to ask our young people to sacrifice and die or get maimed so we can top off our tanks, then why are we not equally willing to commit our nation to energy independence?

Our nation's energy vulnerability is an outrageous betrayal by both parties - Democrats and Republicans. In the coming days you will see a frenzy of proposals coming from both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress. These proposals will continue to cascade until the November election and then we'll go back to business as usual.

These gestures are nothing more than symbolic gestures. The public needs more than symbols from our leaders; we deserve solutions. America has the ingenuity, intellectual infrastructure, spirit and knowledge to come through this crisis as we have others in our history.

Across America there are young minds teeming with ideas that deserve research funding so they can help us end our reliance on foreign energy. There are ideas that will enable us to conserve more energy, get more efficiency out of our engines and industrial enterprises and lead to alternative sources heretofore not even considered.

The missing ingredients are and always have been, leadership, vision, and will. Money follows vision. Our political leaders need to articulate a simple vision and actually mean it - energy independence.

Here's a start. As Congress currently debates a measure that will provide increased funding for the Iraq War why not adopt a policy that says: "Not one more dollar should be spent on the Iraq War or securing the oil fields and shipping lanes of the world unless an equal dollar is spent on research to secure our energy independence?" If it is important enough to spend a dollar sending a young man or woman to war then it is important enough as a nation to spend an equal dollar eliminating the threat that causes them to lay down their life.

America needs political leadership that looks beyond the next election and beyond the favor of oil and multinational corporate interests. There is nothing that America cannot achieve if we commit ourselves to a vision and support it with the full will and might of our nation. What happened to the days when our political leaders had the courage to do what is right and had the will to set politics aside to protect our national security?

There is nothing more important to America's future than securing energy independence. Without it, our children and grandchildren are likely to see wars of incomprehensible destruction. President Eisenhower once said that "the only way to win World War III was to prevent it."

We are at the threshold or Armageddon and the fuse that is likely to set it off is energy dependency, nations warring to secure scarce resources. Our ability to avoid the incomprehensible horror of World War III depends on our energy independence. Continued energy dependence will mean continued war. America can do better than an energy policy that trades the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil. In order to do this, each American has to stand ready to make whatever sacrifice is required to become energy independent.

Why not give research a chance? Why not give America's brilliance and innovative spirit a chance? Why not enlist the creativity and intellectual fire-power of our young people's minds and back it with the full might of our nation's wealth?

If we must, in the short run, spend billions of dollars to send our young people into battle to secure the oil our economy needs then let's match those expenditures with equal amounts going into laboratories and university research centers to find the solutions to our energy dependence.

How can our leaders send someone's child to battle knowing that the circumstances that make their sacrifice necessary are driven by the unwillingness of our nation to make the sacrifices that must be made to avoid the war we send them to fight? How can any congressman, senator, or president send someone's child to battle without being able to look them in the eye and tell them with conviction and truth that we will match their sacrifice with the courage, force of will, and resources to become energy independent?

Our leaders are the stewards of freedom and thus far they have betrayed the trust of the American people. On the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, the speech he was to have delivered contained these words: "We in this country - are - by destiny rather than by choice - the watchmen on the walls of world freedom." His words ring true today, and unless our national leaders break the bonds of energy dependence, the walls of freedom will come tumbling down.

Our leaders have been asleep at their posts. It's time that they wake up and rise to the challenge of our time. It's time for them to make some tough choices and break our chain of dependence. It is time for them to muster the courage to do whatever is necessary to make sure that not one American son our daughter is sent to battle to fight for a barrel of oil.

For me the choice is easy. What I don't understand is why our national leaders cannot see it. For the sake of our children, our future, and the security of America, it's time we force them to see the challenge and act.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Opinion - Rich - NY Times - Bush of a Thousand Days

The New York Times, Sunday,
April 30, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Bush of a Thousand Days


LIKE the hand that suddenly pops out of the grave at the end of "Carrie," the past keeps coming back to haunt the Bush White House. Last week was no exception. No sooner did the Great Decider introduce the Fox News showman anointed to repackage the same old bad decisions than the spotlight shifted back to Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury room, where Karl Rove testified for a fifth time. Nightfall brought the release of an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll with its record-low numbers for a lame-duck president with a thousand days to go and no way out.

The demons that keep rising up from the past to grab Mr. Bush are the fictional W.M.D. he wielded to take us into Iraq. They stalk him as relentlessly as Banquo's ghost did Macbeth. From that original sin, all else flows. Mr. Rove wouldn't be in jeopardy if the White House hadn't hatched a clumsy plot to cover up its fictions. Mr. Bush's poll numbers wouldn't be in the toilet if American blood was not being spilled daily because of his fictions. By recruiting a practiced Fox News performer to better spin this history, the White House reveals that it has learned nothing. Made-for-TV propaganda propelled the Bush presidency into its quagmire in the first place. At this late date only the truth, the whole and nothing but, can set it free.

All too fittingly, Tony Snow's appointment was announced just before May Day, a red-letter day twice over in the history of the Iraq war. It was on May 1 three years ago that Mr. Bush did his victory jig on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. It was May 1 last year that The Sunday Times of London published the so-called Downing Street memo. These events bracket all that has gone wrong and will keep going wrong for this president until he comes clean.

To mark the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion last month, the White House hyped something called Operation Swarmer, "the largest air assault" since the start of the war, complete with Pentagon-produced video suitable for the evening news. (What the operation actually accomplished as either warfare or P.R. remains a mystery.) It will take nothing less than a replay of D-Day with the original cast to put a happy gloss on tomorrow's anniversary. Looking back at "Mission Accomplished" now is like playing that childhood game of "What's wrong with this picture?" It wasn't just the banner or the "Top Gun" joyride or the declaration of the end of "major combat operations" that was bogus. Everything was fake except the troops.

"We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools," Mr. Bush said on that glorious day. Three years later we know, courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers, that our corrupt, Enron-like Iraq reconstruction effort has yielded at most 20 of those 142 promised hospitals. But we did build a palace for ourselves. The only building project on time and on budget, USA Today reported, is a $592 million embassy complex in the Green Zone on acreage the size of 80 football fields. Symbolically enough, it will have its own water-treatment plant and power generator to provide the basic services that we still have not restored to pre-invasion levels for the poor unwashed Iraqis beyond the American bunker.

These days Mr. Bush seems to be hoping that we'll just forget every falsehood in his "Mission Accomplished" oration. Trying to deflect a citizen's hostile question about prewar intelligence claims, the president asserted at a public forum last month that he had never said "there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein." But on May 1, 2003, as on countless other occasions, he repeatedly made that direct connection. "With those attacks the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States," he intoned then. "And war is what they got." It was typical of the bait-and-switch rhetoric he used to substitute a war of choice against an enemy who did not attack us on 9/11 for the war against the non-Iraqi terrorists who did.

At the time, "Mission Accomplished" was cheered by the Beltway establishment. "This fellow's won a war," the dean of the capital's press corps, David Broder, announced on "Meet the Press" after complimenting the president on the "great sense of authority and command" he exhibited in a flight suit. By contrast, the Washington grandees mostly ignored the Downing Street memo when it was first published in Britain, much as they initially underestimated the import of the Valerie Wilson leak investigation.

The Downing Street memo — minutes of a Tony Blair meeting with senior advisers in July 2002, nearly eight months before the war began — has proved as accurate as "Mission Accomplished" was fantasy. Each week brings new confirmation that the White House, as the head of British intelligence put it, was determined to fix "the intelligence and facts" around its predetermined policy of going to war in Iraq. Today Mr. Bush tries to pass the buck on the missing W.M.D. to "faulty intelligence," but his alibi is springing leaks faster than the White House and the C.I.A. can clamp down on them. We now know the president knew that the intelligence he cherry-picked was faulty — and flogged it anyway to sell us the war.

