Off Topic Messages

America: Nation of Rich & Poor?

Thu Jul 13, 2006 12:59 am

The Politics of American Greed
By Molly Ivins, AlterNet
Posted on July 11, 2006



I don't get it. What's the percentage in keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour? After nine years? This is such an unnecessary and nasty Republican move. Congress has voted seven times to raise its own wages since last the minimum wage budged. Of course, Congress always raises its own salary in the dark of night, hoping no one will notice. But now it does the same with the minimum wage, quietly killing it.

Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers -- this is Bush country, where a rising tide lifts all yachts.

According to the current issue of Mother Jones:

One in four U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level income.
Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has risen steadily. Now, 13 percent -- 37 million Americans -- are officially poor.

Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those making $1 million are saved $42,700.

In 2002, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, compared those who point out such statistics as the one above to Adolph Hitler (surely he meant Stalin?).
Bush has diverted $750 million to "healthy marriages" by shifting funds from social services, mostly childcare.

Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50 percent.

A series of related stats -- starting with the news that two out of three new jobs are in the suburbs -- shows how the poor are further disadvantaged in the job hunt by lack of public or private transportation.

Meanwhile, for those who have been following the collapse of the pension system, please note a series in The Wall Street Journal by Ellen Schultz
taking a hard look at executive pension obligations:

"Benefits for executives now account for a significant share of pension obligations in the United States, an average of 8 percent (of large companies). Sometimes a company's obligation for a single executive's pension approaches $100 million."

"These liabilities are largely hidden, because corporations don't distinguish them from overall pension obligations in their federal financial findings."

"As a result, the savings that companies make by curtailing pensions of regular retirees -- which have totaled billions of dollars in recent years -- can mask a rising cost of benefits for executives."

"Executive pensions, even when they won't be paid until years from now, drag down the earnings today. And they do so in a way that's disproportionate to their size, because they aren't funded with dedicated assets."

It seems to me that we've seen enough evidence over the years that the capitalist system is not going to be destroyed by an outside challenger like communism -- it will be destroyed by its own internal greed. Greed is the greatest danger as we develop an increasingly winner-take-all system. And voices like The Wall Street Journal's editorial page encourage this mentality by insisting that any form of regulation is bad. But for whom?

It is so discouraging to watch this country become less and less fair -- "justice for all" seems like an embarrassingly archaic tag. Republicans have rigged the "lottery of life" in this country in ways we don't even know about yet. The new bankruptcy law is unfair, and the new college loan rules are worse. The system has been stacked so that large corporations have an inside track over small businesses in getting government contracts. We won't see the full consequences of this mean and careless legislation for years, but it is starting to affect us already.

Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/38821/


*************************************
This article barely touches the iceberg (health care crisis, spending in Iraq on a daily basis, outsourcing of jobs overseas... Thoughts, anyone?

Thu Jul 13, 2006 1:33 am

Greg -

The worship of money & power and the forsaking of those without it.

That's just The American Way, isn't it ?

Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:37 am

The American way is the land of opportunity. That means you are free to fail as well as fight your way to the top. Of course someone from the U.K. wouldn't understand this, being a largely socialist country.

As for the minimum wage increase :roll: , that is most likely going to go through.

But I don't understand it. Why do you want the government to foot the bill instead of the mean old corporations that you guys supposedly are against?

A liberal wants big government, and them having complete control over your pockets. A minimum wage hike not only hurts the tax payers, but it sends a clear message....hey why better yourself through education. Stay at Mc Donalds cause it pays so much better!!!

Keep in mind, "poor" in America, isn't poor in other countries.

As for the tax cuts, I know a lib head doesn't get it, but the rich save the most money on taxes because they PAY THE MOST!!!!!

The only thing dragging down earnings are these fake increases in minimum wage, and moronic socialist programs that are designed to do one thing, keep the poor even poorer! It does nothing but promote the inflation that you complain about being the need for the increase in minimum wage in the first place!

What do you think, the money just floats out of thin air? Why should a guy flipping burgers get the same ENTRY level price as many college graduates who actually put in the time and earned their career as opposed to just walking off the street, and at the same time collecting their county check!

Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:04 am

genesim wrote:The American way is the land of opportunity.
That means you are free to fail as well as fight your way to the top.
Of course someone from the U.K. wouldn't understand this, being a largely socialist country.


May it ever be so !

You make it sound as if success is a matter of choice.

For millions of the poor, it is an inevitable consequence of the 'devil take the hindmost' attitude of the conservative right.

Don't judge a country on how many millionaires it has.

Judge it on how it treats the worst-off in its society.

America isn't doing too well, is it ?

Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:59 am

"Keep in mind, "poor" in America, isn´t poor in other countries."

Another "brilliant" post...Ignorant.

5,15 an hour? We pay 50% more to our 15-16 year old kids when they take a summer job during their vacation from school...

Thu Jul 13, 2006 11:04 am

A minimum wage hike not only hurts the tax payers, but it sends a clear message....hey why better yourself through education. Stay at Mc Donalds cause it pays so much better!!!


Unfortunately Genesim, poor people can't affort a decent education !

Thu Jul 13, 2006 11:08 am

Molly Ivans is a blowhard. Level-headed Texans have been ignoring her for more than 20 years.

According to the current issue of Mother Jones:
No further reading needed. What a quack shack.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 12:17 pm

genesim wrote: Of course someone from the U.K. wouldn't understand this, being a largely socialist country.



That's news to me!!

Thu Jul 13, 2006 12:27 pm

Don't shoot the messenger if you don't hear the message but denial of bad news was George W. Bush's and his supporters M.O. even in the days when he was governor of Texas.

There is this misconception that everyone can be a millionaire if only they apply themselves. That is not the case nor can it logically be the case. You can't have a 100 CEOs for every company and you can't have every business succeed. And really a sign of snobbishness to believe that someone who works hard at manual labor is somehow inferior to someone who makes a living in a suit or in business or entertainment. We need this work to be done and someone who chooses to or is forced to work in a field that does not require a college education is entitled no less a chance to live than any other person. However, the Bush administration and previous administrations, dating back to the Reagan administration, including the Clinto administration shipped many high paying manual labor jobs overseas. Even worse the game is stacked, as it has not been since at least the 1920s, against the prospective new business owner in favor of national conglomerates. It's even more stacked against workers who are losing their pensions and benefits and in general working for peanuts.

The last time the minimum wage was raised it actually preceded an explosion in the job market.

This idea that the market will take care of everything is a crock. It's been proven to be a crock. The pure market system failed and failed big time. They called it the Great Depression. The greatest period of economic growth in history from the 1940s to the 1970s took place only after the reforms implemented by the Roosevelt administration. It is no coincidence that there has not been a similar dramatic drop in the US's economic fortunes since that time despite that there have been drops in the stock market even greater than the 1929 crash. It is also no coincidence that during the period of regulation we had nothing to compare to California's rolling brownouts.

There is a system in place and that system is a refined and controlled sort of capitalism. To be successful several elements need to be in place and the government is often responsible for putting those pieces into place. When the goverment awards a Pell Grant that's not a handout. When the government ensures that a teacher's salary means a teacher will not have to take a second job just so they can teach that's not a handout. When the government provides food stamps to a 17-year-old mother so that woman doesn't have to sell her body on the street that's not a handout. When the government ensures that a young man gets an education inside a decent school and later can go on to a job that pays a living wage for 40 hours work that's not a handout. That benefits everybody.

The idea that wealth is based on some sort of merit is also quite ludicrous. How did the wonderful GW Bush make it in the world? Oh, yeah his dad was a millionaire former president who set him up in college, set up him up in business (where he held the city of Arlington Texas hostage to build his baseball team a new ballpark and where he served on the Board of Directors of Harken and dumped its stock seconds before its value plummeted) and finally politics (where he was basically named the GOP candidate based on a 1998 poll of presidential hopefuls where he registered strong name recognition). Guess handouts are only bad when they benefit the poor.

