Tuesday, February 28, 2006

[Philippines] Poverty grim reminder on Ash Wednesday

from INQ7

By Christian V. Esguerra

ON THE EVE of Ash Wednesday marking the start of Lent, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued the reminder that poverty, not politics, was the Filipino Everyman's most serious problem.

"The most immediate and urgent priority of the common Filipinos is their daily struggle to earn their livelihood," Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said in a statement titled "Lent: A Call to Transformation."

"Poverty, despite the professed development at the macro level, remains the heaviest burden the country bears," he said.

Lagdameo had earlier called for sobriety amid reports of a supposed coup attempt against the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose alleged manipulation of the 2004 presidential election remains unresolved.

"To all parties concerned, we as shepherds appeal to you to be open to reason and respect truth and the rule of law and to avoid creating the atmosphere of belligerency -- because innocent people are likely to be involuntary victims of self interest he had said, adding:

"The situation is a challenge to magnanimously prove that your patriotism and concern for the poor and the suffering are of higher value than personal survival."


Lagdameo said the Christian message of the Lenten season -- an invitation to repentance -- was particularly significant in the light of the current political situation.

"It is a call to transformation," he said. "Considering the social, economic and political crises we are in, the vision of change and transformation becomes a growing passion and obsession."

Lagdameo also said the message of Jesus Christ rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, according to Catholic belief, should transcend the spiritual and result in a "transformation in our economic, social and political life."

"Lent as a call to transformation means that out of the repentance of believers in the Gospel, the slum dwellings are transformed to permanent shelters, the poor are given health benefits, the marginalized are offered liberating education, the exploited are given dignified employment and malnourished children sufficient food," he said.

Lagdameo described the transformation of society as "the fruit of repentance and reform of life."

'Truly moral society'

In even more concrete terms, Lagdameo said, a renewal of moral values should mean "converting the energies that one uses for graft and corruption into energies for better public service."

"We hope that from the 'ashes' of political crisis and corrupted institutions will resurrect a transformed nation, a truly moral society, built up in truth, justice, freedom and love," he said.

[Liberia]...Gets Trade Boost - U.S. Calls It 'Useful Tool to Rebuild Liberia'

from All Africa

During her pre-inauguration tour of the U.S., President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf obtained the Bush Administration's commitment to the reconstruction of Liberia following years of destructive warfare. Since inauguration, representatives of the U.S. Department of State, influential members of the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, and the United States Aid for International Development (USAID) have been reiterating the commitment. They have been hinging it on President Sirleaf's commitment to human rights and the extradition of Charles Taylor to Sierra Leone as a way of fighting impunity. Many thought that the U.S. was creating too much bottlenecks too soon.

But now, the U.S. seems even more forthcoming, this time giving Liberia a tool to reconstruct itself. But the question many are asking is, "How readily useful and timely is the tool being provided if it is a tool, that is?" The Analyst's Staff Writer has been examining the "tool" in light of the concerns being raised. .

If all goes well, Liberia will join 137 developing countries that are currently enjoying U.S. duty-free trade benefits.

A press release issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said President Bush signed the proclamation to qualify Liberia under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Program.

With the reinstatement of the privilege, Liberia is now qualified under the GSP program to export nearly 3, 450 different products duty-free to the United States.

If Liberia qualifies for the Least Developed Countries (BDCs) status after a 60-day period of congressional review that began last week, Liberian businesses will be allowed to export duty-free another 1,400 products into the U.S.

"By reinstating Liberia's GSP eligibility, the United States is providing strong support to recently elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's efforts to increase employment, diversify exports and stabilize society," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said in the release.

He said the GSP eligibility provides a useful tool in helping to rebuild Liberia and bring hope to its people.

Liberia's duty-free trade benefits were suspended in 1990 because of concerns about workers' rights, according to the USTR release.

"But President Sirleaf has made improving workers' rights a high priority, including repealing a decree that prohibited strikes and inviting the International Labor Organization (ILO) to help Liberia bring its laws and practices into conformity with its ILO obligations," it said.

Under the GSP program, textile and apparel products are ineligible for duty-free treatment.

The GSP program was created by the Trade Act of 1974 to promote economic development in developing nations.

Under the program, 137 beneficiary developing countries export approximately 3,450 different products duty-free to the United States.

Least-developed BDCs are eligible to export another 1,400 products duty-free.

As a result of the Bush administration's reinstatement of Liberia's GSP benefits, nearly one-quarter of Liberia's current non-rubber exports will now enter the United States duty-free.

Liberia's eligibility for the GSP benefits was suspended in 1990 to compel the then Liberian Government take measures to improve and promote the rights of workers.

The decision of the US government at this time is based on a careful assessment of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's priority to improve workers' rights, including the repeal of decrees that prohibit workers' strikes, and also her invitation to the International Labor Organization (ILO), to assist Liberia bring its labor laws and practices in conformity with ILO obligations.

Many say the restoration of Liberia's GSP benefits after 16 years of suspension indicates clearly that the Bush administration is keeping to its words to help Liberia get back to her feet.

According to them, the U.S. government pronouncement would fall in good and willing hands since it fits in with President Sirleaf's plan to expand the Liberian economy and create new jobs for Liberia's estimated 1.5 million under- and unemployed.

With the proper utilization of this tool, they say, the Sirleaf Administration in collaboration with the Liberia Business Association through the Liberianization Policy and Liberia's foreign 'partners in progress' will be able to achieve much.

"It is now left with the Liberian businesses to take advantage of the opportunity to work overtime to export 'made-in-Liberia' products in order to expand the private sector, set growth mechanisms to upgrade the economy, create new jobs, and provide new opportunities for the growth and development of Liberia," notes political commentator Moses J. King of ELWA.

But with clothing, textiles, and rubber, Liberia's single largest export product since 2002, exempted under the GSP program, analysts say, President Bush's so-called recovery tool for the Sirleaf Administration is a near farce.

Somewhat concurring with analyst's view, a former member of Liberia's transitional authority, Mrs. Weadé Kobbah-Wreh now a Liberian exporter, told The Analyst in a chat that applying the reinstated privilege to Liberia's advantage may be easier said than done.

"I don't know but I think the GSP is an extension of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) signed between the United States and 48 developing countries in Africa. I do not know what is involved with the GSP, but if it is as I see it then it is not going to be a ready tool as some may think. Under AGOA, the importer is under obligation to export goods that meet U.S. Department of Commerce standards," she said.

According to her, the standards require the exporting country to put into place product inspection and verification mechanisms that meet US and international standards.

"Unless your country has an accredited and internationally recognized pre-export inspection and verification standards, goods exported to the U.S. is liable to be returned at the expense of the exporter," she said.

Incidentally, AGOA encourages increased trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa through the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers and other obstacles.

Besides expanding United States assistance to sub-Saharan Africa's regional integration efforts, it focuses on countries committed to the rule of law, economic reform, and the eradication of poverty.

In order to qualify under AGOA, exporting countries must establish and make continual progress toward establishing a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules-based trading system, and minimizes government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsidies, and government ownership of economic assets.

"The rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection under the law; the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment, including by the provision of national treatment and measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment," AGOA states.

Further under AGOA, the exporting country must create economic policies to reduce poverty, increase the availability of health care and educational a system to combat corruption and bribery.

Most of all, according to the requirements of AGOA, the exporting country must not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or provide support for acts of international terrorism and cooperates in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations and terrorist activities.

It moreover must seek to strengthen and expand the private sector especially enterprises owned by women and small businesses, and facilitate the development of civil societies and political freedom.

If Mrs. Wreh is right in her impression that the GSP may be related to AGOA, according to analysts, then the suggestion that Liberia may be unable to transform the "tool" into a useful instrument for the reconstruction of Liberia that is now the priority of the Sirleaf administration.

The reason, they say, is Liberia's reconstruction is a political and security reality that needs ready cash from international partners pending the ability of the country to develop, streamline, and launch its economic recovery program.

"You certainly can't require a country like Liberia to meet all of these standards in order to compete in highly competitive developed world market with competitors holding unmatched advantages. This is what GSP requires unless I am proven wrong by further clarification," said produce exporter Emmanuel W. Vaney of Gardnersville.

Many think Vaney is right given existing realities in the trade market in Liberia.

According to them Liberia has not had and that in this situation made worst by 14 years of devastating civil war, does not have the facilities to meet the required trade standards as set by the U.S. Trade Department.

Currently, according to Mrs. Wreh, Liberia's pre-export and pre-marketing inspectors, BIVAC or Bureau Veritas has no facilities on the ground that could be certified under international trade standards.

What this means, observers say, is that Liberia is unlikely to benefit from the much-heralded gift intended for a desperate nation from Washington.

This, they contend, will be the case at least for the next several months, if it will ever be possible, that is.

Meanwhile newly appointed Labor Minister of Liberia, Samuel Kofi Woods has called on the Liberian Parliament to review all unjust laws that encourage the exploitation of workers.