The latest evidence that Mr. Bush knew that "uranium from Africa" was no slam-dunk when he brandished it in his 2003 State of the Union address was uncovered by The Washington Post: the coordinating council for the 15 American intelligence agencies had already informed the White House that the Niger story had no factual basis and should be dropped. Last Sunday "60 Minutes" augmented this storyline and an earlier scoop by Lisa Myers of NBC News by reporting that the White House had deliberately ignored its most highly placed prewar informant, Saddam's final foreign minister, Naji Sabri, once he sent the word that Saddam's nuclear cupboard was bare.

"There was almost a concern we'd find something that would slow up the war," Tyler Drumheller, a 26-year C.I.A. veteran and an on-camera source for "60 Minutes," said when I interviewed him last week. Since retiring from the C.I.A. in fall 2004, Mr. Drumheller has played an important role in revealing White House chicanery, including its dire hawking of Saddam's mobile biological weapons labs, which turned out to be fictitious. Before Colin Powell's fateful U.N. presentation, Mr. Drumheller conveyed vociferous warnings that the sole human source on these nonexistent W.M.D. labs, an Iraqi émigré known as Curveball, was mentally unstable and a fabricator. "The real tragedy of this," Mr. Drumheller says, "is if they had let the weapons inspectors play out, we could have had a Gulf War I-like coalition, which would have given us the [300,000] to 400,000 troops needed to secure the country after defeating the Iraqi Army."

Mr. Drumheller says that until the White House "comes to grips with why it did this" and stops "propping up the original rationale" for the war, it "will never get out of Iraq." He is right. But the White House clings to its discredited fictions even though their expiration date is fast arriving. There are new Drumhellers seeking out reporters each day. The Fitzgerald investigation continues to yield revelations of administration W.M.D. subterfuge, president-authorized leaks included. Should the Democrats retake either house of Congress in November, their subpoena power will liberate the investigation of the manipulation of prewar intelligence that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, has stalled for almost two years.

SET against this reality, the debate about Donald Rumsfeld's future is as much of a sideshow as the installation of a slicker Fleischer-McClellan marketer in the White House press room. The defense secretary's catastrophic mistakes in Iraq cannot be undone now, and any successor would still be beholden to the policy set from above. Mr. Rumsfeld is merely a useful, even essential, scapegoat for the hawks in politics and punditland who are now embarrassed to have signed on to this fiasco. For conservative hawks, he's a convenient way to deflect blame from where it most belongs: with the commander in chief. For liberal hawks, attacking Mr. Rumsfeld for his poor execution of the war means never having to say you're sorry for leaping on (and abetting) the blatant propaganda bandwagon that took us there. But their history can't be rewritten any more than Mr. Bush's can: the war's failures were manifestly foretold by the administration's arrogance and haste during the run-up.

A new defense or press secretary changes nothing. The only person who can try to save the administration from itself in Iraq is the president. He can start telling the truth in the narrow window of time he has left and initiate a candid national conversation about our inevitable exit strategy. Or he can wait for events on the ground in Iraq and political realities at home to do it for him.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Opinion - Brooks - NY Times - Class & Cliques: Lunch Period Poli Sci

The New York Times, Sunday,
April 30, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Lunch Period Poli Sci


College is still probably a good idea, but everything you need to know about America you can learn in high school. For example, if you want to understand American class structure you'd be misled if you read Marx, but you'd understand it perfectly if you look around a high school cafeteria.

The jocks sit here; the nerds sit there; the techies, drama types, skaters, kickers and gangstas sit there, there and there. What you see is not class in the 19th-century sense, but a wide array of lifestyle cliques, some richer, some poorer, but each regarding the others as vaguely pathetic and convinced of its moral superiority.

Similarly, when it comes to politics, high school explains most everything you need to know. In 1976, Tom Wolfe wrote an essay for Commentary in which he noted that our political affiliations are shaped subrationally. He went on to observe that especially when we are young and forming our identities, we make sense of our lives by running little morality plays in our heads in which the main characters are Myself, the hero, and My Adolescent Opposite, the enemy.

"Forever after," Wolfe writes, "the most momentous national and international events are stuffed into the same turf. The most colossal antagonists and movements become merely stand-ins for My Adolescent Self and My Adolescent Opposite.

"If My Opposite, my natural enemy in adolescence, was the sort of person who seemed overly aggressive, brutish and in love with power, I identify him with the 'conservative' position. If My Opposite, my natural enemy in adolescence, seemed overly sensitive, soft, cerebral and incapable of action, I identify him with the 'liberal' position."

And so it goes. In every high school there are students who are culturally and intellectually superior but socially aggrieved. These high school culturati have wit and sophisticated musical tastes but find that all prestige goes to jocks, cheerleaders and preps who possess the emotional depth of a cocker spaniel. The nerds continue to believe that the self-reflective life is the only life worth living (despite all evidence to the contrary) while the cool, good-looking, vapid people look down upon them with easy disdain on those rare occasions they are compelled to acknowledge their existence.

These sarcastic cultural types may grow up to be rich movie producers, but they will remember their adolescent opposites and become liberals. They may grow up to be rich lawyers but will decorate their homes with interesting fabrics from the oppressed Peruvian peasantry to differentiate themselves from their jock opposites.

In adulthood, the former high school nerds will savor the sort of scandals that befall their formerly athletic and currently corporate adolescent enemies — the Duke lacrosse scandal, the Enron scandal, the various problems that have plagued the frat boy Bush. In the lifelong struggle for moral superiority, problems that bedevil your adolescent opposites send pleasure-inducing dopamine surging through your brain.

Similarly, in every high school there are jocks, cheerleaders and regular kids who vaguely sense that their natural enemies are the brooding poets who go off to become English majors. These prom kings and queens may leave their adolescent godhood and go off to work as underpaid sales reps despite their coldly gracious spouses and effortlessly slender kids, but they will still remember their adolescent opposites and become conservatives. They will experience surges of orgiastic triumphalism when Sean Hannity eviscerates the scuffed-shoed intellectuals who have as much personal courage as a French chipmunk in retreat.

Because these personal traits are so pervasive and constant, Republican administrations tend to be staffed by people who are well-balanced but dull, while Democratic administrations tend to be staffed by people who are interesting but neurotic. Because these rivalries are so permanent, nobody has ever voted for a presidential candidate they wouldn't have had lunch with in high school.

The only real shift between school and adult politics is that the jocks realize they need conservative intellectuals, who are geeks who have decided their fellow intellectuals should never be allowed to run anything and have learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them. Meanwhile, the geeks have learned they need to find popular kids like F.D.R. to head their tickets because the American people will never send a former geek to the White House. (Bill Clinton was unique in that he was a member of every clique at once.)

The central message, though, is that we never escape our high school selves. Vote for Pedro.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Immigrants - NJ - Mexican - NY Times - Way North of the Border

The New York Times, Sunday,
April 30, 2006
Our Towns

Way North of the Border



NOE and his wife, Yolanda, crept over the border from Mexico through Texas in a car six years ago, bound for work in the tomato and blueberry fields of New Jersey. Noe would have liked to stay in Texas because it was closer to home, but the North beckoned.

"There's more money the more north you go," he said. "Mexicans will go to the farthest place in the world, if they can make more money."

Noe, 28, and Yolanda, 27, now have two small sons. Noe has worked his way up from the fields to factory jobs, including a stint in a turkey processing plant.

He learned English, and now works in construction. Someday, he hopes, he will own a construction company.

Noe also dreams of going back home to visit, but that is just a dream.