And this idea that the poor in the US should not "whine" because they could have it worse also needs to be dumped in the trash. You can always have it worse. Imagine a parallel, the Japanese complaining about Americans whining on September 11 since the damage was nothing compared to Hiroshima. You can always it have worse. This is a really a shameless argument.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 6:17 pm

genesim wrote:The American way is the land of opportunity. That means you are free to fail as well as fight your way to the top. Of course someone from the U.K. wouldn't understand this, being a largely socialist country.


The UK is not a socialist country Geno. I really don't know where you get that from, but it's something you repeat very often. In fact, one of the main criticisms of Tony Blair from his own party is that he is too far to the right.

genesim wrote:
But I don't understand it. Why do you want the government to foot the bill instead of the mean old corporations that you guys supposedly are against?


Maybe I'm understanding it wrong, but I didn't think the minimum wage was paid for from Government funds. I thought the cost was met by employers :?

genesim wrote:
The only thing dragging down earnings are these fake increases in minimum wage, and moronic socialist programs that are designed to do one thing, keep the poor even poorer! It does nothing but promote the inflation that you complain about being the need for the increase in minimum wage in the first place!


The same arguments that were put forward before the minimum wage was introduced in the UK in the late 90s. There was no increase in inflation - in fact inflation was kept at an impressively low level. The feared loss of jobs didn't occur either.

I'm not sure what you mean by "fake increase in minimum wage". If the minimum wage hasn't been increased in the US for nearly a decade, isn't it about time it was? After all, taking inflation into account, the minimum wage has fallen in real terms, other than in the States that have chosen to raise it above the 1997 level.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 8:26 pm

ColinB wrote:America isn't doing too well, is it ?

We'll be fine, but thanks for your concern, old chap.

America has it's problems just like everyone else. However, there's not another country in the world that I'd rather live. I wouldn't have served six years in the United States Army if I were not willing to lay down my life for my country. Our current administration has made some mistakes and the approval rating keeps sinking. However, I still stand behind my country and her leaders even though I do not always agree with the decisions that are made. I have thought about this and I know at least one person who is originally from just about every country represented on this board. They all have said that they love America and will stay here for the rest of their lives. It always makes me proud to hear that.
Love your country and what it stands for regardless of mistakes that are made. Nothing against any other country represented here. During my service, I was lucky enough to go to Europe. While I enjoyed my stay, I'll never leave the United States again. Home is where the heart is and mine is right here.

I just love the words to this Statler Brothers song.

You've Been Like A Mother To Me

She's seen me through lots of troubles
She's stayed up nights so I could sleep
She's given me more than comfort
She's given me something I can keep
I love her, and I need her,
And I want to be with her all the time
I'd fight just to keep her
And I'd die if I thought she wasn't mine

I love her every morning
Thank God for her every night
I worship the ground she stands on
And I stand on the ground she'll be alright
When you need me, you know I'll be there
'Cause you've always been there for me
America, God Knows I love you
'Cause you’ve been like a mother to me
America, we've been through troubles
And we'll make it again, just wait and see
America, God knows I love you
'Cause you’ve been like a mother to me

America, stand up and show it
That you're proud of the red, white, and blue
You love her, and you know it'
'Cause she's been like a mother to you.
America!

Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:41 pm

Why raise minimum wage? The current position in the U.S. Congress and with the President is to exploit illigal immigrants by allowing them to continue to work at below minimum wage rates and for them to live in poverty. The whole thing is a joke. U.S. politicians are in the process of creating a 2 class system. The middle class doesn't really exist anymore. Most households that can be classified as "middle class" have 2 adults working full time jobs, pay huge state and federal taxes, have student loans that are not tax deductible, a minimun of $9000 in consumer debt, and are fighting to hold on to jobs that are not rising in pay while the cost of living skyrockets. That is the reality.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 11:57 pm

Along with securty, that is the real problem with the illegal immigration issue. The problem is not that Americans won't do these jobs, it's that they won't do these jobs for nothing.

Even more than the poor the middle class have suffered in this country in the past 20 years. I recently read that a no frills home in Los Angeles goes for $500,000. The last I read the average American makes about $25,000 a year. How is a couple with a child supposed to afford a home in that environment?

A Civil Rights leader (I forget his name) once said that once a move benefits people at the bottom everyone else moves up a space.

