Archive for April, 2007

Science & Cargo Cults, Global Warming, The Devil, and Democracy

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

– This piece comes from the Talk to Action Blog which I’ve been following for some time. Their focus is, in their own words, “a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right — and what to do about it.

– For the most part, I try to stay away from religion as a topic here unless the actions of religious people somehow relate to my primary theme, The Perfect Storm. Talk to Action ran a series of articles some months ago that I reported on however because the subject was so over-the-top I couldn’t resist. Those stories had to to with the Left Behind: Eternal Forces Christian video game. See these links:

– In the piece, below, Bruce Wilson of Talk to Action, discusses the current growing disrespect for science in America today and analyzes why it is happening. it makes for interesting reading.


Last October, I listened to United States Senator James Inhofe as he described, before an audience of perhaps one thousand people, his belief that Global Warming was a hoax foisted on Americans by a conspiracy to create a satanic one-world order….

n the end, faith in science is just that – faith. Have you ever seen a nuclear blast ? I haven’t, so how do we know nuclear weapons exist ? We take that on faith in the same way we assume that there’s a scientific reason our microwave ovens heat up our cups of coffee ; how do we know microwave ovens aren’t driven by magic, from elaborate incantations laid on microwave ovens at the factory in which they are made ? How do we know there’s a factory at all ?

Thousands of years ago, the Greek Skeptics demonstrated that it was impossible to really “prove” anything at all due to the facility of the human mind at generating alternative hypotheses for phenomenon. How do we know that there’s a world outside of our doors, really ? Can we prove we’re not brains in a vat ? How do we know we’re not living in The Matrix ? Or, how can we distinguish magical explanations for phenomenon from scientific explanations ? And, what happens to democracy when magical explanations, mystery cults in essence, supplant materialistic explanations of reality ? What does it mean when powerful politicians and religious leaders say scientific warnings about an alleged disaster of unprecedented scale bearing down on humanity and the Earth is really a satanic plot

20th Century Cargo cults believed that rich Western industrialized nations enjoyed a high level of material wealth from possessing special spells or magic that provided access to “cargo”, stuff that is. During the presidency of Lyndon Johnson one Pacific island nation where cargo cult belief was especially strong raised a sum of about $50,000 dollars as a bribe to offer president Johnson for the “secret of cargo”, the special magic that would conjure up cargo and so provide inhabitants of that nation the level of material prosperity enjoyed by Americans.

So, how do I know that “cargo” – consumer goods, the stuff of modern material existence – doesn’t simply pop into existence, conjured by magical spells ? Well, I don’t. I take it on faith. I could research the question by visiting factories where products get assembled and by traveling to mines and oilfields where raw material inputs for products get extracted from the Earth ; I don’t do that because I’m satisfied my explanation is “true”.

But, in the end, how am I different from a cargo cultist ? In the end I can only only give a qualified distinction – I believe in rational explanations rather than magical ones. And how can I demonstrate that my faith in a Heliocentric Solar System is better founded than the belief, by the Chalcedon Institute’s Martin Selbrede, in a Geocentric Solar System ?

In the end the Geocentric model assumes too much ; the theory is not parsimonious at all but posits that hundreds of years of scientific research and discovery, which has made possible such technological marvels as the computer I’m typing on now, nonetheless has gotten wrong a fundamental aspect of our reality. Geocentrism demands its adherents believe that centuries have passed and generations of scientists have been born and then died, yet it has only been in the past one or two decades that a tiny group of amateurs has uncovered the true nature of the Solar System.

I find that claim hard to accept because science is a highly competitive process and works in the end in ways not dissimilar to the way capitalist markets work. In science, better theories – which have more and wider explanatory force – arise in time to displace older theories which explain less. Individual scientists compete to generate the best theories and those who do attain status, favored teaching position, grants, awards, speaking engagements, and so on. Superstar scientists sometimes write bestselling books.

There is, in short, a competitive marketplace for ideas and so the claim that science has gotten the basic nature of the Solar System so wrong, and for so long, seems quite preposterous to me. It might be true, and computer laptops might be conjured, through magical incantations, out of thin air at a secret “cargo” factory inside a vast underground complex, run by aliens and nazis, hidden underneath the South Pole. Possibly. But that’s very unlikely.