"I cannot go to Mexico, I would never be able to come back," he said over a Sunday dinner of tacos and beans at Tacos Bravos, a roadside restaurant in this Cumberland County city that is filled with Mexican songs on the jukebox. Noe and Yolanda, who would not give their last names, are among the surging population of Mexicans living and working in New Jersey illegally.

As Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, became bolder and more emphatic in their demands for inclusion in American society at rallies nationwide this spring, the current debate over a national immigration policy has increasing importance in New Jersey.

Mexicans now make up about 20 percent of the state's estimated population of 355,000 illegal aliens, up from about 10 percent in 2000, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. In 1990, the number of Mexicans living illegally in the state was negligible, said Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior research associate at the center. Now New Jersey ranks eighth in the nation in the number of residents born in Mexico, he said, and about 75,000 are illegal immigrants.

"We have seen a huge increase," said Daniel Santo Pietro, executive director of the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey, a nonprofit umbrella organization of Latino social service groups. "New Jersey is now a magnet because it does offer some very good work opportunities."

For decades, New Jersey drew migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Central America. Many worked summers, illegally or in guest worker programs, then returned home in the winter after the crops were harvested.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, control over the border with Mexico was tightened, forcing Mexican workers to choose between the two countries. As a result, more Mexicans are making New Jersey a year-round home, working in a range of businesses that includes restaurants, hotels, food-processing factories and construction.

"What's happened with Mexicans, specifically, is they have diversified remarkably around the United States," Mr. Passel said. He said a recession in California in the early 1990's forced Mexican workers to look to other parts of the country for opportunity.

At the same time, anti-immigrant sentiment was growing in California, said Douglas S. Massey, a professor of sociology at Princeton University. Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot proposal that would have denied social services and public education to illegal aliens, was approved by 59 percent of the voters, but was ultimately overturned in the courts.

"California has ceased to be the overwhelming destination," Professor Massey said. "Now Mexicans are going to places all over the country, and many of these places have never experienced Mexican immigrants before."

From 1985 to 1990, two-thirds of all Mexican immigrants settled in California, Professor Massey said, but from 1995 to 2005, that figure dropped to one-third.

Jose, another illegal Mexican immigrant in Bridgeton who would not give his last name, said he worked in California for five years before moving to New Jersey seven years ago to work in the produce business. "Not so many people are going to California," he said. "They are going to all places."

The New York Gateway

In New Jersey, the number of Mexican immigrants more than quadrupled in five counties during the 1990's, according to the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Cumberland had an increase of 560 percent, Ocean 474 percent, Atlantic 401 percent, Monmouth 363 percent and Middlesex 335 percent. Four counties — Passaic, Middlesex, Hudson and Monmouth — are home to a total of 53.6 percent of the Mexican immigrants in the state, according to the 2000 census.

New York City has increasingly become a gateway for Mexicans, creating an overflow into New Jersey, Professor Massey said.

New Jersey, in effect, has two distinct Mexican immigrant populations, he said. In the north, there is an urban group with ties to New York City, including a large number of Mexican natives in Paterson. More recently, Mexicans have arrived in the central and southern parts of the state, in rural and suburban areas where demand for low-wage workers is high.

In Ocean, Monmouth and Morris Counties, disputes have developed between Mexican immigrant day laborers and municipalities seeking to restrict people from gathering at street corners and parking lots to wait for employers to pick them up. Here in Cumberland County, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans, whose predecessors initially came to work in the fields, have begun to put down roots and are attracting new immigrants to live and work in a community filled with Mexican culture.

At Casa Sosa, a variety store on Commerce Street in downtown Bridgeton, the owner, Praxedis Sosa, caters to the newcomers. He sells phone cards and money orders, hats with the insignias of Mexican soccer teams, Mexican DVD's, straw sombreros, blue jeans and cowboy boots.

Mr. Sosa arrived from Mexico 30 years ago, worked in warehouses in Brooklyn and eventually won United States citizenship in an amnesty program. Three years ago, he opened the store. "There are so many people coming, but there are problems with the government," he said. "I don't know why. Mexicans are doing the jobs in New Jersey that nobody wants to do."

A Source of Tension

But Frank Shallis, who owns a small elevator-repair and manufacturing firm in Bound Brook, sees New Jersey's rising Mexican population as a huge problem.

Mr. Shallis is state coordinator of the New Jersey chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which conducts volunteer patrols of the country's borders with Mexico and Canada. He has already done a stint on the Canadian border and is planning a trip to the Arizona border to try to keep Mexicans from entering the United States illegally. "In New Jersey there are Mexicans everywhere you look," Mr. Shallis said. "It's adding so much to the cost of everything — schooling, medical, social services. It's just unfair to law-abiding, tax-paying American citizens."

Frank Argote-Freyre, a member of the Hispanic Directors Association from Monmouth County, who negotiated a dispute over where immigrants seeking day work could gather in Freehold, said the tensions were rooted in a failed national immigration policy that looks the other way when employers need workers, then denies immigrants legal protection.

"There is inertia in Congress, and cowardliness in Congress," he said. "The lack of responsibility in establishing an immigration policy has led us to these problems. Obviously, industry wants these workers. So to target them is just wrong. It's narrow-minded, and the reason a lot of local municipalities have injected themselves into these problems is a total lack of leadership in Washington."

Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, a trade group, said its members rely on Mexican workers because the state's population of young people, a traditional source of restaurant workers, is not keeping pace with rising demand. The need for restaurant employees is growing one and a half times faster than the work force as a whole, she said.

"We're constantly battling these challenges," Ms. Dowdell said, "and immigration is one of the ways in which the industry hopes to have access to workers."

By law, employers are required to make a good-faith effort to document that workers have proper papers, said Keith Talbot, senior attorney here in Bridgeton with the Farmworker Project, a program run by Legal Services of New Jersey. But many illegal immigrants have fake documents, he said.

"We have created an off-the-books culture," Mr. Talbot said.

The growing number of illegal immigrants has also contributed to an increase in complaints that employers are refusing to pay workers, he said. Many employers are using subcontractors, particularly in the construction industry, to hire illegal workers, believing it will shield them from penalties for wage and hour regulations.

Some subcontractors, he said, withhold payment from illegal workers because they think the workers are afraid to challenge employers and risk deportation. "When workers don't get paid, that really riles them," Mr. Talbot said. "That's when they come forward and approach legal services, more than any other complaints, including housing or discrimination."

He cited the case of a Mexican immigrant, whose immigration case is pending, who won a $2,000 settlement for unpaid construction wages and has been waiting for more than a year to be paid.

Though some illegal immigrants from Mexico have been moving up the ladder from field work to landscaping to jobs in construction, they are generally not making the leap to home ownership or starting their own businesses as easily as immigrants who came to the United States legally. Their legal status keeps them from receiving bank loans and other government approvals for businesses, said Mr. Passel of the Pew Center.

"If you're undocumented, it's hard," he said. "There are some financial institutions that seem to be developing ways to make home loans to undocumented immigrants, but that's a new phenomenon."

He said that nearly all men who have come to the United States illegally from Mexico have jobs that withhold taxes and Social Security based on fake Social Security documents. An estimated $5 billion to $6 billion a year is being withheld from their wages, he said.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Joseph Vas is trying to give illegal immigrants some status with a proposed Driving Privilege Card. The card would require applicants to pass a written exam and driving test, but could not be used as a form of primary identification.

Mr. Santo Pietro, of the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey, said that Latino advocates began calling for a driving card, like those available in 11 other states, to prevent accidents. A Mexican woman was killed in Freehold while walking to work along a busy highway because she could not get her driver's license renewed, he said.

Mr. Vas said the card could help prevent similar cases.

"There are increasing numbers of unlicensed drivers on the road, and it's a problem that is leading to unsafe conditions," he said. "In my opinion, this is the morally correct thing, in light of what these people are providing in contributions to our economy."