Fri Jul 14, 2006 12:04 am

Nice to see folks engaging on this issue. At rock bottom, money (and the security that comes with it, that is, a job with a good wages, benefits, etc.) drives everything else.


Rob, I'm as patriotic as anyone but the US could learn a thing or two from protecting its workforce the way they do over in Europe. You can talk about the sluggish economy over three, but no one is thrown to the wolves the way we do with folks who work hard and run up against closed plants, injuries, or hard times...

Here's an interesting recent piece from an ex-Reagan adminsitration official, of all people.


Another Grim Report on the Jobs Front
By Paul Craig Roberts

Is your job safe? Not if it can be done abroad. The only safe jobs are in domestic services that require a "hands-on" presence, such as barbers, hospital orderlies, and waitresses.

For a number of years the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly payroll jobs reports have been sending US policymakers dire warnings, only to be ignored. The March report repeats the message. Ninety-five percent of the new jobs created are in domestic services. The US economy no longer creates jobs in export or export-competitive sectors.

Wholesale and retail trade, waitresses and bartenders account for 46% of the new jobs. Education and health services, administrative and waste services, and financial activities account for another 46%.

This has been the profile of US employment growth for a number of years, along with some construction jobs filled by legal and illegal immigrants. It is the job profile of a third world economy.

From January 2001 to January 2006 the US economy lost 2.9 million manufacturing jobs. The promised replacement jobs—"new economy" high-tech knowledge jobs—have failed to materialize.

High-tech knowledge jobs are also being outsourced abroad. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US employment of engineers and architects declined by 189,940 between November 2000 and November 2004 (latest data available). Economist Alan Blinder estimates that as many as 56 million American jobs are susceptible to offshore outsourcing. That would be about half of the US work force.

Offshoring has contributed to the explosion of the US trade/current account deficit over the past decade to $800 billion annually and rising. The US has a trade deficit in manufactured products, including advanced technology products, of more than a half trillion dollars annually, a sum far larger than the oil import bill.

To cover the trade deficit, the US has to turn over to foreigners ownership of its accumulated wealth. This worsens the current account deficit as the income streams on the US based assets now accrue to foreigners.

Many economists pretend that the whopping US trade/current account deficit is evidence that the rest of the world has great confidence in America. They pretend that it is foreign investment in the US that causes the trade deficit, whereas the simple fact is that it is the US trade deficit that gives foreigners the dollars with which to purchase our existing assets.

Traditionally, a trade deficit might indicate that a country’s industries were not competitive against imports from abroad, resulting in a decline in the exchange value of the country’s currency. This would make foreign goods more expensive for that country and its goods cheaper for foreigners, thus restoring a balance.

This does not work for the US for three reasons:

(1) The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. The dollar can be used to settle all international accounts. Therefore, there is a world demand for dollars. This demand absorbs what would be an excess supply for any other country running such large deficits.

(2) China pegs its currency to the dollar, thus preventing an adjustment in the price of the two countries goods and services. Other countries, such as Japan, intervene in currency markets by purchasing dollars in order to support the dollar and prevent their currencies from rising in dollar value.

(3) Offshoring turns US production into imports. Much of the US trade deficit results from offshoring, not from traditional trade competition. The collapse of world socialism and the advent of the high speed Internet made cheap foreign labor available to US companies. US firms use foreign labor to produce offshore the goods and services that they market to Americans. For example, more than half of the large US trade deficit with China is comprised of goods and services produced by US companies in China for American markets.

How can the US reduce its trade deficit when it deprives itself of exports and fills itself with imports by offshoring its production of goods and services, and when the devaluation of the dollar is limited by the dollar’s reserve role and by other countries pegging their currency to the dollar or by intervening to support the dollar? Obviously, when balance returns to US trade, it will not come through traditional means.

One way balance can return is by the US oversupplying the world with dollars to the point at which the dollar is abandoned as the reserve currency.

Another way is through the limit placed on Americans’ ability to consume that results from replacing manufacturing and engineering jobs with waitress, bartender and hospital orderly jobs. A country that loses high value-added jobs and gains low value-added jobs is in danger of losing its prosperity. Offshoring raises corporate profits in the short-run at the expense of destroying the domestic consumer market in the long-run.