Taking Nature’s Cue For Cheaper Solar Power

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Science Daily Solar cell technology developed by Massey University’s Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells.

Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.

The synthetic dyes are made from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature. The green dye Dr Campbell (pictured) is synthetic chlorophyll derived from the light-harvesting pigment plants use for photosynthesis.

Other dyes being tested in the cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that give blood its colour.

Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions – making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.

He says the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide – a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand’s black sand. Titanium dioxide is already used in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.

“The refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions,” Dr Campbell says.

“The expected cost is one 10th of the price of a silicon-based solar panel, making them more attractive and accessible to home-owners.”


Australians warned of water cuts

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Australian PM John Howard has warned that irrigation of much of the nation’s farmland will be banned unless there is heavy rainfall in the next month.

Mr Howard said there would only be enough water in the huge Murray-Darling river system for drinking purposes.

He acknowledged that this would have a “potentially devastating” impact on many horticultural, crop and dairy industries around the river basin.

But he said there was no choice, and he described the situation as “grim”.

Irrigators are already warning that if they cannot water their land, there will be huge crop losses and Australian consumers will face large price rises.


End of oil heralds climate pain

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Many people think that running out of oil, or “peak oil”, would be good for the climate. In his new book The Last Oil Shock, David Strahan begs to differ; he suggests it may bring catastrophe.

It is becoming increasingly clear that global oil production will soon go into terminal decline, with potentially devastating economic consequences.

Although the idea of peak oil has traditionally been ridiculed by the industry, now even some of the world’s most senior oilmen concede the case.

Last year Thierry Desmarest, chairman of Total, the world’s fourth largest oil company, declared that production would peak by around 2020.

He urged governments to find ways to suppress oil demand growth and put off the witching hour.

Other forecasters are convinced the peak date is even closer.

But many environmentalists continue to resist the idea.

Some seem to suspect that anybody who argues that oil production is set to fall must be a closet climate change denier with a secret agenda.

Others, like Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace, instinctively distrust forecasts of an imminent peak, but wish fervently that it would come soon.

“Let’s hope that the oil does run out”, he told me, “and that the world has to develop alternatives to oil seriously quickly, and from a climate point of view that would be an excellent outcome.”

Neither position could be more wrong.


Organic lighting research burns bright

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

The long, challenging technological march from the low-power light bulb Thomas Edison invented to the ultimate in a bright and energy-efficient lighting device may reach fruition in work led by the two ASU researchers.

A recent cover story in the journal Advanced Materials, a leading materials and device engineering research publication, details advances in the use of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) by Ghassan Jabbour and Jian Li, with help from graduate students Evan Williams and Kirsi Haavisto, a Fulbright scholar from Finland.

Jabbour is a professor and Li is an assistant professor in the new ASU School of Materials, which is jointly administered by the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Jabbour also is director of optoelectronics research and development at the Flexible Display Center at ASU.

The two have developed an organic lighting device with “100 percent internal quantum efficiency” by employing newly designed host materials coupled with optimized device architecture.

Internal quantum efficiency involves the number of photons generated inside the device per each electron from the electricity source – such as a battery.

What’s particularly significant about the researchers’ work is that their optimized device adopts an even simpler structure than any yet reported by other research groups.

“There is no waste of electricity,” Jabbour says. “All the current you are putting into the device is being used to produce light. It’s the first time something like this has been demonstrated. Nobody else has shown a 100 percent internal quantum efficiency for lighting devices using a single molecular dopant to emit white light.”


Yangtze pollution ‘irreversible’

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Large parts of China’s longest river, the Yangtze, have been irreversibly polluted, state media quotes a report as saying.

Around one-tenth of the 6,200km-long river is in a “critical condition” and nearly 30% of major tributaries are seriously polluted, the report found.

Even a huge reservoir created by the Three Gorges Dam has become heavily polluted.

China’s environment has suffered as a result of the country’s economic boom.

The government has pledged to clean up the Yangtze, which supplies water to almost 200 cities along its banks and accounts for 35% of the country’s total fresh water resources.

But correspondents say attempts to clean up China’s polluted lakes and waterways have been thwarted by lax enforcement standards.

