Latinos in California's Central Valley Lag

FRESNO, Calif. -- A Latino baby born in rural and urban areas of California's San Joaquín Valley can expect to live 81.2 years -- about a year longer than the average Californian, but fewer years than Latinos in other regions of the state.

That child has a minimal chance of achieving an education here. Just 50.4 percent of Latinos in the Valley earn at least a high school degree, and just 6.1 percent earn at least a bachelor's degree.

Once grown up, his or her low level of educational achievement could translate into abysmal wages.
The median earnings for a Latino worker in the Valley are just $18,000 a year. If female, she could make just $17,373 -- the median earnings for a Latina worker in the Valley, and the lowest sum for any gender or race in the state.

Welcome to the Valley, otherwise known as 'The Forsaken Five Percent' of California -- as a report has recently dubbed the region.

In 'A Portrait of California,' published in May by the American Human Development Project, the study authors analyzed three factors -- life expectancy, access to education, and median earnings -- to determine the American Human Development Index, or well-being score, of residents in 233 neighborhoods and counties across the Golden State.

Overall, their findings paint an unflattering picture of the Valley and its Latino residents, who today are the majority in Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Merced counties.

They found gross disparities in life expectancy, degree attainment, and earnings between the Valley and other parts of the state, and between Latinos and other ethnic groups. They also found disparities between counties and neighborhoods within the Valley -- and a few surprises.

Kristen Lewis, co-director of the American Human Development Project, said the report is not intended to be a "message of doom and gloom" for the region. Rather, it is meant to offer a snapshot of the current well-being of residents and regions, and help shape priorities for change.

"I think that if you don't know where you are, it is hard to know where you are going to go," she said after presenting the study at a forum last Tuesday afternoon. "It is hard to know if you are succeeding if you don't have a good benchmark."

And that was exactly the response of local advocates -- many of whom were already familiar with the region's deep-rooted inequities.

During the forum, participants discussed how they would utilize this new data -- as well as federal and private initiatives that have funneled significant funds and resources into the region -- to help pull the Valley out of poverty.

"I am no longer surprised; I'm very familiar with the data and it doesn't change much -- it is just amazing also that it doesn't change," said Rey Leon, executive director of the Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project, which organized the forum.

The important question to ask, he said, is "what are we going to do together to really maximize the resources that are on the ground now?"

The report authors divided the state into five Californias, highlighting the entrenched health, education and income disparities here.

They found that residents of the Santa Clara County cities of Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto had the highest levels of well-being in the state, earning the area the nickname, 'Silicon Valley Shangri-La.'

Residents there can expect to live nine years longer, are nine times more likely to have a bachelor's degree, and earn an average of $45,000 more than residents of Watts, in Los Ángeles County, and some urban and rural areas of the Valley -- including Fresno and west Kern County. These areas earned the lowest well-being scores in the state, and thus the unenviable nickname, 'The Forsaken Five Percent.'

That the agricultural Valley earned a dismal well-being score is, sadly, no longer a surprise. In fact, in its 2008 'Measure of America' report, the same organization found the 20th Congressional District -- which includes parts of Fresno, Kings and Kern counties -- had the lowest level of well-being of any district in the country.

"I don't think any of it is surprising," said Genvoveva Islas-Hooker, regional program coordinator for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program.

"But it is just nice to have it refreshed and brought back into the consciousness of people of why it is so important to continue this type of work that is really aimed at resolving these disparities."

What may be eye-opening, though, is that significant disparities in health, educational achievement, and income exist, even within the San Joaquín Valley.

"It is not that there are no resources at all, and that everyone in the San Joaquín Valley is struggling," said Lewis, of the American Human Development Project. "There are people who have quite high levels of well-being here -- and others who don't, and haven't for a very, very long time.

"That the disparities are so large and so entrenched is surprising."

For example, residents of downtown Sacramento and southern San Joaquín County generally have longer life expectancies, higher levels of education, and higher earnings than the typical American. These areas, along with 38 percent of state residents, earned well-being scores that ranked them in the category, 'Main Street América.'

Residents of Eastern Tulare County, Stockton, and Bakersfield -- who the report characterized as working hard, but hardly gaining a foothold on security -- received lower well-being scores, and were classified, along with another 38 percent of state residents, as 'Struggling California.'

Interesting disparities also exist among foreign-born and native-born Latinos in the state.

For example, while 57.5 percent of foreign-born Latinos in the state have less than a high school degree, they have a long life expectancy.