Most economists are confused about offshoring. They mistakenly think offshoring is an example of free trade bringing mutual benefit through the principle of comparative advantage. It is not. Offshoring is an example of companies obtaining absolute advantage by combining high-tech capital with low-cost labor. The gains from absolute advantage are asymmetrical or one-sided. The cheap labor country gains, and the expensive labor country loses.

As Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach pointed out on April 7, "average hourly compensation of Chinese manufacturing workers is only 3-4% of levels in the US, 10% of the pay rate of Asia’s newly industrialized economies, and 25% of levels in Mexico and Brazil." Roach also notes that with a rural population of 745 million (about two and one-half times the total US population) and headcount reductions of more than 60 million workers from state-owned enterprises, China will not experience a labor shortage any time soon.

This means that it will be a long time before Chinese wages rise enough to offset the benefits of offshoring. The same can be said about India. Consequently, a large percentage of US jobs is vulnerable to being moved abroad.



Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.

Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:00 am

Along with securty, that is the real problem with the illegal immigration issue. The problem is not that Americans won't do these jobs, it's that they won't do these jobs for nothing.


Exactly. It is mind-blowing. The majority of U.S. citizens want the borders closed and secured. They do not support giving illigal aliens the same rights as citizens and are sick of their local and state governments being bankrupted by paying benefits to illigal aliens and are also alarmed that over 30% of the prisons contain illegal aliens. Yet the government refueses to follow the desires of the people. The politicians want businesses to benefit from inhumane cheap labor and both parties, but mostly the Democrats, want the votes not only from the latino community but by illegal aliens themselves. It is completely insane. It is all about self-interest, not what is good for the country. Bike you are so right, the problem is not that Americans won't do "these" jobs, it is that they won't do jobs at the poverty level with no benefits or security. It is complete exploitation of immigrants. If prospective immigrants knew that they would be deported if they were caught working undocumented with stolen social security numbers and knew that they could not recieve welfare benefits (amazing isn't it, illegal immigrants get benefits provided by tax-paying citizens of the U.S....) and milk the system and if businesses were actually fined huge amounts of money for hiring illegal aliens, the lure of coming to America would not be so great -- there would not be the incentive there is now. And of course, securing the border would be a no-brainer in stopping illegal immigrants from freely coming into the country, but that would be too easy of a solution and the politicians cannot risk losing votes from immigrants, latinos and lose the support of large and small businesses. What a mess.

Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:20 am

I'm almost reflexively against too much Gov't involvement in personal affairs, but the illegal immigrant influx has kept the wages ARTIFICIALLY low for years.

Eliminate the illegal alien problems by closing the borders, punishing SEVERELY the corporations that employ them, deporting the ones sucking the Treasury dry, and wages would rise commensurate with the demand for labor. Bike is absolutely right..........Americans will gladly do ANY job. They just won't do it for slave wages.

I don't like an artificially, arbitrarily imposed minimum wage..........but I'm equally against an artificially imposed CEILING on wages imposed by corporations exploiting illegal labor. And that is exactly what we have today.

The best way to raise wages is to enforce our immigration laws. The minimum wage push is diversionary........but necessary due to the fact that no one has the political will or guts to do WHAT"S RIGHT rather than politically expedient.

We have a leadership vacuum on both sides of the political aisle........

Sat Jul 15, 2006 12:42 am

I suspect we'd diverge on much in the way of the economy, Scatter (such as the need to stablize capitalist excesses via government intervention and regulation; supporting the right to form a union; etc.) but here we agree about illegal immigration.

The left (and liberals) in the US are so wed to "Diversity" and "tolerance" that they have mistakenly allowed themselves to turn a blind eye to the very real problem of having people come here without permission, in effect, cutting the line. Aside from other known problems with it, this also can't be good for wages, which have been stagnant. Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal reported this week, as the USA nears 300 million people (both citizens and immigrants, legal and illegal), we've seen an increase of 19 million people just since 2000!

And 100 million since 1970! The WSJ article focused on how now they're actually debating whether the US is big enough and whether our land will all be put into suburban sprawl, draining natural resources and public services..(I'll have to post that one..)

It should be obvious, too, that anytime you raise the supply of labor, the price of it correspondingly goes down. A 100 years ago, the US labor movement understood this and pushed for immigration control and restrictions.

Today they'd be shouted down as "intolerant" and "bigoted."


**********************************

Great piece in the news today:

City Vents Anger at Illegal Immigrants
Hazleton, Pa., creates one of the strictest laws in the U.S., polarizing its whites and Latinos.


By Ellen Barry, Los Angeles Times
July 14, 2006

Hazelton, Pennsylvania — Standing outside City Hall in the gathering dark, Norman Tarantino felt, for once, that he was lucky to live in Hazleton.

Most of his friends had moved away, over the years, convinced that the old coal city's best days were behind it. But as of Thursday night, Tarantino said, Hazleton once again has something to be proud of: It is the most hostile environment in America for illegal immigrants.

Not 20 feet away stood Daniel Jorge, a Dominican immigrant who moved his family to Hazleton last year after 25 years in New York City. Jorge, a real estate agent, was wondering how he would break the news to his wife, who had been enchanted with the small-town friendliness she found in Hazleton, a small city in the hills 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

"I'm sad. I loved it here," Jorge said. He gazed at the police officers lined up in the middle of Church Street, separating crowds of white and Latino demonstrators. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see this here in this city."

By a vote of 4 to 1, Hazleton's City Council on Thursday approved the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which imposes severe penalties on landlords who rent space to illegal immigrants, suspends the licenses of businesses that employ them, and declares English the city's official language.

The ordinance has brought celebrity status to Hazleton's mayor, Louis J. Barletta, and has prompted a ripple of proposed new laws in neighboring communities.

In Florida, the communities of Avon Park and Palm Bay will vote on similar laws, as will the city of Escondido in California.

The law has also attracted a legal challenge from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has promised to sue the city on the grounds that the ordinance unconstitutionally infringes on federal jurisdiction over immigration. :roll:

Local Latino activists warn that the vote could mark an ugly turning point in Hazleton, whose Latino minority has grown over the last decade to constitute about 30% of the population.

"What I worry is that this will be a pretext for people to allow their racist feelings to show," :roll: said David Vaida, an attorney in Allentown, Pa., who signed the legal challenge to Barletta. "It will allow people to take that deep, dark side of them and let it come out. It will pit neighbor against neighbor, and then the city will be worse off."

But the mood in City Hall was upbeat Thursday; white residents exploded into applause when Barletta strode into the chamber, wearing a bulletproof vest under his suit jacket. They yelled "Yes!" when a local Latino leader asked whether they would deport U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, and cheered again when City Council President Joe Yannuzzi compared illegal immigrants to burglars.

"If I come home and find someone in my home, is he just an unwanted guest? Must I keep him there and take care of him?" he asked. "I say he has committed a crime, and should be treated like a criminal."

Under the new law — which is a modified version of a ballot initiative proposed in San Bernardino — anyone seeking to rent a dwelling in the city will have to apply to the city for a residency license, and submit to an investigation of citizenship status. Landlords found renting to people without licenses will be fined $1,000 a day. Business owners found hiring, renting property to, or providing goods and services to illegal immigrants will lose their business permit for five years on a first offense and 10 years on a second.

Barletta, whose grandfather hauled coal with a horse and wagon, said Thursday's vote was the culmination of years of complaints from constituents.

"There's no place for me to hide in a small city," he said. "I get it in the grocery store, I get it at the lunch counter, when I get my morning coffee, when I'm pumping gas.

"People are begging me, because we are losing the one asset that this city has to offer — our quality of life."

Hazleton was a shrinking and mostly white city when Latinos began to arrive.

Older residents reminisce about the miners who emerged every evening from the "40 shaft" and streamed down Diamond Avenue past the Italian bars — Andruzzi's, Fidule's, Yannuzzi's — while the smell of meatballs hung in the air. People lived in tight ethnic clusters — Donegal Hill for the Irish immigrants and Nanny Goat Hill for the Italians.