Living Here in Limbo

The rise in illegal immigrants is creating a new generation of New Jersey residents who came to the state from Mexico as children but turn into undocumented adults at age 21. Though they had no say in the decision to live in the United States, they are in a legal limbo.

Mr. Passel said that about two-thirds of the children of illegal immigrants from Mexico are born in the United States and are citizens. But they often fail to apply for services to which they may be entitled, for fear of drawing attention to their parents' status.

For many, it is easier to remain under the radar than to risk exposing family members to legal hassles and, possibly, deportation.

For the one in three children of illegal immigrants who were born in Mexico and then brought here, life is more complicated. They remain noncitizens, and although they can attend school and receive medical care at hospitals, when they reach 21 they run into the same problems that confront their parents.

"They've played by the rules, they've gone to school and grown up in the United States, but after they graduate they're still undocumented immigrants," said Mr. Passel, who estimated that 65,000 children of illegal Mexican immigrants to the United States become undocumented adults each year.'

Marisol Conde-Hernandez, 19, is among them. Her parents brought her to New Jersey when she was just 18 months old, and the family settled near Princeton. Her grandfather had come ahead and worked in the fields to raise money to bring her family to the United States. Later, her grandfather and father, and eventually Marisol, worked in restaurants owned by Greek immigrants.

"I knew I was undocumented, and my parents knew not to tell anybody," she said. "But I was always different. If I got sick I had to go to the emergency room. We didn't have a private doctor."

One year she was invited to attend a summer program at Princeton University, but she could not go because the application required her parents' Social Security numbers.

Now Ms. Conde-Hernandez is a student at Middlesex County College in Edison, where she is studying sociology with the hope of becoming a lawyer.

"All I want to do is go to school and pay taxes," Ms. Conde-Hernandez said. "I want to get a tax return. I want to be able to drive, and I want to work. I want to get everything straight. I'm so tired of living under the table."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Newark - NY Times - Where Winning Isn't Easy, but It's Easier Than Governing

The New York Times, Sunday,
April 30, 2006
Our Towns

Where Winning Isn't Easy, but It's Easier Than Governing



RAHEEM ELDER is the Newark that most people think they know.

He's without a job, living in the dreary Baxter Terrace public housing project, hoping to catch a breeze that never seems to come his way. He has two kids, 7 and 14, and he wants them to have a better life than he's had.

"I'm 39," he said on Thursday afternoon, the red brick of the three-story building looking more worn and tired than he was. "A lot of my friends didn't make it to that age. I don't want to see my kids live like this. They deserve something better."

About half a mile away, Wanny Wong is the Newark that most people don't know exists. She's the 33-year-old owner of the two-month-old Intrinsic Cafe, selling green tea bubble tea and passion fruit slush in a cool, understated room she designed herself, where a steady stream of kids — Asian, Indian, black, white, Muslim women in burkas — from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the Rutgers-Newark campus breeze in and out. She says that running through the hoops to get it open took a mixture of naïveté and foolishness, but she hopes it was worth it.

"People come here and say this should be in New York or in Hoboken, not in Newark," she said. "And I just say, well, why not Newark? You can feel the transition coming. It won't come right away, but it's coming."

Both of them are supporting Cory Booker, the 37-year-old phenom who will almost certainly be elected mayor of New Jersey's largest city when Newark residents go to the polls on May 9. Pleasing them both is just one reminder that the small miracle of being elected mayor as an outsider in the ultimate insider town is the easy part. Actually governing will be another matter entirely.

When Mayor Sharpe James decided not to run again, Newark was spared Street Fight II, a replay of the 2002 brass-knuckles showdown between Mr. Booker and Mr. James.

But — trick or treat! — it still feels like pretty much the same movie, with Mr. Booker's race against Mr. James's diminished stand-in, Ronald L. Rice, a sidelight, but the fundamental dynamic still the same.

So Mr. James is leaving office after two decades as mayor without quite agreeing to go away — witness the blithely brazen attempt by Mr. James and his allies on the Municipal Council to set aside $80 million in two private funds for redevelopment, in effect leaving it for the old regime to control. And Mr. Booker, who combines the political profile of Barack Obama with the exuberant wonkiness of Bill Clinton, waits in the wings without being quite sure what he inherits.

In the end, Mr. Elder and Ms. Wong want the same thing, a city government that works, not just for the insiders riding on the gravy train but for everyone else. If Mr. James's considerable achievement was to bring Newark back from the dead, Mr. Booker's challenge is to make sure everyone gets a shot at taking advantage of it.

It's easy to see why even the skeptics can be dazzled by Mr. Booker. He can shift in a heartbeat from charming supporters on the street to leaning against his van and reeling off a combination sermon and political lecture on the political world beyond what he calls the "shallow, tin-eared" racial politics he said Mr. James was practicing in trying to justify his $80 million power grab.

And there's something beyond infectious in Mr. Booker's manner, like the way he banters with a longtime Baxter Terrace resident, Gail Harvey, who's saying people in Newark are desperate for change, but they're not quite sure how to grasp it.

"They want to change, they know it's time," she said. "But you don't know what to expect from something you've never had, like you've always had chicken soup and someone gives you vegetable."

"Wait, am I the chicken or the vegetable?" Mr. Booker said, deadpan.

"You the vegetable, baby," she replied.

If only it were so easy. City budgeting is a Rube Goldberg morass with a deficit looming. The housing authority is being investigated by HUD. The schools are under state control. Water rates just went up 40 percent. Gang activity and violent crime remain out of control. The building boom is enriching mostly contractors who live out of town. Unlike many cities, virtually all the affluent neighborhoods outside downtown Newark are in adjoining suburbs, not within the city limits. That is an enormous institutional hindrance to the renaissance Mr. James envisioned.

And the real political battle in town is the Council races, where it seems touch and go whether Mr. Booker can elect enough of his supporters to control the council. If enough supporters of Mr. James win, Mr. Booker will have the throne but not the power.

Ms. Wong advertises her little oasis in the student newspapers as "a moment of Zen in Newark." There's a lot of Zen in Cory Booker, too. He comes across as some wonk ninja from Stanford, Yale and central casting. But, alas, it will take some powerful combination of Zen, grit, magic and luck to make his excellent adventure work once he gets in office.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Democrats and Liberalism - NY Times - Brooks - The Death of Multiculturalism

The New York Times, Thursday, April 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Death of Multiculturalism


In 1994 multiculturalism was at its high-water mark, and Richard Bernstein wrote "Dictatorship of Virtue," describing its excesses: the campus speech codes, the forced sensitivity training, the purging of dead white males from curriculums, the people who had their careers ruined by dubious charges of racism, sexism and ethnocentrism.

Then two years later, the liberal writer Michael Tomasky published "Left for Dead," which argued that the progressive movement was being ruined by multicultural identity politics. Democrats have lost the ability to talk to Americans collectively, Tomasky wrote, and seem to be a collection of aggrieved out-groups: feminists, blacks, gays and so on.

At the time, Bernstein and Tomasky were lonely voices on the left, and the multiculturalists struck back. For example, Martin Duberman slammed Tomasky's book in The Nation, and defended multiculturalism:

"The radical redefinitions of gender and sexuality that are under discussion in feminist and queer circles contain a potentially transformative challenge to all 'regimes of the normal.' The work of theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks, Marjorie Garber and Judith Butler represents a deliberate systemic affront to fixed modes of being and patterns of power. They offer brilliant (if not incontrovertible) postulates about such universal matters as the historicity and fluidity of sexual desire, the performative nature of gender, and the multiplicity of impulses, narratives and loyalties that lie within us all."