Foreign-born Latinos can expect to live 84.2 years -- less than native-born Asian Americans, who, at 87.4 years, have the longest life expectancy of any racial or ethnic group, but longer than native-born Latinos, whites, and African Americans.

Foreign-born Latinos' long life-expectancy -- known as the 'Latino health paradox' -- could be chalked up to fewer risk behaviors -- like smoking, a poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive drinking -- or more protective social factors, like social supports and family cohesion, Lewis said.

The report offers general suggestions for improvement -- like achieving better health by facilitating healthy behaviors, making educational equity a reality, and closing the gender earnings gap.

In the Valley, advocates are optimistic that such goals can be achieved through a handful of initiatives that have already directed significant resources and investments to the region, including Building Healthy Communities, the California Endowment's 10-year project in 14 communities, including Fresno, Merced, and Sacramento; and Strong Communities, Strong Cities, a federal, interagency initiative in six cities across the nation, including Fresno.

These federal and private investments have the potential to spur social improvements in the region, said Albert Maldonado, program manager of the Building Healthy Communities initiative in the Fresno area.

"For a very long time, Fresno has been considered this resource-depleted area, and this area that's often overlooked," Maldonado said. "Right now, there are lot of eyes on the Central Valley, and lots of interest in the Central Valley. Given that, and those different projects all coming together, I think it is a really good time for the Valley."

But truly improving the region's deep-seated inequities -- like the low level of educational achievement and low earnings -- will require collaboration between those various initiatives, he said.
"How do we intentionally create opportunity for integration between the different initiatives and large-scale projects that are all taking place at the same time, so that we are maximizing this opportunity?" he said.

The report, he said, "is a reminder of the need to be steadfast in our commitment to improve our community, and really not put a BandAid on out situation anymore -- but dig deeper."

Near Desert Paradise, Coachella Farm Workers Live in “Favelas”

THERMAL – At one end of Avenue 54, a road slicing through some of the most fertile land in the United States, resides the California of the popular imagination: a place of Bermuda shorts, putting greens and picture-window champagne dinners overlooking the infinity pool.

But there is another Avenue 54 concealed behind tumbleweeds and dust. It is the 54 of arsenic-tainted water, frequent blackouts and raw sewage that backs up into the shower. It is a place of grim housekeeping, where the residents of the Eastern Coachella Valley’s roughly 125 illegal mobile home parks struggle to make 720 square feet of deteriorating metal and plywood a safe and habitable home.

Even the names of unincorporated communities here – Mecca, Oasis – evoke Biblical lands, befitting the manmade plagues that beset the region. This desert valley, about 130 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is one of the country’s richest agricultural areas, an irrigation-fed bounty of table grapes, bell peppers, seedless watermelons and most of the country’s dates. Island-paradise palms spring mirage-like from the hot, arid soil.

This Coachella, unvisited by hipsters who attend a yearly music festival in the valley, is one of the poorest, densest areas of the United States – especially during grape season, when an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 migrant workers pour into already crowded quarters, sleeping in fields, alongside irrigation ditches or on swatches of cardboard in the dirt parking lot of Leon’s Market in Mecca.

Israel and Fatima Gutierrez – the parents of Neftoli, 7, and Alexis, 5, and residents of the Rancho Garcia Mobile Home Park – live the nightmare daily.

The vinyl floors of their disintegrating trailer, which they rent, are dimpled with moisture. Plywood covers holes where windows once were, affixed with duct tape to walls in a slow state of collapse. Rats are a constant presence; sometimes, frogs make their way through the pipes. An extension cord leads from a single light bulb hanging from the bedroom ceiling to a socket with exposed wires.

“Sometimes, the niños shock themselves and scream,” Israel Gutierrez said.

In the tumbledown warrens of America’s pre-fab favelas – California’s Third World – the 20th century is a dim memory. Basic needs like potable water, safe and reliable electricity, rudimentary sanitation, and clean air can go unmet. Darryl Adams, the Coachella Valley Unified School District superintendent, who took over last year, visited some of his young charges recently in 115-degree heat. “These children were splashing around in little portable pools getting infections from unclean water,” Adams said.

“This is the Golden State, the great state,” he said. “I had no idea.”

“We are like a small country within the United States,” said Eduardo Guevara, a coordinator of Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto, one of a small but growing number of citizen groups working to improve the trailer parks.