The city reached its peak population in the 1940s, at 38,000, then began a steady decline as mining and textiles work disappeared. The 2000 census showed a population of 23,000, with a median age of 40.

Immigrants, flowing in from New York and New Jersey, changed that trajectory, bringing the city's population back up to between 30,000 and 31,000.

The influx brought economic growth. Donna Palermo, president of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, said Latino immigrants built 50 to 60 new businesses in the city's downtown and helped boost the value of some homes to $90,000 from $40,000. In an October 2005 interview with the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal, Barletta said the population boom had brought the city's economy to its healthiest state in decades.

But tension surrounded the newcomers from the beginning. Elderly residents on fixed incomes struggled to catch up with the higher cost of living; a school built for 1,800 students tried to absorb 2,500.

When John Quigley, a Democratic mayor, lost his reelection bid in 1995, it was amid rumors that he had rented billboards in New York to recruit Latinos to move to town in exchange for government payments of $1,000 a head. Quigley called that rumor "an urban legend … conjured up by some gutter politicians," but many in Hazleton believe it.

The most persistent complaints center on crime, which most residents interviewed agreed had become a more serious problem in the last year.

"They try to recruit these children into gangs; we're having graffiti sprayed on houses now," Barletta said. "This is not the same population I was defending when they moved in here."

Barletta, 50, said he could put his finger on the exact moment when his perspective on immigration changed. On May 10, a 29-year-old man, Derek Kichline, was fatally shot outside his home on East Chestnut Street, culminating in the arrest of four illegal Dominican immigrants; that same day, a 14-year-old fired a gun at the Pine Street playground.

Barletta said he stayed awake that whole night, thinking about the city he grew up in, where "a playground was sacred ground."

"I laid there and stared at the ceiling. I literally prayed. I realized I had to do something drastic to save the city. If I just let this go and sat back, this wouldn't be a city that anyone wanted to live in," he said. "I felt almost hopeless at that point, watching my city being destroyed right before my eyes."

Latino advocates say Barletta has never produced evidence that illegal immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes.

Agapito Lopez, an eye surgeon originally from Puerto Rico, said the two crimes most often cited by Barletta — fatal shootings on October 20, 2005, and May 10 — involved a total of eight illegal immigrants, and should not be applied to a population of 11,000.

"Crime has been here for a long time. It has been white crime, and now we're starting to see brown crime," Lopez said. :roll:

Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System show a reduction in the number of total arrests in Hazleton over the last five years, from 1,458 in 2000 to 1,263 in 2005. Whereas the number of thefts and drug-related crimes has risen from a low point of 80 in 2001 to 127 in 2005, the total number of reported rapes, robberies, homicides and assaults has decreased since 2000.

Barletta acknowledges that he can't point to data proving that illegal immigrants are responsible for most of the city's crimes, or even establish how many illegal immigrants live here. But he said that any time police spent responding to calls involving illegal immigrants was a waste of city money, and "we are arresting illegal individuals much more often than we ever have."

Over the last month — since Barletta introduced his proposed ordinance — relationships in Hazleton have been remapped, Latinos say.

White people feel free to speak openly about their annoyance with immigrants, said Jessica Cruz, who waits tables in two local diners.

Cruz sputtered with anger recalling a recent day when she greeted three friends in Spanish, and a customer looked up from his seat, pointed his finger at her and told her to speak English. Another customer looked into the kitchen and said he couldn't wait until Immigration came to take away the Mexicans.

"Every day, he is eating, and the Mexicans are cooking," said Cruz, 26. It's the mayor, she said, who "gives support for talking like that."

Kim Resovszky, 35, feels edgy too, but for different reasons. A family that looks Latino just moved into a house across the street — mother, father, two kids. They seem nice, she said. But who knows what to expect from the rest of the summer?

"It's scary. Are you going to see more gunfire?" she asked. "There have been drive-by shootings, for example."

Resovszky said she supported the ordinance, as did virtually all of the city's white residents.

"The only ones who are against it are the Hispanics," she said, "and that's because it's against them."

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