Duberman insisted that postmodern multicultural theorizing would transform politics, but today his gaseous review reads as if it came from a different era, like an embarrassing glimpse of leisure suits in an old home movie.

That's because over the past few years, multiculturalism has faded away. A different sort of liberalism is taking over the Democratic Party.

Multiculturalism is in decline for a number of reasons. First, the identity groups have ossified. The feminist organizations were hypocritical during the Clinton impeachment scandal, and both fevered and weak during the Roberts and Alito hearings. Meanwhile, the civil rights groups have become stale and uninteresting.

Second, the Democrats have come to understand that they need to pay less attention to minorities and more to the white working class if they ever want to become the majority party again. Third, the intellectual energy on the left is now with the economists. People who write about inequality are more vibrant than people who write about discrimination.

Fourth and most important, 9/11 happened. The attacks aroused feelings of national solidarity, or a longing for national solidarity, that discredited the multiculturalists' tribalism.

Tomasky is now back with an essay in The American Prospect in which he argues that it is time Democrats cohered around a big idea — not diversity, and not individual rights, but the idea of the common good. The Democrats' central themes, Tomasky advises, should be that we're all in this together; we are all part of a larger national project; we all need to make some shared sacrifices and look beyond our narrow self-interest. Tomasky is hoping for a candidate who will ignore the demands of the single-issue groups and argue that all Americans have a stake in reducing economic fragmentation and social division.

Coincidentally, two other liberal writers, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, have just finished a long study that comes out in exactly the same place. Surveying mountains of polling data, they conclude that the Democrats' chief problem is that people don't think they stand for anything. Halpin and Teixeira argue that the message voters respond to best is the notion of shared sacrifice for the common good. After years of individualism from right and left, they observe, people are ready for an appeal to citizenship.

Naturally, this approach has weaknesses. Unlike in 1964, most Americans no longer trust government to be the altruistic champion of the common good, even if they wish it could. And while writers and voters talk about the common good, politicians are wired to think about their team. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer will never ask their people to make sacrifices, but until they do, the higher talk of common good will sound like bilge.

Nonetheless, the decline of multiculturalism and the rebirth of liberal American nationalism is a significant event. Democrats are purging the last vestiges of the New Left and returning to the older civic liberalism of the 1950's and early 1960's.

Goodbye, Jesse Jackson. Goodbye, Gloria Steinem. Hello, Harry Truman."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)


FEMA - NY Times - Krugman - The Crony Fairy

The New York Times, Friday, April 28, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Crony Fairy


The U.S. government is being stalked by an invisible bandit, the Crony Fairy, who visits key agencies by dead of night, snatches away qualified people and replaces them with unqualified political appointees. There's no way to catch or stop the Crony Fairy, so our only hope is to change the agencies' names. That way she might get confused, and leave our government able to function.

That, at least, is how I interpret the report on responses to Hurricane Katrina that was just released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The report points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency "had been operating at a more than 15 percent staff-vacancy rate for over a year before Katrina struck" — that means many of the people who knew what they were doing had left. And it adds that "FEMA's senior political appointees ... had little or no prior relevant emergency-management experience."

But the report says nothing about what caused the qualified people to leave and who appointed unqualified people to take their place. There's no hint that, say, President Bush might have had any role. So those political appointees must have been installed by the Crony Fairy.

Rather than trying to fix FEMA, the report calls for replacing it with a new organization, the National Preparedness and Response Agency. As far as I can tell, the new agency would have exactly the same responsibilities as FEMA. But "senior N.P.R.A. officials would be selected from the ranks of professionals with experience in crisis management." I guess it's impossible to select qualified people to run FEMA; if you try, the Crony Fairy will spirit them away and replace them with Michael Brown. But she might not know her way to N.P.R.A.

O.K., enough sarcasm. Let's talk about the history of FEMA.

In the early 1990's, FEMA's reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush's chief of staff. FEMA's response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 perfectly foreshadowed Katrina: the agency took three days to arrive on the scene, and when it did, it proved utterly incompetent.

Many people thought that FEMA was a lost cause. But Bill Clinton proved them wrong. He appointed qualified people to lead the agency and gave them leeway to hire other qualified people, and within a year FEMA's morale and performance had soared. For the rest of the Clinton years, FEMA was among the most highly regarded agencies in the federal government.

What happened to that reputation? The answer, of course, is that the second President Bush returned to his father's practices. Once again, FEMA became a dumping ground for cronies, and many of the good people who had come in during the Clinton years left. It took only a few years to transform one of the best agencies in the U.S. government into what Senator Susan Collins calls "a shambles and beyond repair."

In other words, the Crony Fairy is named George W. Bush.

So what's the point of creating a new agency to replace FEMA? The history of FEMA and other agencies during the Clinton years shows that a president who is serious about governing can rebuild effective government without renaming the boxes on the organizational chart.

On the other hand, the history of the Bush administration, from the botched reconstruction of Iraq to the botched start-up of the prescription drug program, shows that a president who isn't serious about governing, who prizes loyalty and personal connections over competence, can quickly reduce the government of the world's most powerful nation to third-world levels of ineffectiveness.

And bear in mind that Mr. Bush's pattern of cronyism didn't change after Katrina. For example, he appointed Julie Myers, the inexperienced niece of Gen. Richard Myers, to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement — an agency that, like FEMA, is supposed to protect us against terrorism as well as other threats. Even at the C.I.A., the administration seems more interested in purging Democrats than in improving the quality of intelligence.

So let's skip the name change for FEMA, O.K.? The United States will regain effective government if and when it gets a president who cares more about serving the nation than about rewarding his friends and scoring political points. That's at least a thousand days away. Meanwhile, don't count on FEMA, or on any other government agency, to do its job.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Daylaborers - Muster Zones - NY Times - Drawing Workers, and Some Critics

The New York Times, Sunday, April 30, 2006
Long Island

Drawing Workers, and Some Critics


AS federal legislators debate a national immigration policy, Long Island officials are wrestling with the most visible aspect of the immigration issue in the suburbs: the laborers who gather in busy locations in many Long Island communities every morning, hoping a contractor will pick them up for a day's work.

Where these day laborers gather spontaneously, a host of problems seem to follow. Business owners and area residents complain about traffic congestion, petty crime, litter and other nuisances, while advocates for the laborers say they often suffer abuse from passers-by and from the people who hire them.

To cope with these problems, a growing number of communities are looking into establishing official hiring sites for day laborers. Three sites are already operating, in Freeport, Huntington Station and Glen Cove, and officials in North Hempstead and Southampton are weighing plans for more.

But the hiring sites generate disputes of their own, and the Island is a long way from a consensus about whether they function as intended.

The question of how and where the 100,000 illegal immigrants estimated to be in Nassau and Suffolk get work is taking center stage in the Islandwide debate, to some extent eclipsing fights over where and how they live, which flared last year in communities like Farmingville that have seen an influx of immigrants.

Now, advocates for day laborers are redirecting their efforts to places like Roslyn Heights, the latest community facing criticism for the way day laborers who gravitate there for work are treated. A recent Hofstra University study of eight communities on the Island singled out Roslyn Heights as the place where immigrant laborers faced the most harassment and abuse.

The biggest problem faced by workers there, the Hofstra researchers said, is mistreatment by contractors, who were more likely to put them to work in unsafe conditions, short their pay or renege on paying them altogether.

"They bring you to the house and want you to paint a room for $40 or $50," said Israel Romero, 47, one of a group of laborers gathered outside the Willis Paint and Design store in Roslyn Heights on a recent morning.

Mr. Romero, a Salvadoran who has been in the United States for a decade, said that a fair rate for such work would be $125 to $150 a day, but that contractors commonly pay substandard wages.