The first comprehensive study into the health of the Yangtze found that 600km of the river were in a critical condition.

Around 14bn tons of waste are believed to be dumped into the river each year.

The river’s aquatic life had been seriously affected, with the annual harvest of aquatic products falling from 427,000 tons in the 1950s to 100,000 tons in the 1990s, the report found.

A huge reservoir created by the Three Gorges Dam – the world’s largest hydro-power project – had also been seriously polluted with pesticides, fertilisers and sewage from passenger boats.

“The impact of human activities on the Yangtze water ecology is largely irreversible,” Yang Guishan, of the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, which helped compile the report, said.

“It’s a pressing job to regulate such activities in all the Yangtze drainage areas and promote harmonious development of man and nature.”

The report said a comprehensive management system needed to be put in place to stop further parts of the river from becoming critically polluted.


Quantum Secrets of Photosynthesis Revealed

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

– This is some amazing stuff. Folks at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have done work that indicates that photosynthesis’ high efficiency is due to its use of quantum mechanical effects. It’s puzzled scientists of years how photosynthesis can operate with efficiency as high as 90% while their very best solar cells struggle to exceed 30%. Here’s a possible explanation and it’s a mind bender.


BERKELEY, CA —Through photosynthesis, green plants and cyanobacteria are able to transfer sunlight energy to molecular reaction centers for conversion into chemical energy with nearly 100-percent efficiency. Speed is the key – the transfer of the solar energy takes place almost instantaneously so little energy is wasted as heat. How photosynthesis achieves this near instantaneous energy transfer is a long-standing mystery that may have finally been solved.A study led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) at Berkeley reports that the answer lies in quantum mechanical effects. Results of the study are presented in the April 12, 2007 issue of the journal Nature.

“We have obtained the first direct evidence that remarkably long-lived wavelike electronic quantum coherence plays an important part in energy transfer processes during photosynthesis,” said Graham Fleming, the principal investigator for the study. “This wavelike characteristic can explain the extreme efficiency of the energy transfer because it enables the system to simultaneously sample all the potential energy pathways and choose the most efficient one.”


070421 – Saturday – wee knees

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

On April 11th, I had an Arthroscopy proceedure done on my right knee.  It’s been needing a repair since I hurt it running last November in New Zealand.

I’d had the same procedure done almost ten years ago on my left knee and it worked out fine then.   Minimum fuss and minimum hassle.

This time has been different.  In the days after the surgery, my leg swelled up seriously and by the 10th day, I had blood pooling in my ankle area as evidenced by the large blue bruises on either side as if I’d sprained my ankle badly.

Of course I’ve quizzed myself as to why it should have been so different this time – other than the fact that I’m almost ten years older and 10 to 15 pounds heavier.

The clue, I believe was always there.   When I was in New Zealand sometime in December, I noticed that when I took my socks off in the evening, my shins above where the socks had gripped my legs, were swollen.    I have no idea how long they’d been like that.  Noticing something like that just seems to creep up on me – hanging out there at the edge of consciousness until one day I consciously note it and idly wonder why it looks like that.   It could have been getting worse and worse for months.  My wife says I’m fairly clueless about such things and she’s probably right.

In any case, when I went in to see my GP in March to start the process towards getting the Arthroscopy done, we discussed the leg swelling and he said that it can indicate, most commonly, heart of kidney problems.   I asked him to run what ever tests were necessary to confirm or preclude these and he did.   Blood work quickly showed that my kidney functions were fine.   Later, I had a visit with a Cardiologist and got to become a giant hamster and ran on a treadmill while an EKG machine watched my cardiac functions.   Then, when my heart was beating at about 140 beats per second, they slapped an ultrasound paddle on my chest and looked at my heart beating physically.   It was all good.  100% A-OK cardiac functions.  I was glad about that.

But, it still left the swelling cause unknown.  My GP tried me on diuretic pills for two weeks but I couldn’t see that they made much difference in the swelling.   He’d also told me that this just happens to some folks as they age for no known reason though more often to women than men.   The long and the short of it was that we decided to just let it be and pressed on for the Arthroscopy on the knee.   The doctor who was going to do the Arthroscopy had been appraised about the swelling and requested my kidney and cardiac test results – so he was in the loop as well.