[India] Budget anti-dote to poverty: Chidambaram

from The Hindu

New Delhi, Discounting Opposition criticism that the Budget was pro-rich, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, said it was aimed at pushing up growth, which was the best anti-dote for poverty, and that it would help in holding price line that hit the common man most, besides contained number of measures to help farmers including short-term lending at concessional interest rates.

"The common farmer is not a rich man and short-term crop loans at concessional 7 per cent interest is aimed at helping indebted small farmers," he said, adding "we will try to keep inflation rate below five per cent. Allocations to core sectors are intended to growth."

He also pooh-poohed the criticism that fiscal consolidation has been given a go-by and said that in fact fiscal deficit is less than the targeted 4.1 per cent of GDP in 2005-06 and the Budget has promised to bring it down to 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2006-07, keeping in line with the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act parameters.

He said the one-by-six formula has been withdrawn as it has outlived its utility and served its purpose during the nine years. There are now other sharper instruments like Annual Information Return, which is being expanded, to check tax evasion. Due to the one-by-six formula, the tax net has been widened.

On the four-year roadmap for introducing Goods and Service tax to replace present excise duty and service tax, Chidambaram said he wanted to be realistic as state-level VAT is yet to be implemented by all states.

[Palestinians] ...fear poverty if foreign aid lifeline severed

from USA Today

By Matthew Gutman,

QALQILYA, West Bank — Mayor Hashim al-Masri slammed down the phone. "God curse America," he blurted, looking up from his desk.

On the other end of the line was the Palestinian minister of local authorities, Khaled Kawasme, who had just told him that the European Union would suspend its funding of sewage and paving projects in the West Bank and Gaza because Hamas won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. Masri blames America for pressuring Europe to cut off funds.

For this town of 45,000, where donkey carts often outnumber cars on the street and jobs are few, the European money spells the difference between the gritty town it is and the modern one Masri envisions.

Qalqilya has been a Hamas political stronghold since last May, when the Islamic militant group won all 15 town council seats and the mayor's office. Most international donors yanked their funding at the time, wanting nothing to do with a city government that vowed Israel's destruction. But Masri nudged the bankrupt municipality into the black by selling off municipal vehicles, lowering project costs and putting pressure on residents to pay their taxes.

Now the West Bank town faces another funding crisis. Hamas swept January elections that placed the organization — on the U.S. State Department's and Europe's list of terrorist groups — in charge of the Palestinian Authority. Europe and the United States are using their purse strings to try and isolate the organization.

The money woes are severe:

• On Monday, the European Union agreed to give the Palestinians a $143 million grant before Hamas assumes official control of the government. However, that is far short of the $600 million it gave to the Palestinian government and non-governmental organizations last year.

• The United States has provided more than $1.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1993, according to the State Department. This year the U.S. government budgeted $150 million in direct aid and $84 million to a United Nations fund for Palestinian refugees. The $150 million is under review and the State Department has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million not spent last year.

• The United States and Europe said they would continue aiding the Palestinian civilian population by giving to non-governmental organizations.

• Israel has frozen its monthly transfer of about $50 million in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he won't turn over Palestinian tax revenue to a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority that is "in practice becoming a terrorist authority."

Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn said the Palestinian Authority faces financial collapse within two weeks because of Israel's decision to cut off tax transfers, Reuters reported Monday. He predicted that "violence and chaos" could break out unless a long-term funding plan is developed.

Friendly governments in the region may pick up some of the slack. The largest single pledge so far is a one-time $100 million grant from Iran, according to Hamas spokesman Farhat Asad. Saudi Arabia gives the Palestinians about $15 million a month, according to Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Mazen Sinokrot.

The Palestinians are dependent on the money to build roads and other infrastructure projects in addition to meeting the authority's payroll. The Palestinian government is by far the biggest employer in the Palestinian territories with 150,000 employees — breadwinners for a million Palestinians, or a third of all Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

"In March, I don't believe we'll be able to pay salaries," Sinokrot said. About 90% of the Palestinian budget is spent on salaries.

"That means the whole system could collapse, bringing unemployment and mass violence with it," Sinokrot said. He said the authority already has an $800 million deficit.

Few residents pay their municipal taxes, "so the municipalities have very little revenue that doesn't come from my ministry," Kawasme said. Even repaving a road or fixing a generator requires foreign aid, he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of the opposition Fatah Party, said the Palestinian Authority is headed for a "financial crisis."

In an interview in his city hall office, Masri said the collapse of income will eventually tug his municipality back into poverty. He said the United States is to blame for "pushing the rest of the world to impoverish the Palestinians."

Yousef Ju'edi, 46, is a father of five and owns a restaurant churning out kebab sandwiches behind the town hall here. He's worried about the government payroll even though he's not a civil servant. "I need them to get paid. When the civil servants don't get their paychecks, none of us will," he said through a haze of barbecue smoke.

Masri said he's been able to stretch Qalqilya's $6 million annual budget farther than his predecessors.

Masri is responsible for making sure the city streets are swept, the boulevards' shrubbery pruned and the cobblestones painted. Now, his flagship project in the municipality, revamping the decrepit electricity grid, is in jeopardy.

Issa Faris, the city's engineer, prides himself on the town's few brownouts.

Over the past year, the Hamas-run municipality operated without new parts, and even managed to pay back some of its electricity debts to its provider — the Israel Electric Company.

But without outside funding and the donation of equipment, "eventually the parts we have for transformers, cables, towers, etc. ... will break or corrode and we won't be able to replace them," he said. "We need that foreign aid."

[South Africa] Mbeki: ANC 'will lead us out of poverty'

from the Mail and Gradian

"This organisation [the African National Congress] led us out of oppression, and this organisation will lead us out of poverty," President Thabo Mbeki told Soweto residents during an election campaign on Tuesday.

Mbeki urged hundreds of Soweto residents at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West to vote for the ANC in Wednesday's local government elections.

He promised that the party will solve the problems of unemployment, poverty and housing if it is elected.

"We know there are challenges here and we have got to solve them. All the roads are now tarred and we are still working on the other problems."

Many residents who had expressed anger and frustration with service delivery and "empty promises" before the president arrived clapped and cheered as he approached the stage.

Wearing ANC T-shirts and singing to music blaring from loudspeakers, the crowd danced and ululated. As Mbeki appeared on stage, dancing, the crowd rose and chanted: "Viva ANC. Viva. Thatha ANC. Thatha."

Mbeki committed himself to work for the betterment of the people of Soweto.

"I commit myself to fight corruption and to serve the people. I have not taken the position to serve myself."

While the crowd, consisting of mostly elderly women, cheered, some of the younger generation were not satisfied.

"The ANC only comes here during elections. They make promises. Fourteen years ago we were promised houses, today we still live in shacks," said Winnie Ndes.

"We are not satisfied at all. They claim to do things but they are not doing anything," said Refiloe Mahlaseng.

Dan Motshabi said he will vote for the ANC, "because apparently at the moment he [Mbeki] has in his government people who are prepared to deliver".

British tourists who listened to Mbeki's address said many people they had spoken to were not going to vote on Wednesday.

"It's a shame. People should vote but they say they are not going to," said Vicky Evans, who was visiting the memorial with her parents.

[John Edwards] Katrina brought poverty back to political forefront

from The Quad City Times

By Ed Tibbetts

The attention Hurricane Katrina brought to Americans in poverty has faded, but former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said Sunday it could again be brought to the fore with national leadership.

Edwards, a potential candidate for president in 2008, wrapped up a two-day trip to Iowa on Sunday, meeting with journalists at the Quad-City Times and with people at United Neighbors Inc. in Davenport.

The former U.S. senator, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 2004, won praise from Iowa Democrats for focusing on the needs of the poor during his bid. Now, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, he heads the Center on Work, Poverty and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina and travels the country to speak about poverty.

Edwards was in Iowa over the weekend to raise money for county Democratic parties and argue that fighting domestic and global poverty are moral imperatives that also can provide an opportunity for Democrats to lead.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and exposed its large impoverished population to the country, occurred late last summer, and Edwards said most Americans have moved on.

However, it can still be a catalyst to bring attention to the need for anti-poverty policies, he said.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” he said. “I think that what people saw in New Orleans bothered them. They felt a strong response to that.”

Edwards said only national leadership can galvanize support for helping the impoverished there, and then only if poor residents show they want to help themselves, a key ingredient to tackling poverty at large.

“Americans aren’t going to be for throwing money at this thing if they don’t think that people aren’t willing to help themselves,” he said.

Edwards met with journalists at the Times after volunteers for his 2004 presidential campaign brought to his staff’s attention a series of articles the newspaper did in 2005 on people struggling with poverty, called “Getting By, Getting Lost.”

“The only way to get this done is sustained national leadership. And that means attention to it, defining it as a moral issue and having a set of ideas that make sense to people that embrace their values,” Edwards said.

Edwards, who finished second in the 2004 Iowa caucuses, served a single term in the U.S. Senate but didn’t run for re-election so he could devote himself to his presidential campaign. He later became the running mate for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who won the caucuses.

Edwards also met Sunday with people at United Neighbors, a community action organization, hearing about its Dream home loan program, which provides people with down payment assistance and homeownership education.