Hofstra researchers said that complaints about abuses by contractors were probably high in Roslyn Heights because most of the work there consists of small jobs on single-family homes, rather than large jobs at apartment complexes or commercial buildings that better-established contractors would bid on.

Willie Chicas, a 31-year-old Salvadoran, said he painted a home in Roslyn Heights last month, a week's work, and was promised $900. He was given a check when the job was finished, he said, but before he had a chance to cash it, the contractor had stopped payment.

Mr. Chicas said he used to seek work at the Home Depot store near his home in Hempstead, but recently switched to the area near Willis Paint on Mineola Avenue to get away from unrelenting police scrutiny, a source of trouble for workers that was also cited in the Hofstra study.

Jon Kaiman, the North Hempstead supervisor, said he took issue with the Hofstra researchers' findings about Roslyn Heights.

"I don't doubt that some of it takes place," Mr. Kaiman said of the claimed mistreatment of workers. "By the nature of the relationship between day laborers and contractors, abuses, I'm sure, occur and probably frequently." But he said his office had received no complaints about abuses in Roslyn Heights.

Nadia Morin Molina, executive director of Workplace Project, a Hempstead advocacy group and sponsor of the Hofstra study, said it was not surprising that day laborers had not complained to the town. Most, she said, want to avoid attracting official attention because of their immigration status, and see little they can achieve by complaining.

"It's so far underground right now," Ms. Molina said. "There's a lot of information you need to find the contractor and enforce the law, but you can't. There are no pay stubs."

When all a day worker may know about the contractor who hired him is a first name and the color of his truck, it's really hard to follow up, she said.

One of the goals of official hiring sites is to protect workers from these kinds of problems. Contractors and workers are typically asked to register, and the hiring process is monitored. But advocates acknowledge that having an official hiring site does not stop fly-by-night contractors from continuing to seek laborers at unauthorized locations.

"It's a difficult situation because the workers are just looking for work and are willing to take it at almost any cost," Ms. Molina said. "The contractors know that, so they're always looking to undercut the official hiring sites."

Public officials who oppose the hiring sites voice bigger objections than that, though. Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive, said the sites put legitimate businesses at a disadvantage by helping provide cheap labor to contractors who are willing to break the law.

Mr. Levy said a better solution is to enforce the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which makes it illegal to knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

"If that were properly enforced, those who are here now illegally or come here illegally in the future won't find work and will go back home," he said. "Work will be found by those immigrants who go through the proper channels."

Gregory M. Maney, an assistant sociology professor at Hofstra who conducted the research study, said that one commonly voiced motive for creating the sites — shifting the day laborers out of the public eye — may plant the seeds for the sites to fail.

"Residents say they want them out of sight, out of mind, and then they put them in commercial districts where they're tough to find for contractors," Dr. Maney said, citing as an example the City of Glen Cove's shape-up site in an out-of-the-way industrial area on Sea Cliff Avenue.

Ralph V. Suozzi, the mayor of Glen Cove, said that setting up the site has helped ease traffic congestion in areas formerly frequented by day laborers, and that he thought crime had abated there as well, though he had no statistics. Still, he acknowledged that the new site now has traffic problems of its own, and not all of the city's day laborers use it.

"It's a partial solution," Mr. Suozzi said. "There are still issues, but it's going in the right direction."

Less than a mile from the Glen Cove site on a recent late morning, six workers waited outside Carmen's Deli hoping for work. Before the official site opened, there would have been three times as many, a deli worker said.

Manuel Diaz, 36, a Salvadoran wearing an American-flag baseball cap, said he and other day laborers knew that some contractors still went to the deli looking for workers, probably to sidestep the monitoring at the official site.

David Mejias, a Nassau County legislator from North Massapequa who favors creating more official hiring sites, said that once they are open, the county must crack down on contractors who continue to recruit day laborers from unauthorized sites, especially in residential areas.

Day laborers who stay away from the official sites say the lottery system used at some sites to match workers and employers takes no account of their skills and experience.

Rony Arriaza, 40, a Guatemalan who lives in Hempstead but seeks work at Willis Paint, said that although he is a skilled drywall worker and painter, under a lottery system, "somebody doesn't know that work, and they go first."

At the Glen Cove site, for example, workers are supposed to be hired in the order their names are pulled from a brown paper bag and then written on a blackboard.

But some contractors ignore the blackboard. Just after 9 on a recent morning, one contractor sought a particular worker he had hired before, and left empty-handed when he learned he was not there.

A few minutes later, Robert Czernicki, an owner of apartment buildings in New York City, came by looking for a cleanup man for a building in Kew Gardens. He, too, skipped the posted list, and also passed over a man he had hired before who he knew could speak little English.

Still, Johnny Rivera, 34, a Salvadoran who lives in Glen Cove, said he recently started seeking work at the official site because it was safer and more orderly than the relative chaos of the streets, and workers there were more likely to earn what many of them regard as the minimum fair pay for a day's work, $100.

"It's much better for us, because we don't have any problems with the people outside," Mr. Rivera said.

Workers at the Roslyn Heights site said they were not waiting for the government to step in to get organized. Many have agreed among themselves not to accept less than $100 a day, and several said they were trying to learn English because they thought contractors were less likely to take advantage of bilingual workers.

Mr. Chicas, the victim of the $900 bounced check, said he was able to recoup the wages by enlisting help from the Workplace Project advocacy group.

"They think we're scared, but contractors have to know that we have organizations working for the people, for the immigrants," Mr. Chicas said. "We are here, and we are not going back. This country has the money. This is the American dream. This is the place to find some jobs."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Eminent Domain - NY Times - In Baldwin, It's Revival for Some, Survival for Others

The New York Times, Sunday, April 30, 2006
Long Island

In Baldwin, It's Revival for Some, Survival for Others



LOOK behind the timeworn empty storefronts to see the signs of family life on the west side of Grand Avenue near the corner of Merrick Road.

Down an alley between the shops is an open door, and just inside are mailboxes for the Baez and Gonzales families. Across the alley, behind an empty shop with a shredded awning, is a patch of lawn with a red infant swing hanging from a tree branch.

To Nerys Mendes, a 33-year-old mother from the Dominican Republic who has been living in a modest $975-a-month one-bedroom apartment off the alley for eight years, it is not "the best place in the world," but the local schools are good, one of her children works nearby, and she wants to stay.

To the Town of Hempstead and many homeowners in Baldwin, though, the northwest corner of Merrick and Grand is an eyesore and a breeding ground for crime. The town wants the corner to be redeveloped with upscale shops and a new home for the old Nunley's Carousel.

That means using the town's eminent-domain power to condemn the properties, displacing several thriving businesses and the tenants of 47 apartments, and then turning the seized land over to private developers — a practice that has caused controversy in other communities.

And to some critics, it raises the question of whether the purpose is to clear Baldwin of unwelcome old buildings, or unwelcome new people.

Either issue has the potential to tie up the project, which is still in the planning stage, in protracted, politically sensitive court battles.

"Hempstead wouldn't want to get into a situation with enormous controversy, because there may be endless litigation," said Thomas W. Merrill, a law professor at Columbia University who follows land-use issues. When property owners in a depressed section of New London, Conn., fought the town's attempt to condemn their neighborhood and turn it over to private developers, the dispute, known as the Kelo case, went all the way to the United States Supreme Court on the issue of whether such a project served a legitimate public purpose.

Though the court ruled in the town's favor, the project drew so much popular criticism that the governor of Connecticut decided not to order evictions. Since then, several states have begun adopting new restrictions on their use of eminent domain.

Condemnation and eminent domain, intended originally for obtaining land for public uses like roads and parks, have been part of the urban renewal toolkit for many years. Older suburbs like Nassau County have begun using it to try to eradicate social problems by, for example, seizing hotels and apartment buildings used for drug dealing or prostitution. In those cases the seizing government has no need for the property, but simply wants to change its ownership and use.