Well, a four or five days after the Arthroscopy procedure,  my sense was that I wasn’t healing as well as I thought I should.   Of course, in that situation, you have to wonder if your own impatience is interfereing with your judgement.   On day five or six, we noticed that I had a lot of bleeding under the skin on the back of my right thigh and I’d been noting for days that the muscles along the outside of that thigh were as tight as a drum and very painful to touch or use.   So, I called the doctor’s office to see if I could send them some digital photos and they could then decide if I was having abnormal symptoms or not.  The nurse called back and declined the photos and said I could come in but also said that they clamp the leg at the thigh with a tourniquet during the surgery and that this can often semi-crush the muscle and lead to pain and some bleeding afterwards.   That reassured me so I let it go and continued to limp about.

I was taking three to four Percocets a day to deal with the pain and so that I could sleep.   And that’s an awful lot of pain medication for me.

On Thursday evening, on the 8th day, I noticed that my leg was swollen all the way down to and including the foot and that I had dark brusing marks on either side of my ankle indicating that blood was pooling there.   I decided to push to see the doctor the next day, Friday, rather than waiting through the weekend for my first scheduled follow up visit on Monday.

That same evening, as I wondered yet again what could be causing all these problems, it finally occurred to me that I’ve been taking blood pressure medicine, Diovan,and that it works by keeping your blood vessels from contracting.  Something was beginning to click.
Earlier, my GP had told me that swelling like this is basically caused by the clear portion of the blood leaking out through the walls of the blood vessels into the muscles and such.   The real question, of course, is why the leakage occurs and that’s why we’d run the kidney and cardiac tests.   But now I was wondering if one of the possible side-effects of Diovan might be swelling due to it contributing to increased leakage.  I stopped taking Diovan the next morning and went into see the Arthroscopy surgeon.

He said that my reaction was unusual but not all that rare and this kind of swelling just seems to happen to some folks after the surgery.   He was concerned however least I might have formed any blood clots which, if undetected, might break loose and form a blockage in the lungs or heart which can be fatal.   So we scheduled an ultrasound session that afternoon with a vascular laboratory to check this possibility out.    I told him my thoughts about the Diovan and he acknowledged that it might be possible but I don’t think he was deeply impressed by the idea.

The vascular ultrasound workup showed I was free of blood clots and everything was flowing fine so we went home.

Now, it is Saturday evening, at the end of day 10 and I’ve not been taking Diovan for 48 hours and my swelling has diminished significantly.  I’ve also been getting by on half-Percocets rather than full tablets every six hours.

Is there a moral to this long medical ramble?

Well, I don’t think so.   At least, nothing definite.   Perhaps, Diovan aside, today just happened to be turn-around day and all my symptoms would have improved even if I’d continued to take the Diovan.   Maybe.    But, just a few minutes ago, I changed clothes and took my socks off for the first time today.   Virtually NO swelling above the sock-line.   And, it seems to me that the general swelling up and down my leg has decreased significantly as well.   My wife and I looked up Diovan on-line by Googling “Diovan Side Effects Swelling” and kicked out a lot of interesting stuff including some reputable sites which discuss drugs and side effects like these: :arrow:.

If I had it all to do over again,  I would have dropped Diovan sometime ago to see if my leg swelling went away.   And, for sure, I would not have been taking it at the time of the surgery.

Diovan, and blood pressure control, for me, is not an imperative.  I have what’s called border-line blood pressure and Cholesterol and my GP told me that long statistical studies had shown that people with these two together in borderline areas benefited by taking these drugs and  lived a bit longer.   I was willing so long as I could afford them and they had no adverse effects.   Now, I’m going to have to rethink all that.

/medical-rant off

070421 – Saturday – Corporate lawlessness

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

– My output here has been light of late. I’m dealing with the fallout from a knee surgery that didn’t go as well as it might have. It seems to be healing now but it’s been a major distraction over the last 10 days or so.

– In the year I’ve been Blogging and following various threads, I’ve been coming to an increasingly strong conviction. And that is that one of the root problems facing mankind in its evolution now is the fact that it has made the mistake of allowing corporations too much power in human affairs. Corporations are, after all, entities which exist to seek profit for their stockholder/owners. That’s their point. That’s their reason for being. But, in some nations, the United States notably, corporations have been granted the same rights as citizens and this has led to many problems.