In recent months, this small, isolated country has received national attention, with visits by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and activist Erin Brockovich.

Earlier this year, dozens of residents, including teachers and schoolchildren, were sickened by noxious odors emanating from a four-story-high mesa of hazardous waste operated by Western Environmental Inc., a Utah-based soil recycling company that leases land from the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.

The devil’s palette of stenches was overwhelming, residents say, shifting from gas fumes to the smell of burnt oil to ruptured sewer pipes. The symptoms of “Toxico Mecca,” as it became known locally, included nausea, vomiting, dizziness and difficulty breathing.

“At first, we thought it was the Salton Sea,” said Isabel Galvez, a yard supervisor at Mecca Elementary School, referring to the scent of dead fish baked in fetid air at the valley’s northern edge. “But it was the site.”

The valley long has been a go-to toxic dumping ground, particularly on tribal land – a crazy quilt of jurisdictions scattered throughout the region. Among the most notable have been the Lawson Dump, on a Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians allotment, where hellish subterranean fires smoldered beneath millions of tons of burned waste (it was shut down by a federal judge in 2006). Down the road are remains of the state’s largest pile of garbage, nicknamed Mount San Diego by locals and closed by federal order in 1994.

At Western Environmental, the lack of state hazardous waste permits has come under public scrutiny. During a peak period in 2009-10, more than 10,000 shipments, most of it dirt contaminated with oil, gasoline and other hydrocarbons that emit fumes, were trucked to the plant along with sewage sludge, pesticides and other chemicals.

In May, after public outcry, Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, held a brief press conference at the school where dozens were sickened. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the company to stop receiving hazardous waste. In August, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control acknowledged it had failed for at least seven years to stop hazardous waste from being shipped to the plant and vowed to make improvements over how it monitors the area.

‘It’s just the poor and the rich’

For those growing up in the Eastern Coachella Valley’s mobile home parks, though, there is precious little difference between the kind of environmental crises that bring headlines and TV cameras and the hundreds of dangers and indignities that define everyday life.

Yanet Villicana, now a 20-year-old college student, lives with her farm-worker parents and five younger sisters in a peach-brown metal trailer seemingly held together by will.

She walks the dirt streets of her childhood home, the Lawson Mobile Home Park – a squalid city of about 400 trailers on Torres-Martinez land – to take the county bus to college in Palm Springs. It’s a grueling two-hour journey one way.

She passes Duroville next door, the park on tribal land that became synonymous with rural slums, before arriving in Mecca. After too many stops, the scraggly mesquite and cracked pavement of unincorporated California gives way to bougainvillea-lined boulevards as the bus approaches Indian Wells, where streets are named for Bob Hope and Dinah Shore. The median household income is $134,615, among the highest in the state; in Mecca, it’s $25,873.

“It’s really sad when we go through the wealthy parts,” said Villicana, a psychology major who picks grapes in the fields during the summer to pay for braces and school. “It’s like the bus goes through all the poor sections first, then out of nowhere there are a bunch of huge houses and beautiful sights. It’s sad, because there’s really nothing in between. It’s just the poor and the rich.”

When the bus returns late at night, she is afraid to walk the park’s nameless pitch-black dirt lanes because there are no lights. Electricity charges are determined by the landlord, who reads the meters, so rent during the sweltering swamp-cooler summer can run as high as $700 a month.

“There’s nothing here,” Villicana said. “No community center. No parks.”

What is here, said Cecilia Cote, who works as a health promotoras for the nonprofit Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, are families living 15 to a trailer. Children are exposed to fleas from roaming dogs, open sewers or septic breaches, and overcrowded restrooms. Grape stakes salvaged from abandoned fields are used as kindling for warm baths and cooking.

Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency physician at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage and an associate dean at the UC Riverside School of Medicine, launched the Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative last year. Ruiz, the son of farm workers who holds three degrees from Harvard University, considers the trailer parks “a public health nightmare.”

Humiliating conditions

At the Rancho Garcia Mobile Home Park, Fatima Gutierrez sweeps rat droppings, changes the traps, bleaches the walls with a dish scrubber and climbs a ladder during rainy season to seal the roof with a plastic tarp, usually futilely.

Dr. Kenneth Russ, a physician in Palm Springs who has consulted with mobile home park residents, said the combination of substandard housing, air pollution, exposure to hazardous waste and poor nutrition “can be physically and emotionally traumatic, especially for children.”