Housing experts and property-rights advocates say New York State's eminent domain law is broad, and regularly used by towns to seize property and resell it to developers. The Hempstead town supervisor, Kate Murray, said that the Baldwin plan relied on "a very traditional basis for condemnation that existed prior to the Kelo case," that is, combating blight.

Baldwin's downtown area, where traffic roars along Merrick Road, has posed a particularly challenging problem for the town and Nassau County. As in many other villages, competition from malls and big-box retailers has drawn away shoppers and shop owners. But unincorporated Baldwin has also suffered from its location between two incorporated villages, Rockville Centre to the west and Freeport to the east.

Rockville Centre is considerably more affluent than Baldwin, and major retail chains looking for a location in the area have tended to choose Rockville Centre first. Freeport, meanwhile, though mainly lower on the income scale and more ethnically diverse than Baldwin, has seen a recent revival of its upscale district near the bayfront.

"Rockville Centre has 60 nice restaurants, and Freeport has its Nautical Mile," said Joseph Scannell, the Democratic county legislator from Baldwin.

The departure of a big bridal shop from the corner of Grand and Merrick about two years ago accelerated a business exodus in the area, Ms. Murray said. "Since then, there is a precipitous decline, and it feeds off itself and becomes less and less attractive," she said. "It's a domino effect."

The town and county tried to halt the fall of the dominoes by spending money to spruce up building facades and sidewalks, but to little avail. None of the owners of buildings on the west side of Grand Avenue showed up for meetings with town officials to hear about incentives to make improvements, Mr. Scannell said.

So the town hired a planning and consulting firm, Saccardi & Schiff, to conduct a "blight study" of the corner last year, and adopted its report on March 7, opening the way for the condemnation plan.

The carousel, the centerpiece of what town and county officials envision for the corner, was operated for decades at a site on Sunrise Highway, and is now in storage. Nunley's Carousel lives in many an idyllic memory of childhood in Baldwin.

The carousel was briefly the subject of a political tug of war last year when the singer Billy Joel suggested setting it up in Oyster Bay. Mr. Scannell threatened to defect to the Republicans and tip the balance in the Legislature when the Nassau County executive, Thomas R. Suozzi, a fellow Democrat, showed interest in the idea; it has since been shelved.

Now, Mr. Scannell said, the carousel can be used as a magnet for a revived downtown Baldwin. "We want to have our nice carousel corner," he said, adding that the project "will really help our identity."

Town officials are conducting appraisals and doing the legal groundwork to condemn an area reaching from the corner of Merrick and Grand almost all the way to Gale Avenue to the west and Prospect Street to the north. The town will then seek proposals from developers to use the land, along with the existing town parking field behind the stores, to install the carousel and build new retail stores. The process will take at least 18 months before construction can begin.

Some Baldwin homeowners say they can't wait.

"I'm thrilled that they would take this all down and create a place for Nunley's," Bill Pepino, 47, a lifelong Baldwinite, said about the corner. "I'll take my kids here, and they'll take their kids here."

Unmentioned by elected officials, though, is the social and ethnic dimensions to the project. The plan would sweep away the Hispanic immigrants and others who rent the apartments in the block and who patronize the businesses there, including two delicatessens, a hair salon ("Hola Latinas," says a sign in the window), a psychic palm reader and a bright blue nightclub called the Mambo Café. Another shop, Bonao Centro Corporation, offers "envios, llamadas y mas" (messages, calls and more).

Homeowners and business people in the rest of Baldwin are generally careful to say that they respect hard-working immigrants, whether legal or illegal, and bear them no malice. But it is not hard to detect a grating irritation with the immigrants' presence as well, and a belief that increased crime and economic decline follow on their heels.

What happens on the sidewalk and parking lot outside the shops on Grand Avenue strikes some Baldwinites as an unwelcome intrusion of city atmosphere into their suburban town. In summer, they say, some tenants of the block seek refuge from steamy apartments by sitting on beach chairs on the sidewalks outside. On a warm spring afternoon recently, nine young men were sipping beer behind one of the delis.

A week earlier, on a much cooler day, a gaunt man in a wool cap towed a couple of toddlers up the Grand Avenue sidewalk, one of them a girl in a pink jacket holding a floppy-armed doll. As they made their way, a cigarette butt came arcing from an apartment window overhead, almost hitting the girl. The man, full of outrage, shouted a vulgarity-laced threat of a broken jaw up at the window and whoever was inside.

Occasionally, more serious trouble breaks out. On Feb. 25, the Nassau police arrested a man for assault at a Grand Avenue nightclub called Papa Doc's, within the area slated for redevelopment, after a fight involving baseball bats broke out at the club at 4 a.m. The police said the man admitted to being a member of MS-13, a well-known violent gang with origins in Central America.

"I didn't realize I had bought a business in Roosevelt or South Hempstead," Joe Curet, the owner of a deli at 753 Merrick Road, just outside the redevelopment area, said sarcastically, as he described the host of police cars he saw outside Papa Doc's after the fight.

Ms. Mendes said that in the last few months, she had twice heard shots fired at night. She said the presence of the night clubs was to blame for the crime problems.

Mr. Curet, who bought the deli last year, said the disappearance of other businesses from the block had cut into his cash flow by taking away workers who would stop in for lunch or coffee.

The frowsy, unkempt facades in the redevelopment area stand in contrast to the smartened-up buildings and sidewalks just across the street on Grand Avenue, where the town shared the cost of facade repairs with the owners of a bowling alley and other buildings, and on Merrick Road, where the town trimmed new sidewalks with red brick and installed Victorian-style street lamps.

The true condition of the threatened buildings is also a mixed picture. The town's blight study found that only 2 of the 38 properties were in poor condition; 27 were rated fair and 9 good. Two of the biggest remaining businesses in the block have well-maintained buildings: Baldwin Kitchen and Bath Designs and the Fullerton Funeral Home, whose driveway is freshly paved.

Howard Gainsburg, who has operated the kitchen and bath business at its present location since 1975, said he favors the redevelopment project and understands why it is needed. But he is worried about finding another site to match his current building, with several thousand square feet of space for an an assembly shop right next to a retail showroom.

"I wanted it cleaned up," he said of the immediate area. "I just didn't feel my building was one of the reasons it had to be cleaned up." When he is relocated, he said, "I would like to be made whole."

The funeral home's owners did not respond to requests for comment.

However attractive new store buildings and the carousel may be, concerns about crime are the main reason local home- and shopowners offer for favoring the project.

James Cunneen, 73, a former Marine, said that he, "a tall guy who has walked the streets of Manhattan since I was 18," nonetheless steers clear of the parking area behind the shops on his way to the Baldwin Public Library, even though that makes his walk a bit longer.

Deputy Inspector Rick Capece, who commands the Nassau police's First Precinct, said problems in the area have been related to assaults and drug activity. Though the violence has been minimal, he said, "it's not like you are taking a piece of real estate where nothing has happened."

For Ms. Mendes, the 33-year-old Dominican immigrant, the threat of being displaced from her home, along with her husband and two teenage daughters, has been looming for some time.

"They said something about this three or four years ago, and we've got to see if it's serious this time," she said. "We don't know what to expect now. I'm so upset, because they aren't thinking of the people who live here."

Ms. Murray, the Hempstead supervisor, said the town would help displaced tenants and businesses find new homes, though she did not say whether those homes would be in Baldwin or elsewhere. Ms. Murray expressed optimism that the relocations would be done humanely.

For the businesses in the area that cater to the tenants, the revitalization project makes little sense.

Francisco Lopez, the manager of Andy's Mini Market on Grand Avenue, said he does not see any urgent need to empty and raze the storefronts in the block.

As he spoke with a reporter, he was interrupted repeatedly by local people stopping in to buy meals and snacks. The hot buffet table in the deli draws plenty of customers, Mr. Lopez said, especially in the morning when residents head for work.

To Mr. Lopez, the redevelopment plan seems unfair.

"We bought the store, the refrigerators, we fixed the kitchen, and every night before we go, we sweep in front," he said.

Shown the photos of cracked walls and forlorn store signs featured in the Town of Hempstead's blight study, he said, "They've got the worst pictures, but they don't show the good stuff."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Cory Booker - NY Times - Analysis: Be Careful What You Wish For

The New York Times, Sunday April 30, 2006
New Jersey

Be Careful What You Wish For



CALL Cory Booker idealistic, pragmatic or some combination of the two. Just don't call him naïve.

"I'll take that criticism," he said, his eyes boring in on his questioner. "I'm politically naïve, but I'm a guy who started in this process four or five years ago, who took on the biggest, toughest political machine, urban political machine in the state of New Jersey. And I'm sitting here right now, naïve as I am, 40 points ahead of my opponent — maybe 50 points, according to our internal polls — ready to become the mayor of the City of Newark."

Mr. Booker ended by asserting that he was, in fact, "naïve like a fox."

Four years after losing his first race for mayor, Mr. Booker, 37, is on the verge of succeeding his political nemesis, Sharpe James, as elected leader of this embattled city of 280,000. In the likely event that Mr. Booker completes his political evolution by winning the coming election on May 9, his skills as a candidate will never again be in doubt.

But then what?

Mr. Booker, a former Rhodes scholar with ambitious plans for overhauling Newark's government, will be walking into a toxic environment if he wins: fiscal booby traps, institutional hostility, strangulation of outside aid and, to top it off, high public expectations about his ability to deal with it all.

"He can't come in as the knight on the white horse," said Walter Fields, a former political director of the N.A.A.C.P. "In the beginning, everyone hails the knight, and six months later they're ready to tar and feather him. That's the real danger for him."

Voters have little choice but to harbor high hopes that a new mayor will improve matters. Newark is currently the second-poorest city of its size in the country, according to a recent study by the United States Census Bureau that compared median incomes in places with more than 250,000 residents. Nearly half of Newark's working-age population lacks steady employment. Gang activity and murders are on the rise. And the school system has one of the lowest graduation rates in the state.

Mr. Booker's rivals — even those resigned to the idea of his winning — aren't waiting until Election Day to predict that in the face of such dire circumstances, he will fail miserably. "I think being mayor of the largest city in New Jersey is a complex task and it takes experience, as opposed to merely vision," said John James, the son of the departing mayor and a candidate for city council who has endorsed Mr. Booker's opponent, Ronald L. Rice.

Referring to Mr. Booker's four-year stint as a freshman councilman in Newark's Central Ward, Mr. James added, "The fact that his vision did not materialize in the Central Ward leads me to predict that it won't materialize for him in the entire city."

Mr. Booker shows no sign of being daunted, and sounded a defiant tone about his ability to confront whatever — and whoever — stands in the way of his painstakingly laid political plans.

"We're not going there to get comfortable and be a part of the status quo," Mr. Booker said in an interview in his Central Ward campaign headquarters "We're actually going there to make dramatic changes in the City of Newark. And that's going to entail making a lot of people very unhappy who are very comfortable and who have benefited from the process."

Still, for all his enthusiasm as he prepares to take over a city with a budget of more than $600 million, Mr. Booker is a lawyer and community activist who has never managed anything close to the scale of the city government he is now seeking to control. "It's going to be a challenge," he conceded.

Mr. Booker hopes to offset how large the task is, in part, by patterning himself after New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has built a reputation for delegating unusual amounts of authority to his subordinates. "What's distinguishing Bloomberg, if you talk to people who really know cities, is not his leadership," Mr. Booker said. "It's that he brought together one of the most exemplary teams in municipal government I think this nation has ever seen."

But unlike Mr. Bloomberg, who came to office from the private sector promising little but sound management and a vague promise of continuity from his predecessor, Mr. Booker wants to bring about a radical rethinking of Newark's policies by implementing his own ideas on how to attack the city's worst problems. On reducing crime, for example, which Mr. Booker has said would be his priority as mayor, he has promised to hire more police officers and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for quality-of-life violations.

On the subject of education, where Mr. Booker has courted controversy in the past by embracing taxpayer-financed private school vouchers, he said that he plans to broaden curriculums and after-school programs in public schools, expand existing charter schools and institute preapprentice programs to teach trades to students.

The problem is that all of Mr. Booker's attractive-sounding proposals involve spending money. And as Mr. Booker himself is aware, there may not be much of it to go around by the time the next mayor walks into City Hall on July 1.

The departing mayor has plugged holes in the city's budget with cash from a one-time $450 million settlement with the Port Authority for lease payments. Add to that the fact that federal, state and county aid that have essentially subsidized Newark's schools, job-training programs and government services in recent years will be shrinking over the next few years, and it's not even clear that the city will be able to meet its most basic obligations a year after the new mayor takes office.

"The question that's never been asked is what are we going to do in 2007, because 2007, actually, is a tough year for whoever might take over mayor," Mr. Booker said. "And Sharpe James is realizing he's not going to run again, it's not his problem."

Mr. Booker talks of generating new revenue by improving the efficiency of tax collection, and plans to put his prodigious fund-raising skills to work for the city by soliciting private aid for city programs. He also promises to leverage the influence of the Newark mayor's office around election time to wrest aid from aspiring office seekers.

At the same time, Mr. Booker stresses the idea of achieving greater efficiency, seeking cuts in the administrative budget of the city council, the city clerk's office and the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, and emphasizes the need for Newark to wean itself from nonrecurring sources of revenue like the Port Authority money, to which he says the city has become addicted.

Mr. Booker's criticism of how the city has been run recently has not done anything to endear him to the many members of Newark's political establishment who already view him with suspicion. That, in turn, could be a problem for Mr. Booker's ability to get anything done as mayor.

"Looking beyond his ability to articulate power and his skills as a fund-raiser, there is a lot of doubt about how much leadership he's going to be able to provide to people who have been around this area for a long time," said Rick Thigpen, a consultant and former executive director of the state's Democratic Party. "To the extent that he is going to expect to have people doing things his way, he's going to be in a lot of trouble."

Mr. Booker is aware of the dangers of gridlock. He promised to work "like the dickens" over the next two weeks to try to elect allies to the nine-member council, but said he was prepared to deal with a hostile council if necessary. In the last few weeks alone, Mr. Booker put out an ad accusing several incumbent council members of trying to pad their retirement accounts with the city's money, and the offended members duly replied with a lawsuit for defamation.

"I hope I don't have a council that fights me or tries to undermine me every step of the way," he said. "But if that's the case, I'm willing to roll up the sleeves and do what's necessary to push through a reform agenda and push through the changes I need. It'll be a test of my political acumen, and I'm ready for that test because nobody will stand in the way — no political person will pimp their position for personal gain under my watch."

But for all his talk of girding for battle as he prepares to take his place atop Newark's power structure, there are also signs that Mr. Booker increasingly sees the value of finding consensus. In response to a question about what he might have done differently since coming to Newark, Mr. Booker focused on a single episode from eight years ago, when he was a well-intentioned freshman councilman who, it turns out, had a lot to learn about wielding actual power.

"There's only one thing I might have changed a little bit, about how I went about my fights to get the right to speak back," he said. "They had stripped away the right of residents to speak in front of the city council on camera. And I did it in a way that didn't even try to build consensus with my colleagues, but more was just saying a 'shame on you' sort of thing. And that's no way to go about moving people to your position."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Blog Archive

About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.