The program has helped in the purchase of more than 1,500 homes over the past 14 years. The meeting was closed to the media.

Paul Fessler, the assistant director at United Neighbors, said the Dream program, which has an annual budget of about $400,000, uses city, state, federal and private funds. He said he hoped Edwards’ visit would draw attention to it. Edwards made several stops in eastern Iowa over the weekend, including as keynote speaker at the Scott County Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner Saturday.

[Pakistan] Poverty rate drops by 6.7 percent: PM Aziz

from GEO Pakistan News

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Tuesday country's poverty ratio has lowered by 6.7 percent, whereas unemployment ratio by six percent.

Addressing to the National Economic Council here today, the prime minister said inflation rate had increased by 32.1 percent, which has now gone down to 25.4 percent.

He said unemployment rate in urban areas has descended from 22.7 percent to 17.2 percent, while that in rural areas decreased from 39 percent to 31.8 percent.

During the current fiscal year the rate of economic development was expected to fluctuate between 6 to 7 percent and GDP rate was possible to rise to 7 percent, up from 6.5, he informed.

Mr Aziz said under the Vision 2030 energy, water and food security, logistic uplift, strengthening of supply system and attainment of latest technology would be key areas of focus of this government.

During last 14 months the Karachi Stock Exchange 100-index has witnessed rise of 57.3 percent. On the other hand, public debt rate in the GDP dropped by 55.7 percent and around 5.5 million jobs were given in different sectors, he highlighted.

[France] Envoy of 95 countries discuss proposed world poverty tax

from Ireland On Line

General Kofi Annan and dozens of government ministers were meeting today at a Paris conference to discuss France’s once-ridiculed call for an international tax to fight poverty and disease in the developing world.

Ministers and envoys from 95 countries were joining dozens of non-governmental groups at the two-day meeting, which also was to consider creating a new international fund to help buy Aids drugs for poor countries.

French President Jacques Chirac, with strong backing from Brazil, for the past four years has championed the idea aimed at paying for global efforts against poverty and disease in poor countries.

Hoping to lead by example, France is expected to put an international solidarity tax on airline tickets to fund the effort starting on July 1.

The plan, which is expected to raise about €200m a year, has drawn harsh criticism from airlines and tourism sectors.

Seventy-nine countries expressed support for the international tax proposal at the United Nations in September, but only one other country – Chile – has taken solid steps toward creating it. Britain has agreed to devote a portion of existing taxes collected on plane tickets to development funding. The United States opposes the idea.

French officials hope the conference will set in motion the plan, which faced international neglect – if not ridicule – just two years ago.

About 10 countries are expected to announce plans to adopt the tax at the Paris conference, though France is expected to remain the top contributor for the immediate future, Chirac’s office said.

France and Brazil are also expected to propose collection of funds for a new International Drug Purchase Facility, which targets the fight against Aids.

In a first phase, before the fund is created, money would be earmarked to buy anti-retroviral drugs – notably cheaper generics – pharmaceutical makers in bulk and over long-term contracts, as a way to help lower the market price.

Monday, February 27, 2006

[Venezuela] Gets Mileage From Oil Giveaway In U.S.

from The Register guard

By John Christoffersen

STAMFORD, Conn. - The throbbing pain in Alan Francis' broken wrist worsened earlier this month when he ran out of oil to heat his home in frigid Maine.

But the 42-year-old ironworker was among a growing number of struggling Americans grateful to receive discounted heating oil from Venezuela, a country led by a man Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has likened to Hitler.

''It felt like Christmas,'' said Francis, who had been blasting his oven to try to stay warm. ''This extra 53 gallons was awesome.''

Venezuela, the fifth-largest foreign supplier of oil to the U.S., has been supplying millions of gallons of heating oil at a 40 percent discount to poor Americans and free heating fuel to homeless shelters. Venezuela's leftist, pro-Castro president, Hugo Chavez, is a fierce critic of the Bush administration.

Chavez's detractors say he is trying to embarrass President Bush and build support for himself in the United States through the discounted oil program, which has been spreading quickly in the past three months. Delaware agreed earlier to month to participate, joining most of New England and parts of Pennsylvania and New York City.

''He's a brutal Marxist dictator,'' said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine. ''He's teamed up with Fidel Castro. He's trying to split our nation.''

Still, Chavez is clearly getting political mileage out of the oil.

''We'd love it if other oil companies would make similar generous donations,'' said Beth Nagusky, who directs Maine's program and receives calls from residents who have run out of fuel. ''Washington is failing us and failing the people.''

She said that because of high home heating costs, one elderly couple scrounged for wood in the garbage and another sat in front of a clothes dryer to stay warm.

The program is getting a mixed reaction in Venezuela.

''Our government is now giving Americans help while Venezuelans continue living in poverty. It's not fair,'' said Rafael Alvarez, a 33-year-old office worker opposed to Chavez.

But Wendi Padron, a Chavez supporter who hawks cookware on a street corner in Caracas, said: ''Chavez is showing the people of the United States that we care, that we aren't against Americans, just the U.S. government. Chavez cares about poor people, no matter where they are.''

Citgo Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil company, runs the program.

Proponents say it fills a gap in a federal assistance program that has not kept pace with dramatically rising oil and gas prices. The Low Income Energy Assistance Program has been funded at about $2 billion a year for several years; senators from several cold weather states want to boost aid for poor families this heating season to $5.1 billion.

Recipients of the aid are happy to have warm homes and not too worried about the source of the help.

''The man's biggest crime is he's a socialist, but he's not a fascist,'' said Elaine DeRosa, who runs a child-care center for the poor in Cambridge, Mass. ''It's going to help a lot of low-income people who the U.S. government isn't talking about. That's what we should be embarrassed about."

The program has allocated about 43 million gallons of oil so far, enough to benefit more than 150,000 households and hundreds of homeless shelters and other institutions, Citgo officials said.

The company expects to deliver more than 50 million gallons.

[Panama] Poverty Has Risen

from Noriegaville News

A poll by Dichter & Neira Latin Research Network held early February shows that 66.8% of the Panamanians think that poverty has increased during the last 10 years.

Remarkably, there is no difference of opinion between people of different political affiliation; the number of 66.8% is the same among supporters and opponents of the current government.

They are supported in this opinion by figures from the United Nations Development Program, which show that 40% of the Panamanians are poor, while 16.6% of the poor are extremely poor.

[California] Poor neighborhoods can get transit grants

from Insige Bay Area

Poverty-stricken neighborhoods in South Hayward, Cherryland and Ashland could benefit from millions of extra dollars in transit money this year.

The money could restore bus routes, start shuttle programs or build benches or bike paths, among many other things. But it all depends on what agencies get the available cash and how they decide to use it, transportation officials said this week.

A pot of state and federal money amounting to $5 million has been allocated for three-year transportation grants serving poor neighborhoods in Alameda County.

"It's not just that they're low-income but that they have gaps in transportation," said Diane Stark, senior transportation planner for the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency, which administers the grants.

Everyone from nonprofits to city halls to the huge Alameda Contra Costa Transit District is expected to vie for the funds.

"We are hoping to get a portion of what's allocated," said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson. "It's been real critical to some of the service we've provided on certain lines at certain times."

For example, Johnson said, many night bus routes are crucial to a small percentage of people but can't sustain themselves financially.

AC Transit also has used similar grants to launch programs such as the bus routes that transport workers from the BART stations to industrial west Hayward.

Alameda County's $5 million derives from the county's status of having 27.4 percent of the poverty population in the nine counties of the Bay Area, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which plans and coordinates funding for regional transportation projects.

The areas eligible for the grants include south Hayward, Cherryland, Ashland, East and West Oakland, south and west Berkeley and portions of Alameda.

David Korth, Hayward's social services planning manager, said the city might consider applying for money to help with its Hayward Paratransit program for seniors and disabled people.

Although the region has its own East Bay Paratransit program, mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the city-sponsored program supplements that service and preceded the federal act by 13 years, Korth said.

"We consider ourselves as a back-up service for our constituents," Korth said.

Hayward's door-to-door paratransit service served 1,300 clients last year, making 57,000 trips at a total cost of $675,000, according to city records.

[EU] Mandelson says total free trade is not an option

from Farmers Weekly Interactive

Further change in the way the EU supports its agriculture is inevitable, but exposing the industry to total free trade is not an option.

Addressing the NFU’s annual conference, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said he agreed that the EU could not continue to spend 40% of its budget on agriculture.

“This does not make sense at a time when our economic future depends on higher education, research and development, faster innovation and a modern social policy,” he said.

“But that does not mean the CAP is obsolete. Agriculture is a sector that cannot be treated like all others. It is too intimately connected to wider issues such as the environment, food security and the future of the countryside.

“Reform must continue. But it must take account of broader societal and non-economic interests. And it must be paced to allow adjustment at a speed people can cope with.”

Mr Mandelson also poured scorn on those who suggested that the CAP was the only thing standing in the way of “making poverty history”.

“I am not going to be swayed by a lazy political correctness into giving ground in agriculture simply because this will please a vociferous lobby that has misunderstood what is really needed to tackle world poverty,” he said.