Until recently, when the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health stepped in, the Rancho Garcia park had an open fly-infested sewage pit. Raw sewage seeped into streets and yards.

Leonard Garcia, whose father, Miguel, started the park as a labor camp, suggested that residents’ habits were to blame for some of the problems, including the sewage.

“It could be a plugged line, even in their own trailer,” he explained. “Sometimes, it’s a Pamper. Sometimes, it’s a buildup of lard. Or toys. Believe me, you don’t want to know what we’ve seen in these things.”

Conditions at Rancho Garcia are more acute than at many other parks. According to the state’s esoteric mobile home park laws, park owners are responsible for infrastructure and for providing a decent living environment that will protect homeowners’ investments. (Ninety-five percent of area residents own their mobile homes.) If a park closes, those living in rickety hand-me-downs that are too fragile to move are particularly vulnerable.

“Effectively, you lose a piece of property and your shelter,” explained Megan Beaman, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance in Coachella.

Riverside County has 121 unpermitted parks and a few dozen legal ones, said Bob Lyman, regional manager for the county’s Transportation & Land Management Agency. In addition, there are five major parks and more than 100 smaller ones on Torres-Martinez land, all outside the reach of county inspectors.

These tribal mobile home park residents have little legal recourse against punitive practices by owners, such as unlawful evictions or “the electricity being shut off if they are a day behind on rent,” said Arturo Rodriguez, directing attorney for the Coachella California Rural Legal Assistance Migrant Farmworker Project.

Housing law’s unintended consequence

The proliferation of small unregulated parks dates back to the 1992 Farm Labor Housing Protection Act, an emergency measure that allowed growers to build parks of up to 12 units without obtaining zoning and land use permits.

But the bill written by Richard Polanco, a Los Angeles assemblyman, had unintended consequences. Opportunistic landlords swooped in to erect an estimated 400 unpermitted parks, still known as “polancos,” that skirted basic health and safety regulations, including the placement of wells, septic systems and safe electrical wiring.

The parks remained largely under the radar until the summer of 1998, when two people died in two different parks – one a teenager who was electrocuted when a fence became energized due to faulty wiring, the other a man electrocuted while working on repairs to his mobile home.

Riverside County code enforcers began cracking down, targeting 18 parks for closure and filing lawsuits against the owners. In response, California Rural Legal Assistance filed housing discrimination suits with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying the county had unfairly targeted Latino-owned parks. Two years after the first crackdown, HUD announced a $21 million settlement with the county to pay for community projects, low-income housing and cash payments to the farm worker families.

“It’s no accident these communities are suffering,” said Beaman, with California Rural Legal Assistance. “It comes with being 97 percent Latino, 50 percent undocumented and 100 percent working class. It’s a snapshot of how certain categories of people are forced to live differently based on their perceived power.”

Widespread panic about park closures prompted thousands of residents, including many indigenous native-speaking Purépecha people from the highlands of Michoacán in Mexico, to move their trailers onto sovereign tribal land, away from code enforcers as well as U.S. immigration agents.

The denouement was the housing apocalypse known as Duroville, a postcard of squalor and lawlessness in which packs of wild dogs roamed muddy alleyways and raw sewage puddled along Michael Street, Marylou Avenue and other byways named for owner Harvey Duro’s family.

Airborne toxins from the burning illegal Lawson dump next door – including elevated levels of dioxin, a carcinogen – finally brought Duroville to the attention of the federal government.

Sister Gabi Williams, 62, a self-described “gringo” nun, has become something of an Our Lady of Mobile Home Parks for her tireless efforts there. She recalls “black water on the ground, the dump with a huge hole in the middle sinking.”

She said of her work there, with flinty matter-of-factness: “It wasn’t a good idea to put up a child center around battery acid.”

After a cascade of events, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that the park would be shut down, displacing 4,000 to 5,000 residents. Averting what he called “a mass humanitarian crisis,” U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson ordered the park to remain open and set up a two-year receivership charged with making the park livable until alternatives could be found.

Today, the population of Duroville hovers around 2,000, expanding during the harvest and contracting from July to September, when half the residents migrate to the San Joaquin Valley. An 11-acre open sewage evaporation pond is still in use. Thomas J. Flynn, the federally appointed receiver, calls it “a West Nile virus incubator that’s like something out of Margaret Mead.”

Flynn has worked to alleviate the park’s underground economy, a haven for criminal activity, including a notorious drug-dealing intersection in which “cars would pull in as if they were pulling into a McDonald’s,” in his words. He also noted the “repair” shops with hundreds of cars, many stolen.