– I don’t want to rag on this theme until I’ve put together a better exposition on it but just read the following story and ask yourself if we should allow powerful corporate entities like these to do what they are doing around the world in the name of profit? What ever happened to the idea of governments and institutions for the people? We seem to have drifted a period in which many governments seem to exist primarily for their most powerful citizens; corporations.


Vast forests with trees each worth £4,000 sold for a few bags of sugar

· Congo village chiefs not told value of concessions
· World Bank blamed over deals causing ‘catastrophe’

Lamoko, 150 miles down the Maringa river, sits on the edge of a massive stretch of virgin rainforest in central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On February 8 2005, representatives of a major timber firm arrived to negotiate a contract with the traditional landowners.

Few in the village realised that the talks would transform all their lives, but in just a few hours, the chief, who had received no legal advice and did not realise that just one tree might be worth more than £4,000 in Europe, had signed away his community’s rights in the forest for 25 years.

In return for his signed permission to log thousands of hectares for exotic woods such as Afromosia (African teak) and sapele, the company promised to build Lamoko and other communities in the area three simple village schools and pharmacies. In addition, the firm said it would give the chief 20 sacks of sugar, 200 bags of salt, some machetes and a few hoes. In all, it was estimated that the gifts would cost the company £10,000.

It was the kind of “social responsibility” agreement that is encouraged by the World Bank, but when the villagers found out that their forest had been “sold” so cheaply, they were furious.

They complained to the local and central government that there had been no proper consultation, that the negotiations had been conducted in an “arrogant” manner, and that people had been forced to sign the document. They demanded that the company pull out.

Since February 2005, logging roads have been driven deep into the forests near Lamoko and the company has started extracting and exporting trees, but the villages have yet to see their schools and pharmacies.

“We asked them to provide wood for our coffins and they even refused that,” said one man who asked to remain anonymous.

The Lamoko agreement is just one of many contracts, or concessions, that European companies have signed with tribal chiefs in the DRC as the country begins to recover from a decade of civil wars and dictatorship.

But according to a Greenpeace report released today, Lamoko did better than many communities. Some contracts seen by the Guardian show only promises of sugar, salt and tools worth about $100 (£55) in return for permission to log. Others have reported that pledges made three years ago have still not been fulfilled. The report, which took two years to compile, claims that industrial logging backed by the World Bank is now out of control. “Younger people feel that elders have failed to look after the long-term interests of the community,” it says.

Last week many community leaders told the Guardian that their villages would sink into destitution if logging went ahead. As many as 40 million of the poorest people in Africa depend on the Congolese forests and all the concessions handed out by the transition government in May 2002 are in inhabited areas. More than a third are home to pygmy communities.

“If the trees go, then we will have nothing. We will be consigned to poverty forever. The forests are our only hope. If they go, we only become poorer”, said one man who lives near Kisangani. Like most people in the area, he did not want to give his name for fear of intimidation from local authorities, who are known to be mired in corruption.

“The companies are obliged to employ local people, but they bring in their own people and we are left at best with unskilled jobs that pay the minimum wage – less than 50p a day,” said another man.

It is believed that 20 foreign-owned forestry companies are active in the DRC, and that Chinese and other logging groups are also seeking to gain concessions. The companies should be prevented from doing so by a moratorium negotiated by the World Bank in 2002 as part of an initiative to control the forestry industry.

Most of the major logging companies, including Danzer, Trans-M, TB, NST, Olan, and Sicobois, have concession contracts signed after the World bank moratorium, but although there is an investigation into their legality the majority are expected to be rubber stamped this year.

“Most of the companies have benefited from the World Bank’s failure to ensure that the moratorium it negotiated with the transitional Congo DRC government has been enforced,” said Greenpeace’s Africa forests campaigner, Stephan van Praet.

The companies, which export both logs and sawn timber, supply wood all over Europe but considerable amounts are thought to be shipped to Britain, mostly as finished products such as flooring, windows, furniture and doors.