“Trade justice cannot be equated with agricultural liberalisation and a race to the bottom for EU agriculture, and a free market mayhem that would gravely damage the interests of some of the poorest countries in the world.”

But Mr Mandelson did make clear that the EU’s latest offer to the WTO, including the elimination of export subsidies and cuts to import tariffs, would involve some pain for farmers.

“European agriculture – dairy, cereals, poultry, beef – will contract and there will be a significant loss of revenue and employment,” he said. The EU would not therefore go any further with its offer, “unless there is something meaningful and positive on the table in return”.

Mr Mandelson was convinced, however, that farmers would gain from a successful trade Round. “If we can cement our 2003 CAP reform in multilateral agreements, it offers farming more security and stability – legally and financially – for years ahead.

“In addition, farmers stand to benefit from lower barriers to trade in the rest of the world. Why? Because our exports to the rest of the world are high quality, high value added products.”

[India] Govt looks to brighten up families below poverty line

from The India times

The government plans to offer free electricity connections to all designated below poverty line (BPL) families across rural India in its bid to provide power to all households by ’12. The announcement was made here on Sunday by Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, just 48 hours before Budget ’07 which is likely to underscore ‘universal power access’ and ‘rural electrification’ among core infrastructure initiatives of the UPA government.

Free power connections will be offered to rural BPL households under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidutikaran Yojana, a move that is likely to cost the power ministry a hefty Rs 4000 crore. But Mr Shinde was quick to clarify that the government was “only offering free connections to designated-BPL families, not free electricity.”

Mr Shinde was in town on a whistle-stop trip shortly after completing the foundation stone-laying honours for NTPC’s upcoming 500MW unit at Farakka that will come up over the next 36 months. The 500MW Farakka-Stage III unit will take total capacity at NTPC’s Farakka super-thermal station to 2100MW.

In this light, he said, “NTPC’s decision to add a third 500MW unit in Farakka is virtually at the behest of Union defence minister Pranab Mukherjee as it happens to be within his constituency (Jangipur). Thanks to his stature in the present UPA government, we have been able to overcome all coal-linkage and water-related roadblocks that were coming in the way of NTPC’s 500MW Farakka expansion.”

While NTPC will source nearly 5m TPA of coal for Farakka-Stage III from Orissa’s Brahmini coal block, Union power secretary RV Shahi, who was present, conceded that that power ministry was in talks with the Union water resources ministry to ensure uninterrupted water availability to NTPC at Farakka during summer, especially since completion of Tehri dam had reduced water discharge levels downstream.

Future water availability is crucial for any expansion plans at Farakka, considering NTPC is often compelled to shut down its 500MW Farakka units for non-availability of water during summer months.

The Union power minister also indicated that the naphtha-based Dabhol generation would be available from May 1 at Rs 5.5 per unit as had been reported earlier in the media. At the outset, he said “only the 740MW Block II would generate power by May since the Blocks I and III were not in working condition as yet.”

[India] Orissa wishlist for poverty relief is long

From The Financial Express

The wish list is long, the expectations high, for Orissa, with the central Budget round the corner.

Saddled with a huge loan burden and limited scope for resource mobilisation, Orissa is in no position to pull its 50% below the poverty line (BPL) population into the national mainstream. And, therefore, looks at the Centre to bail it out.

The Orissa government had presented a memorandum to the Centre seeking a Rs 10,096 crore special financial package, but no decision has been taken by the Centre so far.

“We hope Mr Chidambaram announces a special financial package for Orissa in his Budget 2006-07,” says state finance minister Prafulla Chandra Ghadei. Mr Ghadei’s confidence stems from the fact that Mr Chidambaram had announced a Rs 3,500 crore special package for Bihar in his previous Budget. “They have given such packages to Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and North-Eastern states, why not Orissa, one of the poorest states in the country,” wonders Mr Ghadei.

Mr Ghadei has been quite disturbed for the past few years, as the state has not been getting its share in central taxes as projected. The shortfall amounts to a staggering Rs 614.15 crore estimate for the period 2000-05.

“The union finance minister should come out with a mechanism for compensating poor states like Orissa, as they are heavily dependent on their shares from central taxes,” proposes Mr Ghadei. Asserting that the state has proved its efficiency by collecting more taxes than projected by the Eleventh Finance Commission (EFC), he argued that the state should not be left to suffer for the Centre’s inefficiency in collection of taxes.

The state finance minister also suggested that some of the service sectors be handed over to the states for collection of service taxes.

Orissa, having suffered huge tax losses due to branch transfer of stocks by many manufacturers, expects the Budget to spell out the levying of transition tax on such goods. It is a disturbing fact that the branch transfer of stocks by central-sector Nalco and Sail’s Rourkela Steel Plant, as well as Hindalco has increased in recent years. Branch transfer by Nalco, at 48.18% last year, touched almost 50% during the first nine months of 2005-06. This led to negative growth in the state’s Central Sales Tax (CST) collection. “Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has taken up the matter with the union finance minister,” says state special secretary, finance, PK Mishra.

Another expectation is a special project. “The union finance minister had gifted a Rs 100 crore special project—drinking water for Chennai—for his home city in his last Budget. Mr Chidambaram will hopefully announce a similar big-ticket special project for Orissa,” says a senior state official. There is hope for a long-pending demand for a coastal highway, to serve as an embankment and a marine drive for tourists, as well as a road network connecting economically important coastal districts.

The state expects a special fund for development of infrastructure—roads, railways, ports, and water supply in the state. “High national growth rates can not be sustained unless backward states like Orissa are pulled into the development zone,” says Sarit Rout of CYSD, an Orissa-based development sector NGO.

[Asia] can eradicate poverty soon

from The New Nation

The Department for International Development (DFID), in collaboration with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have announced details of a conference to be held on 6-7 March in London to focus attention on building new forms of partnership to eradicate poverty in Asia.

Asia has raised more people out of poverty than any other region at any time in history. Growth has been strong and though currently two out of three of the world's poorest people live in Asia, by 2015 this could fill to one in three if current trends continue. With continued efforts, it is possible to eradicate poverty in Asia in the next generation. Yet Asia still faces huge challenges in nutrition, health, education, social exclusion, water and sanitation and around 650 million people in Asia still live on less than $1 a day.

Asia 2015 : Promoting Growth, Ending Poverty will bring together high-level international figures, including ministers of finance and planning and senior officials from across Asia, as well as influential figures from civil society and the private sector, to discuss the changing face of development in Asia over the next decade. The aim of the two-day event is to agree how Asian countries, together with development agencies and the international community, will meet the remaining Millennium Development Goals.

Rapid growth in Asia has and will continue to have enormous impact on the global economy. Markets such as China and India are undergoing tremendous economic and social development. Trade within the continent is growing at nearly three times the global rate and Asia's share of world exports rose from 23% in 1985 to 38% in 2002.

Despite this recent economic growth in some countries, Asia still faces huge challenges and risks. This conference will raise the profile of both development challenges and opportunities and offers a platform for Asian countries to present and talk about their own experiences and perspectives.

[US Taxes] Increased Outreach for Anti-Poverty Tax Program

from ABC News

Earned Income Tax Credit Can Put Money in the Pockets of Working Poor


Millions of low-income workers reduce their tax bills each year by taking advantage of the earned income tax credit. But many who are eligible for the credit aren't participating in this anti-poverty program.

"We've really stepped up our outreach on this," said Jordan Ash of the nonprofit ACORN community organizations group. "There are millions of people missing out on billions of dollars. It's money they're entitled to and they can use."

The earned income tax credit, or EITC, was created in the mid-1970s to encourage families to reduce their dependence on welfare programs. It's unlike most other credits in the IRS code because it's refundable, which means taxpayers can use the credit of up to $4,400 to offset any taxes they owe and still get a cash refund for the excess.

The IRS said 21.1 million taxpayers claimed some $39 billion in earned income tax credits in 2004. But studies by the Government Accountability Office and the Internal Revenue Service indicate that 15 percent to 25 percent of eligible taxpayers aren't applying for it.

Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst at CCH Inc. of Riverwoods, Ill., which provides tax information and services to tax professionals, said some taxpayers may be overwhelmed by the complexity of claiming the EITC.

"It's one thing to have stuff that's complicated for wealthy taxpayers, who can afford to pay for preparation services," Luscombe said. "But to have it this complicated for lower income taxpayers, that's a real problem."

The qualifying income limits vary by the size of the family:

$35,263 for a parent with two or more children, or $37,263 for those who are married and filing joint returns

$31,030 for a parent with one child, or $33,030 for those married and filing jointly

$11,750 for a person with no children, or $13,750 for those married and filing jointly

Taxpayers must have valid Social Security numbers for themselves and their children. A family qualifies if any of the children, including stepchildren and foster children, lived with the taxpayer for more than half the year. The "age test" requires that live-at-home children be under age 19 and full-time students be under age 24; totally disabled children of any age also qualify.

The maximum credits are $4,400 for taxpayers with two or more children, $2,662 for those with one child and $399 for those with no children.

This year, there are special rules for victims Hurricane Katrina, Luscombe said. Under the legislation, Katrina victims will have to report the income they earned in 2005 but they will be able to calculate the EITC using either 2004 income figures or 2005 income figures, whichever results in a higher payout, he said.

Leslie Tarbert, a teacher's assistant with the Early Head Start program in Kansas City, Mo., said the tax credit provided a real financial boost for her family.

"It's awesome," she said. "For me as a single parent, it's very helpful."

Tarbert, the mother of two girls, said she used her credit last year as part of the down payment on the purchase of a home.

"This year with the money, I'm paying my daughter's braces off," Tarbert said. "I also have to buy siding for one side of my house, and maybe think about putting gutters on."

Kathy Burlison, director of tax implementation for the H&R Block Inc., which prepared Tarbert's tax return, said the irony is that many low income people "have basically simple returns - except for the complexity of the EITC."

Many of these people also qualify for the additional child tax credit, which can result in refunds for some low income families' child care costs, as well as state and local earned income tax credits.

Burlison said tax preparers have computer programs that can help determine if people qualify for the credits and how best to claim them.

"For some people, that $4,400 is 25 percent of their total annual income," she noted. "When they're looking at that big part of their income, they want to make sure it's done right."

Many low-income families qualify for free tax preparation help at IRS-backed Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Many are staffed by IRS-trained community volunteers, including 75 operated nationwide by the nonprofit ACORN group.

Unfortunately, the availability of the credits has also led to allegations of fraud in the program. That, in turn, led the IRS to hold up without notice the payment on many of the refunds that were claimed in recent years. After a protest from the IRS taxpayer advocate, the agency said it will refine its auditing and notify taxpayers if their returns were being challenged.

The IRS also has put in place a test program that will involve sending letters to some 45,000 EITC claimants asking them to prove they have the children they say they do before the refund check is issued.

[India] 5.3 crore families living below Poverty Line: Chandra Sekhar Sahu

from New Kerala

The Minister of State for Labour and Employment Chandra Sekhar Sahu in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Monday stated that 5.3 crore families were living below Poverty Line.

“As per information available for 1999-2000 around 5.3 crore families were living below Poverty Line, out of which around 3.86 crore were in rural areas and 1.48 crore were in urban areas,” Sahu said.

Most of these people though working were living below poverty line, he added.

However, open unemployment in the country on usual status basis was of the order of 90 lakh.

A target of creation of around 5 crore employment opportunities was fixed for the 10th Plan period.

According to the information, out of these, nearly 3 crore employment opportunities were to come from the normal growth of the economy assuming 8 percent per annum growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and remaining 2 crore from special employment generation programmes.

Besides this, latest initiative taken by the Government in the rural areas is the launch of the ‘National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS)’, which aims at providing 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year to each rural house hold.

The scheme is implemented in 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh in the first phase. Under the NREGS, every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled and manual work have the legal guarantee of one hundred days of wage employment.

The Scheme is presently being implemented in Rangareddy, Mahabubnagar, Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda, Adilabad, Karimnagar, Medak, Nizamabad, Kadapa, Anantapur, Chittoor and Vizianagaram districts in the state.

Ninety percent of the cost of the scheme is being borne by the Central Government and the rest by the state and in the event of the State Government, not being able to provide employment to those who seek it, have to bear the entire cost of paying 100 days wages at the rate of Rs 80 a day.

These measures will help the unemployed persons living below the poverty line also, he said.

[China] Beijing fails to pull neighbors out of poverty: report

from Xinhua

The Chinese capital of Beijing hasbeen partly blamed for poverty in its neighboring countryside, as it hordes human and capital resources, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The CASS report, "Blue Paper on China's Regional Development", carried by Monday's Beijing Youth Daily, said Beijing and Tianjin, the two most important cities in north China, are now surrounded by 32 counties defined as poverty-stricken by Chinese standards.

Of the 10.65 million people living in the 32 counties, all belonging to Hebei Province, 2.73 million live on less than 100 U.S. dollars a year, the report said.

The wealth gap in the Beijing-Tianjin region is the worst in China's developed areas, the report said.

It noted that though cooperation among Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin has been a concept on paper for a long time, no progress has been made in reality.

The report pointed out that the other two most dynamic blocs in China, the Yangtze River Delta and Pear River Delta, have a much more balanced development.

Shanghai has been a much more efficient engine in boosting development in neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the report said.

[India] Economic Survey doubts study on poverty rate

from SIFY Business

Stating that it was too early to tell whether decline in poverty met the targets set in the 10th Plan, the Economic Survey today said it doubted the findings of an official study about decline in poverty rate as there was some controversy over the methodology.

"The comparability and the extent of actual decline were matters of some controversy due to a change in the methodology for data collection in 1999-2000," the Survey said, referring to the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) data collection process. | Railway Budget 2006 |

There has been intense debate among academicians regarding the extent of actual incidence in people below poverty line between 1993-99 and 1999-2000.

Citing NSSO data, the Survey said there has been an impressive decline in poverty from 36 per cent in 1993-94 to 26.1 per cent in 1999-2000, and the trend would continue with sustained growth and increase in public sector spending on social sector programmes like National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. |Go to Sify Business Home Page|

"The combined effects of economic growth and measures of direct interventions for poverty alleviation have translated into impressive decline in the incidence of poverty in the recent past," the Survey tabled in Parliament today said.

A "permanent dent" on the incidence of unemployment and poverty would be made through extension of the NREGP programme to the whole country in the next five years, effective implementation of the Right to Information Act and accountability through decentralised Panchyati Raj Institutions, it added.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

[UK] Charities welcome social exclusion minister

from The Guardian

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

Charities today welcomed the announcement today by the prime minister that he is to create a new, cabinet-level post of minister for social exclusion.
Help the Aged, Shelter, Mind and the Child Poverty Action Group were among groups all giving the decision a cautious thumbs-up, although both the Tories and Liberal Democrats accused Mr Blair of chasing headlines with the announcement.

Speaking at the Aviemore at the Scottish Labour party conference, the prime minister slipped the unprecedented announcement of a new ministerial job into his keynote speech - although he refused to name the new minister.

Speculation at Westminster suggests the job will go to Hazel Blears who is currently a minister at the Home Office with responsibility for communities, anti-social behaviour and anti-terrorism, and long tipped for a cabinet post.
Another contender could be David Miliband, who is already in the cabinet as minister for communities and local government.

The PM was making his first trip north of the border since the disastrous Dunfermline byelection earlier this month, which saw Labour lose a rock-solid constituency to the Lib Dems.

Pointedly, Mr Blair made no mention of the defeat, although he did castigate the Lib Dems - who are in a coalition executive with Labour at the Scottish parliament - in unusually harsh terms.

He told activists: "Show them a political opportunity and they'll take it. Show them a tough decision and they'll fake it."

Copying the Scottish executive, which has had a minister for social exclusion since its creation in 1999, Mr Blair said: "We need, in the UK government and in partnership with you in Scotland, to examine again their light - in our case with a cabinet minister pulling the work together across government."

Caroline Spelman, the Tories' local government spokeswoman, pointed out this appeared to echo the PM appointment in 1999 of Mo Mowlam, then Cabinet Office minister, to head the Downing Street social exclusion unit and ensure "joined-up government".

She accused the government of "reheating" old announcements.

There remained 50 different funding streams for regeneration and social exclusion, she said.

"We welcome any genuine step to help the disadvantaged in our society. But I fear this is yet another attempt by Mr Blair to grab the headlines with a quick fix, reheating announcements he's made before.

The Lib Dem local government spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said: "If this post signals a real commitment to take issues of exclusion seriously, it must be welcomed.

"Sadly, Labour's record so far has been one of increasing exclusion."

But charities involved in the sector were more optimisitic, with caveats.

David Sinclair, policy manager at Help the Aged, said the post was "excellent news".

"A minister at cabinet rank will be armed with the authority and capacity to link relevant government departments together and ensure that the report is properly implemented and not left to gather dust on a Whitehall bookshelf."

He added: "The government has made progress in tackling social exclusion among older people but a lot more needs to be done to end the scandal of pensioner poverty."

Shelter's director, Adam Sampson, called on the new minister to address the issue of housing.

"Bad housing is a central driver of social exclusion, trapping families and children in a lifelong cycle of poverty," he said.

"With more than one million children growing up in emergency, unfit or overcrowded homes that ruin their health, education and future chances, the first priority for any new social exclusion minister must be to tackle Britain's housing crisis.

Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said that this was "a much needed and welcome move".

"Although the social exclusion unit established in 1997 has done some good work, it has often lacked political clout.

"CPAG looks forward to working with the new minister, but they must be given the resources and political will to deliver real improvements for the poorest and most socially excluded people in our society

Dr Marcus Roberts, of mental health charity Mind called for mental health issues to be put at the core of the social exclusion agenda.

He said: "Particularly at a time when the government is looking to reduce its welfare bill, it's crucial that the minister is able to foster a recognition of the problems people with a history of mental health problems face in getting in to work. The government's hopes for incapacity benefit reform will come to little if the largest single group of claimants, people with mental health problems, continue to face discrimination from employers despite the desire of many of them to find work.

"The minister must quickly set about implementing the recommendations in the social exclusion unit's report on mental health: a proper programme to tackle stigma and discrimination and giving people with mental health problems a real chance of employment.

"If this minister is to take on responsibility for part of the Respect agenda, we would hope that they take seriously the concerns of many in the mental health field over the misuse of Asbos, too often issued to people who need treatment, not punishment."

Friday, February 24, 2006

[New Orleans - Katrina Aftermath] Pain and poverty's a bad mix in

from The Daily Breeze

Angela Jaster was wearing a turtleneck when she fell and broke her arm and so for days, she didn't change her shirt because she couldn't raise her arm.

The swelling stretched the fabric. Even though the pain was nearly unbearable, she did not consider going to the hospital, because in this flooded city there is only one for the uninsured and it doesn't treat broken bones.

It was only when the pain sent her into a hyperventilating panic several weeks later that her family called an ambulance and had her taken to the convention center. They wait for medical care, dispensed by a skeletal staff of doctors working out of a collection of military tents.

Inside their plastic and canvas walls, the doctors can only offer the most rudimentary care: They can X-ray bones, but not set them. They can draw blood and diagnose an ailment, but not treat it beyond prescribing pills. And they can't do much more than stabilize trauma patients before sending them by ambulance elsewhere, often far away.

These tents are all that remain of Charity Hospital, which serves the uninsured.

With their building flooded, the doctors of the disbanded hospital set up the tents first in a parking lot, then secured a lease inside the convention center. Yet even this bare-bones service is in jeopardy, as the convention center -- the city's main economic engine -- plans to reopen.

In just a few weeks, the hospital will have to move the tents once again. In spite of the space's obvious limitations, the convention center was in fact an improvement, said Don Smithburg, whose medical center operates Charity.

But the city's sputtering economy badly needs the revenue generated by the 95 yearly conventions, said Sabrina Written, spokeswoman for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

"If you have cancer, my advice is move," said Charity's emergency services chief, Dr. Peter DeBlieux. "If you need dialysis, go. Get out of here. If you have any major illness and are uninsured, we cannot possibly accommodate your needs. You will die sooner if you stay here."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

[US] Food Bank Network Served Over 25M in '05

from The Houston Chronicle


More than 25 million Americans turned to the nation's largest network of food banks, soup kitchens and shelters for meals last year, up 9 percent from 2001.

Those seeking food included 9 million children and nearly 3 million senior citizens, says a report from America's Second Harvest.

"The face of hunger doesn't have a particular color, and it doesn't come from a particular neighborhood," said Ertharin Cousin, executive vice president of the group. "They are your neighbors, they are working Americans, they are senior citizens who have worked their entire lives, and they are children."

The organization said it interviewed 52,000 people at food banks, soup kitchens and shelters across the country last year. The network represents about 39,000 hunger-relief organizations, or about 80 percent of those in the United States. The vast majority are run locally by churches and private nonprofit groups.

The surveys were done before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. After the hurricanes, demand for emergency food assistance tripled in Gulf Coast states, according to a separate report by the group.

The new report, being released Thursday, found that 36 percent of people seeking food came from households in which at least one person had a job. About 35 percent came from households that received food stamps.

Cousin said the numbers show that many working people don't make enough money to feed their families. She said the food stamp numbers show that the government program, while important, is insufficient.

"The benefits they are receiving are not enough," Cousin said.

Government reports also show the number of hungry Americans increasing.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last year said 13.5 million American households, or nearly 12 percent, had difficulty providing enough food for family members at some time in 2004. That was up from about 11 percent in 2003.

Jean Daniel, a USDA spokeswoman, said private groups play an important role in supplementing the government's safety net.

"We have said all along that the government cannot do this alone, nor should it," Daniel said. "Their efforts dovetail very nicely with ours."

Some local food-assistance groups saw big jumps in their numbers of people seeking food, despite an improving economy.

In Washington, the Capital Area Food Bank served more than 383,000 people last year, a 39 percent increase over 2001, said Kasandra Gunter Robinson, the food bank's spokeswoman.

Of those people, nearly half had jobs, she said.

"It is the working poor who are struggling," Robinson said.

Robinson said skyrocketing rents and real estate prices in the Washington area have drained family budgets and increased hunger.

Lisa Koch of the Greater Chicago Food Depository said she interviewed people at a Chicago soup kitchen who were on their lunch breaks from work. About 39 percent of the households in the Chicago survey included at least one adult with a job. The agency served a half million people last year.

"Even though the economy might be changing, it isn't creating the kinds of jobs that allow people to make ends meet," Koch said.

[Vietnam] Funds budgeted to reduce poverty

from Vietnam News

The State announced a massive investment of about VND62 trillion (US$4 billion) from now until 2010 in an all-out effort to engineer a breakthrough in the fight against poverty, said Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Thi Hang.

The investment aims to reduce the number of poor households from 22 per cent nationwide last year, according to the new poverty line of VND260,000 a month for city-dwellers, to 11 per cent by 2010 – or a 50 per cent reduction in poverty-stricken families in five years. This will also result in an improvement in the living standards of poor families, Hang said.

By 2010, most of the poor households that have too little or no fields to cultivate will be provided with land, or they will be helped to change to other jobs.

She said the National Programme on Poverty Reduction will prioritise mountainous areas where the poverty ratio is high, but will also provide the budget for developing the infrastructure in poor coastal and island communities.

Viet Nam had successfully concluded the 2001-05 stage of the national programme on poverty alleviation, she said.

By the end of 2005, the ratio of poor households had been reduced to less than 7 per cent, following the former poverty line set at earnings of VND150,000 a month for city-dwellers. On average, the ratio was lowered by 2 per cent annually from 2001 to 2005, which exceeded the target set at the Ninth National Party Congress to reduce the poor household ratio to lower than 10 per cent.

By implementing the State’s investment programmes, the infrastructures of poor communes have been upgraded and hunger has basically been wiped out.

The total capital of VND40.9 trillion earmarked for hunger eradication and poverty alleviation include Programme 143 (aiming at creating jobs, reducing poverty and eradicating hunger), Programme 135 (for socio-economic development in extremely poor communes) and other international projects. The National Programme for Hunger Eradication and Poverty Alleviation contributes VND21 trillion to the total.

Hang said from 1993 to date, the country has raised the poverty line four times.

According to the latest poverty line, the country had more than 4 million poor households by the end of last year.

By applying this new poverty line, Viet Nam will have to face and deal with many challenges and difficulties because the country is still poor, and the average income and spending per capita are still low.

The gap between the development of urban and rural areas, between regions, and between groups of residents now shows a tendency to widen, she said, and the annual budget for hunger eradication and poverty alleviation remains small. It constitutes only two per cent of the total State budget.

The ratio of poor people among the ethnic minorities is also still high.

Hang said the National Programme for Hunger Eradication and Poverty Alleviation will give land to poor ethnic minority households for building houses, to the tune of at least 200sq.m per household.

Every poor ethnic minority family that does not have a house, or that lives in temporary shelters will receive VND5 million from the State to help them build houses. It is expected that some 400,000 poor households will receive help in this regard, including 300,000 poor ethnic people.

Currently, poor households still face difficulties acquiring capital for production and doing business.

However, Hang said the State will provide the poor with sources for credit. From this year, poor households, the disabled and ethnic minorities will be able to borrow capital at lower interest rates than those in the open market ranging from 25 to 30 per cent.

[Antigua and Barbuda] Poverty Assessment survey extended

from The Antigua Sun

Officials heading the country’s Survey of Living Condition/Country Poverty Assessment have indicated that the process will continue into March.

Communications officer within the Ministry of Housing, Culture & Social Transformation, Collin Jno-Finn, said the National Assessment Team (NAT) was hoping to wrap up all field exercises at the end of February.

According to a press release, the projected dates have changed due to the extension of field activities.

“Since our last media drive the responses from the public have been overwhelming, however since then, field evaluators have received several notices of cancelled and rescheduled appointments, which have left us with no choice but to extend into March.”

Jno-Finn said he did not foresee that this would affect the final outcome of the results of the survey, but instead serve to greatly improve the overall quality of the exercise.

“The community sessions are coming along quite well but we would appeal to some communities to lend their support to the exercise as this will benefit the future development of residents,” he said

“In the initial stages we had some low responses and reports indicate that we have not yet created a research culture and some persons are afraid to divulge personal information. Nevertheless, since our request to increase public awareness to the media it has been quite helpful and persons have a better understanding and appreciation of the survey,” Jno-Finn noted.

The entire process comprised four parts namely; Analysis of the macro-economic context & environment, Survey of Living Conditions & Household Budgetary Survey, Participatory Poverty Assessment (community group sessions) & Institutional Assessment

For the Household Budgetary Survey some 1,800 household from across the country were selected from the upper, middle and lower income brackets.

[South Africa] Mbeki wants gender parity in 10 years

from Reuters Alert Net

By Manoah Esipisu

JOHANNESBURG, - President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday said he wanted a South Africa with radically reduced poverty, racial parity and gender equality by 2016.

Mbeki told public broadcaster Metro FM in an interview that South Africa's skills, not corruption, remained one of its biggest problems but his government was acting to improve the supply of professionals to ensure better service delivery.

Mbeki's interview came ahead of local government elections next week his ruling African National Congress party is expected to win comfortably despite persistent complaints in townships about poor services.

Asked about his vision for South Africa, Mbeki replied: "(To) very radically reduce poverty, radically reduce racial disparity, thirdly move to radically address discrimination against women (and work) towards the object of gender equality."

"In the South Africa of 2016, we should say we have changed these matters," Mbeki added. The president is due to step aside at the end of his second and final term in 2009.

Townships in several South African provinces have erupted in riots over the past few months over complaints of poor service delivery. The anger has usually been targeted at local officials perceived as either corrupt or incompetent rather than the central government Mbeki heads.

Mbeki defended his government, saying a major reason the ANC would win the polls was the delivery of thousands of houses to poor people, roads, electricity, water, schools and hospitals.


South Africa's jobless rate is officially estimated at more than 26 percent and wide income disparities still persist between the country's black majority and white minority.

Business is still largely male dominated despite the role played by women in the country's liberation. newspapers have quoted Mbeki as saying he backed a woman to be president.

His deputy, as well as the key ministers of foreign affairs, land affairs, health and minerals are women.

Mbeki also strongly spoke out against xenophobia, reminding South Africans that their freedom was won by the sweat and sometimes blood of Africans elsewhere on the continent.

"It is incorrect to put forward the notion that all foreigners are illegal immigrants. We need to guard against any sense of xenophobia in our country," Mbeki told a caller.

He also said the government's plan to lift growth was rolling full steam. He said aspects of it included reforming state logistics group Transnet, where thousands have gone on strike to demand a role in planning the firm's future.

He said Transnet was committed to returning to its core business of transport of goods and people and would shed interests like housing. Major investment was required to improve its rail and other logistics businesses to aid the country's growth, Mbeki said but offered no details.

The government wants to use state-owned enterprises such as Transnet to raise economic growth to 6 percent by 2010 and to slash unemployment and poverty. Africa's biggest economy grew by 5 percent last year -- the fast pace in over two decades.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

[India] ‘Bilateral free trade areas are being used for self-serving agendas’

from Financial Express

In his latest book, “Development and Nationhood: An India Perspective,” this renowned trade economist says that the emphasis on social protection institutions does not militate against the economic argument for trade liberalisation. Prof Jagdish Bhagwati, University professor of economics and law, Columbia University, USA spoke to fe’s Poonam Madan on a range of issues at the recent Ficci seminar “In defence of globalisation; an India perspective.” Excerpts:

Prof Bhagwati, could you share with us your views on the Hong Kong Summit; do you see the North-South divide on trade issues narrowing?

I take a line of cautious optimism. There has been a settlement of many issues, including export subsidies. Even the NGOs, which have played often a damaging role at the WTO negotiations, were divided and weakened at Hong Kong. Oxfam, which wanted removal of agricultural subsidies in the rich countries, for instance, was confronted by Mr. Bove of France and the South Korean farmers who were opposed to removal of such agricultural protection.

Many in the media erroneously commented, however, that nothing was accomplished. The least developed countries were also virtually gotten out of the way with tariffs and quotas removed on them by EU, Japan and the US.

With Trips and Singapore issues also out of the way between Cancun and Hong Kong meetings, the way is now clear for the “big four” to negotiate the concessions on agriculture, manufactures and services among themselves.

On this front, I believe we can be optimistic. Mandelson has said he could do something more on agriculture provided big countries like India and Brazil also do some more on manufactures and services. There is every indication that India can. In manufacturing, India has been unilaterally bringing down its average applied tariffs—from 80-85% in 1991 to the 20% levels at present. We can surely do a little more—lower them to 10%, for instance.

In fact, most industrialists I meet are confident on India’s ability to compete. And the communists and socialists around Sonia Gandhi are so busy fighting privatisation and labour reforms, the bigger game of anti-globalisation, that trade liberalisation is small potatoes for them. So, Kamal Nath and the PM can go a little further. The US Trade Representative Robert Portman has good relations with the US Congress, and President Bush, unlike the Democrats, embraces freer trade without hesitation. Brazil will also come on board, I think.

You have emphasised that S&D treatment has a downside for developing countries.

Yes, because its value disappears, as more countries get it and more MFN liberalisation happens. Against that, on the other hand, the advanced countries collect all kinds of obligations from developing countries—which endure. I would ask instead for MFN liberalisation in products of interest and ask for aid and technical assistance where necessary.

How do you view the fears of disruption in the West from greater liberalisation of Mode 1 (ie ‘arm’s length’ or ‘long distance’) trade in services?

The fact is that while the US imports many low-value services on the wire, it exports far more high-value services in accounting, legal, medical, professorial and other areas. This is more recognised now among knowledgeable policy circles.

But the labour unions persist in these fears and have infiltrated the Democratic Party in this regard.

So when people like Hillary Clinton come to India, they must be told some home truths about how damaging to both India and the US would be a protectionist reaction to outsourcing on the part of the US.

The imposition of IPR issues in WTO has acted as a pressure against developing countries—and you have criticised the Trips agreement’s inclusion. Why?

The objection that I, and economists such as Professors Arvind Panagariya and TN Srinivasan, had to Trips was to its inclusion in the WTO. Intellectual property (IP) protection is a matter of royalty collection, and the issue is what the optimal level of such protection should be from a social viewpoint (my answer is that the optimum protection lies between zero and the 20-year protection put into the WTO).

Though not a trade issue in an essential way, it was pushed into the WTO by the US and other rich nations, as the WTO’s ability to use trade sanctions was sought by the IP lobbies such as pharmaceuticals.

This as encouraged other lobbies such as trade unions and domestic environmental groups to seek entry into the WTO. These measures are mainly aimed at the poor countries, largely because they are often mixed up with self-intested competitive concerns such as those of the rich-country unions. Bilateral free trade areas are now being used to advance such self-serving agendas by the US and the EU.

You have spoken of having “appropriate governance” in managing globalisation. Can you explain?

I argue in my book, In Defense of Globalization, that globalisation has a human face. It helps attack poverty, reduces child labour, helps women’s issues, is not the cause of environmental damage, is not a threat to mainstream and indigenous culture, and so on. But this does not mean that this human face can’t be improved through appropriate policies, both domestic and international. In my book, I argue for three types of measures.

Occasional downsides must be addressed. The achievement of social agendas such as reduction of child labour must be accelerated through supplementary policies. And one must not assume that, in economic reforms, the optimal speed is the maximum speed.

Do you see the Left in India coming round at some point in time?

Indian reforms are being undertaken in the democratic context. The speed at which our governments can unravel the huge inefficiencies, many detrimental to the welfare of the poor, is therefore constrained by politics.

As I say in my 1993 Radhakrishnan Lectures at Oxford University (India in Transition, Clarendon Press), we economists proposed autarkic policies, proliferation of the public sector, massive capital-intensive projects and extensive licensing restrictions. And then institutions such as licensing committees grew up around these ideas, as also did interests (lobbies). Now that mainstream economists have changed their minds, the reformers have to confront such inherited and obsolete institutions and interests—not an easy task. Much has been done, especially on the trade and industrial licensing fronts (though here also a few economists in India who know little about the subject still argue against these reforms, aided and abetted by erroneous assertions of the populist economists Dani Rodrik and Joe Stiglitz).

But the Left continues to be wedded to the public sector and to the old, inflexible labour policies. There too, I expect that change will come eventually.

[UK] MP's plea over soaring gas prices

from The Manchester Evening News

Ian Craig

MP Tony Lloyd is urging the government to act over soaring gas prices.

British Gas has announced its biggest-ever price hike, 22 per cent, to come into effect early next month.

This could mean average energy bills of £1,000 a year for the first time and campaigners warn that millions of poor households and pensioners could be hit.

Mr Lloyd, MP for Manchester Central and a former Labour minister, is writing to Chancellor Gordon Brown, urging him to act because of the effects on low-paid families who may be forced to choose between heating and eating.

He said: "I want the Chancellor to consider whether this price rise should be referred to the competition authorities.

"Power companies are supposed to be operating in competition."

But British Gas is not only the biggest supplier, it has the greatest number of customers using prepayment metres and the highest number of the most vulnerable consumers.

Energy Watch claims the clock is now being turned back, with fewer suppliers in the market providing less choice.

Mr Lloyd added: "Whether or not Mr Brown agrees to have a competition inquiry, I'm urging him to look at the profits made by British Gas and whether he should consider imposing a windfall tax on them if he finds they've been racking up profits.


"Although the government has moved to protect consumers from the worst effects, including the winter fuel allowance, the elderly in particular are at risk from this fuel rise during the winter months.

"And it's not just pensioners but people on low incomes."

Mr Lloyd adds that fuel costs have been increasing as a proportion of the income of people further down the wages ladder.

He wants Mr Brown to take urgent action. Help The Aged have warned that an extra 200,000 older people are pushed into fuel poverty when there is a 10 per cent increase.

A rise of more than double that could have a wide effect on vulnerable pensioners, it said.

Centrica, which owns British Gas, blames the increase on soaring wholesale gas prices, which it said are now the highest in Europe.

HOUSEHOLD water and sewerage bills will rise by an average 5.5 per cent across England and Wales.

But customers of United Utilities, which serves the north west, will see an increase of 7.6 per cent, adding £22 to their average bill.

Across the country, the rise will push bills up by £15 to £294 for the average household after it comes into force in April.

[India] Over 42 percent agricultural labourers still below poverty line

from Web india

Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Chandra Sekhar Sahu today said that according to the information received from the Planning Commission, 42.13 per cent of agricultural labourers still live below the poverty line.

In a reply to a question asked in the Rajya Sabha, Sahu said that the rates of minimum wages for unskilled agricultural labourers ranged between rupees 102.78 to rupees 114.78 as per the Central Minimum Wages Act, 1948. However, the wages as per the state spheres has much greater variations as it ranges from Rs. 45 in Pondicherry to Rs. 125.80 in Delhi.

As per the National Sample Survey Organisation, over 80 per cent of the poor in the country belong to socially-disadvantaged groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes.

The composition of the poor has also been changing as rural poverty is now increasingly concentrated in the agricultural labour and artisan households.

Despite over half a century of effort by the Government, it is still growing and has acquired new proportion in the states of Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The share of these four States in Indias rural poor rose from 53 per cent in 1993-94 to 61 per cent in 1999-2000.

The minister also outlined that while employment is seen growing in the unorganised sector it is continuously shrinking in the organised sector.

Highlighting that the unemployment situation is not turning into a grave situation, Sahu said that a growth of labour force (1.03 per cent per annum) was marginally more than growth of employment (0.9 per cent per annum) during 1993-94 to 1999-2000.

Emphasizing that the Tenth Plan focuses on providing gainful high quality employment and the additions to the labour force, Sahu said that importance is being laid on rapid growth of those sectors which are likely to create high quality employment opportunities and deal with those policy constraints which discourage growth of employment.

[Israel] Kadima pledges upgrade in education to get people back to work

from The Jerusalem post


Kadima presented its socioeconomic vision on Tuesday aimed at generating economic growth, narrowing social gaps and reducing poverty, but refused to commit itself to a budget plan or specific time framework for accomplishing its economic targets.

"To commit to numbers would be irresponsible. We are presenting a systematic approach, which first deals with the root of the problems this country is facing before shifting funds and figures", said Minister of Education Meir Sheetrit at Kadima's headquarters in Petah Tikva.

Tipped to be the next finance minister should Kadima win the upcoming elections, Sheetrit presented the party platform, written and approved by Kadima leader and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The three main goals of Kadima's economic platforms are to stop the spread of poverty, narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and to raise the standard of living, which over the past 30 years has remained low in Israel in comparison with other Western countries.

Kadima proposes to introduce negative income tax payments for people earning up to the minimum wage, until 2008. Kadima's economic policy stresses the urgent need to implement incentives for the unemployed to move them back into the labor force via education reforms including a longer school day and interest-free student loans for university education. Other incentives for working parents include recognition of daycare costs for tax purposes and increasing subsidies for the old and disabled.

"Today we have a problem that there are more incentives not to work than to work. There is a correlation between unemployment and the level of education. The higher the level of education, the more people are employed," Sheetrit said.

Sheetrit added that the more people will get out of the cycle of entitlements and into the labor force, the more money will be freed up that could be used to reduce poverty and generate growth. In addition, Kadima wants to reduce the number of foreign workers in Israel in an effort to raise wages.

Kadima's plan pledges more transparency through compulsory tax reports, which in turn would provide more clarity about the need and allocation of welfare assistance.

"Today you can get benefits from various sources without them knowing from each other. We need to centralize sources of information into one body so the system can not be circumvented," said Sheetrit. One of the measures in Kadima's platform is the unification of tax collection bodies.

Furthermore, Kadima intends to push through a law legitimizing civil marriage as well as civil burials.

As expected, reaction to the platform from the other parties was harsh.

Professor Avishay Braverman, fourth on the Labor list, called the plan "shameful," saying the Olmert-Netanyahu government "hurt education, weakened the condition of our children, and now, a month before the elections, they present an empty platform ... The Olmert government is responsible for the collapse of the middle class."

Likud, meanwhile, said the promises could not be kept and that they "testify to the irresponsibility of Ehud Olmert."

"The way to fix the economy is to pass the 2006 state budget before the election, which the Likud is willing to do but olmert is not," Likud officials said.

Finally, Meretz's Tzvia Greenfeld called the promise of civil marriage a sad joke, considering Olmert's his record of supporting religious interests when he was mayor of Jerusalem.

Sheera Claire Frenkel and Gil Hoffman contributed to this article.

[Philippines] 'People power' ended dictatorship, not poverty, corruption

from INQ7

THE IMAGES of "people power" are iconic: nuns kneeling in prayer in front of tanks, and unarmed civilians trying to push back military vehicles with their bare hands. The show of bravery hid the fear that many felt at a turning point in Philippine history.

"I was waiting for those nuns to scamper away," recalled Agapito Aquino, brother of Benigno Aquino, the opposition leader assassinated during martial rule. "I could not be the first to run away, I would lose face. We stayed because it was too embarrassing to run."

Twenty years after authoritarian President Ferdinand Marcos' ouster, the Philippines is an unruly democracy with a vigorous press but that is still afflicted by poverty, corruption, and violence.

Opposition groups planned protests on February 25 against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who faces accusations of election-rigging as well as coup rumors.

Her government is struggling to coordinate its response to a massive landslide that wiped out a village last week, with 1,000 feared dead.

or all the problems of this former US-held territory, the legacy of the peaceful grass roots movement that toppled Marcos after years of repression is a source of pride and national identity.

The euphoric festival of "people power" contrasts with the political tumult that struck other parts of Asia: Indonesia's violent transition from authoritarian rule in 1998, or the 1989 pro-democracy campaign in China's Tiananmen Square that ended when soldiers gunned down student protesters.

But the outcome of peaceful opposition to Marcos was far from certain, coming years ahead of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, the Philippine protesters' bold move in 1986 after years of human rights violations was more opportunistic than carefully planned.

Suspicion that Marcos was preparing for one-man rule began in August 1971 when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing police to make arrests without warrants.

Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972, a year before his second and final term was to expire. For the next 14 years, he ruled by decree. Thousands were jailed, and many dissidents were killed by security forces, or vanished.

On Feb. 7, 1986, snap presidential elections that were marred by fraud galvanized protesters. Marcos had been challenged by Corazon Aquino, Benigno's widow. She claimed widespread cheating and called for civil disobedience.

Elements of the military, Marcos' one-time instrument of repression, then triggered his downfall.

Agapito Aquino was at a party drinking with friends on February 22, when he heard then-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and military vice chief of staff Fidel Ramos demand at a news conference that Marcos resign.

Opposition leaders were suspicious of the split between Marcos and his former supporters. One then-senator advised Aquino: "Let them shoot each other."

"I said, 'The enemy of my enemy is my ally,' and so we must help this breakaway group so that they will continue to break," Aquino recalled.

The plan was to assemble people outside the Isetann Department store and march to the two camps where the military rebels were based to discourage Marcos and his loyalist troops from attacking.

Aquino said he went to the store about an hour before midnight and found only five other people there. "I didn't know whether these were rallyists or spies," he said.

Others began trickling in, then dozens more, then hundreds. By midnight, the march had started with several thousand in tow.

"It was easy to be courageous because when you moved forward, there would be hundreds if not thousands behind you," Aquino said.

Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin had spoken on radio, urging Filipinos to protect the breakaway faction of the military.

Franciscan nuns immediately headed for a highway near the military camps to set up a food brigade for protesters of bread, hard-boiled eggs, and hot dogs.

By dawn, tens of thousands had assembled in front of the military camps. The crowd grew to several hundred thousand -- 1 million by some estimates -- during the four-day revolt.

Later Sunday, Marcos sent marines in tanks to intimidate the crowd, and rumors spread that loyalist troops would shell the rebels. But the people didn't budge and the soldiers held their fire.

Lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic, a member of a clandestine Muslim group that opposed Marcos, went to the rally with his wife, son and neighbors. He said most of the protesters were not activists, but ordinary citizens.

"The people were angry with Marcos," Marohomsalic said. "You didn't need to invite people. People went because this opportunity will not pass again."

As Marcos and his family fled into exile aboard US military helicopters, crowds swarmed into the Malacañang presidential palace and gawked at the opulence enjoyed by their former ruler.

They roamed hurriedly abandoned rooms, including the separate bedrooms of Marcos and his wife Imelda, and posed for photographs in Marcos' office.

Many protesters mistrusted the military rebels, and feared the return to power of the old elite.

Twenty years later, corruption, deep political rifts, as well as armed rebellions and a huge gap between the rich and poor, plague the Philippines.

But Crescencia Lucero, a Franciscan nun, was among those convinced Marcos had to go, regardless of the consequences.

"Whatever the change," she remembers saying, "I want to be part of it."