A blocks-long monolith of domestic detritus – mattresses, playpens, car seats, carpeting, masses of splintered wood – represents the remains of makeshift wooden structures attached to trailers, recently ordered removed.

“Fire accelerators that combined with improperly installed propane tanks were like a bomb,” Flynn said.

Dr. Alberto Manetta, a professor emeritus at UC Irvine and chairman of Latino Health Access, a nonprofit based in Santa Ana, runs a health clinic in Duroville. Two recent health surveys by Manetta and his team offer an illuminating portrait of the park: Ninety-five percent of residents do not have Internet access. Only 8 percent finished high school. One-third lack air conditioning. More than half have no source of hot water for bathing, with children using leftover cooking water to wash. Chronic conditions like diabetes and tobacco and alcohol addiction abound.

Nevertheless, Manetta observes, the residents’ deepest concern is not their health. “Their biggest worry is being thrown out of the park,” he said.

Citizen groups fight for improvements

Elisa Guevara’s first home in America was a wooden shack attached to a friend’s trailer in Duroville. She was an accounting assistant for a computer store in Mexico; on her first Monday in California, she went to work in the fields. She suffered dehydration and heat stroke but continued picking. “Once she starts something, she finishes it, no matter what,” her brother Eduardo said.

Frightened for her family’s safety after an arson, Guevara and her husband, daughter and parents left Duroville. They moved into their own trailer at the Los Gatos Mobile Home Park, brightening a corner of the living room with a shrine honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“It was a dream to have a house,” Guevara said, “even if it wasn’t the best you could think of.”

But her optimism was short-lived: Last summer, half the park’s trailers lost electricity for a month when the overtaxed electrical box caught fire, forcing nine families to sleep outside because of the heat. They had to rely on ice coolers to store food and medicine. Before that, there was the defective plumbing system that forced families to live with their own waste.

The park’s co-owner, Benjamín Hernández offered a litany of blame for the park’s woes – residents who waste water and electricity, county inspectors who are demanding high fees for permits, and the poor economy devastating his family’s finances. Hernández said he invested in the park with nine siblings, but now they don’t have enough money to make improvements.

“We wanted to get a line of credit to do everything, but then the problems with the economy hit,” Hernández said. “We lost our jobs. People lost their homes. We were really affected by the economy. We spoke with the county. We tried to find another way to move forward. But there are too many costs, too many rules, too many requirements.”

Guevara remembers praying a lot, convinced that as a non-English-speaking woman with kidney problems, there was little she could do. But inspired by her daughter, she acted.

The result was Comité el Poder de la 62 – “The Power of the 62nd” – named for their avenue, one of a growing number of citizen groups fighting to improve their neighborhoods by taking landlords to court. A lawsuit is still pending; last year, a preliminary injunction required the owners to restore electricity and repair the sewage system.

In the Eastern Coachella Valley, worst-case scenarios are common events: Witness 90-year-old former Sunbird Mobile Home Park resident Lucas D. Hernandez’s water bill, which went from $14.16 to $596.26 after the park launched a new rate system. (Residents have filed a legal complaint.) And at Oasis Mobile Home Park – a misnomer if ever there was one – a discovery in 2007 by the EPA of a landlord’s abhorrent cunning: a system of hidden pipes rigged to agricultural drain lines that discharged residents’ sewage into the Salton Sea.

“You get into this floppy mood,” Maribel Sanchez, 27, said of St. Anthony’s Mobile Home Park, where a collapsed casing on a deteriorating well pumped sand into their water. One resident whose wife was recovering from breast surgery was forced to drive 15 miles so that she could take a clean shower.

“People don’t speak up,” added Sanchez, who works as a nanny in a gated community in La Quinta. “They think their voice isn’t going to be heard.”

The park, home to more than 600 people, has experienced years of violations, most notably dangerously high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the water – prompting residents like Ana Sanchez, Maribel’s mother, to spend $20 a week or more on bottled drinking water.

Ruiz, of the Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative, said the long-term health effects of the area’s myriad issues, from mobile home parks to hazardous waste, are far from clear.

“This should hit us all in our hearts and minds,” he said of the valley’s precarious teeter-totter of inequality. “A community doesn’t end at a gate.”

A Welfare Symbol Dies a Slow Death

Last Thursday, I was at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington. Established in 1972, the four-story building is the largest central library among the 25 public libraries operated by the capital.

A young African-American man in shabby clothing waited in line for 20 minutes to use a computer in the center of the lobby. Finally, it was his turn, and as he proceeded to dance to a music video on the computer, he seemed not to care how other people looked at him. A middle-aged woman passed by him, with a paper listing classified ads, and entered the reading room.

I went to the library because the city had announced that, starting in October, the library would be closed on Sundays because of financial restraints. This is the library’s first closure since its opening. For some time, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library has been the only public library that remained open on Sundays. The other 24 libraries in the district have been closed on Sundays for a while.

As soon as I entered the library, I saw the sign announcing that the library would be closed on Sundays beginning this month. Every visitor stopped and read that sign. An elderly man named Scott, who was at the information desk, said that the library had never closed in the 30 years he had been working there, except for renovation and reconstruction projects. He said it is most heartbreaking when visitors ask him if the library can remain open for at least couple hours on Sundays.

He also said that, on Sundays, people from a nearby shelter would come to the library to watch football games on a TV in the basement and parents who work late on weekdays would come to the library with their children. Where will these people go now?

Fortunately, two days before the first Sunday closure, the D.C. authorities announced that the library had secured an additional $300,000 and would remain open on Sundays until next year. While many people were relieved, they also seemed to realize how pathetic the makeshift response makes the U.S. capital look.

The public libraries located in small towns across the United States used to be symbols of an advanced welfare system. But those symbols are collapsing. The nation may not be bankrupt, but its social welfare system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Nothing illustrates that the economy and welfare are not separate better than the struggles of the public libraries.

Korean Builders Expect Boom Following Gadhafi's Death

Korean construction companies said Thursday that they expect a boom in construction business with the death of Moammar Gadhafi, which could end the civil war in the North African country.

The death of the former Libyan leader, announced by Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), could mean the start of reconstruction of damaged and destroyed social infrastructure facilities, local contractors said.

The deposed leader was reported killed in his hometown of Sirte by rebels who had been trying to end Gadhafi's 42-year rule since February.

"We have been looking ahead to the post-Gadhafi era since the NTC captured Tripoli in August and expect new construction orders to be placed," a local builder said, without going into details.

This view was shared by state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency which said Libya could become a huge market for construction companies once the current unrest is resolved.

"The market could be as large as $120 billion since there is a need to repair oil refineries, electric power lines, houses, ports and roads," it said. "Libya may build three or four new cities."

Companies such as Daewoo Engineering & Construction that have been in the country for a long time and have close ties with local tribes also said that while there may be uncertainties caused by the country's new leadership, they were confident that they will be able to keep pace with competitors.

Others, however, said there may be obstacles in securing fresh orders since countries like Britain and France, which had played an active military role in the Libyan leader's downfall, may ask that their national companies get the bigger contracts.

Occupy Wall Street Draws Collective Yawn in Latin America

NEW YORK – It’s a paradox that the only foreign-language kiosk set-up in Zuccotti Park, the site that has been “occupied” by Occupy Wall Street is for Spanish-language information, when, throughout Latin America, the movement has met with little enthusiasm.

While Occupied Wall Street has resonated with people around the world, inspiring demonstrations from London to Taiwan, Seattle to Sydney and Rome to Tokyo, the movement has failed to ignite the imagination of Latin Americans.

At a time when thousands of people have gathered to protest from New York’s Times Square to the piazzas adjacent to Rome’s Coliseum, the number of protesters in major Latin American cities has been in the hundreds at best. In Mexico City, the largest city in Latin America, an estimated 250 people assembled at the Monument to the Mexican Revolution, and in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, fewer than 40 demonstrators showed up for a protest. The largest reported assembly has taken place in Buenos Aires in Argentina, but this was a bicycle festival that showcased the work of local artists, and it is estimated that only 800 people showed up for that street-like fair.

Why are Latin Americans indifferent to a spontaneous uprising of public discontent across the U.S., throughout Europe and around the world?

The reason lies in the nature of the global discontent, and the factors that have, until now, insulated Latin America.

Occupied Wall Street may not have found its voice yet, at least in terms of articulating a list of demands and proposals for addressing the complaints expressed by demonstrators, but, in speaking with scores of the individuals assembled at Zuccotti Park – which is physically located between Ground Zero and Wall Street – there are several points in common:

Income distribution: The now-famous “We are the 99%” slogan calls attention to the skewing of the income distribution in the United States since the mid-1990s, in which the top 1 percent of the nation’s wealthy control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year,” Joseph Stigliz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote this spring. “In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

TheHousing crisis: The burst of the housing bubble in 2008, caused by a speculation frenzy empowered by Wall Street, has resulted in millions of families losing their homes, and it is now estimated that almost half of U.S. homeowners who have a mortgage are likely to owe more than their properties are worth, Deutsh Bank reported two years ago.

Unemployment: While the economy is in technical “recovery,” it is one in which few jobs have been created. In the summer of 2010 the International Labor Organization (ILO), the labor agency of the United Nations, warned governments around the world that “recovery efforts” must focus on job creation, and yet, the labor market remains stagnant throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Collapse of Government Services: Economic pressures on state and local governments have resulted in drastic cutbacks at all levels of services throughout the United States, from the number of firemen on payroll to school lunch programs for disadvantaged youth, from monies to repair roads to public health services. Over a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned of the “fiscal” pressures confronting state and local governments.

These concerns, however, have found little resonance in Latin America. The challenge for the largest nations of the region – Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – is managing the growth they are experiencing. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is confronting the possibility of an overheated economy, meaning that Brazil may be growing too quickly, overvaluing the nation’s currency and risking inflation. Last summer, Ben Laidler, a strategist at JPMorgan, warned investors that Brazil ran the risk of “overheating” its economy.

In Mexico, a sustained period of reform and growth since 1994 – when NAFTA went into effect – has fueled the growth of a sizeable middle class. “It’s people who came from the countryside to work in new industries spawned by NAFTA. This rising middle class has a powerful aspiration to dig out of poverty,” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times. He noted in 2010 that “Wal-Mart de Mexico is expected to open 300 new stores in Mexico this year, thanks to growing Mexican demand for consumer goods.”

For its part, Argentina -- while suffering from unemployment levels that are higher than government officials would like to have -- confronts an acute shortage of skilled labor. "In the area of computer systems alone, there are an estimated 50,000 available jobs, while at the same time there are a large number of unemployed people who don't have the necessary skills, which is why there is no correlation between economic growth and unemployment levels," Caludio Flores, director of Agein, a human resources agency, said this past spring.

Latin America was largely spared from the burst of the housing bubble, meaning there are no multitudes of Latin Americans facing foreclosures, or whose homes are “under water.” The reason is that, for most people in Latin America, governments have federal-level housing agencies that control the development of housing projects, guarantee mortgages and offer mortgages that are within the ability of families to pay. In Mexico, for instance, most homes are bought through Infonavit, a federal housing agency that provides housing options for almost 60 million Mexicans.

If Mexico has a housing crisis it would be characterized as a housing shortage.

In consequence, Latin America has made significant strides in closing the income distribution gap. A growing middle class has lifted millions of Latin Americans out of poverty, and free-trade agreements have given millions more access to consumer products than ever before in the history of the continent.

Latin Americans simply have little empathy for the concerns voiced by the Occupied Wall Street protestors, and the meager number of demonstrators showing up in solidarity rallies in the major cities of the region is testament to this indifference.

There are other reasons for Latin America’s collective yawn at Occupied Wall Street. For starters, the Occupied Wall Street protestors have ignored the three major complaints that people in Latin America have.

Foremost is the growing demand to decriminalize some narcotics as a way to reduce the “drug wars” raging from Mexico to Bolivia, Colombia to Guatemala. Second is the demand – spearheaded by Mexico at the United Nations – that arms-producing countries impose strong export controls on weapons, another strategy for ending drug-related violence in Latin America. The third complaint is the growing conviction that the movement of labor across the continent should be left unfettered – where the continent moves towards the European Union’s model of allowing workers to move freely across borders. Mexico sees this as one way of ending the racism that has characterized discussion of immigration and immigration reform in the United States.

There is one other reason, one seldom articulated directly, but often alluded to with resentment: Why should Latin Americans take to the streets to support the complaints of fat Americans who, for the first time in more than half a century, are confronting the harsh realities of diminished expectations, when Americans went about their lives when it was Latin America that was in upheaval in the 1980s?

The international debt crisis that exploded in the region on August 5, 1982 after Mexico announced it could not meet its debt obligations plunged the region into a crisis, and the 1980s are remembered as a “lost decade.”

Food riots erupted in Caracas in February 1989 to protest the rise in prices under the presidency of Carlos Andres Perez, in what became known as the “Caracazo”uprising." Riots spread throughout South America, reaching Buenos Aires later that year to protest the government of Raul Alfonsin. At that time, Americans showed very little concern for the plight of millions in Latin America – certainly no one was out in the streets in Lower Manhattan demanding that Latin America’s hungry be fed.

This time around, it is Latin America that is relatively well off, moving toward creating robust middle class societies, and enjoying a period of sustained growth that has, thus far, been insulated from the worst effects of the Global Recession. And although millions of Spaniards are taking to the streets from Madrid to Barcelona, Valencia to Toledo, they are doing so not as Hispanics, but as Europeans, who, burdened by the crisis engulfing the euro economies, are caught up in Europe’s crisis.

Calif. Job Growth Up, But Future Depends on Washington and World Economy

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Job growth improved in California during the past two months.

The state added 11,800 jobs in September, and the previously reported loss of 8,400 jobs in August was revised upward to a gain 21,100.

The unemployment rate fell slightly from 12.1 percent to 11.9 percent, putting California—with the second highest unemployment rate in the United States--in the half of all states that saw a decline in September.

During the past year major sectors saw a rebound in job growth with construction adding 23,000 and manufacturing posting a 15,800 increase. The standout sector was professional and business services with a gain of 78,000 jobs, and the information sector adding 21,800 jobs, for a five percent gain led by Internet-related sectors.

The economy continues to be led by technology and trade with a beginning uptick in tourism.

California had an increase in exports for the 22nd consecutive month.

While these results only begin to recover the jobs lost during the recession, California is now outpacing the nation in job growth, so fears that everyone is leaving the state are contradicted by the data.

California saw an increase of 250,000 jobs during the past year (1.8 percent) though September’s results overstate the strength of the economy, as they are compared to a poor September 2010.

State job growth is concentrated in the urban coastal markets with the largest percentage gains in Silicon Valley (3.1 percent) and San Diego (1.4 percent). Gains were moderate in the San Francisco and Orange County metro areas. Los Angeles County is finally seeing job growth with an increase of 31,400 jobs (0.8 percent) over the past 12 months.

Although California has begun to recover, led by the traditional growth leaders in technology and trade, further near-term progress will depend on national policy decisions and world economic conditions, both of which remain uncertain today.

Business Education Standards

Okay, a show of hands, everyone. How many of you had any business sense prior to leaving high school?

Of those of you who said yes, were there any who did not get it from a family member or close friend? I thought so.

There are many things to criticize about the education system. But there's one that seems, at least from my perspective, to get scant attention: is there a real business education standard which is given any more than passing mention during the thirteen years one sits in American classrooms and absorbs information? Considering that the fundamentals of earning a living is a very important in being a contributing citizen, and that business ownership would be among the most reliable pathway to making a successful living, that's pretty scary!

I concluded pretty late in my life that learning how to develop and operate a business would be a crucial endeavor. And yes, I can lay a lot of blame for the delay on the education I received growing up. But - and this ought to be an admonition for the rest of us - the more important issue is, how do I make up for lost time?

Some thoughts:

1. Find a good mentor- I put this at the top because, from a logistical perspective, this will be the hardest step. Even knowing who has been successful in business can be tricky at times because many faces can represent success. And then, there's the inconvenient question of whether they would want to spend time developing the necessary business skills of 'little old you! Unfortunately, a lot of people will be like that. On the flip side, there are exceptions. I personally have benefited from a few key people like this in my life. You can too.

2. Discover what's been successful- This ought to be the basic business education standard. Once you find a good mentor or two, getting that insight will almost be a matter of if it being spoon-fed to you, but this is a question you can get answers to ahead of time. Read books. Search the Internet. Study the stories of the successful. There is a lot of information, oftentimes for free, which can put you well on your way.

3. Don't be afraid to fail- This may be the hardest point on the emotional level. I am talking here about failing in potentially catastrophic ways. Another problem with the way most of us were taught is that we eventually learned a healthy respect for the red marker. You know, the one that checked off the questions we got wrong? It's okay as far as it goes, but failure has a way of teaching us in ways that no other environment can. Obviously, if a mentor can teach you from their mistakes rather than yours, it's a bonus, but be mindful that failure is not final.

Now, there would be some standards that would make us all better!

Busymom has been scouring the net for a viable and ethical way for a novice like her to develop passive income on the web. She now has the resources to enjoy time raising her four children. Learn more-

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