African teak wood is protected by global agreement and cannot be exported from some tropical countries such as Cameroon, which have few trees left, but there are still no restrictions on its export from the DRC.

Greenpeace and other international forestry groups say the fate of the Congo forests depends on the World Bank and other donors, including Britain, rejecting industrial logging, demanding a comprehensive land-use plan for a country that is effectively lawless, and insisting that the government tackles corruption.

The bank accepts that logging could destroy the forests in a short time, leading to immense social problems.

“If we do nothing it is certain that the forests will disappear and poverty will increase. Not one dollar of tax that has been collected has returned to the provinces,” said Kankonde Mukadi, the forest officer for the World Bank in Kinshasa.

There is also concern because rainforests provide important carbon reserves. Up to a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are now linked directly to tropical deforestation, the report says.

Original article is here:

Thx to the Globalisation and the Environment Blog for alerting me to this

Close to Slavery

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

– If you are a red pill sort of a person, then you should read this to see what happens to a country and its decisions when they slip into being primarily driven by profit. When the decisions are driven by greed with little or no regard for honesty, ethics, fairplay or honor. And, in this case, the people misused, are so easy to ignore. But just think – these are our countrymen doing these things – living the American dream of profit when ever and where ever they can. You may not agree that they are doing these things in your name but the truth is if you know that this is going on and you continue to say nothing, then they are doing it with the complicity of your silence.

– So think about the red pill / blue pill issue before you read on. If you bite an apple from the tree-of-knowledge, then you become responsible for what you know.

Morpheus: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

– from The Matrix, 1999

Red Pill Blue Pill


Close to Slavery
Guestworker Programs in the United States

In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush called for legislation creating a “legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis.” Doing so, the president said, would mean “they won’t have to try to sneak in.” Such a program has been central to Bush’s past immigration reform proposals. Similarly, recent congressional proposals have included provisions that would bring potentially millions of new “guest” workers to the United States.

What Bush did not say was that the United States already has a guestworker program for unskilled laborers — one that is largely hidden from view because the workers are typically socially and geographically isolated. Before we expand this system in the name of immigration reform, we should carefully examine how it operates.

Under the current system, called the H-2 program, employers brought about 121,000 guestworkers into the United States in 2005 — approximately 32,000 for agricultural work and another 89,000 for jobs in forestry, seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other non-agricultural industries.

These workers, though, are not treated like “guests.” Rather, they are systematically exploited and abused. Unlike U.S. citizens, guestworkers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market — the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who “import” them. If guestworkers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation.

Federal law and U.S. Department of Labor regulations provide some basic protections to H-2 guestworkers — but they exist mainly on paper. Government enforcement of their rights is almost non-existent. Private attorneys typically won’t take up their cause.

Bound to a single employer and without access to legal resources, guestworkers are:

  • routinely cheated out of wages;
  • forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs;
  • held virtually captive by employers or labor brokers who seize their documents;
  • forced to live in squalid conditions; and,
  • denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel recently put it this way: “This guestworker program’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to slavery.”

Congressman Rangel’s conclusion is not mere hyperbole — and not the first time such a comparison has been made. Former Department of Labor official Lee G. Williams described the old “bracero” program — the guestworker program that brought thousands of Mexican nationals to work in the United States during and after World War II — as a system of “legalized slavery.” In practice, there is little difference between the bracero program and the current H-2 guestworker program.

The H-2 guestworker system also can be viewed as a modern-day system of indentured servitude. But unlike European indentured servants of old, today’s guestworkers have no prospect of becoming U.S. citizens. When their work visas expire, they must leave the United States. They are, in effect, the disposable workers of the U.S. economy.

This report is based on interviews with thousands of guestworkers, a review of the research on guestworker programs, scores of legal cases and the experiences of legal experts from around the country. The abuses described here are too common to blame on a few “bad apple” employers. They are the foreseeable outcomes of a system that treats foreign workers as commodities to be imported as needed without affording them adequate legal safeguards or the protections of the free market.

The H-2 guestworker program is inherently abusive and should not be expanded in the name of immigration reform. If the current program is allowed to continue at all, it should be completely overhauled. Recommendations for doing so appear at the end of this report.

– the complete report may be downloaded from the Southern Poverty Law Center as a PDF file here: